In the tradition of its dysfunctional past, the gold-plated city of Medina is refusing to disclose public records to its controversial former police chief and a city council member who has actually already read the sought records but was forced to return them and then told they no longer existed.
Medina, as Seattle Weekly reported last month, is the high-security Eastside residential enclave of billionaires--Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos among them--that fired Chief Jeff Chen last year. Among other charges, he allegedly fixed speeding tickets by secretly writing memos under other officers' names. Chen, who said his now ex-wife used his police computer to post sexy pics of herself on the web and was involved with a Bandidos motorcycle gang member, resigned, unresigned, then was booted from the small police force that another former chief called "errand boys" for the rich. Among their duties were putting out the trash and chasing geese from swimming pools.
Chen, who is challenging his dismissal, and Medina council member Shawn Whitney, who supports him, have now each filed suits in King County Superior Court asking for records related to the chief's firing, according to Bellevue Reporter writer Nat Levy.
Both public records complaints specifically mention a report that set in motion the events of the last eight months, culminating in Chen's firing April 27. Chen originally announced his resignation last December, but retracted it quickly.
The report, prepared by attorney Michael Bolasina, allegedly uncovered Chen's unauthorized usage of the city email system, according to court documents. This report was a significant piece of the public reasoning used by City Manager Donna Hanson to fire the chief. Hanson could not be reached for comment.
According to Whitney's complaint, councilmembers received copies of the report for review at an executive session during the Feb. 2 meeting, but they were made to return them to the administration.
Whitney subsequently requested a copy of the report, but she was told by city administration that Medina was not in possession of the document, according to court records. Furthermore, Medina argued in response to Whitney, the records would likely be exempt from public disclosure as they were reviewed during Executive Session and may be subject to attorney client privilege as well.
"It's sad that a council member has to hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit to get records about how the city is being run," said Whitney's attorney Greg Overstreet, a former open-government expert for the Attorney General's office.
But then, as former chief Joe Race told SW, "Medina was about the most frustrating of my police experience." He was a cop in L.A., a police instructor in Kosovo and Bosnia, and police chief of all Micronesia. His advice to Chen was take a settlement and "get out of Dodge."
That was far better, he added, than responding to 911 calls to "Please take my trash out on Wednesday because I'll be hunting in Mexico."