Public records lawsuit leads to finger-pointing
Since March, when 19-year-old West Linn resident Rory Bialostosky filed a lawsuit against West Linn City Council President Teri Cummings, the two parties have gone back and forth on one aspect of the case: whether Bialostosky was offered a chance to negotiate the scope and redactions of his records request of Cummings' notes taken during council meetings—sensitive information is typically redacted from public records and records requests usually have a defined scope or subject matter they apply to. Bialostosky's original request was for all notes Cummings took in her official capacity as a West Linn City Councilor.
Bialostosky has maintained that neither Cummings nor the City offered him the opportunity to negotiate the redactions and scope until after he filed the lawsuit. Cummings consistently countered Bialostosky, saying that the offer had been made both before and after he filed the lawsuit. If both parties had negotiated and come to a solution beforehand, there would have been no need for Bialostosky to sue. This case has so far cost the City of West Linn over $20,000 in legal fees (this amount does not include legal costs for September).
Cummings even interrupted the West Linn City Council's discussion of revitalizing the old Bolton Fire Hall at a work session Sept. 23 to ask City Attorney Tim Ramis whether his office had attempted to negotiate scope and redactions with Bialostosky. Ramis responded that his firm had attempted to negotiate these aspects of the request before and after Bialostosky filed his suit.
After a records request made by the Tidings for emails between the City, Bialostosky and Cummings revealed that no mention of redactions took place over email before Bialostosky filed the lawsuit, a handful of emails between Bialostosky and Chris Dolan, an associate of Ramis' representing Cummings, seemed to reveal pieces of the story.
On Feb. 26, Dolan wrote to Bialostosky, "In the interests of resolving this matter, would you be willing to confer with Tim and me about your request? We would like to determine if there is some middle ground upon which Ms. Cummings might be willing to make some portion of her notebooks available for review."
In response, Bialostosky wrote that he would be willing to meet with Ramis and Dolan to discuss the request; however, "it is hard for me to find value in accepting any offer in which Ms. Cummings would be able to pick and choose what gets disclosed to the public when there are procedures in place to obtain these records in their full, original form."
Bialostosky told the Tidings he received no response from Dolan or Ramis until March 19, eight days after he filed the lawsuit.
On that date, Dolan again asked Bialostosky if he would be willing to talk out a solution. Bialostosky replied shortly after, this time saying, "I'm happy to hear what you have to say at some point in terms of a path to resolving the claim, but right now I don't know your client's position nor has there been any attempt by your client to communicate with me regarding my request, leading me to file suit and spend my own money to do so...Before we talk, please file an answer so that both parties know each other's prospective positions."
These emails were provided to the Tidings by Bialostosky, though the Tidings has formally requested all correspondence between the city attorney's office and Bialostosky regarding the scope and redactions of his request but they were not received by the time of this article's press deadline.
Ramis and Dolan did not comment when asked whether these emails accurately reflect the entirety of their attempts to negotiate scope and redactions.
In July, Clackamas County Circuit Court ruled in favor of Cummings in this case, saying that her notes were not disclosable because she is not a public body. Bialostosky recently filed an appeal of the ruling with Oregon's appellate court.
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