Posted by: sweeneyblog | April 26, 2011

Sam Crawford’s Secret Emails

Sam Crawford is the current county council president and seems to have a little trouble with transparency laws. As a public official, his emails are public record if they are pertaining to county business. This is a pretty simple matter, for most people. The County sets up an email address and the public official uses the public email for the public’s business and private email for private business.

Curiously, Sam Crawford doesn’t seem to like to use the county email system.

Recently, Mr. Crawford was busted by the Bellingham Herald for not only sending out emails from his private account about public business but, in the same email, asking people to delete the evidence! Luckily, one of these people had a conscience and forwarded it to Jared Paben at the Herald, who reported about it. Here is the juicy part:

Then, at about 11:30 a.m., using his personal e-mail account, he forwarded that e-mail with new text to other people. But, at the end of the new text, he wrote, “If you forward this email, PLEASE remove the elements that indicate I sent it to you using my personal email, as well as this introductory commentary. Thank you!”

This is not Sam Crawford’s first attempt to skirt our state’s open government laws. When Bob Kelly resigned from the Council in November of 2009: Sam Crawford, Ward Nelson and Pete Kremen met behind closed doors to stonewall the nomination process and ensure that Ward Nelson was appointed to the remainder of Kelly’s term. This move was so ethically suspect that lawyers, the attorney general’s office and an official ethics complaint were all involved in an attempt to determine what happened.

Then there was the matter of his quid-pro-quo arrangement with CAITAC, one of the large developers in town.  Sam Crawford received an email from a CAITAC representative that had stated that CAITAC had paid for Kathy Kershner and Bill Knutzen’s election. When the public tried to get their hands on that email, oops, it had disappeared.

So, with all this background in place, I did a public records request on any emails to or from Sam Crawford’s private email account in the last year. I included in my search five county council people, the county executive and the newly appointed planning commissioner. The process here is that the public records officer logs into the county email system and searches for any emails that have passed to or from Sam Crawford’s private email account, then sends them back to me.

HOWEVER, since the county email system does not capture emails that go only between private accounts, the county public records officer politely asks Councilman Crawford and the other email recipients to forward any emails relevant to the public document request.

Do you see the problem with this system? Can you imagine a police officer knocking on a suspected drug dealer’s door and saying, “Excuse me sir, but some people think you might be selling drugs. Could you please be ever so kind as to hand over any drugs you might have on the premises?” An honest person would probably comply. But what about somebody who apparently attempts to subvert the state’s open government laws in the first place by transacting county business using a private email account? Would that person provide all the pertinent emails as requested?

So I read through the gigabytes of emails I received.  There was lots of fascinating stuff about the Lummi Ferry dispute (some of which had to be redacted for legal reasons), most of it was procedural, but by far the most interesting emails were between Sam Crawford and David Onkels. Dave Onkels (or Dave6 as he is sometimes known online) is the newest County Planning Commissioner. Most of their emails were just back and forth about county business (“I had this idea”, “you should read this”) which would be fine . . .

. . . except that, it was from Crawford’s private email account. The one he is not supposed to do county work from.

One of the emails, here, even has Crawford saying “I didn’t send this to you”. Clearly Sam Crawford, with his years of experience as a public official, knows better. The email, for those curious, was about this.

Sam Crawford knows what he is doing is breaking state law. He’s just thumbing his nose at the public. Because he can.

I urge everyone, when they are contacting Sam Crawford, to use his PUBLIC email account for the public’s business. His public email is here:



  1. Since I am mentioned, I thought that I’d respond.

    I submitted exactly two emails to Mr. Burnfield, and the one in question was about Pete Kremen’s letter threatening to veto the Rural Element update.

    The letter was already available to me from PDS, as I recall, which you can see from my reply, and it’s not as though it were private.

    I don’t recall the contents of the other email, but, as I recall, I sent it before my appointment to the Planning Commission.

    Frankly, I think this blog post is an example of the problem with politics played as a “gotcha” game, with purely innocent acts being portrayed as something sinister.

    If you disagree, feel free to tee off on me here.
    I’ll check in from time to time.

  2. The central point isn’t about you, David, it is about Sam Crawford consistently ignoring, working around or flaunting the Public Disclosure laws we have in this state. It isn’t “Gotcha” journalism when there are repeated attempts to ignore the law, your example was just one of several (as linked above). But thank you for reading!

  3. You’ve also mis-characterized our exchanges, by the use of “most of.”

    That said, I now understand you better, sadly.

    • To respond, there were four emails during the scope of my search that were between David Onkels and Sam Crawford, but he was also cc-ed on a whole slew of other emails concerning the planning commission. Out of the four that were directly between Crawford and Onkels, here is their text, you can decide if my “most of” was mis-characterizing you:

      Email #1

      ———- Forwarded message ———-
      From: Dave Onkels
      Date: Sat, Mar 12, 2011 at 8:34 PM
      Subject: Epiphany
      To: Sam Crawford

      You’re going to get an email with a proposal by me that I think is very important.

      I’d like your input.

      David Onkels

    • Email #2
      ———- Forwarded message ———-
      From: Dave Onkels
      Date: Sun, Feb 13, 2011 at 8:12 PM
      Subject: Perspective
      To: Sam Crawford

      So that you might disabuse yourself of the notion that you’re being singled out by Futurewise:

      David Onkels

    • Email #3

      ———- Forwarded message ———-
      From: Dave Onkels
      Date: Thu, Mar 10, 2011 at 5:33 PM
      Subject: Re: Pete letter
      To: Sam Crawford

      Roxane is going to bring it to the meeting tonight and incorporate it into the staff report.

      On Thu, Mar 10, 2011 at 5:14 PM, Sam Crawford wrote:

      I didn’t send this to you

      David Onkels

      Phone: 360-389-2519
      Cell: 360-296-1243
      Alt # 415-685-5236

    • Email #4 has no text, it is just an email from Crawford to Onkels forwarding Futurewise’s most recent letter to the council concerning the Order of Invalidity.

      So, loyal readers and David Onkels, do you think I was mischaracterizing your and Sam Crawford’s illicit exchanges? The point isn’t that you did something wrong, it is that Sam Crawford continues to conduct the public’s business in private, which is illegal.

  4. Who Is David Onkels?

  5. […] have my article on the public records request I did for Sam Crawford‘s Secret […]

  6. Wow, you’ve got to be kidding me about this stuff. You sound like a displaced Junk Journalist that has resorted to going through someone else’s garbage. Mr. Sweeney you need to grow a set and get a life.

  7. Public oversight is necessary for a functioning democracy, and without a strong local media in Whatcom County, it falls on the citizen journalists to keep our elected officials honest. Thank you for reading!

  8. […] their farming rights, and a comprehensive plan to reduce phosphorus. I asked her a question, citing Sam Crawford’sefforts to evade public disclosure laws and his frequent attempts to do the public’s business […]

  9. […] In this interview, I catch Christina Maginnis on her way to another busy community event, after a heavy day of Doorbelling. Christina Maginnis is running for Whatcom County Council, Position 2, against that rascal Sam Crawford. […]

  10. […] been conducting unethical business dealings for quite sometime, and only recently has some of it come to light here on this blog. Vote […]

  11. […] readers of The Political Junkie will remember Sam Crawford’s numerous ethical lapses with the disappearing emails. This issue was even featured in an attack ad playing right now on a cable station near you (you […]

  12. Apparently there are no consequences for ethical lapses. Sam the Sham hides what he is up to by using private email, but nothing happens when this fact becomes public knowledge. Apparently, he has no sense of shame. He cares more about his income than about his reputation. A more appropriate name than “Sam the Sham” would be “Sam the Shameless”.

  13. […] of its resources. I did some research about Sam Crawford’s ethical problems and compiled them here. Now I have been quite critical of Washington Conservation Voter’s political efforts this […]

  14. […] complaint here or read the official press release reprinted below. You might remember this is not Sam Crawford’s first brush with ethical issues. Or even his second. Or his […]

  15. […] especially consistently uses his private email for public business and has been reprimanded. See my previous reporting on this subject here, and then again here and […]

  16. […] Another Ron Paul supporter described the chaotic scene in the 2nd Congressional district where Sam Crawford shut down a number of complaints over the rules from Paul […]

  17. […] the last week, Sam Crawford has taken to the Bellingham Herald Politics Blog to defend his actions at the GOP County […]

  18. […] to our area and protect our water quality? A deal so good that conservative county councilman, and secretive emailer, Sam Crawford supports it? A deal that cost Tony Larson his seat on the council because he was too […]

  19. […] better advocate for the embattled Senator under pressure for taking over $200,000 of corporate cash than the County Councilman who took $60,000 in corporate cash to buy the county council in 2009? While Ericksen hasn’t been caught deleting evidence, he still is plagued by similar ethical […]

  20. […] has been chased by ethical complaints for several years now, much of it stemming from his work with developers creating a conflict of interest as a councilman. […]

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