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 email@example.com 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: firstname.lastname@example.org