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Thurston County Commissioner Diane Oberquell

The Olympian has run a story in recent days questioning the motives of retiring County Commissioner Diane Oberquell:

August 26th:
Oberquell records request called ‘exceptional’
Retiring commissioner sought information on failed legislation

“Thurston County Commissioner Diane Oberquell sent a state agency one of the biggest public records requests ever filed, costing the agency an estimated $9,000 for 300 hours of staff time and about $500 for printing almost 10,000 pages of documents.

Oberquell, acting as a private citizen, filed the request Feb. 9. She asked the office of state Attorney General Rob McKenna for records, e-mails and other documents that mention a failed bill in the state Legislature that would have required county commissioners to tape their closed-door executive sessions. Oberquell testified Feb. 5 against the bill…

Some observers, such as Rowland Thompson, executive director of Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, and Olympia attorney Greg Overstreet, former special assistant to the state attorney general for government accountability, said Oberquell’s request appeared to be at least in part retaliation for a time-consuming public records request filed with Thurston County in 2006 by state Auditor Brian Sonntag.

Thurston County was one of 30 government agencies queried in a statewide performance audit to judge agency responsiveness to and compliance with the state Public Records Act.

In the project, which ran Nov. 2, 2006, through Jan. 30, 2007, Sonntag’s staff posed as citizens and asked for a test sample of records.

That triggered Oberquell to complain publicly in August 2007 that Sonntag was “asking us for things like a job description of the IT person, sheriff’s travel, (chief administrator) Don Krupp’s telephone records you know, things like that,” she said in a news story in The Olympian.

Thompson said if Oberquell’s effort was retaliatory, it backfired in that McKenna’s office, by fulfilling her request, upheld the public’s right to know…

In response to Oberquell’s request, the agency printed 9,800 pages at a cost of 5 cents a page, but Oberquell decided to take copies of only 60 pages and several CDs containing documents, for which she was charged $20, said Dan Sytman, a spokesman for McKenna’s office.

The 300 hours of staff time including managers, specialists and support staff cost an average of $30 an hour, or $9,000…

Agency staff members contacted Oberquell several times to “see if she could narrow the scope,” but the efforts were unsuccessful, he said.”

UPDATE: September 1, 2008
The Olympian Op-ED said this in today’s editions:
“Oberquell was spiteful, wrong
Citizen activism is a right. Harassment is not.

Thurston County Commissioner Diane Oberquell has submitted two voluminous public records requests to state agencies out of pure spite. It’s vindictiveness at its worst and as a public official, Oberquell should know better. She has embarrassed herself in her final days in office and her retaliatory requests for public records are yet another indication that at 20 years, she has stayed in office too long…

Attorney Greg Overstreet, former open records ombudsman for the attorney general, said, “I think 99 percent of public records requests are made by well-meaning people — this seems to be the other 1 percent.”

As a county commissioner, Diane Oberquell has the same right as every other citizen to hold her government accountable. And while citizen activism is admirable, forcing taxpayers to cover the costs of retaliatory requests for public records crosses the line.

The sad reality is after 20 years of public service as county commissioner, Oberquell has ruined her reputation on her way out of office.”

ED NOTE: This writer has said the same thing twice in the last year : with another “indication that at 20 years, she has stayed in office too long.”
Mrs. Oberquell passed over her own Thurston County Planning Commission’s recommendations and citizen comments about the 2007 Yelm Comprehensive Plan Transportation Update, which will not reign in the continuing traffic issues here.

Further, The Olympian reported on June 16, 2008 that “Poor planning led to budget woes” with the Thurston County deficit and that lies directly at Mrs. Oberquell’s and her fellow Commissioners’ feet.

Posted by Steve on August 31, 2008 at 8:39 am | Permalink

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