Two local business owners sue city of Blaine

Published on Wed, Mar 7, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Two Blaine business owners have filed suit against the city, alleging city staff improperly handled a public records request and cost them thousands of dollars in legal fees.

The civil suit was filed in Whatcom County Superior Court on behalf of Business United, LLC, which consists of Blaine property owner Thomas Bridge and Dale Schrader, the owner of the Subway on Marine Drive. The pair filed the lawsuit earlier this year after incurring almost $16,000 in legal fees trying to stop the roundabout at Marine and Peace Portal drives from being built.

The suit alleges city staff did not fully comply with a public records request Bridge and Schrader filed on March 24, 2010, requesting all records and city permits relating to the Washington State Department of Transportation’s (WSDOT) roundabout project. City clerk Sheri Sanchez disclosed a number of documents in response to this request, but told Bridge and Schrader no city permits for the roundabout existed.

“Unofficially, we were told they didn’t need any permits,” Bridge said.

Bridge and Schrader then filed a complaint and motion in superior court seeking an injunction against WSDOT to halt further progress on the project until proper permits were obtained. This injunction was eventually thrown out, and the roundabout was completed in May 2010.

But on April 20, 2010, the lawsuit alleges, city staff sent a document to Bridge that should have been disclosed as part of the original request.

This document was a letter from WSDOT explaining what the roundabout project entailed, and Steve Banham, the city’s public works director at the time, had signed off on it.

Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic said city staff came across this letter after Bridge and Schrader filed for an injunction against WSDOT. City staff showed the letter to Jon Sitkin, the city’s attorney, and he said it should be given to Bridge.

“We got it to them as soon as we discovered it,” Tomsic said.

Though the document was eventuality sent, Bridge said he and Schrader had already incurred significant legal costs in trying to stop the roundabout from being built.

If city staff had given Bridge the document initially, he would not have sued to stop the roundabout in the first place, saving him the legal costs.

Bridge’s lawsuit asks the city pay $15,988 in legal fees and be fined in accordance with state public records laws. State law says a public agency can be fined no more than $100 for each day the agency delayed in completing a public records request.

Tomsic said he’s not sure exactly what the city’s official response to the lawsuit will be. City staff, in conjunction with the city’s lawyers, are still determining the validity and substance of the complaint.