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PDC complaints mount against KCLS over Renton mailing; read letter, study

Renate Beedon filed a complaint Tuesday with the Washington Public Disclosure Commission against the King County Library System, claiming the library system over-stepped its bounds by mailing a letter about the upcoming Aug. 7 library vote.

The Public Disclosure Commission has received two similar complaints about this issue,  said Lori Anderson, a PDC spokeswoman.

“We are in the process of deciding whether to investigate,” she said, which will take a week to two weeks.

“Public agencies can inform their constituents about ballot measures, but it has to be done in a balanced way without supporting or opposing the measure,” she said.

Beedon and her husband Dave became upset after talking with some friends and neighbors about a letter they received from KCLS about Proposition 1 that asks voters to decide where a new downtown library should be located.

“She and I both feel that he (Bill Ptacek, KCLS director) has no business telling Renton voters about this in advance of an election,” said Dave Beedon.

Both of the Beedons felt the letter was an unfair attempt by KCLS to influence voters into choosing the site west of the Piazza for the new downtown library.

The letter sent out by KCLS gave background information on the downtown Renton library renovation from a new feasibility study and ballot measure to select a site location.

In it, KCLS defines the interlocal agreement between KCLS and the City of Renton.

It informs readers that the City of Renton has already spent nearly $1 million on the property acquisition and design since selecting the site west of the Piazza.

The letter goes on to detail why it is more expensive, and more complicated to build the library at the site over the Cedar River.

“The letter from KCLS in my opinion was wrongfully paid by public money,” said Renate Beedon.

The letter went to about 43,000 households in Renton and cost $10,000 total for mail preparation,postage and printing. (An earlier total did not include printing costs.)

KCLS gives letter recipients a summary of the situation stating, “Site selection and construction costs remain the responsibility of the City of Renton,” wrote Bill Ptacek, KCLS director. “We understand that the increased cost for construction at the site over the Cedar River is in excess of the City’s budgeted amount.”

Julie Brand, a KCLS spokesperson, Julie Brand maintains the system has not “taken a position on the ballot measure and has only distributed information that is relevant to building a library to KCLS standards.”

The letter was reviewed by KCLS’ attorneys to ensure compliance with Public Disclosure Commission guidelines, according to Brand.

Brand quotes Public Disclosure guidelines to say “It is not only the right, but the responsibility of local government to inform the general public of the operational and maintenance issues facing issues. This includes informing the community of the needs of the agency that the community may not realize exist. Local governments may expend funds for this purpose provided that the preparation and distribution of information is not for the purpose of influencing the outcome of an election.”

She uses that explanation in an email to say that it is KCLS’s responsibility to distribute factual information that is relevant to the operation of the library system.

Dave Beedon called the letter “at least in poor taste, a waste of money and maybe even illegal.”

He found it interesting that Ptacek mentioned the costs involved in renovating the downtown library considering the fact that he is a government employee and, in Dave’s opinion, shouldn’t be concerned with how much it would cost to renovate the library at its current location.

Rosemary Quesenberry of Renton also received the letter and decided to file a complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission on Tuesday.

“I feel that as strapped as the budget is, this probably isn’t the best way to spend our dollars,” she said.

Quesenberry found fault in KCLS hiring Miller-Hull Architects, the firm already working on the project, to do an “in-depth investigation of potential construction scheduling and cost considerations,” the letter reads.

 

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