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Deputies guild sues county for public records violations

The guild representing deputies with the Island County Sheriff’s Office has filed a lawsuit against the county for allegedly violating the state’s Open Public Records Act and blocking arbitration.

James Cline, the Seattle attorney representing the Island County Deputy Sheriff’s Guild, filed a complaint for contempt, declaratory and injunctive relief and damages in Snohomish County Superior Court Nov. 16. The guild is the exclusive bargaining unit representing commissioned deputies through the rank of lieutenant.

The deputies have been working without a contract since December 2008. The guild and county engaged in dispute resolution through the Public Employment Relations Commissioners, though the complaint doesn’t explain the nature of the dispute.

The process didn’t lead to a resolution, the complaint states, but resulted in a certification that allows “interest arbitration.”

The complaint alleges that county representatives promised several times to select on arbitrator, but failed to follow through each time.

As a result, the guild filed a public records request with the county on June 25, requesting documents regarding “wide-ranging information related to the County’s budget and other documents related to pending labor contract negotiations.”

Under the public records law, the county generally has five business days to respond to a request by either providing the records, acknowledging receipt and providing a reasonable estimate of a time for an answer or denying the request.

The complaint alleges that the county initially acknowledged receiving the request and promised to give a fuller response, but with no specific date, and then didn’t respond again.

After receiving no further response, the guild repeated the request on Sept. 1.

After allegedly receiving no response again, a guild representative contacted the prosecutor on Sept. 20 and threatened to file unless the information was produced. The guild received a reply that the human resources director was working on it, but again with no production date.

According to the lawsuit, the guild still has not received any further response from the county.

In addition, the complaint alleges that county representatives now refuse to select an arbitrator.

Melanie Bacon, the county’s human resources director, said she couldn’t discuss pending litigation. She said the county and guild representatives are scheduled to meet to discuss contract resolution next month, but she said it appears that arbitration is likely.

“We all believe that’s the direction we are headed,” she said, “but it doesn’t have to go there.”

Bacon said she couldn’t speak about the specifics of the labor dispute, but acknowledged that the resolution could impact the county’s budget.

The lawsuit states that the guild is entitled to interest and double wages for delays in the arbitration process by the county’s refusal to participate, as well as statutory penalties, attorney’s fees and costs. The lawsuit also asks for an order of contempt against the county and injunctions restraining the county from withholding public records and refusing to participate in arbitration.

 

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