Two or Renton’s media outlets have recently run stories on public outcry and PDC complaints regarding a KCLS mailing on July 2nd on Propostion 1 at taxpayers expense.
You can read the story in the Renton Patch here “Did KCLS Wrongly Use Public Funds to Mail July 2nd Letter”, and in the Renton Reporter here “PDC complaints mount against KCLS over Renton mailing; read letter, study”
There have also been many complaints in cyberspace about this, including a large number in newspaper comment sections. We have also received several letters of concern at city hall, in our official email (even though the letter was produced by KCLS, not Renton).
I had concerns in late June that KCLS might be preparing such a letter , and I knew it would do harm to the City of Renton’s ability to conduct an election on the library location that is both fair and perceived as fair by Renton’s citizens. I cautioned KCLS leadership and the PDC about this serious risk in a letter I sent to them on June 25 which you can read here.
I received a response from PDC, which said among other things that KCLS must ensure their letter is “fair and objective.” As of that response, the PDC had not seen the KCLS letter, and as hard as I tried, I was unable to obtain a copy of the letter before it was put in the mail to 43,000 homes. Shortly after the letter started showing up in mailboxes, many members of the public found serious accounting and math errors in the analysis behind the letter, along with new subjective and questionable assumptions that were wrongly presented as facts. As these citizens were contacting the media and writing to PDC (and writing to council,) I summarized my concerns in a blog entry here, and then sent a second letter to the PDC here.
The State Attorney General’s office has provided some excellent guidance to government agencies reminding them to be extremely cautious when informing the public about ballot issues. One memo, which you can find here, closes with this advice:
“In closing, it is important to remember that the public is generally very sensitive to the use of public facilities or property on ballot propositions or initiatives and takes accusations of violations very seriously. Officers and employees who try to bump up against the “line” that divides lawful from unlawful conduct in this area may find, even if their conduct is eventually judged lawful, that their questionable activity has incited a public backlash against the very position they were attempting to advocate. As a result, public employees should walk a careful line to assure that the public is fully and adequately informed about the consequences of voting on a particular measure, without making unlawful use of public money or property to influence the result of the vote.”
I encourage KCLS and all public agencies to take this advice seriously in the future.