Mount Rainier City Council members heavily criticized Councilor Scott Cecil for leaking emails to the media revealing internal deliberations about documents discovered missing from City Hall in late 2019. Council’s criticism came at the tail-end of its March 3, 2020, meeting, after Cecil revealed he was responsible for the leak.
Cecil tried to explain his actions. Cecil noted that Route 1 Reporter had filed a Public Information Act seeking the emails, among other documents. The city’s estimated cost to produce that public information act for Route 1 Reporter exceeded $3,000. A revised request for a smaller subset of documents – which would have excluded many of the emails Cecil provided – had an estimated cost exceeding $300.
“The reason I decided to leak the emails is because of the fact that there have been thefts from this building got out to the reporter somehow,” said Cecil during the meeting, noting that Route 1 Reporter later filed a Public Information Act request for email related to the missing documents. “Rather than him publishing a story without knowing what was actually happening, I showed him my emails.”
“I think it was the right thing to do,” said Cecil.
Each of Cecil’s Council colleagues then took turns responding. Each had harsh words for Cecil. And each focused their ire squarely upon Cecil’s decision to blow the whistle.
No mention of, nor reassurance was given to, the facility security issues raised by the contents of Cecil’s disclosures.
The fact that Cecil’s emails revealed Code Enforcement’s files are “entirely paper based” and hard to replace did not warrant a mention from the critics.
Both Mayor Malinda Miles and Councilor Celina Benitez went as far as to suggest it cannot be known if documents were stolen from City Hall or not, which – it must be emphasized – is also a kind of record-keeping malpractice.
Knedler was the first to respond. He worried of liability potential if protected employee information was leaked.
“The emails are public record…but if there were personnel issues that were confidential in any of those emails, that’s not good,” said Knedler. “I haven’t seen the article. Somebody told me there was one. But I haven’t seen it.”
Miles was the next to respond. She said she had not read the article. She said she declined to answer Route 1 Reporter’s request for comment on the missing documents “because it was inappropriate for it to have been sent,” referring to Cecil’s leaking of the emails.
“And yes, Scott, I knew it was definitely you who did it,” said Miles, addressing Cecil directly. “I knew Celina wouldn’t leak it, I didn’t think [Luke] would have done it, I know Brian didn’t do it, so it didn’t leave but one person.”
Miles went on to say it was “inappropriate” and “flippant” for Cecil to have given the emails to Route 1 Reporter. She requested Cecil alert her before leaking emails to the media.
“I’ve had about enough of that kind of attitude,” said Miles. “It may be the absolutely right. It may be the absolute right thing to do, but I believe there’s a way a little finess might help.”
Miles also worried that Cecil’s leak might result in her sending less emails.
Councilor Luke Chesek was next. He pushed Route 1 Reporter to write different stories about Mount Rainier.
“I haven’t read the article. I don’t know what it says,” said Chesek. “There is so much work that we are doing at pushing this city forward. That should be the story of what’s happening in Mount Rainier right now.”
Chesek suggested initiatives to improve the city’s streetscape, the sale of 3200 Rhode Island Avenue, the city’s economic development initiatives, or the re-opening of the library after it was closed for a year because the city failed to maintain the facility as topics Route 1 reporter could cover.
“The story of Mount Rainier is not an allegation of some documents stole in a cabinet that may or may not have happened like eight months ago,” said Chesek, laughing. “That’s an issue…but it’s not the story of what’s happening from a broader perspective in Mount Rainier right now.”
Benitez was the next to respond. She disputed Cecil’s allegation that the disappeared documents were stolen, arguing they could have been missing or could have never existed. According to the records, it was Benitez who, in late October, discovered cabinets unlocked in City Hall one evening and alerted Mount Rainier Chief of Police Anthony Morgan to a potential theft of documents. That resulted in then-city attorney Ken Sigman taking possession of the documents that night for safekeeping.
“We need to have the information if we want to be transparent: It’s allegedly, because we don’t even know those documents existed or not, if they were here or not, or if they got rid of them or not,” said Benitez, directly addressing Cecil.
Benitez then went on to remind Cecil that an investigation may also bring scrutiny on himself.
“I’ll say this: if the investigation happens, everyone – you’re not immune to not being investigated as well, Scott,” said Benitez. “I want to make sure that’s clear.”
Benitez then motioned to move the meeting into closed session. Knedler quickly seconded the motion. Miles called the vote. The motion to close passed by a vote of four-to-one, with Cecil voting against.