Washington Newspaper Sues Fire District Over Public Records and Open Meetings

A local newspaper has filed suit against a Washington fire district for refusing to provide requested public records, destroying requested records, and violation of the state’s open meetings law.

The La Conner Weekly News filed a 37 page complaint against the Skagit County Fire Protection District 13 citing numerous violations of Washington State’s public records and open meetings laws.

The newspaper’s interest in the records stems from allegations of retaliation by the district’s secretary Deborah McFarlane against Commissioner Doug Avery. According to GoSkagit.com, McFarlane claimed that “Avery repeatedly made false accusations against her in public, demanded she perform tasks for him and not other board members, and treated her with aggression and intimidation.”

A report into the allegations concluded Avery “violated federal and state labor laws and fire district policy for retaliating against district secretary after she complained about his behavior.” Avery was censored by the Board of Fire Commissioners for his behavior.

La Conner Weekly sought copies of records related to the investigation, including billing and insurance records not protected by exemptions from the public records laws.  The suit also alleges violations of the state’s open meetings law, claiming the district routinely went into executive session for reasons not permitted by state law.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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