Whistleblowers file claim over fallout from Seattle mayor’s missing texts

Jul 8, 2021, 8:15 AM | Updated: 10:48 am

A pair of public records officers filed claims against the City of Seattle this week, alleging they endured a hostile work environment after revealing that they had been directed by the Mayor’s Office to improperly handle a series of requests for Mayor Jenny Durkan’s text messages.

‘Very suspicious’ that texts from Seattle leaders all went missing

The saga began when Durkan’s legal counsel, Michelle Chen, discovered in August of 2020 that Durkan’s text messages between August 2019 and June 2020 had not been retained. According to whistleblower complaints from Public Records Officers Stacy Irwin and Kim Ferreiro, Chen later directed them to “narrowly interpret 48 pending requests … identified as requesting the Mayor’s text messages,” in an attempt to conceal the fact that the messages were missing.

Additionally, the Mayor’s Office sought to quietly obtain copies of Mayor Durkan’s texts from city employees who had exchanged messages with her to fulfill other records requests. Chen was said to have then directed the two records officers to deliver those recreated messages “without any explanation” as to why they weren’t actually from the mayor’s own devices.

Now, Irwin and Ferreiro are filing claims asking for $5 million each in damages from the city, according to a report from The Seattle Times. Both women eventually resigned after reporting Chen’s actions to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Committee (SEEC), asserting that they felt as though they were being retaliated against in the weeks after they blew the whistle.

The Seattle Times also filed a lawsuit against the city regarding the controversy in early June, detailing records requests made by four reporters, and accusing the Mayor’s Office of not promptly fulfilling those requests, intentionally obfuscating the fact that the messages were missing in the first place, unlawfully withholding records “not exempt from disclosure,” and failing “to conduct an adequate search” for others.

Mayoral candidate calls on AG to investigate missing texts

In a letter addressed to the SEEC last week, Mayor Durkan promised to no longer have Chen perform duties related to public disclosure requests, but also said that “it would be deeply unfair” to draw any larger conclusions as to her character.

“During her tenure, Ms. Chen has provided invaluable work and dedicated service to the City,” the letter reads.

This comes in the wake of newly-proposed legislation from Seattle City Council President Lorena Gonzalez and City Attorney Pete Holmes, designed to provide protections and job security for public records officers.

According to the city, the goal of the legislation is to ensure city employees are protected from political influence while carrying out their duties to respond to Public Records Act requests on behalf of elected officials. It aims to protect those records officers, and ultimately strengthen public trust in city government.

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Whistleblowers file claim over fallout from Seattle mayor’s missing texts