A Canby resident and city councilor has filed a far-reaching public records request, seeking copies of emails, texts and other documents from four other council members, including their correspondence with this media outlet and its representatives.
The January 20 records request by Councilor Shawn Varwig sought any emails, documents or texts between councilors Sarah Spoon, Chris Bangs, Greg Parker and David Bajorin regarding the Canby Planning Commission and its members or potential members.
He also requested “all emails” sent by one or more of those officials since November 1, 2020, as well as any documents or text messages referencing himself, Council President Traci Hensley or Mayor Brian Hodson.
Finally, he asked for all emails or other correspondence between the four and Tyler Francke, The Canby Current and its associates.
His original request also demanded all emails forwarded to the four councilors or to their spouses or significant others, but this was later retracted.
Several of those involved referenced the request during the Canby City Council on Wednesday, February 2, the first being Bangs, who framed it as a politically motivated attack.
He began by saying he ran for office in 2020 because a right-wing political organization, the Oregon Firearms Federation, a pro-gun rights group run by Canby resident Kevin Starrett, had contributed to the campaigns of three candidates: Hensley and former Councilor Jordan Tibbals, who won their races, and newly sworn-in State Representative James Hieb, who narrowly lost the council race.
“And I believed that no council candidates should be tied to any political organizations,” he said. “And then, I’ve found in my one year of serving on the council, I’ve had political attacks launched on me four times by people I didn’t even know were my political enemies.”
The “attacks” have come in the form of three separate public records requests, he said, including the one from Varwig, plus a failed recall effort that also targeted Spoon last year.
“These are extraordinary measures,” Bangs said. “I don’t believe a city councilor has ever asked for public records from another city councilor. This is normally something that the media might do in trying to get information.”
Bangs said he believed the request stemmed from a round of Planning Commission appointments last month, in which the four councilors named in the public records request had rejected two of the appointments recommended by Varwig, who also serves as the council’s liaison to the planning board, and Hodson.
Under state law, public bodies can require those requesting public records to reimburse staff time spent on locating, reviewing, preparing and, if necessary, redacting documents.
City Recorder Melissa Bisset told the Current the estimated fee for Varwig’s records request was $1,087.57. Still, Bangs characterized the exercise as a waste of time.
“I’m really disappointed,” Bangs said. “I think it’s a shameful display of political tit for tat. I’m not going to play that game. I think it’s beneath the dignity of a city councilor to do this kind of thing to another city councilor.”
Spoon did not comment on the request during the meeting, but in a later statement to the Current, she said she has “no problem complying with a public records request.”
“I do take issue with my colleague responding to a failed vote with a meltdown and a public records request so vast and abusive in scope that it is costing him over $1,000 of his personal money and staff indicated that they will have to shift the city’s priorities to facilitate it,” she said.
“It’s an expensive, petty fishing expedition that will prevent the city from doing the work of the people. Leadership requires resilience and what we should be doing when a vote doesn’t go our way, as it has for all of us, is brush ourselves off, build bridges, and get back to work, not throw temper tantrums.”
At the council meeting, Parker said it was the first time in his 12 years on the council that a colleague had filed such a request involving him.
“My approach was to send an email to that city councilor saying, ‘It appears we have a communication problem. Can we get together and talk about this?'” Parker said. “Radio silence.”
It’s a “two-way street,” he said.
“If we’ve gotten to the point where the only way we’re going to be sharing information is by suing each other, then … we’ve really lost the ability to be a functioning council,” he said. “I’m disappointed by this. It’s an historical anomaly, and I’m still quite stunned by it.”
In his comments at the meeting as well as a later interview with the Current, Varwig stressed that he had made the request as a private citizen and not in his role as city councilor.
“While we are elected to serve, that does not take away the fact that we are also community members, and those who are also elected to serve still represent us,” he explained. “And when you lose trust in those who represent you, there are things like records requests to make sure they are on the up and up.
“If they’re doing everything correctly, there should be no problem and no issue with the public records request. That’s why it exists.”
Varwig said he has “lost trust in some of my elected officials.”
“So I have done a public records request to try and regain that trust,” he said. “And I have zero interest in having a conversation with them about it because I have lost trust, and when you don’t trust somebody, a conversation won’t help. But hopefully, a public records request will help clear that up.”
Varwig confirmed this week that he has not yet received any of the requested communications or documents. He said city staff estimated that the request would likely be fulfilled sometime in March.
City Attorney Joe Lindsay told the Current the city hopes to receive all responsive matters in the next week or so, then analyze them quickly and forward the records to Varwig.
“That said, there are four individuals with various busy schedules that are trying to find the extra time to dig back through their communications, so we are trying to be reasonable to them as well,” he said.
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