KINGSTON — Beth Brewster said she “didn’t wake up three years ago and decide that I would take a stand” against the Port of Kingston.
“My life before all of this was great,” Brewster wrote to the North Kitsap Herald. “I was a small-business owner working really hard but loving the challenge. The last thing I needed, wanted or had the time, energy or money for was a three-year legal battle.”
That legal battle — which started with a dispute with the then-port director over a lease for her marina-based business — ended Feb. 10 with a judgment of $164,000 against the Port of Kingston for failing to respond in a timely manner to Brewster’s public records requests in 2014-15.
The port was ordered to pay Brewster $75,000 and pay her lawyer, Carl Marquardt, $89,000 in attorney’s fees.
More costs could be forthcoming. Tania Issa, a Kingston resident and business owner, has a similar lawsuit against the port. In addition, Christine Conners, the port’s former public records clerk, is suing the port for wrongful termination.
Brewster and Issa say port staff didn’t respond as required to their requests for public records in 2014-15. In several cases, they say, the port withheld or destroyed records, failed to search for and produce records, did not produce port records transmitted using port and personal email and text messaging, and failed to preserve requested records, in this case video that was lost because it was overwritten.
Records show the violations were rooted in a dispute then-port manager David Malone had with Brewster and Issa. Malone initiated the eviction of Brewster’s business, Kingston Adventures, from the port’s marina for not having a lease agreement. Brewster had operated at the marina for three years without a lease agreement but with the port’s consent, and had paid rent for use of the port’s small-boat facility. Brewster said Malone retaliated against her because she questioned in a public meeting how the port was being managed.
Issa believed the treatment of Brewster, as well as other unrelated instances, revealed gender discrimination and conflict of interest at the port, and they both filed requests for public records they believed would back up their suspicions. Malone’s conflict with Brewster and Issa was revealed in several records. According to those documents, Malone allegedly referred to Brewster in an offensive or pejorative term, used an obscene gesture when talking about her in front of port staff, and ordered delays in responding to Brewster and Issa’s records requests.
Malone resigned on Oct. 25, 2015. He is now manager of The Point Hotel. In an earlier interview, he denied the allegations. “I have no recollection of that whatsoever,” he told the North Kitsap Herald on Dec. 13. He said he never used “a degrading term” in reference to Brewster.
In a declaration dated Nov. 28, Pivarnik wrote that since he joined the Port of Kingston — he was previously the deputy director of the Port of Port Townsend — he has worked to improve the port’s handling of public records and improve relations with the community. The port hired two employees with experience in public records — one of them has a law degree and is an associate professor at University of Washington — and in October the port commission adopted a new 19-page public records policy.
Pivarnik wrote that he and Commissioner Mary McClure met with Issa and listened to her concerns about how the port handled her public records requests. “By the end of the meeting, Commissioner McClure and I felt we better understood Tania’s position,” he wrote. Pivarnik also instructed port staff “to treat Ms. Brewster the same way they should treat any other Port user,” and added that Brewster “still uses the port’s public boat launch for her business.”
“In that new capacity, no new issues or controversies have arisen between her and the port,” Pivarnik stated at the time.
And in April 2016, port attorney Kathleen J. Haggard of Porter Foster Rorick wrote to the court that the port “does not wish to prolong this litigation or increase litigation expenses,” and seeks “not only to resolve the litigation but to bring the agency into compliance with state law.”
Pivarnik said in an earlier interview that the port is not admitting anyone acted illegally, and he said he doesn’t believe anyone at the port intentionally acted illegally, “it’s just that [public records requests] were not a priority,” he said in an earlier interview.
Regarding Issa’s case, Pivarnik said the port “still holds out hope to do a settlement.”
In her statement to the Herald, Brewster wrote that as a result of her legal case, “You, your family and friends now have an equal opportunity to be awarded a contract, leased a personal or commercial space, or get a job at the Port of Kingston. You, your family and friends now have a voice without fearing retaliation. Hopefully, you’ll use it before my wounds heal, as I’d hate to think this was all for nothing.”
During her dispute with Malone and her effort to obtain public records, she”felt like a boxer who’d been put into the ring with her arms tied behind her back.”
She wrote, “I have no regrets and even though this was hell, I would not hesitate to stand by a neighbor if he or she took a stand for justice. When we stop pushing for justice, when we turn our backs, we all lose. A fight for justice is never for one person alone and it cannot skip the small town if we expect it as a nation.”