KINGSTON — During a special meeting on Tuesday, March 6, the Port of Kingston voted unanimously to approve a payment of $252,000 to Kingston resident Tania Issa after failing to respond to public records requests stemming back to 2014.
According to a port press release, Issa will walk away with $124,000 after attorney fees and court costs. This came after Issa requested to go into mediation to settle the ongoing dispute.
The settlement comes after Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Bassett ordered the port to pay $164,000 to Beth Brewster in 2017, following a similar public records lawsuit.
At the end of January port commissioner Bruce McIntyre resigned from his position following an ethics complaint also filed by Issa. In his resignation letter McIntyre stated, “This atmosphere of perpetual assault has begun to have detrimental effects on my health, effects which I do not have to — and which I choose not to — accept.”
Community members were present at the meeting to make their feelings on the matter known to the remaining two commissioners, Laura Gronnvoll and Mary McClure. Rick Lanning said he thought the port’s recent moves toward greater transparency were a positive outcome of the suit but he argued that Issa was never actually a victim of any wrongdoing.
“Here’s the point, if you’d been actually wronged for doing something, you have a platform,” Lanning said before explaining that he regarded Issa’s suit as an attempt to get money from a government lawsuit. “It’s a loophole way to sue a small, public entity … That doesn’t stick well with the community.”
Greg Wright was also at the meeting and said that litigation just wasn’t the way that Kingston solved its problems.
“I’ve been here my whole life, my father was the first chamber president, they started the fireworks, we’ve put in countless hours into the community, never once, ever would I have litigated against our community. We would have solved our communal problems in a communal way,” Wright said.
“This town is about volunteering,” Lanning added. “It’s about giving. They are the first people in a hundred years that have gone and tried to take from this community. That’s what sets it apart.”
Rick Lanning’s wife, Michelle Lanning was in the audience at the meeting as well and said that Issa’s actions have fractured the small community.
“She has ripped this town apart,” Michelle Lanning said. “Now that everything is cleared up and everything is transparent, if it wasn’t about the money then she would’ve said, ‘everything’s cool, everything’s great, it’s transparent now, I’m going to drop the case, just pay my attorney’s fees.’ Had she done that, I might feel okay.”
In fact, Issa maintains that she offered such a deal to the port’s executive director, Jim Pivarnik, prior to entering mediation.
“I didn’t want the port’s money and I told Jim that before we went as far along as we did,” Issa said. “But there are legal expenses that I have borne beyond those ones that were included in the amount of the settlement.”
When asked about this, Pivarnik said that no such conversation ever took place.
As for what she will do with the money awarded from the settlement, Issa said she would pay off any remaining costs from the two lawsuits.
“The money that is given to me in the form of penalties will be used for my remaining legal expenses, Beth Brewster’s remaining legal expenses, with the balance to go to Beth to kind of – in so many words – compensate her for the loss of her business, which was pretty substantial financially and of course emotionally,” Issa said.
Only a day before she went to mediation with the port, Issa said she began to receive about 22,000 files of previously un-answered public information requests. Despite the high volume, Issa said she doesn’t think she got everything she asked for.
“I got the public records, I didn’t get all of them but to me that’s what this whole thing was about. It started with public records and I’ll tell you it was pretty meaningful to sit in mediation on the day after our governor vetoed the state legislature’s attempt to weaken the public records act,” Issa said. “It was pretty exciting to be sitting there and resolving this matter.”
Issa said she is continuing to move forward in the wake of the settlement and that she feels the community around her is as well.
“I think the community has really, really moved on and wants to move on,” Issa said. “Certainly there’s healing that needs to go on. It’s a small town and this was ugly, incredibly ugly. It should never have happened.”
—Nick Twietmeyer is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. Nick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org