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State delves into NASCAR recruitment

PORT ORCHARD — The Washington State Attorney General’s office will dispatch two detectives from the State Patrol to investigate charges that a Kitsap County employee violated public records law and failed to retain copies of certain documents while working to recruit the proposed NASCAR track.

While Kitsap County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Tim Drury said everything surrounding the case is “complete conjecture,” the investigation could be completed in a few weeks.

The investigation results from an alleged incident that occurred 18 months ago, in which county employees purportedly failed to keep a copy of a map that was requested by Kitsap Economic Development Council Executive Director David Porter. Additionally, a record of the request was not properly submitted, violating certain requirements.

At the time, Porter was assembling transportation data for a proposal designed to lure the International Speedway Corp. (ISC) to Kitsap County. The completed proposal was at first unsuccessful, as ISC selected a Snohomish County site over Kitsap.

The Snohomish location fell through last year, and ISC announced its selection of Kitsap as an alternative site for the 80,000-seat raceway two weeks ago.

Porter required county employees to sign non-disclosure statements, which legally prevented them from revealing knowledge about the proposed facility. He said this is a common practice for many of his contacts.

“The material they gave me wasn’t sensitive,” Porter said. “But the fact that I was asking for it was.”

While Porter said he would feel bad if the employees were criminally prosecuted, he feels his need for privacy is justified.

“They should have saved the copies,” he said. “But the need for confidentiality is a common practice. Developers don’t want to let other people know what they’re doing.”

Porter said someone could see that he was making a certain request and file a freedom of information to determine its contents. At that time, his client (in this case, ISC) would make its intentions known.

“Doing business with public agencies is a challenge for anyone who is working in economic development,” he said. “There are things that we do that aren’t anyone else’s business.”

Drury said an investigation could find no laws were violated and the employee in question had no intention of committing a crime. On the other hand, the suspect could face felony charges and a jail term.

In that case, Drury said the defendant would most likely be responsible for his or her own defense, since court costs would not be paid by the county.

Indianola activist Charlie Burrow, whose e-mail to North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen triggered the investigative process, said he did not expect his efforts to cause such a firestorm.

“I didn’t really think through the consequences,” he said. “I was just looking to get records that should have been public. If they are being deliberately covered up, then we have a pretty serious problem.”

Burrow, who doesn’t believe the unfiled document is an isolated incident, said the controversy could create distrust of the process if more such incidents emerge.

“I think this is more than just one rogue staffer,“ he said. “Considering the number of people who signed these agreements, you can’t estimate how many records were affected.”

At this point, the impact of these disclosures on the project itself is uncertain.

“We welcome a complete and thorough airing of this,” said Lary Coppola, chairman of the KEDC. “If there was anything illegal, we want it out on the table. But if there was anything illegal, I don’t think it was intentional.”

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