WA: Madore Escalates C-Tran Offensive

June 05--Clark County Commissioner David Madore hasn't been shy about publicly criticizing C-Tran in recent months, often accusing the transit agency of misconduct or undue secrecy.

Now Madore appears to have escalated the offensive by taking it to the Washington State Auditor's Office, and reaching out to at least one outside attorney.

Madore, who also serves on the C-Tran board, sent an email to the auditor's office in April outlining a series of accusations related to C-Tran's handling of public records, how it follows its own policies and how it approved a controversial contract with TriMet last fall, among other claims. The complaints were formally submitted through the auditor's "citizen hotline," and Madore sent a separate email to a Seattle law firm alleging the same misconduct.

That came as news to C-Tran, which didn't find out until after the fact, said public affairs manager Jim Quintana. The emails were recently released by the county in response to a records request by Vancouver resident Michele Wollert, who then passed them on to C-Tran.

That's how Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, C-Tran's board chair, learned of Madore's complaint, he said.

"It is rather disappointing that we have to receive this kind of correspondence from citizens in our community," Leavitt said. Not coming directly to other board members showed a lack of "nerve" and "professional courtesy," he added.

The state auditor's office just completed two audits of C-Tran, both of which came back clean and free of findings. But Madore's complaint is still considered open and under investigation, Thomas Shapley, a spokesman for the auditor's office, said this week.

C-Tran has maintained it has followed proper procedures and operated with transparency. But the agency has been placed in the unusual position of defending itself against one of its own board members. C-Tran is also in the process of completing a massive public records request Madore filed around the same time he went to the auditor's office.

Madore asked for all the emails -- everything, not subject-specific -- of six C-Tran employees, including two who worked on the now-defunct Columbia River Crossing project. The request covers January 2013 to April 2014, and amounts to nearly 138,000 emails, Quintana said.

As a C-Tran board member, Madore is entitled to more documents than members of the general public. During the agency's May board meeting, C-Tran Executive Director Jeff Hamm noted the requested emails would include attorney-client privileged information, employees' personal information, and the mundane such as "who's going to pick up the groceries after work this evening."

Hamm -- among those whose emails Madore requested -- offered other board members the same access if they choose. But only on the condition that nonpublic information doesn't go anywhere else.

"When we release this information to you, it is for the board member's eyes only," Hamm said. "It is not for your staff. It is not for your family members."

Madore has agreed to protect the confidentiality of the records.

C-Tran staff have spent hours going through tens of thousands of emails to fill the request, Quintana said. Fewer than 75 will be withheld, he said, mostly because they contain private medical information that's protected by law.

"We want to be transparent. We want to give everything that's due," Quintana said. "But it is a big amount of work."

Vancouver City Councilor Jack Burkman, also a C-Tran board member, asked to receive the same records Madore requested. Burkman said he wants to know what's released, and what the reason for the request is.

"I do not understand what he is doing. I've never seen a request like this," Burkman said. "This is a one-man hunt, and I don't know what it's about."

Madore declined to comment. In his email to the auditor's office, he focused his allegations largely on the CRC and a proposed bus rapid transit system, and charged C-Tran with using untoward tactics to advance those projects. He said the agency's alleged wrongdoings "have been ignored by virtually every authority."

"I believe in well-managed public transit service that serves those that have no other practical means to get around," Madore wrote. "But C-Tran has traded that mission for a corrupted 'chase the dog food' mission. The dog food is money. I appeal to you for help."

Copyright 2014 - The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.