The Sammamish City Council voted to censure Councilmember Kent Treen on Jan. 17 for allegedly failing to self-report a violation of the Public Records Act (PRA).
The motion came after it was discovered that Treen received but never reported a message from former city manager David Rudat asking him to delete public records. Rudat was fired in March 2022 following an internal ethics investigation that faulted him for failing to safeguard the city’s attorney-client privileged information.
On Aug. 26, 2020, Treen received a text message from Rudat saying “Delete this after you read it… They will be [coming] after private conversations too.”
As per PRA, public officials are not permitted to delete public records, which includes all messages related to government business. Despite having received mandatory training on PRA, Treen did not notify the city of Rudat’s request. When an anonymous complaint about the text message was filed to the city council, the council brought the issue of censuring Treen and removing him from external committee positions to a regular session.
In his defense, Treen said that he was not aware of the text.
“I do not recall receiving the text, I did not knowingly fail to report the text, and I did not knowingly delete any city documents,” Treen said during the council meeting.
However, Councilmembers Amy Lam and Karen Howe maintained that Treen had an obligation follow the city’s request to have all his devices and accounts related to city business searched for violations of PRA.
In a Nextdoor post on Jan. 20, Lam alleged that “through a Public Records Request, a former council member provided… pages of texts that show Treen conducting City business on personal devices” despite “a signed affidavit from Treen stating he does not use personal devices and accounts for city business.”
Councilmember Karen Howe added that she was disappointed that Treen failed to uphold standards of accountability by ignoring a city request to search his personal devices.
“If you can’t [do a search], hand [your phone] to IT. [Treen] has had six months to work through this differently,” Howe said.
The council, with the exception of Treen, were primarily concerned that Treen’s inaction violated the council’s objective to serve the best interest of the people and could potentially put the city at risk. In her Nextdoor post, Lam pointed to similar instances involving deleted messages in Seattle and Bainbridge Island where cities had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars after being sued for PRA violations.
“Accountability matters, and the conduct of Councilmember Treen violates the trust that our residents have that Council is conducting business in an ethical manner,” Lam said.
In the end, Councilmember Roisin O’Farrell proposed an amendment to strike a section of the motion that would have removed Treen from his external committee positions, thus reducing the censure motion to just a reprimand, with no additional repercussions. This amendment passed 4-3 and the amended motion passed 6-1, with Treen the only vote against reprimanding himself.