UPDATE: Did KCLS Wrongly Use Public Funds To Mail July 2 Letter?

Read the letter (in PDF format, below), then vote in our poll and share your thoughts in our comment section.

Update, 7/11/2012

King County Library System Spokesperson Julie Brand confirmed that the agency printed 43,000 letters at a cost of about $3,000. Mail prep and postage costs came to about $7,000.

"Our cost for printing and mailing the letter came to about an even $10,000," she said by phone on Wednesday morning.

Currently Beedon's complaint is the only one on file with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) regarding the KCLS July 2 mailing, said PDC Spokesperson Lori Anderson.

PDC records show that only one other complaint was filed against KCLS back in 2004 by Will Knedlik of Kirkland, who "alleged that officials of KCLS produced and distributed publications that contained misstatements about Proposition #1 to misinform voters, and that KCLS officials misused public assets, facilities and personnel to promote Proposition #1."

Knedlik's complaint was ultimately dismissed in March 2005.

Beedon's complaint is still in the vetting process, Anderson said.

"Staff haven't decided to log it yet," she said, adding that the review process will take about a week.

Patch will update this story as soon as more information become available.

Original Post, 7/10/2012

A letter sent to Renton residents last week resulted in a complaint filed with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission.

Renton resident Renate Beedon filed the complaint against King County Library System (KCLS) Director Bill Ptacek for wrongful use of public funds.

In her complaint, she states that Ptacek, “Used Public funds to mail a letter to the citizens of Renton advising them to vote for his choice of library location in the City of Renton.”

But Ptacek says he did no such thing.

“We gave the information that we have (regarding the history of the library issue and the upcoming vote),” he said. “As a library, that is what we are supposed to do.”

The KCLS board voted to send the letter based on feedback from its legal council, Ptacek said.

“There really isn’t anything to complain about,” he said.

The number listed at the bottom of the letter, dated July 2 went to the KCLS general answer line. 

KCLS answer line operator Barbra Barkus said she’s fielded plenty of calls regarding the letter. So much so, she had a copy of it in front of her.

“We’ve been getting lots of questions,” she said.

When asked if KCLS had received many inquiries about the mailing, Ptacek answered with, “Not really.”

Patch asked about the number of letters mailed and cost of printing and postage, but KCLS spokesperon Julie Brand had left for the day, Ptacek said. He did not have the information on hand, but offered to forward our request to Brand. Patch will update this article after KCLS provides the figures.

Did you receive the letter? If not, or if it went straight to the circular file, click on the PDF file to the right, give it a read and tell us what you think.

Click here to read past articles and letters to the editor about the downtown Renton Library.

Melissa Farmin July 11, 2012 at 02:28 AM
I was appalled to receive this letter. Mr. Ptacek may have walked the legal line but the letter very clearly tries to influence voters to choose the Piazza site. Even if legal, the letter purposefully misleads voters as to the total costs. Renton taxes, NOT KCLS funds, are paying for the construction bonds. Mr. Ptacek is surely aware of the City's plans to repurpose the Cedar River site if the library is moved and that those, unknown, costs would also fall to the Renton tax payers. It is disgusting that KCLS has totally lost sight of its true purpose.
John Webley July 11, 2012 at 03:55 AM
Once more, Bill Ptacek and the King County Library System have amazed me with the lengths they will go to to influence the voting public. I know that there are limitations by law that are supposed to control public agencies when it comes to elections and the role they can play in using public funds and/or staff time to influence the outcome. They seem to bend the rules to meet their preferred outcomes and to this reader, the amount, content, and voracity of their input is more than a little questionable. Such is the case in the upcoming election in Renton concerning the retention and remodel of the City's current downtown library or a new library in the heart of the downtown core. The information sent out by KCLS was supposed to be informative, but any factual data was easy to dispute because of the unfortunate use of the word "could" when referring to their conclusions regarding the options associated with keeping the existing library. In my experience, the word "could" used in the context of cost estimates simply means..."we don't know." Nice try Bill, but to this voter it was "no cigar!"
John Webley July 11, 2012 at 04:21 AM
Addendum to John Webley comments. Mr. Ptacek may have walked the legal line as noted by Mellissa Farmin above, but I am not convinced by his information.
Dave Beedon July 11, 2012 at 06:49 AM
Mr. Ptacek's letter to Renton residents offends me. It is a waste of taxpayer money if not a violation of the law. The voters's pamphlet is the place for King County Library System (KCLS) to present its case for the vote on August 7. Why is his letter concentrating on the costs involved with the new-or-upgraded library? KCLS isn't paying for the new or renovated library regardless of its location---we Renton taxpayers are. The issue of money is none of his business, thus his letter is a cynical ploy to use a sensitive issue to influence voters. He should have explained---at his own expense---why the Piazza site is the preferred site for a new library, listing the factors that are relevant to KCLS. Why didn't he? Maybe he was reluctant to say that the Piazza site is desirable because it: 1. lacks the family-friendly atmosphere (park) and environmental ambiance (river) of the present library over the river 2. would have inadequate parking 3. would have a building that is smaller than the existing library 4. has little or no room for expansion.
John Webley July 11, 2012 at 07:06 AM
Oops! This was my first try at responding to one of these and I goofed it up. Old age, I guess. I was writing this up when I noticed that I had to sign on and designate a password to send the stuff through. I hadn't finished my letter or edited it and I thought I was submitting my password when all of a sudden, I had sent my unfinished copy in. That's why the addendum. Please replace the comments above with the following. Once more, Bill Ptacek has amazed me with the lengths he will go to to influence the voting public. I know that there are limitations by law that are supposed to control public agencies when it comes to elections of this nature and the role they can play in using public funds and/or staff time, etc. to influence the outcome. Public agencies and their leadership sometimes bend the rules to meet their preferred outcomes and to this reader, the letter's content,, and the voracity seems a little questionable. Such is the case in the upcoming election in Renton concerning the retention and remodel of the City's library over the river or building a new one in the downtown area of the city. The information sent out by KCLS was supposed to be informative, but some of the factual data was disputable due to the unfortunate use of the word "could" when referring to their conclusions regarding the options associated with keeping the existing library. In my experience, the word "could" simply means."We don't know how much."
John Webley July 11, 2012 at 07:10 AM
The addendum above concerning Mr. Ptacek's walking the legal line as suggested by Mellissa Farmin should remain at the end of my comments. Thank you for your help.
Stuart Avery July 11, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Above the thousands KCLS spent to print and mail this letter, let's not forget to mention the $60,000 (+/-) county library tax dollar that were spent to obtain the flawed estimates. City council member Randy Corman's blog. www.randycorman.com exposes the flawed figures. The letter is clearly a scare tactic. It should infuriate you as a tax payer to see your library money being wasted in such a manner, and leads me to believe that KCLS director Bill Ptacek's has a personal obsession with closing the Cedar River location. To me, it's nothing less than bullying.
Dan Thompson July 11, 2012 at 04:03 PM
I used to live in Renton. Due to the City's disregard for their citizens and and the unscrupulous actions from City officials, I moved to Seattle. It won't stop the bad behavior from City officials but it feels good to get the frustration out of my life!
Ruth Shilling July 11, 2012 at 06:48 PM
I cannot make a comment on the funds used or not used to send the letter. I do not know the answer at the present. However I was left feeling puzzled as to why the letter was written by Mr. Ptacek. I have always, from the beginning felt that there is something about this deal that we, the public, do not know. Why the urgency the council felt to make this agreement without any public notice and why the nearly frantic push to buy that particular building. Just the vision of a library in that setting as compared to the present one is depressing. With the lack of disirable parking, the smaller usable space, the overall ambience, I keep thinking, "what is driving this absurd project"? It has an unsavory smell. Ruth Shilling
Renate Beedon July 11, 2012 at 07:26 PM
I agree with you, Ruth, something stinks. -------- About the PDC, I know that at least two other people filed a complaint with the PDC - one before I did and one after.
Renate Beedon July 11, 2012 at 07:35 PM
I would also like to know why 12 people here have not gotten the letter - are they registered voters? Was the letter sent only to registered voters? If the letter was truly meant to be informational, every citizen of Renton should have received it.
Deborah Starnes July 12, 2012 at 03:02 AM
I also heard on the Seattle news recently, that there will be NO informational packet whatsoever sent out to registered voters for this upcoming August election, that is so important for Renton residents. I became very concerned when I learned that the only info available will be online from the election office, not the usual voter's info pamphlet that is sent out to all registered voters. Again, this is a very important election for City of Renton residents, and we want to be heard. Could this be a reason that KCLS felt it necessary to mail out a letter with their position detailed? I possibly think so, and something sure as heck does stink! Our household did not vote for annexation to KCLS to begin with, and again, we're being railroaded, and the time to be heard is NOW!
Deborah Starnes July 12, 2012 at 03:13 AM
Thanks Stuart for this specific information. In regards to my comment below where registered voters are not receiving info packets before this election, can you confirm this, and please let us Renton citizens know what we can do to help to preserve the Cedar River library. I know there are other city council members, besides Randy Corman, who voted to save the library's current location. What can we do to get the word out? Is there something that we can pass on through facebook or other means, to drum up support for the coming election? Thanks!
Stuart Avery July 12, 2012 at 04:16 AM
Hi Deborah, Registered Renton voters will receive a ballot in the mail and separately they will receive a voter pamphlet with the full description, title and ballot statement concerning Prop. 1. Further, there will be the usual proponent statements and rebuttals as well. The library construction costs outlined in this ballot measure are considered by the city council and administration to be accurate. In advance of receiving the ballot pamphlets in the mail the full text of the ballot measure (except for the proponents statements and rebuttals) can be found on Mr. Randy Corman's web site www.randycorman.com
Bobby Brown July 12, 2012 at 04:22 AM
This letter just points out how the "City" sold the citizens "down the river" or how they "sold the farm out from under us! (sour grapes) How can they hire "Miller-Hull" which is the architect firm under contract to design the "library on So. Third" do an assessment of the cost to remodel the current library over the Cedar River??? Did KCLS invite the fox into the hen house???
Norm Elmlund July 12, 2012 at 09:15 PM
Regarding the complaint against Bill Ptacek, the PDC did in fact find him in fault. They couldn't do anything because an injunction was in effect. The PDC staff recommended that the case be referred to the Attorney General on Jan. 19, 2005. "Staff believes that the Commission’s penalty authority is not sufficient in this matter, and recommends that the Commission, in accordance with RCW 42.17.360, report the “apparent violations” regarding Bill Ptacek and the King County Rural Library District to the Office of the Attorney General for appropriate action." On April 4, 2005, again because the injunction prevented legal action, Will Knedlick got a letter stating that his case had been dismissed. KCLS got away with spending LOADS of tax dollars on a heavy marketing campaign. While the offense this time is not as severe, it still exists.
Michael Riley July 12, 2012 at 11:34 PM
Several comments on things I just read here: It is likely KCLS will be found in violation of election laws. It is unlikely to be decided until long after the election and the damage is done now. They will get away with it. The severity of the offense is irrelevant. It is most likely an offense and not the first one. They will still get away with it. There is a story out there that Bill Patek told someone at the Highlands branch public meeting he would never operate a library at the Cedar River Branch. If that person is reading this would you please stand up. I have a couple additional notes. Besides the cost of staff time, printing and mailing someone had to pay the architects to do the study. It had zero relevance to Miller Hulls contracted work for the proposed library. As noted it raises serious questions about the reliability of the study and the integrity of the architect in taking it on. Perhaps a Patch reporter should be asking the architect some pointed questions. Patek should have at least gotten his study done by a different firm. There is a scary mention of how the city has already spent close to one million dollars on the proposed site at Third and Logan. These are mentioned as costs of design and land acquisition. The land cost is over half of that and in theory the city could sell the land at a profit now in in the near future assuming it is the demand property they think it is. Michael Riley
D. Charles July 13, 2012 at 01:52 AM
The Cedar River Library is... 50% cheaper 50% larger 100% better
Ruth Shilling July 13, 2012 at 04:16 AM
It is an amazing thing that has happened in our little city. People, young and old and in between have formed an emotional attachment to a special thing and a special place. You can hear it in the voices and see it in the eyes of those who first learn that the library on the Cedar River may be abandoned. They often look stunned. It is pretty unusual that this affiliation with a public utility, for a better word, can become so personal. But it has happened and the people who want to make the changes and who are the city caretakers at the moment should be proud that we have such a unique situation in our town. Things like this used to happen before constant changes became the way we live. Maybe it is time to realize that whether we have the most super up- to- date facility or whether it might even cost us more, that it may be worth every penny just so that people can have some constancy in their lives and hold onto something that gives emotional satisfaction. That's what the 'home' in hometown should mean. Isn't there some value in that? And isn't that why people want to get more involved in their community......if they have that emotional attachment? Ruth Shilling
Stuart Avery July 13, 2012 at 06:25 AM
Renate brings up a valid point which could differentiate KCLS's letter mailing actions between legal & illegal. There are over 90,000 Renton residents able to use the KCLS library system in our city. Only 43,000 letters were printed and mailed. Renton has just under 43,000 registered voters. It appears only voter addresses received the "informational letter". If the information is only being sent to voter addresses, then it is clearly lobbying, as it excludes KCLS's non-voter Renton addresses from the same information.
Bill Gaw July 13, 2012 at 09:19 PM
My greatest concern is that the complete facts are not being presented by either side. Both the Piazza and the River camps are feeding this fire with half-truths, exaggerations, misconceptions. Honestly, I have no preference which site is ultimately selected. Would a stunningly designed Piazza library enhance our downtown core? You bet! Would a comprehensively remodeled Cedar River library enhance our downtown area? Absolutely! Was annexing to the KCLS a good idea, and was it presented clearly to the voters? I'm pretty sure it wasn't. That is not, however, the issue at hand. Let's be clear, the Cedar River building isn't going away. Will it be more complicated to remodel? Absolutely. Is it financially worth it? That doesn't matter because the city has to spend that money regardless of how the vote turns out. Are the two sides going to keep at it no matter how the vote turns out? I'm afraid they are.
Dena Rosko July 21, 2012 at 12:10 AM
First, thank you Renton Patch for running this story and for sharing the document. Can the letter be made available to download via Scribd? Thanks, Dena
Dena Rosko July 21, 2012 at 12:11 AM
Second, point of contest involves RCW 42.52.180, or use of public resources on campaigning (http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=42.52.180). The PDC, if not already, needs to define "measurable expenditure." Though KCLS director mailed the letter as from him, did he use public funds to pay for the mailing, and if so, what measure does the PDC currently employ to evaluate such an expense? It seems ridiculous to me that the RCW in question has yet to define "measurable expenditure" as that definition comprises half the point of the RCW in the first place. Back to my recommendation: An agency with taxing authority, even "junior," must be an elected and not appointed body. Moreover, KCLS would have done well to keep it's hands out of this campaign, or let the PDC registered campaign teams do their job. Now KCLS' involvement, barring ethical violation of an RCW, will either call into question the results should the Cedar River *or* Piazza library win. I hope KCLS efforts backfire and people tire of misuse of government funds RCW or no RCW. Thank you for reading, Dena Rosko
Dena Rosko July 21, 2012 at 12:11 AM
Third, I'm voting for the library at Cedar River for two reasons: 1) I like the overlap of parks and play for health in learning 2) I tire of government misuse of public funds and the democratic process I still await an official statement from City of Renton about it's response to KCLS' numbers contending the City's own estimates. I want to see autonomy and trust in the voting process restored. The question will soon be not which library location do you prefer, but where will we go after the vote in the interest of city health and credibility? Read more about the library story at http://bit.ly/z3vUdf Thank you for reading, Dena Rosko
Jenny Manning July 21, 2012 at 12:27 AM
I'm not sure why the 'download' button is currently disabled in Scribd, Dena. Sorry for the inconvenience. I'll follow up with our engineering team. In the meantime I'll email you a pdf of the letter.
Ruth M. Taylor July 22, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Why has "state of the art" never been defined? That expression has been used to define kitchens, technology in schools etc. and it often becomes outdated rapidly. This term has been used constantly at various meetings I have attendedjreferring to our "new libraries".. I, also, am so disturbed by Bill Patek's letter as well as the editor's letter in the Renton Reporter in their attempts to "muddy the waters" for our citizens to the point many no longer know who or what to believe. I know our mayor used to have connections with the Renton Reporter, but really don't know if he still has influence there. I want library to remain over the Cedar River and wish citizens could be allowed to decide by voting WITHOUT non-residentual influence. It's too late for that to happen. I often wonder how long the mayor and city council members opposing current library location have resided in our city in cluding Mr.King. Thankyou, Ruth Taylor


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