Judge orders Boise to turn over documents after cleaning contract canceled

From the Idaho Statesman

Most of the emails Boise wanted to withhold have nothing to do with a criminal investigation, a judge says

BY CYNTHIA SEWELL – cmsewell@idahostatesman.com

Copyright: © 2011 Idaho Statesman

After the city of Boise canceled without explanation Clearview Cleaning Services’ $368,000 contract to clean city facilties, its owner filed a public records request to try to learn what happened.

The city refused to turn over some of the records, saying they pertained to a “law enforcement investigation.”

Judge Thomas Neville didn’t buy the city’s claim the documents were exempt from public disclosure.

“The city has held out all 10 of these documents as investigatory records of an active criminal investigation, and a review of the plain language of seven of the documents reveals that this is simply not the case,” Neville wrote in his July 15 ruling.

While the city won’t tell her what’s going on, Clearview owner Sylvia Hampel said she’s learned a little more.

“We have heard that apparently the law enforcement investigation had absolutely nothing to do with me or any of my staff,” Hampel said. “Apparently it may have had something to do with a relative of one of my employees. This relative has never been employed with us.”

A city spokesman has declined to respond to questions about the case, saying the city didn’t want to comment on pending litigation.

Hampel said she does background checks on her employees but not their friends, family or associates.

She has asked for a meeting with the mayor. “I want him to explain why we were let go for no reason just hours before our contract was to begin,” Hampel said.

“We haven’t yet made a determination as to whether or not the meeting request will be granted,” city spokesman Adam Park said Tuesday.

10 DISPUTED EMAILS

In his order, Judge Neville told the city to turn over all 10 emails. Only one email, forwarded twice, actually contained a reference to a criminal investigation, Neville noted. He ordered the city to redact about three lines from the email and its forwarded copies before giving them to Hampel.

The email from the Police Department regarding “the newly contracted cleaning crew,” reads: “We have an open investigation into” followed by a redacted section.

Two of seven emails that Neville said were not “investigatory records” are an exchange between two city employees about documents the cleaning company ABM provided the city for its cleaning services proposal.

ABM has had the city cleaning contract since 2006. Hampel beat out ABM in a competitive bidding process for the contract that was to start March 1. But after the city canceled Hampel’s contract, it awarded it to ABM.

Hampel said she doesn’t understand why the city tried to keep the two ABM-related emails from her, since they contain no reference to Clearview Cleaning, to law enforcement or to an investigation.

A FEW NEW DETAILS

The released documents do reveal new details about the city’s decision to end Hampel’s contact.

According to one email, recently retired Boise Deputy Police Chief Jim Kerns called a Feb. 28 meeting with Boise Mayor Dave Bieter’s chief of staff, Jade Riley, and representatives from the city’s purchasing and legal departments to discuss the Police Department cleaning contract and “a security sensitive issue that must resolved before the close of business.”

Clearview Cleaning was to begin the next day cleaning City Hall, the libraries, the police station and other city facilities.

Less than an hour after that meeting, the city sent Hampel an email canceling the contract for “purchasing irregularities.”

The city then piggybacked onto the state’s cleaning contract with ABM to also provide cleaning services to the city.

Hampel said she is talking to her attorney about her next legal move.

Cynthia Sewell: 377-6428

From the Idaho Statesman

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