City charges thousands for documents proving public statement about investigation of police official

The city of Salem said Monday it would take a full workweek at a cost of $4,200 to provide public records that support a city statement explaining its silence on the departure of a suspected senior police official. of misconduct.

The city has been quiet about the retirement of Deputy Police Chief Steve Bellshaw, but released a statement Oct. 5 saying city officials tried and failed to hire a qualified third-party investigator.

Salem Reporter asked for documents on which the statement was based. The city responded that the burden on the city to collect them outweighed the public interest in the documents, so it asked for $4,200 up front to review the records.

The city gave no guarantee that the documents it found would be published.

Bellshaw city ​​retiree in February, while under investigation for misconduct, paid an additional $53,500 in taxpayer money as part of a settlement with the city. But no investigation was conducted, and Salem city officials refused for months to release government records on the matter.

Courtney Knox-Busch, the city’s strategic initiatives manager, wrote in a statement Oct. 5 that the city decided to hire a third-party investigator but was “struggling to find an investigator who had both significant experience in issues relating to public safety employees and who had the ability to undertake the work in a timely manner.

City manager Keith Stahley repeated it in his own public statement two days later.

Knox-Busch said much of this work was done by city attorneys and was prohibited due to solicitor-client privilege.

“The city understands the merits of this case, however, in order to comply with Oregon law and protect the privacy of those involved in the investigation process, the city is unable to provide more information about the investigation or the circumstances leading up to it,” she said. .

“Regarding the investigation and circumstances leading up to the retirement of Steve Bellshaw from the City of Salem, the City is unable to share information or discuss specifics,” Knox-Busch wrote. . “Oregon law prohibits the disclosure of information regarding a public safety officer’s investigation when that investigation has not led to disciplinary action.”

“The city has opened an investigation into former Deputy Chief Bellshaw in response to allegations of potential violations of city human resources rules,” she said. “Before the City could hire a third-party investigator to work on the case, Mr. Bellshaw retired under a separation agreement.”

On October 17, Salem Reporter requested public documents that factually support or relied on Knox-Busch’s statement.

Two weeks later, the city said Monday it estimates the records will cost $4,225 and take city employees nearly 44 hours to put together the documents — the equivalent of a full-time person working a week. complete. The email said the process would include employees from the city’s human resources department, the Salem Police Department, the city recorder’s office and the city manager’s office. The hourly rate to be billed ranged from $51 to $113.

Knox-Busch did not respond to written questions on Monday about the sources she relied on for her statement, whether she was reviewed by the city attorney’s office before her release, how long it took her to prepare or why it would take a full working week to provide public documents to support his public statement.

Records show that if the city intended to investigate, it never worked. The misconduct allegations against Bellshaw have not been disclosed and he has previously declined to comment.

The city has resisted for months disclosing anything about the Bellshaw case. His arrangement with him required both the city and Bellshaw to keep the agreement confidential.

In August, the city released the agreement after Salem Reporter sought legal action to force its disclosure.

The city declined to provide documents about the allegations or its investigation and Clarkson’s office supported this position when Salem Reporter requested disclosure.

In legal arguments in the case, City Attorney Michelle Teed revealed that Salem officials were unable to find an investigator.

The city later refused to release letters from Chief Trevor Womack advising Bellshaw of his placement on administrative leave and the city’s misconduct investigation. After Salem Reporter challenged the secrecy, Clarkson ordered the city publish the files “as soon as possible”.

FRONT COVER

DA orders city to release records showing officer was placed on paid leave

DA supports Salem’s efforts to keep police misconduct records secret

Deputy police chief’s retirement remains a mystery as city withholds documents

A Salem deputy police chief has quietly retired under an agreement. City leaders don’t say why

Contact journalist Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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