With government agencies, there are public notices, and there are public notices.
For two months, an Oct. 1 decision to rush through the federal government’s controversial sale of the National Archives facility in Seattle went basically under the radar.
Instead of taking until July 2021 to sell the Sand Point Way NE facility, as previously announced by the archives, a real estate broker is to be awarded the contract by the end of December. The feds’ sale of the property will proceed this coming winter and spring.
On Friday, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, said he plans to sue “anyone in the decision-making in the sale of the property.”
His office is already in the midst of another lawsuit over the archives, this one over documents it has yet to receive.
He says, “It’s the most common courtesy to give heads up to our office, or to the public. It’s outrageous.”
The 10-acre site contains the history of 272 federally recognized tribes. It contains the drafts of tribal treaties. They are important because some crucial items might have been listed in early drafts, but by mistake not included in the final versions.
The archives here has about a million boxes of documents. It is the repository of all federal records generated in the Pacific Northwest, and includes military, land, court, tax and census papers. They will be taken from Seattle to archives facilities in Riverside, California, and Kansas City, Missouri.
The archives has been digitizing documents, said Susan Karren, director of the Seattle facility. But, she said, “probably .001 percent” of the records were in electronic form.
Already, the National Archives facility in Anchorage was closed in 2016, and those millions of documents went to Seattle. Now those seeking Alaska records would have to travel even farther.
Yakama Nation Chairman Delano Saluskin said “this is the first I heard” about the Oct. 1 virtual meeting. It was held by the little-known, five-person Public Buildings Reform Board, charged with finding excess federal property and putting it up for bids.
In a 74-page transcript of the meeting, board member Nick Rahall says, “We are emphasizing collaboration; collaboration with communities and agencies. Our goal is to be transparent and objective for any property.”
Jeromy Sullivan, chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, said he first heard of the Oct. 1 meeting when Ferguson sent out an email Friday.
Otherwise, he said, “I did not know about it, nor any of my staff.”
Adam Bodner, executive director or the buildings board, said the public meeting was listed on the agency’s website, the Federal Register and that congressional offices and “different subcommittee staff” were informed.
Ferguson’s office said the plan was listed simply as an “update” on the board’s website.
And not many people would click on a website called www.pbrb.gov, and then open something titled, “Public Meeting 6. October 1, 2020, Virtual.”
Nor would too many use the necessary search terms to find notice of the meeting among the 848,735 documents in the Federal Register.
The facility was one of 12 surplus properties identified by the board. The original plan was to sell them individually.
On Oct. 1, that was changed, too.
The board said, according to the transcript, that “given the impact of COVID” and “the commercial real estate market,” they’d be sold in one single portfolio. It did leave the possibility of looking at “offers on individual assets.”
The virtual meeting had 175 people registered to attend, although it’s not clear if that many tuned in. About two dozen of them submitted questions, generally about such matters as the government possibly providing seller financing.
Ferguson’s office is already involved in one lawsuit against three federal agencies filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) asking for documents on the decision to sell the Seattle property. At one point, the board demanded $65,400 “to redact the material for production to your office.”
On Friday, his office asked the U. S. District Court of the Western District of Washington for permission to file a summary judgment that would force the three agencies to turn over documents.
Ferguson says the agencies has asked the court to delay their response until March.
But by then, he says, the Sand Point Way facility will have been sold.
As for his second lawsuit, says Ferguson, that will be filed “in the next few weeks,” once he lines up the various parties taking part.
Meanwhile, the state’s political leaders weighed in with their own statements.
Sen. Patty Murray says, “I have been incredibly disappointed over the past year as the Trump Administration has consistently ignored public input and failed to act in a transparent manner . . .”
Sen. Maria Cantwell says she hopes Biden’s administration “will work with the community to a find a local solution.”
U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, in whose district the archives are located, says that “instead of making matters worse,” the Trump administration “should be focused on listening to, consulting with and working alongside those across the Pacific Northwest who will be negatively impacted by this misguided decision.”
Perhaps there will be a listening tour by the board.
At the Oct. 1 meeting, however, board member Angela Styles had a different perspective.
It’s all good. She says, “We feel like we’ve come off with a good start.”