The second day of the Sound Transit investigation, by the Senate Law and Justice Committee, concentrated on the improper disclosure of over 170,000 ORCA cardholders’ email addresses by the transit agency leading up to the ST3 campaign.
Sound Transit doesn’t dispute a mistake did occur when the agency was fulfilling a public records request for Mass Transit Now (MTN), a group that campaigned in support of ST3. But the agency has repeatedly denied the release of the emails was intentional.
Officials for Sound Transit told the committee the mix-up happened because email addresses for ORCA cardholders, which are exempt from public records requests, were co-mingled in the same database with other emails which are not exempt. Email addresses of riders who sign up for alerts or updates from Sound Transit are public information and can be obtained through a records request.
Skeptical the release of the emails was accidental, Senator Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, led the attack claiming Sound Transit improperly participated in the ST3 campaign.
A previous internal investigation done by the law firm MFR Law Group found “no evidence to support a finding of collusion between Sound Transit and MTN or Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC) with regard to the disclosure of email addresses for ORCA customers.”
According to The Seattle Times, the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) eventually agreed with the internal investigation that a mistake was made and recommended that the Washington Attorney General not take action. Just days before, the PDC had issued a report which concluded Sound Transit had violated state elections and recommended legal action against Sound Transit.
The Attorney General’s office decided against taking action, concluding “no evidence was discovered to support an allegation that Sound Transit staff took action intended to promote or oppose Mass Transit Now or the Sound Transit 3 ballot measure.”
Craig Davison, Executive Director of Communications and External Affairs for Sound Transit, said, appearing before the committee, that after learning of the improper disclosure of the email addresses of ORCA cardholders, the transit agency immediately asked MTN to delete them, which MTN agreed to do.
Davison added that Sound Transit has now separated the two email databases to prevent a similar mistake in the future.
Thursday was the second of two work sessions held after O’Ban and Dino Rossi, R-Sammamish, requested an investigation, claiming Sound Transit misled legislators and the public in the run-up to the ST3 ballot measure.
Peter Rogoff, CEO of Sound Transit, has called these assertions “baseless.”
The first session centered on the claims by O’Ban and Rossi that the bill language for ST3 was unconstitutionally drafted and Sound Transit deceived legislators on the size of the final ST3 package.
“I thought it was a huge waste of everyone’s time and inappropriate use of resources,” said Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, the ranking minority member of the Law and Justice committee, about the two-day investigation.
Pedersen said voters were well aware of the size of the $54 billion transit package.
“Everyone from The Seattle Times and on down was saying that the package was too big,” Pedersen said. “But that’s what the voters decided.”
During the second session Thursday, O’Ban continued his probe into the motor vehicle excise tax schedule saying he has received over 1,000 emails from angry constituents complaining about the increase in car tab fees.
Pedersen told STB his office had received fewer than five complaints from residents about the increase in the MVET, but has “hundreds from people upset about the attack on Sound Transit.”
Pedersen says nothing happens next in the investigation, but hopes that, after the November 7 election, control of the Senate changes with the election of Democrat Manka Dhingra in the 45th District.