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Tracy Press threatens to sue city over access to vice mayor's e-mails

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Posted: Thursday, March 15, 2007 10:00 pm

Attorneys for the Tracy Press have demanded the city provide e-mails sent and received by Tracy Vice Mayor Suzanne Tucker relating to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's proposed biological laboratory and an increase in open-air explosions.

Attorney Mark Connolly told city attorneys Bill Sartor and Debra Corbett in a nine-page letter Tuesday that he and San Francisco-based First Amendment lawyer Karl Olson would file a lawsuit if the city fails to hand over the e-mails by the end of next week.

Tucker and city lawyers have argued that the e-mails between Tucker and the lab are exempt from California open government laws because Tucker sent and received the e-mails as a private citizen using a personal e-mail address and a personal computer. Tucker, like other council members, does not have a city e-mail address.

Speaking on Wednesday through city spokesman Matt Robinson, Tucker and city attorneys declined to discuss Connolly's letter. Robinson said the attorneys were still reviewing it.

The March 13 letter included summaries of 77 related e-mails to and from Tucker that were obtained by the Tracy Press and other citizens through public records requests.

Connolly said in the letter that the e-mails showed Tucker "was clearly acting in her capacity as a member of the City Council on city business."

Californian Newspaper Publishers Association attorney Jim Ewert said Tucker's claim that her e-mails are exempt from public records laws because she used personal equipment has never before been tested in court.

Tracy Press publisher Bob Matthews said Wednesday it was a "cut and dry" decision to take legal action against the city. Matthews described government openness on the relationship between Tucker and the Department of Energy's $1.7 billion a year weapons lab as "an important public issue."

"It wasn't a question of if we would do it," Matthews said. "It's just something we have to do."

Matthews said he asked Connolly to represent the newspaper because Connolly had previously represented the Tracy Press and because Connolly has experience fighting - and winning - against the city in court.

Connolly's high political profile as leader of the Tracy Regional Alliance for a Quality Community and husband of fellow TRAQC leader Celeste Garamendi, who ran for mayor in 2006, would not affect the Press' political coverage, Matthews said.

"I don't see the two as being connected at all - he's our attorney in a professional capacity, and that's why we hired him," he said, adding that the newspaper has frequently editorialized against TRAQC.

Matthews described Olsen, of Levy Ram and Olsen, as "one of the leading experts on open records laws and open government" who was recommended by the Californian Newspaper Publishers Association.

Tucker is the only member of the council to support the proposed Department of Homeland Security bio-lab, and she is the council's liaison on the Tracy Tomorrow and Beyond Committee, which, after a three-month investigation, recommended in January that the council take no action on the bio-lab. That recommendation was ignored by a majority of the council members, who voted to oppose the bio-lab.

Tucker also supports lab plans to increase the size and power of explosions at the lab's Site 300 test site, which were last week put on hold when the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District demanded the lab analyze health impacts from radioactive dust from the test explosions, pointing to community concerns regarding the blasts.

Councilman Steve Abercrombie and Councilwoman Evelyn Tolbert joined Tucker in voting to support the blasts.

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