AG Ferguson, with tribes and historic groups, sues feds over Seattle National Archives closure

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AG Ferguson, with tribes and historic groups, sues feds over Seattle National Archives closure

While the battle between Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the federal government over the closure and sale of the National Archives facility in Seattle continues, Ferguson filed an 87-page lawsuit on Monday to halt the sale.

He was joined by a long list of 28 tribes and tribal associations, monument protection groups, and museums in the lawsuit filed in the US District Court for the Western District of Washington.

Ferguson is visibly upset at how the decision was made by the little-known five-member public building reform agency that was accused of finding and bidding on excess federal assets.

“What annoys me is that a group of federal bureaucrats 3,000 miles away have no interest in hearing from the affected communities,” he said. “I don’t know why they are making these decisions deep inside our federal government. You dont know what you are doing. You don’t care. “

He is suing the federal government for planning to sell the archives here “without notice” and “distribute their invaluable, irreplaceable, original historical records to facilities in Kansas City, Missouri and Riverside, California.”

He is also suing because the government “disobeyed” the property sale law by failing to consult with tribes and other people interested in the archives. Ferguson is planning a virtual public hearing on January 19th to allow input.

Jeromy Sullivan, chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, which is part of the lawsuit, said, “I understand the building is old and likely not very well maintained. But it all seems like hurrying up. There will be a cost no matter where you move it. “

The 10 acre Sand Point property contains the history of 272 nationally recognized tribes. It contains the drafts of tribal treaties. They are important because some important elements may have been listed in early drafts but inadvertently not appear in the final versions.

The archives here have about a million boxes of documents. It is the archive of all federal records created in the Pacific Northwest and includes military, land, court, tax, and census papers.

The archives have digitized documents, said Susan Karren, director of the Seattle facility. But, she said, “a minimal amount of the records” were in electronic form.

Ferguson said the lawsuit was urgent as the board of directors said on Oct. 1 it was rushing through the sale.

The Seattle facility is one of 12 excess properties identified by the board. The original plan was to sell them individually, which would have given adversaries until July 2021 to fight them.

The board then announced that “in view of the effects of COVID” and “the commercial real estate market”, the properties would be bundled in a single portfolio and sold.

Adam Bodner, managing director of the building authority, expects the General Services Administration to award the contract to a real estate agent in January. He had no comment on Monday’s lawsuit.

Ferguson said he will seek an “injunction” from the judge on the sale of the Sand Point property, which means that there would be irreparable damage should the lawsuit persist. Until then, the property can be sold.

“I am confident that we will make a decision no later than February,” said Ferguson.

He described a pattern of obfuscation by the board of directors and other federal agencies to get responses.

His office eventually sued federal agencies for answering Freedom of Information Act requests for public records, saying it received “only a minimal amount of documents”.

Some were heavily edited.

Ferguson said the Office of Management and Budget sent two emails regarding the sale of some of the 12 facilities. They had an appendix listing objections to the sale by the agency’s own staff.

The appendices were blacked out and marked with “Objections with a red flag”.

A letter from OMB cited an exception to the protection of “preliminary advisory communications”, the disclosure of which would hamper the open and frank exchange of views necessary for effective government decision-making. . . ”

Another time, in July 2020, nearly six months after a renewed request for public records, the board said the payment to edit the documents would cost $ 65,000. The board then withdrew this request, but asked the court to grant it by March 31 for the filing.

Ferguson said that by then the sale could be a done deal.

The board of directors has said it is simply trying to save taxpayers’ money by selling the property.

Two monetary items were listed:

It listed annual operating and maintenance costs of $ 356,763 for the 187,752 square foot building. However, this corresponds to the industry figures of the property managers.

The board also listed deferred maintenance costs of $ 2.4 million and estimated future capital expenditures of $ 2.4 million, although it did not explain how those numbers came about.

In a January 2020 story for the Seattle Times, board member Angela Styles said the building’s wooden ceiling would need to be replaced as it poses a fire hazard.

In their own review of the building, however, the archives came to the conclusion that it “meets the criteria for fire fighting, appropriate fire protection construction and life safety”.

The story also quoted Styles as saying the board is “not legally required to seek public input first.”

Instead of going to Sand Point to look up tribal records, Sullivan and others must fly to Missouri or California for now.

“The whole thing is really weird to me. I don’t understand their motivation, ”said Sullivan.

Public meeting at the National Archives in Seattle

Since the federal government has not held public hearings on the announced sale of the National Archives in Seattle, Attorney General Bob Ferguson is holding his own long-distance public meetings.

The event will take place on Tuesday, January 19th, from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. via Zoom.