Thursday, September 7, 2006
ELLENSBURG - Yakima County prevailed last Thursday in a court showdown over release of property owner information.
Land purchasing company Radius Management of Beaverton, Ore. sued Yakima County Assessor Dave Cook for damages totaling more than $60,000 because his office would not provide a list of ownership information on all parcels in the county.
Stephen Seal of Radius Management said his company chose to pursue the case in Kittitas County Superior Court because "we don't have any confidence in Yakima County courts".
Radius contended the firm should have access to the list of property owners as an information request. Some Washington counties, like Snohomish, for example, will on request provide the addresses of property owners on mailing labels.
Seal said the case could serve as a "statewide precedent" on information gathering, depending on Judge Michael Cooper's ruling.
The precedent will have to wait.
Cooper's eight-page decision noted that state law does not require the assessor to "create a list identifying property owners and their mailing addresses for companies that intend to use the information for commercial purposes".
Following the outcome of the case, Cook noted, "It shows that what we are doing is correct. We don't need to create a document that we don't have."
Cook added that all property information, including photos and property owner addresses, are already available online at www.yakimap.com. "We are the poster children for putting out information on parcels," he said of the website.
Cook said companies like Radius Management that seek one uniform list intend to use the information to send out solicitations to property owners in an attempt to buy their property.
"As a commercial enterprise they're thinking of directly contacting property owners about buying their land," Cook observed. "In some cases, there are agents who repackage and sell the information to roofing and siding contractors."
He added, "They want a master list to make their data mining job easier for them."
Without the list, Cook said companies will have to manually search the county's database for information on all 110,000 parcels in Yakima County.
"I feel somewhat vindicated," Cook said of the judge's decision. "We are prohibited by law from providing names and addresses for commercial uses."
Seal provided little comment leading up to the case, and said he would provide more comment after the judge made a decision.
When contacted repeatedly last week and this week, Seal said he hadn't seen the judge's ruling and was consulting with his attorney. He had no comment on whether Radius Management will appeal the decision.