This week, a criminal complaint was filed against former Planning Commission Chair Charles Schaefer by Burien City Manager Adolfo Bailon over an audio recording Schaefer made of a conversation with him without his consent after a city council meeting.
In the state of Washington, both parties must consent to being recorded.
However, Schaefer – who was removed from the Planning Commission by the council on June 15, 2023 – claims that he is protected by the state’s Open Public Meetings Act, which allows for recordings in public spaces like council chambers, where this took place. Schaefer also cites Washington State’s Municipal Research Services Center (link below).
Schaefer has been posting and recording Burien City Council meetings online as “Burien Gov Watch” for a while now.
“For the past several months I have been posting live updates of city council meetings and other relevant information on Facebook and X.com,” Schaefer told The B-Town Blog. “I have been recording the entirety of council meetings on my phone in case I miss anything, as there is often a delay before the city uploads the official meeting video.”
After the Sept. 18, 2023 council meeting ended, Schaefer approached city manager Bailon in the council chambers to ask him why, out of the 27 candidates who had applied for the planning commission, two (including himself) were left off the council’s voting matrix.
“The city manager expressed concerns with some (unspecified) statements I had previously made regarding him and refused to answer my question,” he said. “When I continued to engage, he threatened to have the police captain escort me out of the room, even though several other members of the public were present and no attempt was being made to clear the room at that time.”
“I find it deeply concerning that a public employee whose job is, in part, to engage with the public and foster good relationships with our community, feels that he can choose not to engage with a citizen who is presenting a perspective that he disagrees with, and other individuals have told me that the city manager has also refused to speak with them for similar, unspecified, transgressions. I also find it outrageous (and I believe a breach of his lawful authority) for him to threaten to have the police remove someone who is not causing any disruption from a city council meeting room (throughout the whole interaction, the city manager was free to walk away or stop talking to me).”
Regarding the criminal charge, Schaefer said he trusts the prosecutor to make the correct decision, but he encourages readers to educate themselves by reading guidance from Washington State’s Municipal Research Services Center, a nonprofit organization that cities like Burien often look to for legal guidance:
The MRSC says on that page:
“Therefore it should be expected that people have the right to record any level government business that occurs in areas held open to the public.”
Schaefer said that he will continue to attend and record council meetings and will “continue to hold both elected councilmembers and city staff accountable for their actions.”
Below is a transcript of the audio, which can be heard here:
SCHAEFER: “I just wanted to ask…so, on the chart…”
BAILON: “You’ve made some inferences about me that I don’t appreciate. So if you’re going to continue to have that type of dialogue, you can’t, and you and I are not, so…”
SCHAEFER: “I mean, I just want to ask you a question … you can decide what to do with it? Yeah?”
BAILON: “(I) feel like you’re not gonna change that, though, so I’m just not gonna have dialogue…”
SCHAEFER: “OK. OK. Well, I’m going to ask my question. You can you can not answer, but I just…I do not see my name on the chart. And so I would like to know…”
BAILON: “Well, I yeah, there are some other non staffing here…”
SCHAEFER: “OK. Well, there are some other votes to your choice. So you’re going to refuse to answer my questions. Like, OK, you’re gonna answer my question…?”
- We have filed a Public Records request with the King County Sheriff’s Office for the criminal complaint, but have not yet received it (it usually takes five days or so for this process).
- The City of Burien does not comment on ongoing investigations.
- Charles Schaefer is not related to BTB Founder/Publisher Scott Schaefer.