Editor’s Note: This lawsuit was first reported by the Seattle Times.
A Seattle attorney is challenging the process that led up to the repeal of the city’s short-lived employee-hours tax.
James Egan, represented by fellow attorneys Lincoln Beauregard and Julie Kays, filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court on Thursday, June 14, alleging the City of Seattle violated the state’s Open Public Meetings Act.
Seattle City Council president Bruce Harrell called a special Tuesday meeting to vote on repealing the employee-hours tax on Monday, the city issuing a notice to media outlets, followed by a companion release from Mayor Jenny Durkan. That joint statement included the seven city councilmembers that ultimately killed the tax, all of them having approved it back on May 14.
“The notice was late and violated the open public meetings act requirements,” the complaint states. “Prior to the announcement, it was expressed and understood that Mayor Jenny Durkan, along with the City Councilmembers at issue, Bruce Harrell, Sally Bagshaw, Lorena Gonzalez, Lisa Herbold, Rob Johnson, Deborah Juarez, and Mike O’Brien, had reached an agreement, via unlawful clandestine discussions, to repeal the original ordinance enacting the head tax.”
The Tuesday meeting was set for noon June 12, and the complaint states the announcement of the meeting was made at 12:09 p.m. June 11. That’s less than 24 hours prior to the special meeting, which the plaintiff argues violates the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).
Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who claimed after the meeting notice was issued on Monday that her office had not been notified about what she called a “backroom betrayal” planned over the weekend, was the only councilmember not identified as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Durkan sought legal advice from City Attorney Pete Holmes regarding the lawsuit, and the mayor’s office has provided a letter of response. The mayor waived her right to attorney-client privilege, so the letter could be released to the public.
Holmes states in the letter that the courts will likely side with City of Seattle.
A notice of the special meeting was posted at the main entrance of the council chambers at 11:57 a.m. June 11, according to Holmes, and transmitted to the city council’s web service contractor at 11:55 a.m.
“Finally, an email to certain media organizations was sent at 12:10 pm,” the letter states.
Holmes notes the quickness in which media outlets publicized the meeting once the city made the announcement, and the strong turnout of the press and public during the meeting itself, for which more than an hour of time for public comment was allotted.
Holmes’ letter of legal advice does not address claims in Egans’ lawsuit that the mayor and repeal-affirming councilmembers “had reached an agreement, via unlawful clandestine discussions, to repeal the original ordinance enacting the head tax.”
Egan claims in his lawsuit that he opposed the head tax, which was repealed through an open public forum, and so he is not challenging the vote to repeal.
“To be clear, this lawsuit does not challenge the legitimacy of the ultimate vote, only the clandestine tallying and debate,” the complaint states.
The head tax the council passed unanimously on May 14 would have affected businesses reporting more than $20 million in gross receipts within the city, and was set at roughly $275 per full-time equivalent, down from an originally proposed $500 per FTE. It would have generated $47 million a year for creating affordable housing and funding homeless services.
Egans legal team — Beauregard and Kays — had represented Delvonn Heckard, one of several men who came forward during mayor Ed Murray’s administration, accusing him of raping them 30 years ago.
OPMA Lawsuit Over City Head Tax Repeal by branax2000 on Scribd
OPMA by branax2000 on Scribd