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Was Kshama Sawant’s concern over ‘backroom betrayal’ legitimate?

Kshama Sawant was outside council chambers alleging what she called a "backroom betrayal."

As the majority of her peers on the Seattle City Council prepared to kill months-worth of work on a business head tax, Kshama Sawant was outside council chambers alleging what she called a “backroom betrayal.”

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Essentially, she was alleging that a decision had been made to repeal the head tax behind closed doors.

It sounded very much like a typical Sawant rally. At least until people began questioning the process that led to the head tax-killing vote on Tuesday.

Michele Earl-Hubbard, a Seattle attorney, told The Seattle Times it looks as though Mayor Jenny Durkan and much of the city council worked behind closed doors to come to “some collective thinking” on the special meeting. A statement backed by the mayor and the seven council members who voted to repeal the head tax was released to the media on Monday, June 11, is further proof, he says.

The Times points out the city gave less than the required 24-hour notice for a special meeting.

The same council members who backed the statement announcing the legislation voted for it. Council members Teresa Mosqueda and Sawant were the only no votes.

Councilmember M. Lorena Gonzalez told the Times she learned of a special meeting during an executive session on June 11. Councilmember Rob Johnson said he was told by council President Bruce Harrell on June 11 that a majority of the council supported the repeal and that a special meeting would occur.

According to state law, city councils — and other government bodies — must conduct business openly, including deliberations. A majority of the council cannot meet outside of a public meeting to discuss future action. Even if there isn’t a physical meeting between council members, they can be in violation of the law if there was a serial meeting.

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Whether or not the council was in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act, it’s yet another eyebrow-raising meeting that has people questioning the behavior of the council.

Back in February, many questioned a meeting between members of the Seattle council and Amazon leaders. Three council members were spotted entering Amazon’s headquarters for the private meeting in which the city tried to mend the relationship with the company. If a total of three attended, it wouldn’t be in violation of the law.

When asked if public business was being conducted behind closed doors, Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said, “That is such a wonderful question to ask. What I’m hopeful is that we have this conversation, establish relationships, then bring these meetings back here to City Hall.”

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