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Attorney files ethics complaint as Seattle refuses to turn over documents

The Seattle City Council (KIRO Radio/Matt Pitman)

A complaint has been filed with Seattle’s ethics commission alleging that the city is either hiding information from the public, or using taxpayer funds to protect private entities. Either way, it argues that council members are running afoul of city ethics rules.

The ethics complaint is part of the fallout from the council’s controversial head tax repeal. Two Seattle residents have sued Seattle alleging that the city council violated the Open Public Meetings Act, when it repealed the controversial head tax this year. Attorneys argue that certain documents detailing polling data should be turned over, The Seattle Times reports. The court ordered that the data be turned over by Sept. 28.

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“The most specific documents are polling data that show the popularity, or unpopularity of the mayor or council members; showing the popularity or unpopularity of the head tax and the pending education levy,” Attorney Lincoln Beauregard told KTTH Radio’s Jason Rantz. “And they took all this polling data, privately, over a weekend, reviewed it, and then made public policy based on it.”

Beauregard, known around Seattle for his work taking down former Mayor Ed Murray, now represents one of the two men suing the City of Seattle. He says that the city is refusing to turn over the polling data, which is included among communications between council members and union officials. It’s part of a larger argument that the city’s leaders legislated outside of the public’s view. Attorneys are trying to prove the council therefore made decisions off the dais, illegally and unethically.

City attorneys say that the documents relate to personal political activity and private matters, however, and therefore are not subject to public disclosure.

Seattle ethics complaint

Beauregard disagrees. He has filed a complaint with Seattle’s Ethics and Elections Commission, citing misuse of public resources for personal gain. The complaint states that the city is paying $145,000 to a private law firm to keep the communications secret.

“They’ve hired a law firm and are paying them $145,000 to hide documents that are basically polling data and information showing the reasons they are taking political actions in the form of official government votes,” Beauregard said. “The problem is that the taxpayers are now paying for the elected officials to hide documents from them — in the form of information sponsored by private entities.”

“Either they are government documents and they should be handed over (to the public),” he said. “Or they aren’t government documents and the government shouldn’t be paying to hide them.”

“The union and the different people behind the enactment and repeal of the head tax are the ones who paid for and own this information,” he added. “So now the Seattle City Attorneys Office has been turned into an extension of a law firm representing (the union’s) interest and not the taxpayers.”

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