Attorney says city still hasn’t handed over evidence of council’s illegal meeting
Lincoln Beauregard, an attorney at Seattle’s Connelly Law Offices, is used to suing government over public records law — but the Seattle City Council’s latest violation in the form of an illegal meeting is what he calls “one of the most egregious things I’ve ever seen on the part of government officials.”
According to city documentation, in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act, all nine council members held a meeting shortly before repealing the head tax in which they gathered votes to see who was for and who was against getting rid of the tax.
“We’re suing the city to try and get some transparency in relation to the appeal of the head tax,” Beauregard said. “We were opposed to the tax, but we are more opposed or just as opposed to the fact that it appears that they did this in violation of the law that says the public has the right to know everything.”
Beauregard said that from looking at the documents, it is clear that the council members met to have the conversation because they were “afraid for their political survival” if they did not undo the controversial tax on the city’s 600 top-earning businesses. It is, for that reason, he said, that it was vital for this meeting to be open.
“They all got together over a weekend, basically, and talked about it illegally, having conversation about public activities that the public has a right to see, and decided they’re going to repeal a law,” he said. “It’s kind of like, you wake up overnight and the law has changed, and the public is supposed to be able to participate.”
This is particularly serious, he said, because not only did the council hold an illegal meeting, but the city also then refused to make public the evidence of this meeting, blatantly violating the state’s Public Records Act.
Although both Beauregard and The Seattle Times submitted public records requests, the city did not give Beauregard’s staff or The Seattle Times evidence of this weekend meeting. Beauregard said that the city told him, as well as the Times, that it had given them all pertinent documentation to the head tax.
The city did, however, release documentation of the illegal meeting to local blogger, Kevin Schofield, who runs SCC Insight, a blog that keeps tabs on the council’s actions.
“They accidentally or inadvertently didn’t realize that they handed out what are smoking gun litigation documents to a member of the public, but they withheld it from the biggest media outlet in the community, and they withheld it from the litigation,” Beauregard said.
Even after finding this out, Beauregard said that the city has not released those documents to him. The response Beauregard received, he said, was akin to, “We can’t tell you and we won’t tell you when we’re going to give you the rest — just sit back and wait and see if you get it.”
Through the process of the lawsuit, Beauregard hopes to show the public the information that it was not party to while the head tax saga was taking place.
“Basically, we’re going to redo the process of showing the public what [the council] did through litigation so they have an idea who they’re dealing with,” he said.
This practice of holding secret meetings could set an alarming precedent for future city policy-making, Beauregard said.
“Imagine if they, all of a sudden, posed a tax on you, and you didn’t get a chance to participate,” he said.
Beauregard identifies as a Democrat on state and national issues, but when it comes to Seattle government, he refuses to be “one of those sheep.”
“So many of us Democrats, locally, were just going with blind followers on the whole entire process,” he said. “I saw that with Sally Bagshaw, rallying and tallying to try and keep a pedophile in office.”
As a resident of Seattle, Beauregard feels betrayed by city leaders who promised to be open and transparent to their constituents when they ran for office. He said it upsets him that his baby daughter will grow up in a city where her public officials lie to her.
“All of these public officials talk and campaign on transparency … and they did the exact opposite,” he said.