Seattle pays $3,500 to settle one of two public meeting lawsuits

Mar 5, 2019, 3:12 PM | Updated: 5:40 pm
Seattle city council upzoning MHA...
(Seattle Channel)
(Seattle Channel)

The City of Seattle is paying $3,500 to settle one of two lawsuits alleging the City Council violated public meetings laws when it repealed its controversial head tax.

RELATED: Seattle head tax 101

The City Council was accused by James Egan of violating the Open Public Meetings Act when it called a special meeting to recall the head tax in June 2018 — one month after it passed — The Seattle Times reports. Egan hired Seattle lawyer Lincoln Beauregard to pursue the case.

“The most egregious evidence we found was that Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez actually kept secret tally sheets,” Beauregard told KTTH’s Jason Rantz. “The law says you can’t keep secret votes, but she literally had secret tally sheets she used to count votes, and she had to admit under oath that they used them regularly.”

By settling the case, the city is not admitting to any wrongdoing. City Attorney Pete Holmes told the Times that the council did not violate any rules. One other case involving similar allegations is still active and is slated for a June hearing.

The $3,500 settlement — that the city will pay for itself — is divided among a a pair $500 fines levied against Councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Sally Bagshaw, and $2,500 for five $500 violations attributed to Gonzalez.

As for why Beauregard chose to settle rather than go to trial, he cited a need to not have taxpayers foot the bill for what could have been an even larger payout.

“Mr. Egan and I never took this on to make money, and since we’ve already accomplished the goal of getting the truth out, we decided it’s time for them to pay the fines, make sure the public hears the truth one last time, and move on,” he said.

As part of of the settlement, the city agrees to advise council members to not use private tally sheets. Part of what led Egan to sue are text message exchanges he says he obtained. Those text messages implied that council members were tallying up votes ahead of public meetings to see if legislation would pass or not.

This was evident before the head tax repeal when Deputy Mayor Shefali Ranganathan reportedly texted Councilmember Rob Johnson to inform him that Councilmembers Lorena González, Debora Juarez, Sally Bagshaw, Mike O’Brien, and Lisa Herbold were voting to repeal the head tax mere days ahead of the meeting.

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Seattle pays $3,500 to settle one of two public meeting lawsuits