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Concerns raised over Amazon’s closed-door meeting

Sally Bagshaw. (City of Seattle)

Some Seattle City Council members tried to hit the “refresh” button with Amazon on Friday, joining a meeting with regional leaders who are trying to build a better relationship with the company.

Photos: The cities on Amazon’s shortlist

But did their meeting on Friday violate open government laws?

Three council members were spotted by KIRO 7 entering Amazon’s headquarters for the meeting that was closed to the public and media.

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw was asked if the public’s business was being done behind closed doors.

“That is such a wonderful question to ask,” she said. “What I’m hopeful is that we have this conversation, establish relationships, then bring these meetings back here to City Hall.”

Toby Nixon of the Washington Coalition for Open Government says the discussions happening behind closed doors are of great public concern and what happened Friday is likely in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act.

Under state law, if the majority of a council attend a meeting to conduct business — or even have a discussion about matters of public concern — it falls under the state’s Open Public Meetings Act. In this case, if five of the nine council members attended the meeting, it would be a violation.

But it’s possible that a last-minute change of plans helped avoid a violation of the meetings act. According to The Seattle Times, council President Bruce Harrell apparently planned to miss Friday’s meetings at Amazon.

City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who was not on the list to attend, summed up why the public should be concerned with the matter, “The public should find it troubling that elected officials, who have been elected by votes of ordinary people, are having a private meeting with billionaire interests.”

The meeting follows concerns that the city’s attitude toward big business has put the relationship with Amazon on shaky ground. Those concerns grew after Amazon announced it would build a second headquarters elsewhere in the country. Only one West Coast city made it onto a shortlist of cities vying for HQ2.

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