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Lawsuit: Seattle council violated open meetings act before head tax repeal

Supporters and opponents of a tax on large companies such as Amazon and Starbucks that was intended to combat a growing homelessness crisis hold signs as they sit in Seattle City Council Chambers, Tuesday, June 12, 2018, at City Hall in Seattle. Seattle leaders on Tuesday repealed the tax after a backlash from businesses. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

SEATTLE - The Seattle City Council repeatedly violated the state's Open Public Meetings Act in its haste to repeal a controversial head tax on the city's biggest businesses, a newly filed lawsuit claims.

The suit, filed Thursday in King County Superior Court by three local attorneys, argues that "without an open debate, and with the pressure of a repeal referendum growing," the council belatedly announced its intention to conduct a repeal vote the next day - less than 24 hours later - in violation of the state's open public meetings act requirements.

In addition, the lawsuit claims that a number of city council members reached an agreement before the vote, "via unlawful clandestine discussions," to repeal the head tax ordinance.

The suit says that the violations were documented in a Seattle Times article that quoted multiple experts on open meetings.

The council voted 7-2 to repeal the head tax after supporters and opponents packed a June 12 meeting with signs saying, "Tax Amazon, housing for all" and "No tax on jobs," with some shouting for more time to discuss the issue.

The head tax measure would have raised $48 million to help solve the city's homelessness crisis by imposing a $275-per-year tax for each employee of the city's largest businesses over a five-year period.

But the tax sparked fierce opposition and opponents quickly gathered signatures to place a referendum on the fall ballot repealing the tax.

The new lawsuit over the head tax doesn't seek monetary damages.

"We just want some public accountability in relation to the Open Public Meetings Act, and so we filed the case," said Lincoln Beauregard, one of the three attorneys involved in the lawsuit.

"They (the council) did a bunch of things wrong, but the two easiest things to point out are that they, first of all, didn't meet the very basic procedural requirements for 24 hours notice ... (and) second, there seemed to have been a discussion and a quorum and a conclusion ... to repeal this particular ordinance without public debate."

The other two attorneys who joined in the lawsuit are James Egan, identified as the case’s plaintiff, and Julie Kays.

All three opposed the head tax.

"But just as much as we're against the head tax, we're against the government doing things in private and not telling us what their true rationale is," Beauregard said.

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