City Attorney Pete Holmes talked with PubliCola this afternoon about his lawsuit to stop a vote on the deep-bore tunnel, his relationship with Mayor Mike McGinn, and his personal views on the deep-bore tunnel. This is an edited transcript of that interview.
PubliCola: At a press conference the other day, Mayor Mike McGinn compared your lawsuit to stop a vote on the tunnel to a suit filed by state attorney general Rob McKenna to stop health-care reform, arguing that, like McKenna, Holmes had no client for his lawsuit. How do you respond? Who is your client?
City attorney Pete Holmes: It's wholly different. First of all, my authority derives from the city charter. McKenna's derives from the state constitution, which says he has only the powers delegated by the legislature. I'm a creature of the charter, and as a creature of the charter, I'm co-equal with the mayor and city council.
That said, I still have an instinct Rob McKenna does not have, which is to consult with the mayor and the city council. They have known for months what the legal conclusion of the [city attorney's] office was. Neither [the mayor nor the city council] wanted me to release my analysis [before the anti-tunnel campaign finished gathering signatures] and I agreed with that.
I followed the normal protocol and alerted all the fellow electeds as to what the law is, and that's all I needed to do. That's more than the mayor did. It would probably help him to pick up the phone and talk to the council members.
PC: Why did you decide to sue to stop the vote now, rather than waiting until the people had a chance to vote on the referendum?
PH: There were a number of lawsuits that were coming at us, and we could have been hopelessly ensnared in the question of what court was going to take precedence. There was a very narrow window when the city of Seattle had the exclusive right to sue.
It's nice to understand what the will of the people is, and we've seen a lot of polls flying around here recently that accomplish the same thing. What are you saying, Mike---are you saying this vote would be more than an opinion poll? It doesn't stop the tunnel and it isn't legally binding. If voters were told, 'Sign here to stop the tunnel,' they were misled. It will not kill the tunnel.
[A vote] will not stop the state from going forward with rebuilding a state project, and we will surrender whatever control over our destiny that we had, including, by the way, over cost overruns. The state would simply say to the city, you're not a partner on this project. Ironically, because of its right to eminent domain, the state will be able to better control its costs if the city isn't in charge of things like when and where utilities will be relocated.
PC: The mayor has accused you, in effect, of holding a secret meeting or meetings with the city council to approve the lawsuit against the anti-tunnel campaign. Did you meet with the council before making this decision, and did the mayor know you planned to file the lawsuit?
PH: [The council] had known, when we had he final form of the ordinance, that this was not referable. I consulted with everyone, the mayor, other council members, over time, and I knew that a majority of the council supported this action.
PC: The mayor said earlier this week that he doesn't know who his attorney is, given that you, the city attorney, aren't representing his interests. Is it true that the mayor has no legal representation in the tunnel lawsuit?
PH: He should explain what he means by that, because as far as I'm concerned he has separate counsel that has been quite satisfactory to him. From the very beginning of all of this, we carved out two specific lawyers for him who can confab and aren't allowed to talk with the other lawyers about the [anti-tunnel lawsuit] case.
PC: What's your personal opinion of the tunnel?
PH: I started off as a skeptic [and now] I am completely agnostic on the tunnel. But it's not my decision--- it's the mayor and the council that have to make the decisions about the city's participation in the project. My duty is to make sure I look out for the interests of the city, and the city has decided that the preferred alternative is the tunnel.
PC: You're independently elected. Do you worry about a backlash from tunnel opponents in the next (2013) election?
PH: There has been a backlash from voters who are misinformed.
It's the right decision. It's the right call, and I have to live with the consequences. It wouldn't be the first time [there's been a backlash against an elected official). No good deed goes unpunished.
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