Afternoon Jolt

City Attorney Pete Holmes' office stood by a recent city council decision today to hold a closed-door session.  

Last month, when  council member Tom Rasmussen asked planning committee chair Mike O'Brien if O'Brien's "linkage fee" proposal to charge developers a flat fee per square foot on most new development around the city was legal, O'Brien said he had scheduled a closed-door executive session to talk about it. 

Developers cried foul. And Jessica Clawson, an attorney with McCullough Hill Leary (a firm that represents downtown developers), sent a letter questioning the legality of holding a closed meeting about the council's authority.  

"It’s a little disturbing to me that no one is willing to have this conversation in the public forum."

Clawson wrote on September 19: "The Council's refusal to publicly discuss or cite the legal authority that permits the City Council to enact a linkage fee--in favor of meeting behind closed doors in an executive session--is more than a little concerning, it is against the law. Publicly disclosing the legal basis for linkage fee is vastly different than seeking legal advice from your attorney." 

At the time, Holmes spokeswoman Kimberly Mills told us: “We’re confident we’re on the right side of the law.”

Today, the city attorney's office responded to Clawson in a formal letter arguing that the council had a right to hold private sessions when "potential litigation" is in play.

The city attorney reasoned that,"It is reasonable to believe that the linkage fee proposal may result in litigation in part because another recent Council action addressing affordable housing is currently being litigated by your firm." (True. Or, at least true that Clawson's firm is representing a duo of downtown developers who are suing the city over a similar developer fee.)

Clawson tells PubliCola: 

“We aren’t asking to listen in to the council’s private conversations with their attorneys or advice given by their attorneys.  Instead, we think it’s important as a policy matter for the people of Seattle to understand whether the council believes this fee is legal, and what the basis for that belief is. As a policy matter, shouldn’t citizens know whether their council is passing legislation that could result in a costly lawsuit, and what council’s theory of legality is for that legislation? If it’s on shaky legal grounds, then why is it being pushed through so quickly by the council?  If it’s on solid legal ground, then why not discuss that publicly? It’s a little disturbing to me that no one is willing to have this conversation in the public forum.“

 

 

 

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