Head tax opponents submit signatures after lawsuit alleges council violated open meetings law

SEATTLE — The about-face by the Seattle City Council on the head tax was driven by a referendum effort that gathered more than 45,000 signatures for a repeal.

After the council killed the tax on Tuesday, there wasn't much reason to actually turn in the signatures, until a lawsuit was filed Thursday alleging city officials violated state law.

"The council members made an error in not following the Open Public Meetings Act," said James Egan, a trial attorney listed as a plaintiff on a lawsuit against the city.

The lawsuit says it "does not challenge the legitimacy of the ultimate vote, only the clandestine tallying and debate."

The suit, first reported by The Seattle Times, leans heavily on the newspaper's reporting, citing weekend discussions among council members and questions about whether a full 24-hour notice was given before Tuesday's meeting.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant raised similar concerns, tweeting on Monday about a "backroom betrayal."

On Thursday, Mayor Jenny Durkan's office distributed a letter from City Attorney Pete Holmes which assesses city officials' actions and states, "we believe that it is likely that the courts would hold that the notice requirements of the OPMA (Open Public Meetings Act) were met."

"We all are opposed to the head tax, but what we're in favor of is open government," said attorney Lincoln Beauregard.

In an interview, plaintiff James Egan repeatedly railed against the council for passing the head tax in the first place.

The lawsuit seeks civil penalties against city officials as outlined in state law.

"I won't get a dollar a dime and if I did, it would go to charity," Egan said.

In a statement, head tax opponents said they went ahead and submitted their signatures "out of an abundance of caution."

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