By Chris Hendrickson, Contributing Writer
Gold Bar won’t pay a quarter-million dollars to make a public-records-requests boondoggle go away.
Gold Bar City Council voted four-to-one on February 18 in favor of passing a motion to reject a recent settlement offer the city received from Gold Bar resident and open government activist Anne Block.
The motion to reject Block’s offer was carried, with one councilmember abstaining.
The eight-page settlement offer, dated Feb. 3, 2014, included several different components. Block’s attorneys requested that, in addition to agreeing to a one-time payment of $256,776.05, the city also release specific public records that Block alleges have been withheld from her. They further requested that the city provide mandatory training to all city employees and elected or appointed officials in regards to public records and open public meetings.
The settlement offer was submitted by the Seattle firm Allied Law Group by attorney Michele Earl-Hubbard.
“Please know that this offer is less than what we believe my clients could achieve in court and less than they will seek in court in the event they are forced to litigate the issues,” wrote Earl-Hubbard.
The city was given until February 28 to respond.
Since 2009, the web of lawsuits and other legal action Block has initiated against the city is complex. She has filed at least four public records act lawsuits, with at least one appeal to the Washington State Supreme Court. Thus far, all of Block’s lawsuits have been dismissed or otherwise unsuccessful. She has further filed at least five recall petitions against Gold Bar elected officials, one tort claim, and an additional lawsuit for violation of the Open Public Meetings Act.
She has also filed numerous Public Disclosure Commission complaints.
The letter from Earl-Hubbard made reference to the unsuccessful court proceedings.
“Again, the city has won at the trial court level but with a ruling which contradicts binding case law from the Washington State Supreme Court, thus we are confident this decision will be overturned on appeal and the city penalized for breaking the law,” wrote Earl-Hubbard.
Block’s most recent lawsuit, filed in Federal Court on February 18, 2014, names the City of Gold Bar along with several specific Gold Bar elected officials, both past and present, as having allegedly violated Block’s civil rights. The lawsuit also names several former Snohomish County employees.
Block’s settlement offer to the city included the provision that she would release the City of Gold Bar from any liability in the federal lawsuit, but with contingencies, including the release of additional public records.
The city’s law firm, Kenyon Disend, responded to the offer letter on Feb. 10, 2014.
“As your letter correctly notes in several places, all of Ms. Block’s claims – all of them, without exception – have been soundly rejected by the Snohomish County Superior Court, the Washington State Court of Appeals, and the Washington State Supreme Court,” wrote Kenyon Disend Attorney Michael Kenyon.
He further made the following statement, directly in reference to the monetary amount specified in the settlement:
“She has lost on every occasion. She should be paying the citizens of Gold Bar; the citizens should not be paying her.”
The city attorney’s response also requested verification of the federal lawsuit and asserted that they would promptly share the proposal with Gold Bar Mayor Linda Loen and Gold Bar City Councilmembers.
A copy of both the settlement offer and the city’s legal response can be found here: http://www.cityofgoldbar.us/Council_Agenda_Minutes.html.