Limited by Gov’s Proclamation and citing OPMA ‘concerns,’ Select Budget Committee Meetings for May cancelled during coronavirus emergency
Council President M. Lorena González issued the following statement with regard to Governor Jay Inslee’s Proclamation 20-28 and the City Council’s consideration of Council Bills 119772, 119773 and 119774, regarding a tax on corporate payroll:
“In recent weeks some of my City Council colleagues have begun to express concerns related to the City Council’s ongoing attempts to comply with the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and Governor Jay Inslee’s Proclamation 20-28 as it relates to the Council’s consideration of the corporate payroll tax legislation proposed by Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Tammy J. Morales. Initial concerns were raised by Councilmember Lisa Herbold on April 28, 2020, in a communication to Councilmembers which included legal advice from our City Attorney’s Office related to Proclamation 20-28 and its potential impact on the Council’s consideration of this legislative package (Council Bills 119772, 119773 and 119774), via ongoing meetings of the Select Committee on Budget, which is chaired by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda.
“As I have engaged in an independent dialogue with the City Attorney’s Office regarding the Council’s consideration of these bills and as I have learned more about this legislative proposal, I have become increasingly concerned that the substance of these bills and the facts established in its legislative findings do not meet the high standard necessary to support a conclusion that the package as a whole is either ‘routine and necessary’ or sufficiently related to COVID-19 and the current public health crisis, as required by Proclamation 20-28.
“In an effort to promote the consistent application of Proclamation 20-28 for so long as it is in effect and to provide direction to Councilmembers on all committee hearings scheduled to occur during May 2020 (or for the duration of the Governor’s Proclamation should it be extended), I issued a memo to my colleagues earlier today explaining the impact Proclamation 20-28 has on the City Council and other public agencies like ours in Washington State, which have been provided temporary relief from some requirements of the OPMA, such as the necessary provision of in-person viewing of public meetings.
“This decision will have an immediate impact on the ongoing consideration of the corporate payroll tax legislation sponsored by Councilmembers Sawant and Morales. It is incumbent upon all Councilmembers to continue complying with Proclamation 20-28 by limiting our legislative actions to items that are ‘routine and necessary’ or related to the immediate COVID-19 public health emergency.
“As Council President, I am responsible for providing appropriate guidance to my colleagues on matters such as this. Accordingly, I asked Budget Chair Mosqueda to strongly consider cancelling the Select Budget Committee meeting scheduled for Wednesday, May 13, 2020, and to refrain from convening public meetings on these proposed bills through at least May 31, 2020. Earlier today, Councilmember Mosqueda indicated that she agreed with my analysis and conveyed that she has decided to cancel her previously-scheduled Select Budget Committee hearing on May 13 in accordance with this advice.
Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda added: “While I’m deeply disappointed that this urgent conversation is going to be delayed, I fully support the guidance and recommendations from the Council President to both ensure transparency, accountability and participation from the public, and to protect the health and safety of city employees and attendees. Per the guidance, I will be cancelling the Select Budget Committee meetings through May 31, 2020, or until further notice. These times aren’t easy, guidance is evolving, and I am thankful to be in a city where we are centering public health and well-being first.”
Council President Gonzalez continued: “This decision is not one that I take lightly, but it isone that provides for fidelity to our obligation to continue to comply with open government principles during an unprecedented global pandemic. During these trying times, we cannot and should not signal to the people of Seattle that we are willing to set aside full and unfettered access to our democratic process on significant legislative proposals.
“Despite this decision, I continue to believe that the City Council should at an appropriate time deliberate on potential mechanisms to raise progressive revenue to address the emerging economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and our projected $200-300 million budget deficit. I am grateful that Councilmembers Sawant and Morales initiated this conversation, and I look forward to reinitiating these deliberations when we are no longer restricted from doing so and when the public can fully and safely participate.
“Even in these uncertain times, Councilmembers and their staff will continue striving to serve their constituents. We continue to engage with small business owners, workers, renters, homeowners, people needing food assistance, immigrant and refugee communities, our homeless neighbors, and others. We’ll also continue to work with our counterparts in the Mayor’s Office and the executive branch to ensure our parks are safe, our transportation system is effective, the needs of our unhoused neighbors are addressed, and that all City departments are serving Seattleites during this crisis.”