Submitted by Cecilia Sorci
Two former elected officials and a current Black Diamond City Councilmember violated state law a combined 13 times on six separate dates when they conducted city business in secret and closed from the public, according to the King County Superior Court.
Superior Court Judge Janet Helson ruled in a partial summary judgement that current Councilmember Pat Pepper and former Councilmembers Erika Morgan and Brian Weber failed to comply with the Washington State Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) when they discussed city business outside of council meetings from 2016 through 2017. Topics of their discussions included strategies to change council rules and tactics to diminish the roles of minority councilmembers.
CCD Black Diamond Partners, LLC filed the OPMA complaint against Pepper, Morgan and Weber in December 2016. Judge Helson released her written report Wednesday [1/24/2018]. Judge Helson has yet to review the majority of the OPMA complaints lodged against Pepper, Morgan and Weber. If the case were to move forward to trial, Pepper, Morgan and Weber could face additional OPMA violations.
“Judge Helson’s ruling confirms that the then-council majority acted in bad faith in regard to fostering an open government,” said Oakpointe CEO Brian Ross. “Oakpointe and its partner builders look forward to working with the council to ensure that Ten Trails is a beautiful community that all Black Diamond residents can be proud of.”
The OPMA requires publicly elected officials, which includes city council members, to hold meetings that are open to the public, unless in specific circumstances like personnel matters. The OPMA also prohibits any discussion of business by a voting majority outside of a public meeting.
OPMA rules were enacted by the State Legislature to ensure the public, including constituents and members of the press, can know everything influencing an elected official’s decision-making process from inception to passage.
“The Washington Open Public Meetings Act exists because transparency in government is the bedrock of our democracy,” said Oakpointe attorney Michele Earl-Hubbard of Allied Law Group. “When elected officials act in secret, they illegally deprive the public of its right to know, monitor and understand what their government is up to and to hold the government accountable for its actions.”
In her order on the parties’ partial summary judgement motion, Judge Helson determined that Weber, Morgan and Pepper “acted with knowledge of the fact” that they were in violation of the OPMA and had training on the OPMA.
The ruling found that Morgan violated the OPMA on four separate dates. The report also cited that Pepper broke the open meetings law six times and Weber three. Along with the ruling, Pepper, Morgan and Weber will be required individually to pay a $500 fine for each OPMA infraction the judge determines they committed with knowledge.