Black Diamond /Oakpointe OPMA Lawsuit Settles

Breaking for Executive Session at the beginning of the Black Diamond Council meeting on Thursday, February 1 to discuss settlement of the Open Public Meeting Act (OPMA) lawsuit brought by CCD Black Diamond Partners LLC, who are a part of Oakpointe, in December 2016, current Councilmembers minus Councilmember Pat Pepper, who recused herself from the Executive Session, headed off for the approximate 20-minute session with possible action afterwards.

Upon return, Council’s first order of business following the Executive Session was to discuss the OPMA lawsuit settlement to a curious audience. Councilmember Janie Edelman began discussion by informing the audience that while the settlement was not perfect, it was the best deal everyone could come up with short of going to trial, which was not what anyone wanted to do as it would be cost prohibitive. Edelman went on to read part of the “Whereas” recitals from the Settlement Agreement as follows:

“…G. WHEREAS, the King County Superior Court has determined by Order dated January 24, 2018, that Ms. Morgan, attended four (4) meetings in violation of a provision of the OPMA applicable to her, that Ms. Pepper attended six (6) meetings in violation of a provision of the OPMA applicable to her, and that Mr. Weber attended three (3) meetings in violation of a provision of the OPMA applicable to him; and

  1. WHEREAS, the King County Superior Court has determined that Ms. Morgan, Ms. Pepper, and Mr. Weber attended a meeting with knowledge that the meeting was in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act; and
  2. WHEREAS, the court imposed a penalty of $500 each on Ms. Morgan, Ms. Pepper, and Mr. Weber; and…”

Edelman let everyone know that the $500 fine from each of the former Councilmembers, Erika Morgan and Brian Weber, together with current Councilmember Pat Pepper (totaling up to $1,500) would be paid to the Black Diamond Community Center within thirty days.

Also making a statement was Councilmember Tamie Deady who stated that while she would have liked to have seen the lawsuit go to trial, the cost to the City at this point was already looking at a figure of over $350,000. Of that figure, the City would only be paying $58,000 in settlement funds to Attorney Jeff Taraday of Lighthouse Law Group for his work on the lawsuit defending Morgan, Weber and Pepper that was possibly adding up to over $200,000. Deady went on to state that should the City have taken the lawsuit to court; the $350,000 figure could have risen to over $500,000.

“We need to stop draining our taxpayer’s money and stop all these childish actions that the Council has caused the City, the past Council, and move forward and start respecting our taxpayer’s money,” stated Deady. “It’s a shame that it went this far. I would have liked to see Pat Pepper, Morgan and Brian Weber have to pay $500 each for each violation, but that didn’t happen…we’ll just move on from here.”

While newly elected Councilmember Erin Stout agreed that the settlement was a good deal, “…but I think this good deal is an abomination against the City of Black Diamond.”

Stout went on to state, “We have had to shell out, or will have to shell out an unbelievable amount of money for legal fees, and time, and effort, and heartache in this City for the actions of Councilmembers who worked against the best interest of the City of Black Diamond. And so, the reason it is a good deal is because it’s done…Let’s move forward, let’s pay our bills, let’s do whatever it is that we need to do to bring this City back into equilibrium. Let’s move forward and get the City on a track where we don’t have to deal with this anymore. And this is something that will close a chapter in the history of Black Diamond that I hope is never repeated.”

Shortly after Stout’s comment, all Councilmembers voted in favor of the OPMA settlement except for Pepper – who abstained from the vote.

While the rest of the meeting ran along smoothly through the City business Agenda items, earlier in the meeting Pepper asked that Minutes for the August 18, 2016 Council meeting be pulled from the Consent Agenda. Pepper stated that a citizen had gone through part of the minutes, found some “errors” in voting, and wrote about those errors. Deady stated she had listened to the audio and compared it to Kristen Bryant’s emailed changes. Deady let everyone know that there was a part of the audio that was really hard to tell what was being said as the audio had faded out. Deady did correct who had made a “no” vote on the item in question.

Pointing out that the meeting minutes were from August 18, 2016, Edelman stated that there was ample time to get back to the City Clerk with changes. “What we got today, and I’m reading the emails that came from Kristen Bryant, the first one was at 1:23 p.m. today. Then she followed up with another one at 3:03 p.m. today. And then Ms. Pepper brings hard copies and plops them down at the City Clerk’s place. There’s been ample time to change these. I do not understand why you guys wait until the day of the meeting, within 4 hours of our meeting, this is just outrageous.”

Shortly thereafter, the Council voted in favor of making the changes Deady had requested to the August 18, 2016 Minutes. However, after stating no as her vote, Pepper was stating she wanted to see the adjustments Bryant had typed up, however, Mayor Carol Benson stated that the motion had carried, ending the discussion.

Commenting the following day regarding passage of the OPMA settlement at the Black Diamond Council meeting, Brian Ross, CEO Oakpointe, stated, “We are glad that we can now put this matter behind us and we look forward to our continued partnership with the City of Black Diamond.”