Campaign submits 46,000 signatures to repeal Seattle head tax, citing uncertainty created by open meetings lawsuit

In the wake of a lawsuit charging the Seattle City Council violated the Open Public Meetings Act in preparing for Tuesday’s repeal of the city’s head tax, The No Tax on Jobs campaign decided to file petitions for a November referendum. Seattle Times reporter Lewis Kamb writes,

Hours after three trial lawyers sued the city of Seattle Thursday over the City Council’s abruptly called special meeting and vote this week to revoke a head tax on big businesses, an anti-tax campaign submitted the required signatures for a citywide referendum asking voters to repeal the measure, if necessary.

The No Tax on Jobs campaign opted to submit 46,372 signatures shortly before 4 p.m. Thursday, just in case the unrelated lawsuit’s contentions — that, in their haste to repeal the controversial ordinance, Mayor Jenny Durkan and a council majority “repeatedly violated” the state’s Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA ) — might invalidate Tuesday’s council vote to reverse the head tax.

Although, as Kamb reported yesterday, the lawsuit does not seek to repeal the head tax, there’s some uncertainty.

…the public-meetings law appears to indicate that if a court found the council had decided to approve its repeal ordinance in secret before Tuesday’s public meeting, that vote “shall be null and void.”

Katherine George, a Seattle lawyer who handles government transparency issues, said case law suggests it’s unlikely the repeal ordinance would be invalidated based on any potential private discussions before the public vote, however.

“Unlikely” is less than definitive, though, so…

“Out of an abundance of caution, the No Tax on Jobs Coalition decided today to file our nearly 46,000 petition signatures,” John Murray, a spokesman for the campaign, said in a statement. “Submitting the signatures ensures that we are on record regarding the jobs tax repeal.”

A source close to the campaign said the campaign and its lawyers believe the city’s repeal vote will stand, making any repeal referendum moot.

The city believes the tax has been repealed and, therefore, according to the Times, the city clerk will hold on to the petitions for now.

“We’ll keep them here” until further consultation with the City Attorney’s office, she said.

KIRO 7 reports,

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 have no basis for speculating on what the courts would do or how quickly. So we understand the No Tax on Jobs campaign’s decision to submit the petitions. Regardless, we think the head tax is gone for now.

Seattle Times business columnist Jon Talton writes that the city’s better off as a result of the repeal.

The misbegotten city tax on jobs, on top of the other taxes Seattle’s large businesses already pay, would have been a boon to the suburbs. They offer lower costs and less antagonism by politicians toward companies…

The jobs tax would have slowed overall growth — a pleasant reverie for some until the reality of collapsed revenues hits the city treasury. Small businesses, which depend on big ones, would be caught in cutbacks from their large customers. A defining stress test would come from a recession.

Talton makes a point that should not be overlooked. It’s the reason we wrote the tax is gone “for now.”

Too many Seattleites don’t know how good we have it — although the attempted jobs tax seems to have slapped many awake.

Whether they remain alert is the cynical gambit at least some at City Hall may be making. Eliminate the possibility of a ballot challenge to the tax, save my council seat next year, then bring back the jobs tax. It’s sad we have to wonder if that’s part of the calculus.

The saga continues.