Appeal time expires in Sequim lawsuit

Similar collective bargaining case awaits hearing in Chelan

The current effort to open union negotiations in the City of Sequim and stop mandatory union membership seems over.

Sequim resident Susan Brautigam and backers with the Freedom Foundation, an Olympia think tank, had 30 days to appeal Judge Erik Rohrer’s December decision in Clallam County Superior Court to dismiss their suit to put two propositions on the ballot for Sequim voters.

Those were the “Collective Bargaining Transparency Act,” or Proposition 1, to open union collective bargaining labor negotiations to the public and Proposition 2, the “Collective Bargaining Protections Act,” to prohibit mandatory union entry for employment and prohibit work stoppages in Sequim with 48 union city positions.

Sequim City Attorney Craig Ritchie said he believes they wouldn’t want to pursue another losing effort.

“It wasn’t a good case,” he said. “You can see that from the opinion. It lost in all grounds.”

A judge in Shelton ruled the same as Rohrer in a similar lawsuit brought forward by a citizen and the Freedom Foundation. It was not appealed either.

The City of Blaine’s City Council rejected the propositions following a petition like the Sequim City Council but a citizen didn’t file a suit.

However, Chelan Superior Court hosts a hearing on Feb. 13 with four citizens, D. Edson Clark, Jerry Eisenhart, Charles Keaton and Al Lorenz, suing the City of Chelan for not enacting the propositions either.

In Sequim’s case, Rohrer ruled the city was under its legal right to dismiss the propositions, which the Sequim city councilors voted to do in September. Rohrer denied Brautigam’s suit on Sept. 23 to place the propositions on the Nov. 4 general election ballot saying the deadline for items to go on the ballots passed. Rohrer later ruled the city council was acting under its own power given by the Legislature.

He concluded that the proposed ordinances “involve powers granted by the Legislature to the city council; contain provisions that are administrative in nature and are not the proper subject for initiatives; and contain provisions that conflict with existing state law.”

Ritchie advised the city councilors to deny the propositions because he found them unlawful, saying that only the state could put initiatives on ballots.

Sequim’s attorney helped rescind another suit against the city in the case “City of Sequim v. Malkasian,” where Paul Malkasian filed the initiative the Ratepayer’s Responsibility Act in 1996. It required the city to receive a vote of the people before issuing revenue bonds. The city was denied its efforts preventing it from going to the voters. In 2002, the city’s efforts were dismissed again until the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in 2006 to reverse the decision by the Court of Appeals and ruled in favor of the city.

For the proposed collective bargaining propositions, Port Angeles resident Susan Shotthafer and others gathered 800-plus signatures with 650-plus living within the Sequim city limits.

“Cities around the state give citizens the power of initiative, which is a false promise,” said Scott Roberts, Citizen Action Network director for the Freedom Foundation.

Roberts said case law like the Malkasian case “shades the spectrum.”

“If a city council gives false promise of initiative and they don’t like it, they can block it,” Roberts said. “These aren’t illegal ideas; just ideas blocked by the legal system.”

Roberts said citizens with petitions must receive signatures of 15 percent of registered voters in an area and city councilors can decide to enact it or send it to a vote.

He believes by going door-to-door, it weeds out a lot of the bad petitions.

“If there’s one thing I could do, I would reform initiative law where you need standard signatures to go on the ballot,” he said.

Ritchie said if all local efforts fail to reform collective bargaining, then groups will seek changes from the Legislature.

Currently Senate Bill 5329, “an act relating to restrictions on when representation under a public collective bargaining agreement may be challenged” is being discussed but Ritchie said it wouldn’t make changes like what was proposed in Sequim.

 

Reach reporter Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

 

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