IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT, SUE US!

By Bob Hegamin                  (The Problem)   AN OPINION                 (June 5, 1997)

The relationship among the Mayor, City Council and the City Attorney has given the people of Seattle an arrogant city administration, confident it can govern in any way it wishes – with impunity.  And, for whatever its personal reasons, the media has contributed to this arrangement as an apologist for the City – helping suppress negative news by simply underreporting or skewing facts.  This has left the average Seattleite with nothing of consequence to consider, encouraging complacency and apathy.

Without oversight, the City has gradually lowered its ethical standards so that, even with legal advice from the Law Department, the Mayor and City Council have passed laws such as the Street Utility Tax, subsequently declared unconstitutional. Acquiescing to demands by the Mayor and City Council to allow “bad law” to be produced, the Law Department has become not only their advisor but also a partner in formulating legislation.

In 1991, as a precursor for producing controversial law, the Mayor and City Council passed an unprecedented “Golden Parachute” ordinance granting severance packages to City Light’s senior managers.  By 1993, City Light had exceeded the $750,000 limit of the ordinance by $271,000 – an act the Council ignored.  In fact, it excused the added $271,000 payment to deputy superintendents – who did not qualify. Despite the violation of the ordinance by City Light, the then-Chair of the Council’s Utilities Committee applauded the Superintendent’s method of paring management at the utility. She further encouraged the Superintendent by stating she would have approved an addition to the severance payment package if it had been requested.

But, can average citizens do anything about illegal and improper governmental actions?  In the case of the Street Utility Tax, it took an attorney to initiate and successfully challenge the constitutionality of the City ordinance before the Washington State Supreme Court.  The City knows the average resident does not have the time, the money or the inclination to file a lawsuit against the City – even if it is to reverse an illegal or improper action.  Seattleites have no options other than to hope our elected officials will do their constitutional duties, or take their chances on being reelected.  Meanwhile, City Hall’s arrogance becomes painfully evident each time it taunts its citizens with the refrain: -- IF YOU DONT LIKE IT, SUE US!