IF YOU DONT LIKE IT, SUE US!
by Bob Hegamin February 6, 1997
This paper was originally made public on June 5, 1997 and is reproduced at this time with a few revisions. The purpose of the piece was to identify a pattern of behavior by the City of Seattle toward those they consider "whistleblowers." It remains true today. All names included in the original, but unnecessary for this rewrite, would be gratuitous and have been expunged.
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 the 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 Lights 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 Councils Utilities Committee applauded the Superintendents 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 Halls arrogance becomes painfully evident each time it taunts its citizens with the refrain: -- IF YOU DONT LIKE IT, SUE US!
There is a group, however, which has been working continuously on behalf of the people of Seattle. Collectively, it is an expert in every City function. It knows where incompetency is, who the political appointees are, how waste is generated, why cronyism is so prevalent and what abuses are covered up by an abusive administration.
Collectively, the group is composed of the Citys dedicated Civil Service employees. They react to corruption, waste, and abuse in government in exactly the same way as the general population does. They report violations by internal memos and letters to the Mayor and City Council. They testify at Council hearings, write "letters to the editor" and as private citizens, work against outrageous City plans. But, unlike the average citizen, dedicated City employees pay a penalty for speaking out on matters of public concern. Their problems start with a case of simple intimidation, quickly followed by harassment, retaliation and challenges to their integrity and sanity. Collectively, they are the persecuted. Unfortunately, many have lost their jobs in defense of their right to challenge the perpetrators of improper City activities.
Once targeted, the City Attorney becomes involved as the employee goes through grievance and administrative processes said to provide due process. The path, however, is fraught with procedural pitfalls as the case is presented before examiners or panels with vested interests in the administration. The employee then typically files a lawsuit against the City in an attempt to prevent his or her career from being ruined. But, most fail and remain victims, losing not only their careers but also their savings and City pensions.
During the process, the City Attorney has stepped in to defend the City against the lawsuit. Without having to answer to the people, the Law Department goes about the business of defending the perpetrators, using the massive power and treasury of the City all in the name of the Mayor and City Council. Ironically, it is noteworthy that employees, who have acted with integrity in the public interest, are persecuted while perpetrators are never held accountable.
But, when the Law Department uses as many as nine attorneys, or takes as many as nine years, or wastes more than a hundred thousand tax dollars on a single "lost" case against one "whistleblower", it is an abomination. It is simply ridiculous to think that fairness remains a factor or plays a part in resolving a dispute, when political damage control becomes more important than the merits of the case. For all intents and purposes, almost every high profile case within the past ten years has been conducted as a vendetta by the political elite within City Hall. Utilizing the Law Department to do its bidding, they simply and deliberately go out of their way to wear down the financial and emotional resources of the employee.
The current City administration does not believe in using simple solutions to resolve simple problems. Instead, it bends its own laws, policies, and procedures in order to distort its position, encouraging simple problems to escalate out of control. Some cases have subsequently turned out to be costly fiascos for the people of Seattle, initiated by an unresponsive, politically motivated, and abusive City government, intent more on destroying "whistleblowers" than on resolving problems. A few high profile cases, including the number of years of dispute, are listed below:
1997 Keiffer (8 years) 1992 Patterson (9 years) 1987 Pillon (5 years) 1996 Hairston (6years) 1989 Timmons (4 years) 1982 Fraser (7 years) 1994 Engel (4years) 1988 Gayles (4 years) 1982 Nagamatsu (2 years)
The City Attorney is elected by the people but is not accountable to them. The basic duties and responsibilities of the City Attorney are to give legal advice to department directors, and to defend the offices and actions of the Mayor and City Council in litigation.