Sequim sued over delayed decision on two union initiatives

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM –– Susan Brautigam has filed a lawsuit against the city, saying the council violated state law when it opted to delay a decision on two initiatives.

The initiatives seek to open contract negotiations with municipal employee unions and allow city workers to opt out of union representation.

“It's clear the city is just looking for a way to sweep this under the rug, but we're not going to just go away quietly,” Brautigam, a Sequim resident, said in a written statement issued by the Freedom Foundation, a conservative Olympia think tank.

Brautigam's suit, filed in Clallam County Superior Court on Wednesday, asks the court to order that the initiatives be placed on the Nov. 4 general election ballot or make them city ordinances.

City officials have 20 days to respond.

Brautigam also asks the court to order the city to pay court costs, including fees for her attorney, Shawn Newman, Washington state director of the Initiative and Referendum Institute of the University of Southern California.

“The council has two choices under the law: pass the citizen initiative as is or refer to the general election,” Newman said in the Freedom Foundation's statement.

“They can still do the right thing and avoid spending tax dollars to fight their own citizens.”

Susan Shotthaffer of Port Angeles, who organized the petition drive, presented the petitions to the city of Sequim on July 28 seeking to get two initiatives on the ballot.

Proposition 1, the Transparency Act, would require the city to negotiate in public with employee unions.

Proposition 2, the Protections Act, would give employees the choice of joining the unions representing their job classifications.

Ritchie: Initiatives illegal

In a legal memo to the city council, City Attorney Craig Ritchie advised them not to adopt the initiatives or refer them for the ballot because they would violate several state and city laws.

“The City of Sequim has various obligations to its citizens, including compliance with state and federal laws regulating collective bargaining,” Ritchie wrote.

“'Prop 1' and 'Prop 2' attempt to usurp or infringe upon a power granted to the governing body of the City of Sequim,” he continued.

“They interfere with and coerce administrative action. They interfere with and conflict with state law.

“They attempt to do indirectly what they cannot do directly; collectively bargain through initiative,” Ritchie wrote.

“They put the Sequim taxpayers in jeopardy of paying for potential unfair labor practices.”

Because of those issues, he said, the court would nullify the initiatives.

Deadline passed

Brautigam's lawsuit cites state law governing citizen ordinances as requiring municipalities to enact the measures or put them up to a public vote within 20 days of their certification by the county auditor.

Clallam County Auditor Patty Rosand certified the petitions Aug. 8, which would have given the city a deadline of Aug. 28.

The council discussed the ordinances at its Aug. 25 meeting at the Sequim Transit Center, which was packed with a standing-room-only crowd of speakers both for and against the measures.

After two hours of hearing public testimony, the council decided to put off a decision and discuss the initiatives further at its next meeting, which will be Monday.

Ballot date passed

Rosand has said the initiatives were not received in time to be put on the November ballot.

Ballot measures to be printed on that ballot were due Aug. 5.

Sequim is one of 57 of the state's 281 communities that allows citizen initiatives.

Fifty of Sequim's 73 employees are represented in one of three unions represented by Teamsters Local 589: police sergeants, police patrol officers and non-uniformed employees.

The other 23 employees are not unionized, meaning they either are in management or confidential positions.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 04. 2014 7:21PM
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