Trial date designation delayed in Sequim labor lawsuit

PORT ANGELES –– A Clallam County Superior Court judge has postponed setting a trial date to debate the merits of two proposed initiatives aimed at changing Sequim’s dealing with unions representing municipal employees.

The postponement will allow state, county, labor and other city representatives to join the lawsuit against the city of Sequim.

Judge Erik Rohrer ruled Friday he could not set the court date until receiving responses from the Clallam County auditor, the state Secretary of State’s Office and the city of Blaine, where citizens proposed the same two labor initiatives.

“We weren’t ready for it yet,” Sequim City Attorney Craig Ritchie said. “So we’re pushing it back a bit to let the other parties answer.

“I think we all want to get this moving, though.”

Proposed initiatives

The proposed initiatives, presented to the Sequim City Council on July 28 through a pair of petitions organized by Susan Shotthaffer of Port Angeles, seek to require the city to negotiate in public with municipal employee unions and allow city workers to opt out of union representation.

Susan Brautigam filed a lawsuit against the city, saying it did not follow a timeline spelled out in state law for making a decision on municipal initiatives.

After a hearing Sept. 18 on a motion brought by Brautigam’s attorneys to force the measure on the Nov. 4 general election ballot, Rohrer ruled that “genuine issues of material fact” need to be “resolved at trial” and denied the request to place it on the ballot.

City and county officials told Rohrer during a Sept. 18 hearing that the deadline to put a measure on the ballot was Aug. 5, before the City Council had officially received the petitions, which were certified by county Auditor Patty Rosand on Aug. 8.

Under the law that allows for initiatives to be filed in Sequim, the city has 20 days after petitions are certified by the county auditor to either respond to the proposals or put them on the ballot for a public vote.

The City Council on Sept. 8 voted to do neither of the prescribed options after City Attorney Craig Ritchie advised it the initiatives could put the city in legal jeopardy.

Ballot timing

Rohrer ruled that Rosand and the secretary of state should appear to sort out the ballot timing discrepancy.

He also allowed the Teamsters Local 589, which represents 50 of the city’s 73 employees, to be added as a defendant in Brautigam’s suit, saying the city could not adequately represent the union’s interests.

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

Sequim is one of 57 of the state’s 281 communities that allow citizen initiatives.

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

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