University of Washington regents accused of violating state transparency law

Lawsuit cites email exchanges between university officials that indicate the board picked the school’s president before taking a public vote.

The Associated Press

SEATTLE — The University of Washington’s board of regents is facing a lawsuit over allegations that it violated the state’s open meeting laws by selecting the university’s president in secret.

The Seattle Times reported that the lawsuit filed Tuesday by the Washington Coalition for Open Government cites email exchanges between university officials that indicate the board picked Ana Mari Cauce before taking a public vote last October.

University spokesman Norm Arkans and board Chairman William Ayer have said Cauce’s appointment was made in accordance with state laws.

“We indicated earlier we believe the Regents fully complied with the requirements of the Open Public Meetings Act, and we still believe that,” Arkans wrote in an email to the newspaper.

The lawsuit comes after UW came under scrutiny earlier this year after the release of emails and other records by The Seattle Times.

One included the prepared script the chairman used to conduct the regents’ meeting that reveals the outcome of the board’s vote.

The lawsuit said the regents’ presidential-selection process is the latest of the board’s repeated violations of the state law, which requires governing bodies to deliberate and vote on hiring and other issues during public meetings.

The suit noted that last year, a King County judge found the regents board had violated the law on 24 different occasions by holding private dinner meetings at then-President Michael Young’s home from 2012 to 2014.

The lawsuit explicitly states the group isn’t seeking to overturn the selection of Cauce as president, but rather wants to hold regents accountable and to defend the integrity of the open-meetings law’s “citizen enforcement provision.”

Under increased penalties passed by the Legislature this year, members of governing bodies who knowingly violate the Open Public Meetings Act face fines of up to $500, up from $100.

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