SELAH — A Yakima County resident is taking the Selah City Council and the city to court, alleging the council violated open meetings laws when it authorized a crackdown on chalk art.
The lawsuit by Trent Wilkinson, filed in Yakima County Superior Court on Monday, alleges that council members voted 5-2 in a closed-door meeting to direct city staff to remove chalk art from city streets.
“No notice was given by the Selah City Council to the public that a vote would be taken on whether or not the city of Selah would be removing chalk art,” the lawsuit states. “Defendants’ conduct in making decisions in violation of the (Open Public Meetings Act) is ongoing and violates the clear intent and purpose of the OPMA.”
Selah City Attorney D.R. “Rob” Case said he had only received lawsuit the day before, and that the city does not comment on active litigation.
“I have no substantive comment,” Case said.
Washington’s public meetings act requires governing bodies to conduct business in open meetings. It allows for closed-door executive sessions to discuss imminent litigation, real-estate negotiations and personnel matters, but forbids councils and other governing bodies from acting and voting in those meetings.
In June, the city repeatedly erased chalk art supporting the Black Lives Matter movement drawn on a dead end city street, prompting protests and additional chalk art drawn around the city. The chalk art often supported the Black Lives Matter movement, decried racism and was critical of City Administrator Don Wayman.
At the July 28 City Council meeting, Councilman Kevin Wickenhagen spoke about the concerns with treating chalk art as protected speech. Wayman then reminded him that the council had approved the cleanup efforts, according to court documents and a YouTube recording of the meeting.
“We had two council members vote against cleaning it up,” Wayman said at the meeting. “But there were five that voted for it, so where are we at here? Are we changing?”
Attorney Tim Hall, who is representing Wilkinson, said it appears that the vote was taken during an earlier executive session to discuss personnel matters as there were no public votes on that matter in previous meetings.
“The executive session vote and secretive deliberative process by the city of Selah on whether or not to remove chalk art from public places within the city of Selah violated the OPMA by failing to be transparent and having a quorum of the council take a secret vote that was intended to be a final action as admitted by City Administrator Don Wayman,” the lawsuit states.
In the lawsuit, Wilkinson asks the court to declare the council violated the meetings act, rescind the action that was taken and have the city pay attorneys’ fees.