YAKIMA, Wash. -- The city of Yakima has agreed to settle for $13,000 a lawsuit accusing the City Council of violating the Open Public Meetings Act when four of its members participated in a Chamber of Commerce luncheon last May.
State law requires the public be notified and have free access to meetings where four or more council members — a quorum — gather to discuss city business.
Council members Dulce Gutierrez, Kathy Coffey, Kay Funk and Brad Hill — attended the luncheon hosted by the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce to provide updates on several city issues. The luncheon cost $22 for chamber members and $32 for nonmembers.
Arthur West of Olympia filed the complaint in Yakima County Superior Court in August, saying the council didn’t provide proper public notice and access into the meeting.
The luncheon was listed on the chamber’s website and the chamber sent emails announcing the event. To attend, guests had to buy a lunch.
In addition to paying West $13,000, the city also promised to provide proper notice to all residents of future luncheons in which the council is involved and “to make its best effort to make such luncheons available to community members regardless of their ability to pay to attend,” according to a news release from the city announcing the settlement.
In the release, City Manager Cliff Moore said the settlement doesn’t mean West’s allegations were supported by state law.
“While notice of the chamber luncheon was not provided, by settling the complaint, the city is responding appropriately to what it believes is a gray area of the OPMA. The settlement amount is much less than what it would have cost the city to resolve the claim in court,” Moore said in the release.
The City Council isn’t the only government hit with such a lawsuit after participating in a chamber luncheon. Yakima County commissioners also were hit with a lawsuit alleging they violated the Open Public Meetings Act after attending a chamber luncheon in June.
Cannabis store owner and 14th Legislative District candidate Liz Hallock filed the lawsuit in Yakima County Superior Court, where it is still pending.