This post has been updated. See below.
The Stranger filed a public records request last month to determine how much time and money Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes's office has used to fight two ballot measures concerning the proposed deep-bore tunnel. City lawyers and paralegals have spent 1,445 hours determining whether Referendum 1 and Initiative 101 were referable to the ballot and preparing lawsuits to prevent an August election. Holmes filed the first of two lawsuits in March, and the first hearing will be held tomorrow morning.
How much is Holmes's research and lawsuit costing taxpayers? Here's an estimate: City lawyers who make between $56-$65 an hour account for the vast majority of those hours (at least 90 percent), while other staff making between $24-$28.50 performed the rest of the work, city records show. On average, attorneys working on this issue make $58 per hour while the others make $26 per hour. By these metrics, the lawsuit has cost $79,221 so far.
Those figures don't account for all hours and resources the office used, however, as public disclosure law requires only certain records to be released. According to the city attorney's public information officer, time expended by Holmes, his communications staff, and the office's administrative personnel were not reported. Further, the office's chief of staff, Darby DuComb, reported only some of her hours. It's unclear how many additional hours were not reported or the expense of city resources used (paper, travel, etc.). Holmes makes an annual salary of 145,470 and Ducomb makes $140,509.
Holmes's public information officer was clear that all these numbers available thus far pertained to the referability of the ballot measures and the lawsuits "as best as I could narrow it." (She further clarified this point—that this was not just a collection of tunnel-related work, but was specific to the question of referability.) In a letter sent with the first installment of records, Holmes's office said that certain records included, but were "not limited to," the "project numbers specific to the subject of your request." That is to say, some of the hours may not have been about the tunnel's referability. However, Holmes's office included all of them because some of those categories did include hours used for tunnel referability. That said, Hillyard has assured me that these were included because those categories mostly pertain to the tunnel referability.
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes has filed two suits in King County Superior Court asking a judge to find that the measures pertaining to contracts with the state to build the $4.2 billion proposed deep-bore tunnel were ineligible for the ballot. His suit names the groups Protect Seattle Now and Seattle Citizens Against the Tunnel, which both submitted more than enough signatures to qualify for a vote in the primary election. Holmes argues that the city council was taking an administrative act, not a legislative action subject to the referendum process. Proponents of the ballot measures says the city couldn't have made its final legislative action because those decisions aren't legal until environmental reviews are completed later this summer. The case's hearing before Judge Laura Gene Middaugh is tomorrow at 10:00 a.m.
Specifically, The Stranger asked for records of "all staff/attorney hours of the Seattle City Attorney's office related to determining whether or not proposed R-1 (the tunnel referendum) and/or Initiative 101 is referable to voters and the subsequent complaint filed in King County Superior Court." Some records returned by the city attorney's office go back to last year, when only Initiative 101 was in play.
UPDATE: I've updated this post with a new headline. It originally said, "City Attorney's Office Has Spent Nearly $80,000 to Keep Tunnel Off Ballot." While I explained myself in the post—that the records request pertained to the referability of tunnel legislation and the litigation—I've changed the headline to make clear the money was spent on determining if the tunnel can go to ballot. In trying to achieve brevity, the headline was misleading. I regret the error.
As for this post, which says says the hours cited in this post did not pertain strictly to referability, I'll reiterate in more detail some of what I mentioned above. Naomi Hillyard, the public records officer in Holmes's office, told me that the hours listed were as specific as possible to the scope of my request, which sought "all staff/attorney hours of the Seattle City Attorney's office related to determining whether or not proposed R-1 (the tunnel referendum) and/or Initiative 101 is referable to voters and the subsequent complaint filed in King County Superior Court."
I even called Hillyard a second time to clarify the hours and how they were used, because the hours had some unusual categories. Hillyard made clear that these numbers pertained to the research relating to the referability of the referendum and initiative and the lawsuits "as best as I could narrow it." She said that this was not just a collection of tunnel-related work, but was specific to the question of referability. When asked about the environmental issues, Hillyard said that "the environmental issues were not included."
I've also added to the post information from a letter sent with the first installment of records.
I believe that my report was an accurate representation of what Hillyard told me at the time. If Holmes's office believes the records sent in response to my request show something else, then Holmes's office is changing its story. But I'm happy to update this post by saying it's possible what Hillyard said on the phone was wrong; these numbers may pertain more broadly to the office's work on the tunnel and less strictly to the question of referability.