We're a few days away from Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant's guerilla Seattle City Council committee meeting. It wasn't hard to read between the passive-aggressive political barbs thrown during Monday's council briefing: council members are not happy with Sawant.
Sawant is taking her Tax Amazon legislation, which was shelved earlier this month because legal analysis the council received from the Seattle City Attorney's Office advised that holding a meeting on the topic violated Gov. Jay Inslee's emergency proclamation. That proclamation limited the Open Public Meeting's Act. Essentially, under the proclamation, public agencies can only hold meetings on legislation that is "necessary and routine" or "necessary to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak and current public health emergency."
Earlier this month, the council decided it will not continue holding meetings on Sawant's legislation, co-sponsored by Councilmember Tammy Morales, until after Inslee's proclamation is lifted. That's scheduled to lift the first week of June, although it's unclear if it will get extended. Sawant has said she does not want to wait since her legislation includes emergency cash assistance to families impacted by COVID-19. The package, which consists of three bills and will fund affordable housing and green infrastructure post-COVID, was supposed to be voted on last week. It was in limbo until Sawant announced she would begin a discussion on it again this coming Thursday.
Sawant needs three of the council members in her Sustainability & Renters' Rights committee to be present in order to have a required quorum. That number is mandated by council rules. It's not looking like she'll reach that number, especially after Councilmember Andrew Lewis said he wouldn't attend the meeting.
On Monday, he reiterated that he would not be attending and his concerns that, because of the specific legal advice the council received, "we would be particularly vulnerable to participate in activities in disagreement with that analysis."
Then, Council President Lorena González claimed that Sawant had sent out "inaccurate information" in an email this weekend "implying that [Sawant] could establish quorum if any council members attend." González said she wanted to clarify for the public and all council members that "that's not how council rules work."
Sawant balked. She said she hadn't "implied anything" and did not send out "inaccurate information." The only email from her office this weekend to supporters was one with the subject line "Tell Councilmembers to attend Tax Amazon meetings!" The email urged the public to contact council members and tell them to "stop canceling and threatening to boycott City Council meetings." While it did not assert that any council member can attend in order to reach quorum, the email didn't specify to only contact council members who are a part of the committee.
She responded to González by saying that she hoped "the council members that are truly interested in pushing for progressive revenues will show up."
Sawant continued: "For me, this is not an issue of quorum—that’s a council rules question—for me, it’s a political question. Not allowing the movement to be stalled is important, boycotting city council meetings is not an option."
Her legal interpretation of the proclamation differs from the rest of the council. Sawant believes that the governor does not have the authority to dictate what subject matters are discussed in meetings and that the OPMA extends to remote, virtual meetings like the ones they've been having. "The misinformation is from the political establishment that this has been illegal," Sawant said.
The rest of the council has been advised that these meetings don't actually qualify. Hence, the added trepidation about discussing big things like a business payroll tax via Zoom.
González is currently lobbying Inslee to make a change to update the OPMA since she anticipates that Inslee's proclamation may get extended and, in the least, remote meetings will be the norm for some time going forward. "I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for us to deal with COVID-19 issues but also non-COVID-19 issues," González said. In order to do that, and comply with the rules as advised by the council's attorneys, the OPMA rules would need to be updated. That hasn't happened since 1983.
Sawant is already playing with fire by even hosting the meeting in her Sustainability & Renters' Rights committee since the legislation was assigned to Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda's Select Budget Committee originally. She's allowed to do this so long as she doesn't hold a vote on the bill. Her office has also confirmed that the meeting will go on even if a quorum isn't reached. The Seattle Office of the City Clerk has not returned requests for comment on what happens if that rule is broken.
Even still, we won't know whether the meeting will have a quorum until Thursday at 6 p.m.