SHORELINE — The Shoreline City Council approved funding the legal defense of three current city council members and one former member with one caveat: only if they’re innocent.
After postponing the decision for two weeks, three of four members not named in the lawsuit alleging violations of the state Open Meetings Act voted to pay for legal expenses for the defense. The approval came with a stipulation that defendants would reimburse the city if a final judgment finds they knowingly, willfully or intentionally violated the law.
Council members Rich Gustafson, Keith McGlashan and Ron Hansen voted for the motion. Councilwoman Cindy Ryu abstained from voting at the Feb. 13 Council meeting.
“I tried to put myself in the same position,” said Gustafson, who proposed the motion. “I feel I would be obligated to repay taxpayer dollars for doing such an act and violating the Open Public Meeting Act.”
The lawsuit, filed Jan. 2 in King County Superior Court, states Council members Maggie Fimia, Bob Ransom, Janet Way and former Councilman John Chang violated the law on numerous occasions from Dec. 5 through Dec. 27. Those filing the lawsuit include former Mayor Connie King, former Councilman Kevin Grossman and Shoreline resident John D. Hollinrake, Jr. They are represented by attorney Michael Rasch of Shoreline. The plaintiffs request a $100 civil penalty against each of the defendants, attorney fees and injunction against future violations.
City staff recommended the city pay for outside counsel to defend the four, but not pay for any potential civil penalties that might stem from the lawsuit.
Ryu supported providing defense to the three current Council Members and Chang, but did not support requiring the foursome to potentially repay the city. The defendants may end up suing the city, she said.
“This is setting us up for a lose-lose situation,” Ryu said. “A lose for the council members who are defendants and a lose for taxpayers of this city.”
Ryu stressed that she did not want to cost taxpayers additional money other than what “they are bound by law to provide the council.” She stressed that council members named in the lawsuit were taking legal advice from a lawyer with the Washington Cities Insurance Authority during the dismissal of former city manager Steve Burkett.
Ransom said the situation was similar to having automobile insurance and then after getting into a car accident, being informed the policy was rewritten.
“We have insurance and now you are changing the insurance policy,” Ransom said. “That is my view and I have no vote.”
Fimia said she appreciated the first part of the motion, to provide legal defense, but did not support the stipulation that the defendants may have to reimburse the city.
McGlashan said it was a difficult decision, but he favored the motion.
“This will get us off the subject for now,” McGlashan said. “I will support this to get defense for the council.”