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Originally published Friday, July 22, 2011 at 8:31 PM

Judge throws out petition to recall Seattle council president

A King County Superior Court judge dismissed a recall petition against City Council President Richard Conlin Friday saying there wasn't sufficient legal or factual evidence that Conlin broke the law when he took actions to further the Highway 99 tunnel project.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A King County Superior Court judge dismissed a recall petition against City Council President Richard Conlin on Friday, saying there wasn't sufficient evidence that Conlin broke the law when he took actions to further the Highway 99 tunnel project.

Judge Carol Schapira said that Conlin did act for political reasons when he signed a draft environmental statement in 2010 after the mayor refused, and when he sought a judge's ruling on whether an anti-tunnel referendum was legal.

But she added: "That's the business he's in. He didn't do it for personal gain. He didn't do it to get elected."

Schapira said that just because there is a dispute between the mayor and the City Council over city policy, "does not mean something unlawful has happened."

The recall petition was brought by anti-tunnel activist Elizabeth Campbell.

She had argued that Conlin exceeded his authority under the City Charter by signing the draft environmental statement, by colluding with City Attorney Pete Holmes to bring a lawsuit to block a tunnel referendum, and by delaying placing on the ballot Initiative 101, sponsored by Campbell, that would have prohibited city streets from being used to construct the tunnel.

Earlier this week, another judge ruled Initiative 101 won't appear on the fall ballot because it exceeded the power of city initiatives by trying to block a state highway project.

The second tunnel measure, Referendum 1, will be on the Aug. 16 primary ballot. The referendum poses a narrow, procedural question, but tunnel opponents promote the measure as a way for citizens to express their opinion about the project.

After the recall petition was dismissed, Conlin suggested in a statement that Campbell was trying to manipulate the legal system to further her own political agenda.

He praised the court for following the law.

"I recognize that my constituents may not agree with my actions on a particular issue — indeed, disagreement is one of the hallmarks of a robust democracy. However, disagreement over a policy issue is not grounds for removal from office," Conlin said.

Campbell said that even though the recall petition won't go to voters, it will remind elected officials that they are accountable for their actions.

"This is about ensuring the integrity of city government," she said.

Campbell's attorney, Jean Schiedler-Brown, argued that Conlin was "acting as a maverick" by signing the draft environmental-impact statement on the tunnel when Mayor Mike McGinn refused, and again when Conlin said he'd directed Holmes to sue to block Referendum 1.

In both instances, the council voted to authorize Conlin's actions — after he had already taken them.

Assistant City Attorney Sumeer Singla said that signing the environmental report didn't bind the city to any legal obligations, but rather allowed it to continue as a partner with the state on the tunnel project.

Singla said the law sets a high bar for a recall petition. Not only must an elected official's actions be illegal but he or she must have intended to break the law.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com

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