Local Government

Council to attempt an override of Mayor’s veto

By Mario Lotmore | Lynnwood Times Staff

On June 6, it was brought to the attention of the Lynnwood Times that Councilman George Hurst will bring a motion for a vote to override Mayor Nicola Smith’s veto of Ordinance 3358 that the City Council approved on May 26 by a 4-3 vote to end the City Utility Tax. According to council members, the repeal of the tax was done to provide financial relief for residents at a time when many are struggling and/or unemployed.

According to a letter sent to city council members, Hurst alleges that Mayor Smith is vetoing a permanent $1.5 million tax reduction in exchange for a temporary $500,000 from the Cares Act.  

“If the Mayor is sincere about using the CARES Act funding for financial assistance to businesses and residents then the Council should act,” Hurst states in his letter.

Lynnwood is expected to receive $1,188,000 in funds from the CARES Act.  However, only $500,000 will be used for assistance programs. The other $688,000 will be used by staff to recover City Department expenses related to Covid-19.

The letter further points out inconsistencies to actual events stated in the Mayor’s letter and questions the justification of the veto based on a “Covid-19 emergency response time frame.”

“I am not sure what the Mayor means by that phrase because the proclamations by the Governor restricting actions by all city councils to Covid-19 matters does not provide a time limit on any legislation passed by the City Council.”

“If you review the deliberations of the Lynnwood City Council’s repeal of the City utility tax the repeal was a response to Covid-19’s impact on residents and businesses in Lynnwood.”

“The Council discussed the repeal at meetings on May 11, May 18, and May 26. There was ample time for Council to deliberate on the issue and to make an informed decision that resulted in the City utility tax repeal.”

The Covid-19 emergency has resulted in staff and Council having to consider challenging budget decisions ranging from possible voluntary separation to reducing department expenditures. Members of the council that oppose eliminating the 6% tax cut are concerned that it would exacerbate the current financial reality. 

A minimum of 5 votes from the city council is required to overturn a veto by the mayor.

The 7 p.m. June 8 meeting will be held remotely by Zoom. The Public can listen live at www.LynnwoodWA.gov/Live or join via Zoom with the link to make public comment, or can listen in by dialing 1-253-215-8782 – Zoom Meeting ID is 917 2275 2120.

Back story

As reported by Erin Freeman in this article, the Lynnwood City Council passed an ordinance at its May 26 virtual Business Meeting to eliminate the 6% utility tax on water distribution in sewage utilities. This was done as a way to provide financial relief for residents at a time when many are struggling and/or unemployed.

As Finance Director Sonja Springer said at the meeting, the elimination of this tax would impact the general fund by about $1.4 million per year.

The ordinance passed 4-3 with Council President Christine Frizzell, Council Vice President Shannon Sessions and Councilmember Ruth Ross voting no and council members Jim Smith, George Hurst, Ian Cotton and Julieta Altamirano-Crosby voting yes.

In the published agenda for the upcoming June 1 city council work session, there is a letter from Mayor Nicola Smith to the council saying that she will veto the ordinance that eliminated the 6% tax.

The letter goes on to give background about the ordinance alleging it was introduced to the council by email one hour before the May 18, 2020 meeting and then “forwarded” to the May 26, 2020 meeting when it was discussed and approved by the city council.

According to the City’s website, posted meeting agendas and online YouTube council meeting videos, the timeline of events is as follows:

  • May 11, 2020 Regular Business Meeting: Councilman Jim Smith introduced a motion to repeal the 6% Utility Tax on water and sewer during New Business (Video timestamp of 1hr. 43 min.).
  • May 18, 2020 Work Session: The motion was on the agenda and discussed by the council (Agenda item G)
  • May 26, 2020 Regular Business Meeting the ordinance was listed on the agenda, further discussed, and approved 4-3 by the council (Agenda Item 90.3D)

The letter further alleges, “The adoption of Ordinance 3358 is inconsistent with the State Attorney General’s Guidance on the COVID-19 Emergency Open Public Meeting Act” (Proclamation 20-28).

On May 4, 2020, Washington’s legislative leadership acted on Governor Inslee’s request to extend the operation of Proclamation 20-28.1 which was superseded by Proclamation 20-28.2, pertaining to the Public Records Act and the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), through at least May 31, 2020. 

The proclamation eased normal rules providing that the public must be allowed to attend any meeting of the governing body of a public agency… through telephonic access, at a minimum, with optional electronic, internet, or other means of remote access.

The proclamation further states that agencies are prohibited from taking “action” as defined in RCW 42.30.020 unless the matters are “necessary and routine matters or are matters necessary to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak and the current public health emergency,” until the Governor restores the regular operation of the OPMA.

According to RCW 42.30.020, “action” is defined as “the transaction of the official business of a public agency by a governing body including but not limited to receipt of public testimony, deliberations, discussions, considerations, reviews, evaluations, and final actions.

RCW 42.30.020 defines “final action” as a “collective positive or negative decision, or an actual vote by a majority of the members of a governing body when sitting as a body or entity, upon a motion, proposal, resolution, order, or ordinance.”

According to the mayor’s letter, public agencies are to limit its business to “matters related to COVID-19” or to business that is “routine and necessary.”

The letter also alleges that the ordinance “violates the spirit of Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act as the Council’s action did not include an open and transparent public process.”

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