Washington Coalition for Open Government settles lawsuit against redistricting commission

The Washington Coalition for Open Government has agreed to settle its lawsuit with the State of Washington and its redistricting commission for violating the state Open Public Meetings Act.

The commission on Thursday voted to accept the settlement.

The Washington Coalition for Open Government (WashCOG) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded in 2002. It advocates for public records, open meetings and informed citizens.

The parties reached an agreement on a consent decree to present to the Thurston County Superior Court for approval. That agreement includes open government principles that ensures future Commissions will not continue to act secretly, which WashCOG said was its goal.

According to a WashCOG news release, elements of the agreement include:

  • The Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) applies to the commission and its commissioners.
  • The commission and its commissioners violated OPMA and the commission’s corresponding rules regarding transparency.
  • A commitment to implement rules so that commissioners no longer negotiate in private.
  • A stipulation that all future commissioners and staff shall complete open government training within thirty days of hiring or appointment.
  • Before the Commission considers any motion to approve a final redistricting plan, the commission shall make that plan publicly available, including any proposed Congressional or legislative district maps.
  • The commission shall open for public comment any motion to approve a final plan prior to voting on the motion.
  • Penalties of $500 per commissioner and payment of legal costs and fees for the plaintiffs.

Under the settlement, the superior court would deny WashCOG’s request to invalidate the redistricting plan and district maps the commission transmitted to the state Supreme Court on Nov. 16.

The Supreme Court’s had already issued an order Dec. 3, 2021, affirming that plan. The Supreme Court’s decision said that “the primary purpose of achieving a timely redistricting plan would be impeded, not advanced, by rejecting the Commission’s completed work.”

Subsequently, the Supreme Court declined original jurisdiction to hear the coalition’s complaint and the state Legislature adopted the Redistricting Plan as amended on Feb. 8, 2022.

“We concluded the Supreme Court and Legislature had no interest in invalidating the plan and maps so close to the 2022 elections,” said Washington Coalition for Open Government President Mike Fancher. “We took no position on maps, but pursued an outcome that ensures this commission and future commissions will not repeat the same mistakes. We feel this outcome achieved that aim.”

The commission has agreed to clarify its rules and never again vote on a “framework” rather than a redistricting plan in final form with actual maps in recordable form made public prior to its vote, the coalition press release said. The commission also agreed to forgo private negotiations and bring its working conversations or deliberations into the public forum moving forward.

The commission has taken these matters seriously as shown by their stipulation to individual penalties and covering the costs and attorney’s fees incurred in enforcing open government protections,” Fancher said.

Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act requires “All meetings of the governing body of a public agency shall be open and public and all persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting of the governing of a public agency, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.” RCW 42.30.030

The Washington Coalition for Open Government is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded in 2002. We are an independent, broad-based advocate for public records, open meetings and informed citizens.

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