Spokane County commissioners violated the state’s open public meetings law by holding a closed-door session with a state official last spring to consider expansion of the county’s urban growth area, a new lawsuit says.
The Center for Justice, a public-interest law firm, filed a complaint Friday in Spokane County Superior Court seeking to reverse any deliberations or decision reached during the May 13 meeting. The suit also asks for $100 civil penalties against each of the county’s three elected commissioners.
The commissioners voted in April to expand the area, a decision that opens 6,000 more acres for development. In July, they reduced that area to 4,100 acres after meeting with state officials.
The lawsuit alleges that the commissioners erred when they met privately May 13 with Leonard Bauer, an official with the state Department of Commerce, the agency overseeing the state’s urban growth law.
Commissioners later said they met with a state official to reach an agreement on an appropriate urban expansion to avoid a potential state challenge, but they did not identify Bauer by name.
Despite the July reduction in the expansion area, the state last month filed a challenge of the expansion with the state’s Growth Management Hearings Board.
Gov. Jay Inslee said in a letter to commissioners that he’s concerned about the addition of industrial land on the eastern border of Fairchild Air Force Base as well as the cost of providing roads and other public services to the expanded urban area.
Commissioner Al French said he believes the closed-door meeting was permissible under the Growth Management Act. “I’m real comfortable about this,” French said.
The Center for Justice, Futurewise, several neighborhood organizations and individuals have brought a separate challenge to the growth-area expansion before the growth hearings board.
Rick Eichstaedt, executive director and attorney for the center, said in an email that the county’s track record on following the law is in question both with the urban expansion and the closed-door meeting.
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