A Coupeville resident filed a petition against the Port of Coupeville Tuesday claiming two of the three commissioners violated the Open Public Meetings Act.
Diane Paul alleges that a vote taken on July 8 to terminate negotiations with the Greenbank Farm Management Group is evidence that commissioners John Carr and Marshall Bronson acted outside of a public meeting.
Carr raised the motion, which was quickly seconded by Bronson without discussion, Paul said. The third commissioner, Mike Diamanti, had no knowledge that the vote would be taken.
Paul alleges that the agenda item for the Greenbank Farm management contract negotiations didn’t specify the port was looking at terminating the discussions and that, therefore, the action was invalid — as well as a breach of public trust — because it wasn’t advertised ahead of time.
“They were trying to pull wool over our eyes,” Paul said. “I want to send a message that people are watching.”
“This is a citizen’s attempt to put them on notice that they have an obligation to their taxpayers.”
Paul filed her petition in Island County Superior Court Tuesday afternoon, naming the port and commissioners Carr and Bronson individually. She then filed an amended petition Wednesday morning with corrections.
When notified about Paul’s petition Tuesday, Bronson said he was surprised.
“I hope she has some proof of that because we did not,” he said, referring to the allegation that the matter was discussed outside of a public meeting.
“[The petition] is a visceral response because they don’t like what we did.”
Bronson said the port commissioners are extra careful to refrain from discussing port business outside of public meetings.
Bronson said he and Diamanti appointed Carr to the board to help look at financial information.
“So when he made the motion, based on the information he was reviewing, it was not a surprise,” he said.
Bronson added that, the day prior to the July 8 meeting, the port was advised by its lawyer not to sign the proposed agreement with the management group.
“I felt perfectly comfortable seconding that motion,” Bronson said. “There were so many problems, it was not satisfactory.”
Port Executive Director David Day confirmed that he and Bronson had a verbal review of the contract with attorney Grant Weed over the phone on July 7.
Day said the other two commissioners were not aware of that phone conversation and received the written document when it was submitted to the port electronically on July 14.
Paul is asking the courts to nullify the port’s July 8 decision and award her filing costs and any “further relief this court deems proper.”
Paul has lived in Coupeville for eight years and said she spent 30 years working in international human rights issues. Prior to moving to Coupeville, she lived in Tennessee, where she challenged the government on sunshine laws at the local level, suing her county and school district over public meeting violations.
“It’s a First Amendment Right to petition the government,” Paul said. “So it’s a First Amendment issue and that is very important to me.”
Paul paid the $240 filing fee and contacted the state Attorney General’s Office and Coalition for Open Government.
“I think people will come out with more information,” Paul said.
“I think we should challenge it legally at any case.”