SELAH — Selah will settle two lawsuits alleging the city violated open-government laws in connection with a chalk-art controversy.
Council members unanimously voted this week to approve the settlement, in which the city pays Trent Wilkinson $45,000 and hands over an unredacted copy of an email he had requested, The Yakima Herald-Republic reported. In return Wilkinson will drop the lawsuits with prejudice, meaning that the cases cannot be filed again.
City Attorney Rob Case said under the settlement, the city does not admit to any wrongdoing or liability and that it’s the best outcome the city could achieve.
He noted that Wilkinson’s attorney, Tim Hall, had no objections to the settlement. While the settlement allows the city to maintain that the lawsuits were meritless and frivolous, it also says that Wilkinson and his attorney, Tim Hall, do not share that view.
Hall said his client was satisfied with the settlement as it allows for the email to be released and his attorney fees to be paid.
“I really hope the city has learned a lesson from this and the importance of open government and citizens’ rights to know what their elected officials are doing,” Hall said.
Wilkinson filed the lawsuit in Yakima County Superior Court in September, alleging the city violated the state’s Open and Public Meetings Act by taking a vote in a meeting that wasn’t open to the public to authorize the removal of chalk art from sidewalks and streets.
Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement last year drew chalk messages supporting the antiracism, anti-police-brutality movement on streets and sidewalks. Some messages were critical of City Administrator Don Wayman, who has disparaged the movement.
At the July 28 council meeting, Wayman reminded council members that they voted 5-2 to direct city staff to remove the chalk art, a vote Wilkinson said in his suit was conducted in a closed executive session.
Under state law, councils can meet in closed session to discuss matters, but must take any action on those matters in a public meeting.