Port will settle lawsuits with open government advocate

The Port of Olympia commission voted Monday night to move forward with a final settlement agreement covering three lawsuits, two of which were filed against the port nearly eight years ago.

The lawsuits were filed by Arthur West of Olympia, an open government advocate who sued the port twice in 2007 and once in 2012, according to port data.

Commissioner Sue Gunn was absent Monday, so commissioners Bill McGregor and George Barner approved a plan to have executive director Ed Galligan “execute a final settlement agreement consistent with terms previously discussed in executive sessions.”

Barner asked a question of Heather Burgess, the port’s legal counsel, prior to taking a vote:

“Is this a final decision between the port and Mr. West?”

Burgess replied that the settlement will result in the “dismissal of the actions against the port.”

“That’s very good,” Barner said. “I appreciate that.”

Other specific details about the terms of the settlement were not disclosed, although there’s a financial component to the deal, Burgess said after the meeting.

The lack of disclosure drew some criticism from Beverly Bassett, an Olympia resident in attendance. She criticized the port for not publicly discussing any of the lawsuits outside executive session.

“The public is basically in the dark,” she said.

Burgess responded that the state’s Open Meetings Act allows the port to discuss current or potential litigation behind closed doors.

“We are exercising the port’s right to retain its privilege and its ability to negotiate those terms coming out of executive session,” she said.

The final vote to approve a settlement must take place in an open public meeting, such as what took place Monday.

The court filings are voluminous. One of the 2007 cases, for instance, shows more than 100 filings. West sued several groups, including the port, in this state Environmental Policy Act case.

West has also recently taken legal action against the commissioners of the ports of Tacoma and Seattle, alleging that they violated the state's Open Meetings Act by holding confidential meetings together over a planned operations alliance.

Richard Wolf, another Olympia resident who attended Monday’s meeting, wanted to know more about what the port plans to do to prevent the public’s money from being spent on this kind of litigation in the future.

“The port is fully compliant with all public records laws and procedures,” Burgess said.

The port doesn’t have any further pending public records litigation against it, she said.