Update, 4pm Oct. 28: The Eastside Firefighters issued a press release today accusing the City of Sammamish of violating the Open Meetings Act, holding meetings outside of the public process on the EFR issue. The press release is below the jump.
A new website called SaveOurFireDept.org has been launched to take on the City of Sammamish and its plan to leave the Eastside Fire and Rescue service.
A decision is supposed to be made Nov. 12. Another City Council meeting is tomorrow night.
This is an enormously controversial subject, with plenty written in the Sammamish Review and Issaquah/Sammmamish Reporter, as well as on this blog. Typically, the City of Sammamish has muffed its messaging on why, in detail, it’s considering leaving.
It comes down to a couple of simple issues:
- Sammamish taxpayers are and have been paying a disproportionate share to fund EFR since incorporation. In recent years, this amounts to about $500,000 per year. Do the math: $2.5 million in over-payments in the last five years. This ain’t chicken feed.
- Station 83, also known as the Klahanie Station, is at the heart of the matter. This station is on Issaquah-Pine Lake Road by the round-about. It was built by the developer of Klahanie (hence its unofficial name) when King County approved the project. Station 83 also serves Providence Point and several other areas in nearby Issaquah and areas adjacent Klahanie that are in the Issaquah Potential Annexation Area. A majority of the calls from the Station go to Issaquah and the Klahanie PAA, but Issaquah only contributes 6% of the funding toward Station 83’s operation.
- Sammamish has been trying for several years to get the funding adjusted on a more equitable basis. EFR members, led by Issaquah, have consistently refused.
- It’s after years of effort and constant rebuffs that Sammamish has reached this point of preparing to leave EFR.
- There are other issues as well. At one point the EFR members pondered extending EFR to Snoqualmie Pass. Sammamish would wind up subsidizing part of this. There is also a plan to build buildings and a new fire training tower (despite use of the one off I-90 east of North Bend), at a great cost.
I appreciate the obviously organized effort, largely backed by firefighters, it appears, to lobby the Sammamish City Council to stop them from leaving EFR. The service is good and there are obvious synergies by being a member of EFR that would be absent should Sammamish withdraw.
But why aren’t these same people showing up at the Issaquah City Council, and those of other EFR members, to lobby them for a more equitable split of funding? This, fundamentally, is what’s at stake–and Sammamish has tried for years without success to adjust the funding. Issaquah is the principal roadblock.
The SaveOurFireDept crowd doesn’t have any contact or meeting information, or a call to arms to descend on other city councils, whose obstinance is a key issue that has driven Sammamish to this point.
If SaveOurFireDept wants to truly do so, it needs to lobby more than Sammamish. It needs to lobby the EFR members and show up at the EFR Board and lobby it, too.
Sammamish City Council Accused of Violating Open Public Meetings Act
Public records uncover on-going secret meetings and unlawful discussions about fire service
Sammamish, WA. – An attorney representing Eastside Fire Fighters issued a scathing letter to Sammamish Mayor Tom Odell and the City Council today, calling attention to what appears to be the council’s numerous and routine violations of Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA). The letter was sent after attorneys reviewed hundreds of emails between council members, staff, consultants and the city’s Technical Advisory Board (TAB) members over the future of fire and life safety services for Sammamish residents. The emails were disclosed in response to the Eastside Fire Fighters’ initial public records requests. A follow-up request to the City is still pending.
Washington’s OPMA has been law since 1971 and begins with the admonition: “The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.”
“It appears the City Council and Technical Advisory Board (TAB), have openly discussed fire service issues with a majority of the Council using the email system,” said Attorney SaNni M-K Lemonidis in her letter to Mayor Tom Odell. “In addition, TAB has been meeting secretly to discuss City of Sammamish business related to the City’s fire service. These meetings should have been open to the public and subject to public comment requirements.”
OPMA requires that meetings of, or on behalf of, a governing body of a public agency, such as the Sammamish City Council, are open to the public. The TAB is a three-member board that was appointed by the Council to discuss, evaluate and make recommendations about the future of fire service and is subject to OPMA.
Members of the Eastside Fire Fighters have been calling for more public input and finally engaged an attorney to seek public records following months of frustration over the lack of information disclosed by the city. The attorney discovered potential violations dating as far back as 2006, but most notably, since February 2013 when the TAB was formed.
“This presents a very serious breach of the public trust, no different than if voting occurred behind closed doors,” said SaNni M-K Lemonidis. “[The Eastside Fire Fighters have] begun considering legal action to halt these secretive processes and hold those involved accountable.”
If the firefighters pursue legal action, it could nullify all past and future actions by the Council and TAB taken in violation of OPMA and require the city to redo the process in a transparent manner that is consistent with state law.
The Sammamish City Council has scheduled a vote for November 12th to leave Eastside Fire and Rescue (EFR), a regional partnership that serves the cities of Sammamish, Issaquah, North Bend and King County Fire Districts 10 and 38. Despite Sammamish residents being satisfied with service from EFR, the city has been threatening to leave due to the council’s belief that Sammamish pays too much for fire service. The council delayed its decision to allow a special public meeting on October 29, after community members and emergency responders started sounding alarms over the city’s plan and called for more opportunity for the public to provide input.
Sammamish residents already pay the lowest assessed value rate of any partner in EFR and lower than any fire district or Regional Fire Authority in King County. Fire fighters and community members are concerned the city’s plan for a standalone fire department will reduce the quality of emergency services, cost taxpayers more and jeopardize public safety for Sammamish families and businesses.
Eastside Fire Fighters are members of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2878 and represent 170 career firefighters, officers and support staff committed to providing quality and cost-effective fire and life safety services.