The question of the day for City Attorney Pete Holmes—as this gripping episode of As City Hall Turns revolves toward twilight—is whether or not Seattle City Council president Richard Conlin violated state law and the city charter when he signed off on the state's impact study for the deep-bore tunnel. That's the accusation. The law appears clear that such an action is reserved for the executive branch of the city's government (the mayor and his departments), not the legislative branch. After all, Nancy Pelosi can't sign federal contracts as if she's Barack Obama, even though she is the head of Congress. Holmes's office said yesterday and all day today that he would answer that question.
But Holmes, in issuing a statement a few minutes ago, ducks that issue completely. Instead Holmes issued this... (I don't even know what to call it) thing:
The overriding question for the City of Seattle right now is whether the City should retain its co-lead status on the environmental impact statement that must precede construction of a deep bore tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, City Attorney Pete Holmes said Friday.
If the City forfeits its co-lead status, it could be hampered in assessing and responding to citizens’ comments on the environmental impacts of the project, and funding for the Seattle Department of Transportation possibly could be jeopardized.
In an attempt to preserve the status quo on the project, Council President Richard Conlin signed the draft EIS late Thursday because the state and federal government said they would recognize his signature as sufficient for those entities to move forward and issue the draft document to the public. Additional questions may arise as to whether the City Council can direct SDOT to retain co-lead status through legislative action.
The City Attorney’s Office is engaging all parties in discussions to find a constructive way forward. Attorneys are researching legal issues as they arise in the course of these negotiations.
No, Mr. Holmes, a vague statement about political priorities for a nebulous "City of Seattle" (the mayor, the council, the city attorney, the departments, the people?) is not what anybody wants from the city's lawyer. The unanswered question—the answer we all have been waiting on FROM YOU before this riveting episode draws to a close—is whether Conlin's a scofflaw or McGinn's full of dookie.
For the love of god and all that is holy, Pete Homey, TELL US WHAT IT MEANS!
Holmes won't answer calls or email today, but we know this: His office provided the legal advice to Conlin yesterday. What did his attorneys tell Conlin? He hasn't told us. So maybe there is no scofflaw and no dookie; just bad legal advice? Was the city attorney office's opinion simply that "the state and federal government said they would recognize his signature as sufficient," as his statement says today? If so, how does Holmes reconcile that with the law? Has he gone clam, hoping nobody would notice? If we don't get more info soon, the City Attorney's office looks terrible (and Conlin doesn't look good, either).
As Holmes's own website says—following up on a campaign pledge last year—"Peter Holmes believes that providing public legal opinions on certain issues will provide significant public benefit." This appears to be a time that a legal opinion would provide great benefit, either to clear his name or make the referee call on Conlin.
Will Holmes tell us today? Or we we find out next time on As City Hall Turns?