Washington’s Liquor Control Board has paid nearly $200,000 to make a public records gadfly go away.
Arthur West, of Olympia, is known for filing records requests and complaints of open meetings law violations at various public agencies. In one recent example, he said, he collected $187,000 from the Port of Olympia to settle lawsuits over open meetings violations.
This time, it’s the liquor board paying out. He accused the board of breaking the state’s open meetings law as it began working on rules for the new legal marijuana industry. A Thurston County judge agreed, finding 17 violations.
In a settlement late last month, the board agreed to pay West $192,000 to withdraw all of his public records requests and legal actions.
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Beyond that, West is agreeing not to file any future records requests or lawsuits relating to the board’s oversight of the recreational or medical marijuana markets. The liquor board doesn’t even oversee medical marijuana, which is unregulated in Washington, but there’s a chance lawmakers this session could give the board that authority; if they do, West won’t be able to ask for documents about it.
The sides agreed not to comment about the settlement, beyond releasing a brief statement outlining its terms.
“The State and Board did not admit to any liability with respect to any of the claims in Mr. West’s lawsuits,” it said. “Specifically, the Board did not admit to any violations of the Public Records Act, Open Public Meetings Act, Administrative Procedure Act, State Environmental Policy Act, or other law.”
While West noted that he was barred from commenting on the settlement, he did tell The Associated Press on Thursday: “I can say there is an excellent view from the front porch of the house I am closing on this week.”
West had accused the board of violating the open public meetings law in early 2013, soon after voters passed Washington’s legal pot law. As the three board members — Sharon Foster, Chris Marr and Ruthann Kurose — traveled around the state holding public hearings about the legal marijuana rules, they also sometimes met quietly with local police, officials and prevention groups.
The private nature of the meetings obscured the information the board was working with as it developed the rules, which covered nearly every aspect of the new legal pot industry, West said.
Thurston County Superior Court Judge Christine Schaller said that although the board broke the law, it didn’t take any actions at the meetings that would warrant throwing out the marijuana rules it eventually adopted.