Gov. Jay Inslee’s appointments to an obscure regulatory panel last year have cost the state $70,000 in a public records lawsuit settlement — and forced the governor to rescind his appointees and name new ones.
The dispute centered on Inslee’s handling of appointments to the Washington State Building Code Council, which establishes minimum standards for new construction, including rules for energy efficiency, plumbing and fire safety.
State law specifies two of the council’s 15 members must be nominated by trade associations representing residential and commercial builders. But Inslee last year ignored major builder group recommendations and instead named two of his own picks.
The Building Industry Association of Washington and the Associated General Contractors of Washington sued over the appointments last September, arguing they were illegal. The groups filed an additional lawsuit in November, saying the governor’s office had failed to turn over relevant documents after a public records request.
The state later admitted that a member of Inslee’s staff had made a material false statement in a sworn court declaration by stating that one of Inslee’s nominees had been put forward by another building trade group, when he had not.
In a Dec. 10 court hearing, Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon called that misrepresentation “at a minimum … negligent. It may have been reckless, it may have been intentional.” However, he declined to immediately impose sanctions against the state over it.
In April, the state and the builder groups agreed to a single “global” settlement agreement of both lawsuits.
The settlement required Inslee’s appointees to resign and for the governor to name two new members to the council from a list of nominees provided by the groups. Inslee named the two new members this month. The agreement also required Inslee’s office to pay $70,000 to settle the public records case.
The builder groups say it should not have taken litigation to get Inslee to follow the law.
“I think what happened is the governor for political reasons didn’t want to follow the law and decided he wanted to take a chance no one would call him on it,” said Jackson Maynard, general counsel for the Building Industry Association of Washington, in an interview.
Inslee spokesperson Mike Faulk noted in an email Friday the settlement stipulated the governor’s office did not act “in bad faith” on either the appointments or the records.
“The settlement allows for a resolution to these matters so we can ensure the important work of the council can continue uninterrupted. Otherwise I think the settlement speaks for itself,” Faulk said.
The settlement agreement stated that “the Governor’s Office does not concede error in either the State Building Code Council lawsuit or the Public Record Act lawsuit.”
While little known to the general public, the building council has authority to make consequential changes in building practices. In April, the council voted to ban natural gas in most new commercial buildings as of July 2023.
The move, aimed at reducing emissions that are spurring global climate change, has drawn opposition from builder groups and Republicans who called it an end run around the Legislature.
The council is now considering a ban on natural gas in new residential construction, too.