Mardi Gras panels getting more open
Seattle Times staff reporter
The doors began to open on the Mardi Gras task forces yesterday as the leader of one panel said her group would open its sessions to the public and a deputy mayor said another group probably would occasionally allow an audience in.
The three panels appointed by Seattle Mayor Paul Schell to study the planning of Mardi Gras and the violence that broke out - claiming one man's life - have spent the past week holding firm that meeting in private would allow for more candor and productivity.
Schell gave the task forces the choice of meeting privately or publicly and stood by that decision yesterday even as City Councilman Peter Steinbrueck urged the mayor to call for opening all meetings except those dealing with criminal investigations.
"I'm right where I was from the beginning," Schell said. "These are citizen groups I have asked to give me some advice."
The city was forced to defend in court yesterday its contention that the three panels - the Pioneer Square, Special Events and Youth Safety task forces - can meet in private.
Chris Clifford, owner of Jerseys All American Sports Bar, failed to persuade King County ex parte Commissioner Kimberley Prochnau to put a stop to the closed meetings.
Prochnau said there was not a sufficient emergency to grant Clifford a temporary restraining order. She did not rule on his argument that the Mardi Gras meetings should be open in accordance with the state open-meetings law.
Assistant City Attorney Steve Gross argued that the statute does not require advisory panels to do business in public.
Clifford said he will seek a permanent injunction.
Last year, he unsuccessfully sued the city, alleging a conspiracy to close his bar because it played hip-hop music and attracted young African Americans.
The Mardi Gras group that will open all its sessions to the public is the one dealing with special events, which will study whether security at other city events should be changed. Seattle Center Director Virginia Anderson, the panel's chairwoman, polled members this week and said most agreed to open meetings. One who wanted to keep the sessions private is dropping out, Anderson said.
Steinbrueck yesterday told Deputy Mayor Tom Byers that he would leave the Youth Safety Task Force - which will meet for the first time this morning - if the group didn't open all its sessions except those dealing with specific criminal cases.
Steinbrueck recommended that approach for all the task forces, along with a proposal to bar video and audio equipment.
Byers, who said a "hybrid" of open and closed meetings is likely for the task force, said today's session would be closed. The group plans to discuss the more than 30 Mardi Gras-related arrests.
There was no word on whether the Pioneer Square Task Force will move toward open meetings. Councilwoman Jan Drago resigned as the panel's leader Wednesday, citing the controversy.