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This is City Politics?

April 20th, 2005

Roughly six months ago I started attending the City of Seattle’s Broadband Technology Task Force as part of a clinic at the law school. The Task Force was created by a Resolution of the City of Seattle charging it to recommend means to bring broadband technology to Seattle citizens. One part of the Resolution asked the Task Force to look into legal issues surrounding any possible proposal. Since my clinic’s faculty member, Prof. Covington, served on the Task Force, he felt it would be an excellent task for a clinician to help out with.

These meeting take place at 7:30 in the morning and were all sorts of stuffy. But that’s okay, I support the goal, and this is how government works. What frustrates me is as the proposal developed their interest in the surrounding legal issues wained. Today they finalized that proposal, in all of its mediocre glory, with the blessing of the City Council member who drafted the original resolution.

What is so upsetting is the indifference to the legal issues surrounding the proposal. Regardless of how modest the proposal, I believe Comcast, Verizon, or Quest is going to sue to enjoin. They may not have a winning legal argument, but they may have a winning argument in the court of public opinion. So it strikes me that the City should have a complete sense of what legal challenges might be brought so it can weigh the challenges it may face in court. But the Task Force Staff disagrees.

The Staff had a paralegal review the issue and determine that there were no legal issues. Ridiculous… my analysis says there are all sorts of possible ambiguities in the law that a challenger could bring. Only the most favorable reading of the law turns in the City’s favor… and while I think they have a really good case, its certainly not as locked up as the paralegal would have them believe. But even that’s okay, because I figured that the office that will oversee their proposal would look into the surrounding legal issues.

Those hopes were dashed today when I finally got a hold of the Task Force recommendation. Buried among the numerous detailed recommendations in the 56 page report are four instances of the word ‘legal’. Three of them appear within the resolution creating the Task Force directing them to evaluate the legal issues. The other appearance is part of a recommendation that the office investigate “legal, economic, and technological issues” and then gives several examples of economic and technological issues. No legal issues were mentioned. There was another section that said the office should look into applicable laws and regulations, which is good, but made no mention of the contracts at issue, which is where the real problem lies. So, I figured I would speak up and recommend the word ‘contract’ and at least give the new office a fighting chance of doing its proper legal research. Wouldn’t you know it… the staff tried to shoot me down again! They claimed it was “implied” in the report. This is a report that made well of 50 recommendations that are all pretty much the same. If the report was based on implication it could have been summarized in five sentences. Thankfully cooler heads prevailed and the word will appear in the report.

But in retrospect, its really a very minor victory. The Task Force failed to do its job to investigate legal issues. It even failed to direct the office towards the issues, concentrating more on the marketing aspects of the proposal. Now the City Council is going to do one of two things: adopt the proposal without knowing the full legal issues OR ask why no one looked at the legal ramifications. Either way, the City loses.

probonogeek Uncategorized

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