The mayor of the city of Everett, Washington likes wasting taxpayer money on defending lawsuits the city is unlikely to win even though he’s had to cut the city budget this year by $3.5 million and has laid off 17 permanent and seven seasonal employees and predicts having to cut an additional $3.7 million next year. Everett has already paid $70,000 to a firm it hired to defend the city against a lawsuit brought against it for having a Ten Commandments monument on city property and is likely to see the final bill top $100,000 by the time the Judge in the case renders a decision. That’s not counting city staff time and what the city may be required to pay to the lawyers of Americans United if it loses the case. The final bill could top $300,000 before it’s all said and done, yet Mayor Ray Stephanson seems to feel this is a battle worth fighting despite the number of similar lawsuits around the country that have been lost by other communities (at great taxpayer expense) already. Ironically, the Mayor campaigned on the idea that a costly lawsuit should be avoided. He also suggested that a compromise could be reached yet when asked about a settlement recently he demonstrated that he has no real intention of compromising:
Before Stephanson was elected mayor in November, he said of the controversy: “I believe a lengthy and expensive legal battle should be avoided, and a mutually agreeable compromise should be reached to protect the rights and respect the beliefs of all citizens.”
The mayor said he is still open to a settlement. But he said “at this point,” any settlement would have to include leaving the monument on city property.
Khan said Americans United would not agree to any settlement in which the slab remains on city-owned land.
And so the lawsuit will move forward and the city will continue to spend money on a fight it is likely to lose because the Mayor and the City Council want to ignore the particular religious message the monument promotes:
“For someone to say it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money to defend this is bogus,” City Council President Arlan Hatloe said. “That would be like saying that if anyone wants to throw a lawsuit against us, we should just roll over and take it.
“We have a right to defend a historical marker that’s been there for years and was a gift to the city.”
The city maintains that the granite monument, which the Everett Eagles donated to the city in 1959, is a historic landmark that promotes universal values and legal principles, not a particular religion.
Concerned taxpayers living in Everett may want to remember, come election time, that your Mayor and City Council members feel that a hunk of granite which violates the establishment clause is important enough to spend money on defending rather that using that money to eliminate the city’s deficit problems.
If this is representative of the decision making process of your elected officials in determining what battles to fight then perhaps it’s time for new officials.