Spokane officially appeals bizarre court ruling on transparency

Sep 20, 2021

Today, the city of Spokane decided that one judge should not be the final say regarding a law approved by nearly 80% of voters.

The city has officially filed an appeal to Judge Tony Hazel’s bizarre August ruling that overturned collective bargaining transparency.

The appeal was recommended by transparency advocates including Washington Policy Center.

Nearly 80% of voters in the city of Spokane approved a charter amendment in 2019 requiring collective bargaining talks between the city and its unions over government employee compensation be transparent and open to the public. These contracts involve millions of dollars in taxpayer money – so it is not unusual that citizens would want transparency.

In August, Spokane Superior Court Judge Tony Hazel threw out the law entirely, taking barely 10 seconds to consider the oral arguments he just heard from both sides.

Judge Hazel issued his more than 20-minute ruling from the bench. It was bizarre and rambling – more of a political speech than a ruling on the facts and the law.

He incorrectly claimed state law required collective bargaining to be “exclusive” between the two parties. In fact, the “exclusive” requirement in state law refers to unions’ right to be certified as the only entity permitted to negotiate employment conditions on behalf of particular groups of public employees.

The judge incorrectly claimed the charter provision did not include a severance clause. It does.

Judge Hazel said “transparency in local government is exceptionally important,” but then claimed “there's also the reality of human nature.”

The judge also seemed to be unaware of higher state court rulings on the issue, which have not prevented the charter change approved by Spokane voters.

Judge Hazel claimed he had given “a judicious reading, an objective reading” to the Spokane transparency law. Based on his comments, however, it is clear he did not.

Instead of ruling on the facts and the case, Judge Hazel got political and claimed the charter amendment approved by voters was just “an antagonistic tactic… that’s just, honestly.” 

This past week, WPC sent a letter to city officials encouraging an appeal.

“The citizens of Spokane expect you to defend and follow the law they have established and to uphold your oath, which pledges commitment to and enforcement of the city charter. Failing to do so could cast a dark shadow over government transparency in our region and irreparable damage to citizens’ faith in government. We urge you to appeal this troublesome ruling and to stand firm on government transparency.”

Explaining why the Pullman School District embraces collective bargaining transparency, the district’s finance manager Diane Hodge said, “We just think it’s fair for all of the members to know what’s being offered on both sides.”

The people have a right to know how public spending decisions are made on their behalf. Ending collective bargaining secrecy and opening government union contract negotiations to the public, as other states and cities have done, is a practical and ethical way to achieve that standard. 



Sign up for the WPC Newsletter