The City of Sammamish will no longer enforce a rule against off-topic comments on its official Facebook page. This comes following the city’s $65,000 settlement of the Kimsey et al v. City of Sammamish federal lawsuit on March 23.
Although the city declined to provide the Sammamish Independent with a comment on the settlement, Sammamish updated its Facebook page to clarify the new policy.
In keeping with the November injunction issued by the U.S. District Court in Seattle, the city will no longer be allowed to delete comments on the basis of relevance (including political speech or advertisements). The city explained on Facebook that it decided to settle because of the “unreasonable administrative burden” of applying the relevance rule consistently enough for the court’s approval.
The city will still be allowed to remove comments that qualify as “hate speech, ‘fighting words,’ incitement of violence, ‘true threats,’ defamation, fraud, speech integral to criminal conduct, obscenity, and child pornography” as per previous Supreme Court rulings on the limits of free speech.
Plaintiffs Catherine Freudenberg, Sarah Kimsey, and Tarul Tripathi have earned less than $5,000 each, before taxes and after attorney fees, for filing the lawsuit. Freudenberg said she plans to donate most of her share to charity. Tripathi has already donated her share to the nonprofit organization API Chaya.
“We felt that when the court granted the injunction against the city and the city finally agreed to change its policy and pay our attorney fees that we had received what we wanted,” said Freudenberg on why the plaintiffs opted for a settlement.
A sister suit filed by whistleblower Kate Langsdorf was also settled on March 17 for $57,000 after attorney fees.
Langsdorf’s attorney, Sara Amies, said that the sum was less than the damages that Langsdorf was hoping to obtain at trial. However, Amies said that “being a plaintiff is sometimes a full-time job, and at least a part-time job, and often people calculate how much it’s worth for them to put this behind them and move on.”
Landsdorf was allegedly fired by former city manager David Rudat for blowing the whistle on the city’s censorship of residents and failure to maintain public records.
“Kate feels vindicated,” said Amies. “She stood up for the truth…and she paid her high price for that and this settlement doesn’t make her whole.”
Amies explained that the money for both settlements does not come directly from taxpayer dollars. Rather, it is drawn from the insurance risk-management group that many smaller Washington cities like Sammamish belong to. Taxpayers may shoulder some of this cost through higher premiums.
The plaintiffs are in agreement that the problems at city hall extend beyond a single lawsuit, and that Sammamish must take further steps to restore justice to the community.
In a March 27 Facebook comment thread, Kimsey called for city communications manager Celia Wu to be fired, a sentiment that Amies also agreed with.
Tripathi expressed disappointment that the city council has so far declined to release the full investigative report of former city manager Dave Rudat, which allegedly documents more misdeeds and corruption.
Former city council member Jason Ritchie added his desire for the council to “continue this conversation” by discussing this settlement in an open meeting and inviting public comment on the role of social media in policy building.
Amies believes it is up to city employees and residents to speak up.
“We’re only free so long as people feel safe speaking out against power when they see corruption,” said Amies. “And Kate did that.”