Accusing city officials of “intentional race discrimination” against the tribe, the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe on Wednesday, Dec. 9, filed a lawsuit in federal court against the city of Snoqualmie.
The 19-page lawsuit claims discrimination by Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson, members of the Snoqualmie City Council and city staff. Named defendants include six Councilman and one taking office in January.
“It’s a discrimination lawsuit against the city based on the actions and rhetoric that’s coming from the city officials,” said Snoqualmie Tribe spokesman Jerry Lamb. He said information on specific instances of discrimination “will be forthcoming through the court process.”
The complaint, according to a Snoqualmie Tribe press release, is about action taken by the the Snoqualmie City Council to discontinue sewer services to the tribe’s Snoqualmie Casino, as well as police and fire services.
“Without sewer services, the casino will be forced to close indefinitely, threatening the tribe’s ability to offer core governmental programs and services to its tribal members,” the lawsuit stated.
According to the complaint, the city entered a seven-year agreement in 2004 to provide “essential services,” starting when the casino opened in 2008, but did not specify whether the tribe would pay in-city rates. In 2014, the complaint said, the city started charging the casino out-of-city rates, 1.5 times higher than the in-city residential rate it had been paying.
Both parties met in July 2015 to discuss continuing the agreement, which expired in November. The city, according to the complaint, requested the tribe provide funding for human services needs at the city in exchange for extending the contract. The tribe refused and both parties agreed to a one-year extension in October. Next, the lawsuit said the city notifed the tribe it would end sewer services within the year.
“Essentially, the tribe is trying to protect a business which is a huge and vital part of the local economy,” Lamb said. “The suit is aimed at enforcing the existing agreements.”
Since termination of services includes police and fire, the tribe negotiated a contract with Eastside Fire & Rescue in October and notified the city that it would cancel its contract for emergency medical services effective in 2016. Snoqualmie officials objected, since terms of the agreement require one year’s notice for either party to cancel any part of it.
In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 15, the city responded to news of the lawsuit by expressing surprise and disappointment, adding that the city had only been served with the lawsuit documentation late Monday afternoon.
According to the statement, the city denies the lawsuit’s claims of discrimination and violation of the tribe’s federal rights, noting that the city is, in fact, extending the agreement to provide sewer services by one year, rather than terminating it.
The city also noted that “The city of Snoqualmie is not the only provider of sewer treatment services for the Snoqualmie Casino. The Snoqualmie Tribe has other options, such as constructing and operating its own on-site treatment and disposal system.”
Further, the statement reported that “The tribe also refused to discuss a long-term extension to the sewer agreement. Instead, the tribe insisted on an extension for only one year.”
The complaint filed by the tribe requests an admission from the city that it has discriminated against the tribe, declarations that it intends to continue providing sewer services to the tribe, and an unspecified “award of actual, compensatory and punitive damages to be proven at trial.”