The timing of Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s Federal Civil Rights lawsuit against the city of Sunnyside one week before the primary election day was a well prepared and calculated announcement to bring statewide attention to both parties and their communications breakdown in failing to resolve the city’s Crime Free Rental Housing Program (CFRHP) issues.

In a detailed media announcement, the AG’s office provided the kind of details in its’ suit, which city officials from their own prepared response, stated they were seeking to help correct the situation. The two parties had been in discussion for several months during the spring of 2019, to find a resolution to the multiple types of violations in eviction cases and policy failures dating back to 2010.

What happened and how did it escalate into litigation. Were both sides at an impasse and in complete disagreement? There are many questions as to why our government agencies appear to be incapable of working together in the public’s interest.

The CFRHP, which allows the city to work jointly with landlords to react to matters occurring in rental homes within city jurisdiction, is under the AG’s office of authority, which now accuses city officials of breeching state and federal mandates by not following the laws and not protecting individual’s rights during eviction processes.

A decade ago, Sunnyside was under siege from strong gang and criminal activity. City officials identified and sought ways to reduce those public safety issues which continue to resonate with hometown vigilance. As a result, a lot has changed for the benefit of community residents and their families.

Documented details of the types of violations that occurred against city renters have now been released by the AG’s office. The complaint states, “Most of the unlawfully evicted residents have been Latino, women or families with children.”

During a seven-year time span, the AG implicated that Sunnyside administrators maliciously targeted residents with an intent to attack individual civil and renter rights, creating short- and long-term homelessness to the individuals involved.

The lawsuit requests the city and its employees to stop “unlawful practices,” and seeks restitution for those affected. Wouldn’t it make more sense for everyone to keep working together and influence change instead of lawyering up or could there be other powers of authority at work here?

Sunnyside City Manager Martin Casey responded with a written statement later the same day. He expressed that the city was disappointed by the Attorney General’s Office to file suit alleging concerns with past conduct of the Crime Free Rental Housing program.

The strategic tactic to create national headlines in the court of public opinion and make Sunnyside a test case for agencies seeking to challenging civil liberty issues associated with the city’s CFRHP may be the end game – we hope that’s not the case.

Casey acknowledged the city has held ongoing discussions. . .and has cooperated with the AG’s office. . .and has worked in good faith.

We look forward to city officials taking an active and communicative response in dealing with this process which could turn into a prolific court case.

Sadly, it’s unfortunate that the public spotlight of interagency involvement of working together to accomplish shared goals wasn’t deemed as important or didn’t garner the national attention for working on behalf and serving the public trust.

Patrick Shelby for the Sunnyside Sun editorial board.

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