From the editor: The right side in Shelter Bay

 


To those wondering whatever happened to that March 2023 Skagit County Superior Court civil complaint against five Shelter Bay Community board members, alleged to have breached their fiduciary duty and for malfeasance by a property owner, an update is on page 1. It was last April that the court denied an injunction and temporary restraining order that would have prevented the board members from making financial decisions.

But Judge Laura Riquelme did not dismiss the case, though in August she issued a stay, preventing the plaintiff’s attorneys from deposing the board members, questioning them under oath and using subpoenas to gain information. She repeatedly – four times now through February – rejected the defense attorneys’ call for ending the case in their favor on the basis of standing, the right to bring claims against their clients.

The judge lifted the stay on discovery Feb. 8. The defense lawyers, doing what lawyers do, filed yet another motion asking for reconsideration for dismissing the case based on the same argument of standing. The plaintiff’s attorneys are crying foul, that “five bites of the apple” are not allowed. The cliché is a legal term for a second effort using the same reasoning that failed once.

Last May, when the defense first filed for dismissal, the plaintiff appeared on the ropes, arguing that the court erred in ruling the defendants had no fiduciary duty to his client and that the judge applied the wrong standard of law. Whether he convinced the judge that she was in error, she kept the lawsuit active, just pausing, not ending the question of proper or improper handling of fiduciary duty.

If the judge again rules that the defense is wrong on the issue of standing, depositions under oath will take place by early April. That will provide evidence, that evaluated in the light of day, will validate one side or the other. If these board members have acted correctly, the presented facts will exonerate them. If the evidence shows these board members manipulated information and the rules of governance, the criticisms by many Shelter Bay residents will be found to have been accurate.

The roughly 1,800 people living there reside in the Shelter Bay Community. That is its name, with a capital “C.” It is twice the size of La Conner and about a third of the population living within the 98257 ZIP code. La Conner is a town, a municipality governed and regulated under the laws of the state of Washington, with its own elected officials. One tool – and rule – available to itss citizens – for that is what they are, residents within a political jurisdiction – is the state’s Public Records Act. A second regulation is the Open Meetings Act.

Both of these laws are available to everyone, whether or not they live within the town’s boundaries. Then there is the local newspaper, that odd watchdog of democracy anachronism that, as long as it is in business, attends and reports on meetings and ask questions of elected and professional staff during the course of developing – if not investigating – stories.

Across the channel? The property owners of Shelter Bay are members and sort of owners of the Shelter Bay Community, a nonprofit organization and have a role with the Shelter Bay Company, which the Shelter Bay Community owns.

But membership organization or owning stock, both are private organizations, not municipal governments. Shelter Bay’s residents are not citizens of Shelter Bay. While the state governs both corporations and homeowners’ association, these residents and their governing body only have judicial recourse, as all citizens do.

And the La Conner Weekly News covering the activities, events and news of Shelter Bay? It is by invitation only. Venturing onto that private property, reporters can be asked to leave meetings, hearings, even parades, concerts and barbeques. That limits the fun – and the inquiry – for everyone. When access to information – to oral discussions or financial records are blocked off, it is fair to wonder if people are being blocked out.

-- Ken Stern

 

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