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Seattle Government Overreach Hinders UPWA Programs

Numerous UPWA projects and programs were put on hold in 2013 due to an illegal abuse of power by local government officials that involved a frivolous lawsuit aimed at crippling our programs.

The waterfront is a highly contested place where opposing forces frequently meet. Port authorities, unions, environmentalists, private land developers, heavy industry, special interest groups and finally, the public all fight for a share of a very limited resource. Unfortunately, the public usually loses.

After ten months of intensive legal defense work, the lawsuit was finally dropped for lack of evidence. Unfortunately, the entire 2013 Summer and Fall season was lost due to an enormous amount of time required to deal with a barrage of legal issues stemming from false charges asserted by the Seattle Municipal Court for employing a scofflaw parking offender.

The bizarre legal situation started when UPWA's director was falsely accused of employing a farmer's market merchant who participated at the FarmBoat Floating Farmer's Market in 2012. The merchant had accumulated a significant number of parking tickets in downtown Seattle over the last decade. Demanding wage garnishments, the City claimed that Facebook postings of the merchant's market promotions were enough to assert that the merchant was a year-round permenent employee of the market. The garnishment order was denied because the independant merchant was never an employee.

The City refused to accept that the farmer's market could not garnish anything from a past merchant. The City's collection agency, Alliance One Receivables Management, attempted to use the wage garnishment process to seize more than $8,000 from UPWA's FarmBoat program by obtaining a secret default judgement under false pretenses. The City of Seattle Municipal Court stood behind the illegal actions despite state and federal law that prohibits such unfair practices.

To the dismay of many supporters, a few City employees pressed the fictitious employment claim to a degree beyond reason. It eventually took public pressure and Seattle City Counsel involvement to get the frivolous lawsuit vacated.

While we are disappointed in the lack of common sense applied in this matter by some City employees, we are grateful for the work of City Councilmen Richard Conlin and Bruce Harrell who were instrumental in investigating and ultimately stopping the City's collection actions. We are especially appreciative for the efforts of the Freedom Foundation who lobbied numerous government officials to raise awareness of the issue.

City of Seattle Finance and Administrative officials remain adamant that they did nothing wrong and that "FarmBoat" violated a law that allows the City to collect substantial fines. The City's unfounded legal position continues to prevent UPWA from freely operating programs in Seattle without the threat of business license revocation and subsequent new fines for operating without a license.

For more information about the details of this incident, see FarmBoat.org.