EDITORIAL: Racketeering claim is stupid

Somewhere in a swank attorney’s office in Seattle there must have been a lot of chortling when they came up with the idea of claiming Oak Harbor city officials were involved in racketeering over a sewer dispute. “Why not hit the bumpkins with this, too?”, or some such amusing quote, must have come up in the offices of the Coe Law Group.

However, it was stupid to put the racketeering charge in a lawsuit filed on behalf of a storage unit developer whose complaint was that the city tried to make him put in a sewer lift station at considerable expense. That requirement was rescinded when the city found a letter from 1989 exempting the property from such a requirement. But by then, the developer figured he’d lost 10 months’ rent due to construction delays.

It’s fine to file a lawsuit to solve a fairly serious grievance against the city. We too are curious why officials apparently thought it was appropriate to ask the storage unit developer to foot the bill for a $250,000 lift station to serve the entire area. But it certainly wasn’t racketeering.

When Congress approved the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Act some years ago, it was aimed specifically at organized crime. Since then, civil libertarians have worried it might be expanded to other areas, such as any anti-government organization. But nobody even imagined the so-called RICO statute would apply to decisions made by public officials with the public interest in mind.

If anything, Oak Harbor officials may have over reached in trying to obtain a public benefit through a development permit. We can’t even say that for sure until the lawsuit plays out. But no personal gain was involved, and there was certainly no mafia-style conspiracy. To charge racketeering is an insult to the city and undermines any legitimate complaints in the lawsuit.

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