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City sues Seattle Out & Proud for 2006 Pride Festival debt
City sues Seattle Out & Proud for 2006 Pride Festival debt
by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

On March 23, Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr filed suit against Seattle Out and Proud (SOAP) for recovery of $125,000 in debt resulting from SOAP's 2006 Pride Festival at Seattle Center.

Those are the only facts all parties agree on.

As SGN goes to press, it even remains unclear who made the decision to sue SOAP.

City Attorney Carr declined to be interviewed for this article. His assistant, Ruth Bowman, told SGN, "We don't comment on pending litigation."

Pressed on the issue of who decided to file suit, she replied, "We're representing our client, Seattle Center. You'll have to talk to the client about that."

Seattle Center Director of Communications Deborah Daoust confirmed to SGN that Seattle Center sent SOAP's file to the City Attorney after the group stopped paying on their debt and failed to respond to attempts to contact them. But she insisted that the Center did not ask Carr to sue SOAP.

"When the account became delinquent for more than 120 days we sent the file to the law department," she said. "We're legally obliged to do that. It's up to them to determine what course of action to take."

"They make the determination how to proceed," she continued. "We made no specific recommendation to them. We don't do that."

According to Daoust, Seattle Center prefers not to send debts to collection by the City Attorney's office. "As a department, we do everything we can to keep debts on the books," she said, "even if people only pay small amounts, which is what SOAP did. If we write it down as bad debt we have to reduce our budget by that much."

Meanwhile SOAP's statement on the suit, posted prominently on their website, seemed to contradict Daoust's version of events. "SOAP, which has been making monthly good faith payments to the City of Seattle, continues to work with the city toward finalizing a mutually acceptable resolution to the debt issue," it says.

SOAP Board member Jon Mejia would not comment on SOAP's record of payments to Seattle Center. "I'm not the treasurer," he said. "I don't personally know the history of what we paid."

Mejia told SGN that last week's events were part of the group's strategy to settle its ongoing issues with Seattle Center. "We're in touch with our attorney," he said. "This is a course that was decided on, with us listening to legal counsel, as the best way to resolve this."

Asked if he was saying that SOAP's attorney advised the group to stop paying on its debt in order to bring on a legal showdown with the City, Mejia replied, "That would be a logical conclusion. I can't really comment on that, though."

"We spoke with the attorney this week," he continued. "We're in fairly delicate negotiations with the City. I hope to have a statement, if not this week, then early to mid-week next week."

SOAP has always maintained that its 2006 debts were due to unexpectedly large fees charged by Seattle Center for rents, sound equipment, stagehands, and security. After that experience, SOAP focused on producing the Pride Parade and left the Festival to a private promoter.

"It was only the Seattle Center piece that had problems," Mejia said. "The Parade has always run in the black. Since 2007, the Center piece has been handled by someone else. We have nothing to do with that any more."

In any case, SOAP intends to settle with the City and move forward, Mejia promised. "We're determined to step up and handle this in a way that it hasn't been handled before," he told SGN. "We pledge to get this off the table."

"It may take three to five years," he explained. "We plan an aggressive fundraising campaign. Seven of our 13 Board members are new, myself included. We'll have two or three who are working on nothing but fundraising."

Mejia spoke enthusiastically about SOAP's fundraising plans. "We have a great new sponsor, Barefoot Wine. This is the first time they'll be involved in Seattle Pride," he said. "They plan to do a 'Champagne Campaign' with their signature product, where the proceeds will go to pay down the debt."

"Besides that," Mejia continued, "we want to do 'Seattle 40' to raise $40,000. We'll ask 40 people to step up and donate $1,000 apiece."

"I couldn't be more pleased to be involved," Mejia told SGN, noting that this is the first year he's been actively involved in SOAP. "I'm very optimistic about our future."

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