1. The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission dealt another blow to defenders of Mayor Ed Murray yesterday afternoon, agreeing unanimously that the mayor’s supporters couldn’t create a legal defense fund and solicit unlimited anonymous contributions on his behalf. Moreover, the board ruled that the supporters’ backup plan—limiting the amount of contributions and disclosing the names of donors—was equally unacceptable, on the grounds that the city’s ethics rules contain no provision allowing legal defense funds for elected officials.
“Given our current ethics code, or what we care about in the city about transparency and accountability, I don’t see a path for you,” commission chair Eileen Norton addd.
Murray’s supporters proposed creating the fund to help the mayor defray the cost of defending himself against charges that he sexually assaulted a young man in the 1980s, and some speculated that one reason the mayor announced he would not run for reelection was to eliminate one objection to the fund—that it would violate campaign-finance rules.
“There is concern about whether the mayor has the resources” to defend himself, Flevaris said, “and the folks putting the fund together want to address that issue and make sure that the lawsuit can’t be used as a political tool” against him. “When you have a scandalous lawsuit like this, we think [that] informs this issue.”
“I don’t think the emotional issue around the lawsuit should inform our decision,” Norton responded.
Flevaris and Lawrence argued that by keeping the names of contributors to the fund anonymous and requiring donors to sign a nondisclosure agreement, the fund would avoid any appearance of political impropriety. However, commission director Wayne Barnett countered that if, for example, “someone involved with the development of an arena in SoDo makes a substantial gift to the legal defense fund, I don’t see how an unenforceable nondisclosure agreement is going to persuade a reasonable person that it was not given with an intent to influence” city policy.
Moreover, Barnett said, if the commission granted the defense fund the right to solicit anonymous, unlimited contributions, the commission wouldn’t have a leg to stand on the next time a campaign came before them asking for the right to take anonymous contributions, which has happened in the past.
Murray can still accept very nominal gifts under the city’s gift rules, but the commission did not appear to leave any path for the legal defense fund to proceed. After the vote, Flevaris said he was glad that the commission had given the attorneys for the fund some “clarity” on whether they could proceed. Once Murray’s term ends on December 31, he will be a private citizen no longer subject to the city’s ethics rules; however, Flevaris said “time is of the essence” in the lawsuit. Paul Lawrence, another attorney for the mayor’s supporters, said he hadn’t “heard anything to suggest” Murray would resign in order to start collecting contributions to help him defend against the lawsuit.
2. Also yesterday, the King County Council’s Health, Housing, and Human Services Committee decided to delay for another month a motion that would direct King County Executive Dow Constantine to prepare a report and work plan for the creation of two pilot supervised drug consumption sites in King County. Citing the number of people (about 40) who showed up to testify in the middle of the afternoon, committee chair Jeanne Kohl-Welles postponed the measure that was the subject of all that testimony on the grounds that there was too much else on yesterday’s agenda.
Most of those who turned out to testify—including emergency room nurses, recovering addicts, Real Change vendors, and residents of neighborhoods, like Belltown, where injection drug use is common—supported the sites. However, the delay speaks to the disproportionate weight of opponents’ voices. Yesterday, those opponents claimed, as they always do, that supervised consumption sites will turn entire neighborhoods into apocalyptic landscapes overrun by strung-out zombies who shoot up, turn tricks, and lie half-dead with their faces on the sidewalk in front of “legalized shooting galleries” that exist to “enable human suffering.”
“You seem to be forgetting that heroin is illegal,” one opponent, who identified himself as a recovering addict, said. “This plan is completely insane,” argued another.
Peer-reviewed studies from supervised-injection and -consumption sites around the world show that they reduce deaths from overdoses, infections, HIV, and hepatitis C, and connect people struggling with addiction to services and treatment.
Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard, a member of the task force that, almost nine months ago, recommended a supervised consumption site pilot project as part of a comprehensive package of recommendations to address the opiate and heroin addiction epidemic, said after the meeting that she was frustrated with the slow pace the committee has taken. “It’s hard to say that it’s behind schedule, given that it would be the first of its kind in the country. That said, this isn’t ideal, because these recommendations have been sitting for months.” Noting that the task force only recommended a three-year pilot project, Daugaard said the only way to demonstrate whether supervised consumption can work, or that it’s doomed to disaster, is to try it.
“The answer to those questions [opponents raised] lies is the implementation. We will find out whether there are good, bad, or neutral effects, and we will make an assessment at that point,” Daugaard said.
“But staying in this limbo is the worst of all possible worlds. Planning was necessary. Stalling is not.”
3. In response to a 58 percent increase since 2013 in the number of complaints about vacant buildings, mostly single-family houses, that have fallen into disrepair across the city, the council is considering legislation that would streamline the process for declaring empty buildings hazardous and tearing them down.
Currently, city law requires property owners to wait a full year before tearing down a building if it was most recently occupied by renters; the changes would lower that timeline to four months (which the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections says is still plenty of time to “ensure that good-quality rental housing is not inappropriately removed”) and make it easier for the city to demolish or clean out hazardous properties and so-called squatter houses. At the city’s planning, land use, and zoning committee Tuesday, Seattle fire chief Harold Scoggins said that in the past 28 months, the fire department has responded to 47 fires in vacant buildings. “That’s very significant for us,” Scoggins said.
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