Durkan Shuffles the Deck in Major Office Reorg

Nine months into her term, Mayor Jenny Durkan is reorganizing the top brass at her office, promoting her communications director, Stephanie Formas, to chief of staff, and making deputy mayor David Moseley the “sole lead” over homelessness and human services, duties that have been split between Moseley and deputy mayor Shefali Ranganathan.

According to an email Durkan’s third deputy mayor, Mike Fong, sent to mayor’s office staff earlier today, Ranganathan will “shift her focus to advancing the Mayor’s policy agenda and major initiatives continuing to oversee the Mayor’s outreach and external relations as well as major transportation related policy.” What this means, Ranganathan says, is that she’ll be focusing on “major initiatives” like congestion pricing and a planned restructuring of the city’s youth programs while overseeing fewer departments. Those departments will still include the Seattle Department of Transportation—before her current position, Ranganathan was head of the pro-transit Transportation Choices Coalition— but will no longer include the Human Services Department, the Department of Neighborhoods, the Office of Economic Development, or the Department of Education and Early Learning, among others. Fong will now oversee those departments, along with fire, police, and emergency management.

Formas’ promotion isn’t too much of a surprise; a top aide during Durkan’s 2016 campaign and the mayor’s closest city confidante, she’s already Durkan’s right-hand woman—the person who works hard to make sure the headlines are positive and keep a lid on anything that could turn into negative news. The promotion will make Formas’ de facto role in the administration official, while keeping her in charge of communications ,along with the day to day operations of the mayor’s office. Durkan isn’t the first mayor to go for a while without a chief of staff, but she is the first to have not only a chief of staff but three deputy mayors.

Mark Prentice, who worked for Democratic groups in D.C. and Vulcan before joining Durkan’s office as a communications advisor, will take over Formas’ old role as communications director. (Most mayors end up having several communications directors over the course of their terms. For example, Durkan’s predecessor, Ed Murray, had four—and he didn’t even serve out his full term.) Current press secretary Kamaria Hightower will become deputy communications director.

Fong’s full email to the mayor’s staff is below the jump. 

Mayor’s Office Team:


Next month we will celebrate one year in office for the Durkan administration.  A year that saw your hard work:


  • bring free Orca transit passes to all of Seattle’s high school students;
  • deliver a balanced, streamlined and values driven biennium budget to the City Council;
  • develop the Families, Education, Preschool and Promise plan;
  • negotiate a tentative agreement for our Seattle Police officers who have been without a contract since 2014;
  • initiate the largest single year expansion of shelter options for people experiencing homelessness; and
  • craft a deal that will bring a new arena to the Seattle Center along with the NHL and hopefully the NBA soon after.


At the same time, while the Mayor has advanced major new policy initiatives in 2018, she has also laid the foundation for a new culture of accountability for City operations.  Our implementation of department accountability agreements, renewed focus on performance metrics and management and structural alignment around subcabinets puts us on a clear path in 2019 to continue advancing effective, efficient and accountable day to day governance.


As we continue to evaluate and build our staffing structure to best advance the Mayor’s agenda and work more closely in coordination with each of our City departments, Mayor Durkan and I have been discussing some realignment of responsibilities within the Executive Team.  All managers have been briefed and are prepared to discuss in greater detail at the work-unit level. The following organizational changes will be implemented over the next several weeks:


  • To streamline coordination of policy and operations related to the City’s homelessness response efforts, all work streams in this issue area will be consolidated under the oversight and leadership of Deputy Mayor David Moseley.  To further this alignment, the Human Services Department and interim director Jason Johnson will begin reporting to DM Moseley.  He will be the sole lead for the homelessness subcabinet going forward.  DM Moseley will continue day to day operations oversight of his existing City Departments (SCL, SPU, OPCD, OW, IT, SDHR, Center, DPR, SDCI, FAS, DOF, SHA, SPL, OH), add HSD to his portfolio and oversee WMBE efforts between the Mayor’s Office, FAS and City departments.


  • Deputy Mayor Shefali Ranganathan will shift her focus to advancing the Mayor’s policy agenda and major initiatives continuing to oversee the Mayor’s outreach and external relations as well as major transportation related policy. The Mayor’s Office Policy Team, External Relations, Labor Relations and Major Initiatives coordination will report to her going forward.  DM Ranganathan will continue day-to-day operations oversight of SDOT, OIRA, OSE, OIR and OCR while also overseeing engagement around RSJI and the City’s internal Anti-Harassment and Anti-Discrimination Initiative.


  • Having been in the role of “Chief of Staff” in the past administration, I know all too well the significance and nuances of that job in helping manage the day to day flow and rhythm of the Mayor’s Office. There are necessary quality control aspects of facilitating between the Mayor and the emergent issues daily (sometimes hourly) that occur on a regular basis. We have functioned thus far without this position, but I believe there is added value for the Mayor and all of us in this role existing formally in our organizational structure.  As such, Stephanie Formas will be taking on the role of Chief of Staff to the Mayor’s Office.  Stephanie will oversee the day-to-day operations of the Office, including oversight of its administrative, scheduling, communications and legislative affairs functions.


  • With Stephanie taking on this new role, the Mayor has promoted Mark Prentice as our new Communications Director and Kamaria Hightower as Deputy Communications Director.  Both have been with the administration since the beginning and we look forward to working with both of them in their new roles.


  • Finally, this realignment will also include some new additions to my portfolio of work in addition to continuing to serve as the Mayor’s Executive Team lead.  In addition to the public safety departments (SPD, SFD, OEM) and working in partnership with Director Ben Noble on CBO and budget related issues with the Mayor, several of DM Ranganathan’s departments will now be overseen by me.  These department include: DEEL, OFM, DON, OED, OAC, OLS and PHSKC.  Ian Warner will continue to report to me with regard to legal issues and coordination with the City Attorney’s Office.  I will continue to lead and facilitate the coordination among the full Cabinet as well as help drive our subcabinet work with Director Tina Walha and her Innovation and Performance Team..


While these organizational changes will take time to fully implement, I also believe these adjustments will be minimally disruptive as we have thrived on a collaborative framework within the Mayor’s Office.  At the same time, these shifts are also intended to adjust areas of focus especially as initiatives and policy work in year one are now moving toward implementation, and we’re creating new major initiatives for next year.  As such, it is prudent, strategic and advisable to align our resources accordingly.


I thank everyone for their patience in advance as we execute these changes.  If you have any questions, I am available to discuss in person or please discuss with your supervisor. We will also spend some time during our all-staff meeting at noon to discuss and answer any questions.






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