Category: City Hall

The Durkan Administration Deleted the City Directory. We’re Restoring It.

By Erica C. Barnett

Former mayor Jenny Durkan’s administration was one of the least transparent in recent memory. The problems included both high-profile events—the deletion of months of text messages requested by reporters seeking insight into the mayor’s decision-making process during protests against police brutality—and systemic issues, like chronic micromanagement that disempowered city department staff.

Many of those changes can be easily undone. Subsequent mayors can adopt better text-retention policies, allow department spokespeople and staff to do their jobs instead of micromanaging them, and create an atmosphere of openness rather than fear and suspicion at City Hall.

One underreported story of the Durkan years that will have lasting consequences for transparency, however, is the administration’s decision to permanently delete the city directory, a vital resource that enabled members of the public to access contact information for city employees directly, and provided information about city departments’ Byzantine bureaucracy.

The directory was the only place ordinary citizens (and members of the press) could access contact information for the approximately 12,000 people who work at the city.

Last summer, it vanished. At the time, the excuse the city provided was that there was an unavoidable IT glitch that somehow rendered the whole directory unstable. The city’s IT department told PubliCola they were working on the problem, and that the directory would be back online by the end of the year.

That never happened. Instead, the city replaced replaced the directory with a list of links to city departments’ websites and media contacts, along with the city’s general-purpose 684-CITY phone number. (Somewhat perversely, the url for this unhelpful list remains, and the headline on the page is “City Employee Directory”).

Back in January, I wrote that PubliCola had made a public records request for a copy of the city directory and would post it when we got it. Today, we are publishing it.

According to an update posted on the city’s website in mid-December, the city’s Department of Human Resources made a “decision” at some point in 2021 that “the directory would no longer be maintained.” The city also posted an outdated spreadsheet of the directory as it existed in July 2021. “The data in these files is made available “as is” with no guarantee of accuracy,” the update said.

For members of the media, including those outside the mainstream press, a quick call to the right city staffer can eliminate the need to go through gatekeepers who may not have the time or inclination to go dig up the same information. During the Durkan administration, it was not uncommon for departmental spokespeople to respond to a question about, for example, the status of a particular construction project by referring PubliCola to the mayor’s office, who would issue a general statement that did not answer our question. Having access to the person in charge of permitting that project isn’t an academic matter; it’s often the difference between getting information and getting the runaround.

The directory was also useful to members of the general public. Anyone who has called the city’s general phone line, or attempted to contact a city department to get basic information about the status of a permit, for example, knows how difficult and time-consuming it can be to reach a person who can answer your question.

Back in January, I wrote that PubliCola had made a public records request for a copy of the city directory and would post it when we got it.

Here it is, in two parts—obtained through two separate records requests that, together, provide a more detailed list of contacts than the public directory the Durkan Administration trashed. The first part includes phone numbers and emails, but no department listings, for most city employees (excluding police officers, Seattle Public Library employees, and many employees of the fire department.) The second includes email addresses all city employees, along with their departments, but does not include phone numbers.

I will be updating these databases regularly so that they represent at least as accurate a list of city employees as the deleted city directory, which the city appeared to update every few months.

Although these two databases duplicate the former city directory, representing an accurate contact list for city employees as of January 2022, they do not provide a substitute for true transparency from the city itself, which is ultimately responsible for providing this kind of basic information to residents, as other cities do across the country. Nonetheless, I hope they’ll be useful in restoring some transparency to a city that, under the most recent mayor, steadily chipped away at Seattle residents’ access to their government.

King County Won’t Proactively Test Shelter Guests; SPD Sex Crime Case Referrals Plummet; Harrell Announces Appointments

1. King County Public Health will not provide routine COVID-19 tests for people who enter temporary winter shelters during the cold-weather emergency, a spokeswoman for the department told PubliCola. Instead, the department will test shelter guests when a shelter provider calls to report having two or more guests or staff with “COVID-like illness,” or one or more confirmed COVID cases, and will direct people to isolation and quarantine sites if they test positive. The county will also do contract tracing when there’s a confirmed COVID case at a shelter site.

“Public Health does not have the staffing capacity to provide proactive, daily testing at each of these sites,” the spokeswoman, Kate Cole, said. “As we do for all other homeless services sites in King County, if a shelter has staff or residents who appear to have COVID-like illness, our homeless services support team will provide on-site testing and consultation to help control any potential COVID spread.”

When the department gets word of a possible COVID outbreak in any homeless shelter, including winter emergency shelters, “Our testing team calls the shelter to discuss the individual symptoms to determine if it is likely COVID-like illness, in addition to providing ASAP guidance on steps to take to limit spread, and then (assuming team believes it is COVID-like illness), our team visits to conduct on-site testing for all staff and residents who agree to be tested,” the spokeswoman, Kate Cole, said.

The spread of the omicron variant has been startling, with positive rates at some testing sites nearing 50 percent. That’s for the general population; people living in crowded congregate settings, such as bare-bones mass homeless shelters, are even more at risk. Cole said the health department is not currently experiencing a shortage of rapid COVID tests.

2. The Seattle Police Department has referred roughly one-quarter fewer cases to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office’s sex crimes and child abuse unit this year than it did before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of felony cases that SPD referred to the prosecutor’s office dropped sharply in the first months of the pandemic. In May 2020, the office received 30 felony sex crimes cases from SPD; in June, the office received fewer than half that number. While the number of monthly referrals has fluctuated since then, the average over the past eighteen months has fallen to 19 cases, compared to an average of 26 cases per month before the pandemic.

While a reduction in SPD’s ranks after two years of high attrition—and the resultant transfer of many SPD detectives, who are responsible for criminal investigations, to patrol units since last fall—may contribute to the decline, the trend is not limited to Seattle. At a presentation to the mayors of the largest South King County cities earlier this month, the prosecutor’s office presented data showing a widespread decline in the number of felony cases referred to their office from police departments across the county. The police departments of Kent, Renton, Federal Way and Auburn, for instance, have referred nearly 30 percent fewer felony cases to the prosecutor’s office since the start of the pandemic.

Other reasons for the shift may include a decline in the number of people reporting sex crimes and child abuse. PubliCola has reached out to SPD for comment.

3. Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell announced another round of leadership appointments on Wednesday, including the sister of police-violence victim Che Taylor, a leader of King County’s No Youth Jail movement, a former state legislator and Seattle Port Commissioner, and a reality-TV producer. Continue reading “King County Won’t Proactively Test Shelter Guests; SPD Sex Crime Case Referrals Plummet; Harrell Announces Appointments”

City Attorney-Elect Fires Civil Division Chief, Homelessness Authority Gets Exemption from HUD Mandate, and More

1. Ann Davison, the new city-attorney elect, abruptly fired the head of the civil division of the city attorney’s office, Jessica Nadelman, last week, multiple sources tell PubliCola. The news came as a surprise to many inside and outside the city attorney’s office who had been under the impression that Davison planned to retain the civil chief, who provides legal advice to all branches of city government and defends the city against legal challenges, among many other responsibilities.

Nadelman sent an email to her coworkers on Saturday morning telling them, “Last night Ann and Scott [Lindsay, Davison’s deputy] informed me that I will no longer be civil chief when they take office in January.”

In her capacity as civil chief, Nadelman trained the two public disclosure officers, Stacy Irwin and Kim Ferreiro, who filed a whistleblower complaint alleging that Mayor Jenny Durkan and her legal counsel, Michelle Chen, violated state public disclosure law when they advised Irwin and Ferreiro to help cover up the deletion of several months’ worth of text messages from Durkan’s phone. The phone’s settings were adjusted to set to auto-delete in July 2020, just as the administration came under fire for its handling of protests against racial injustice sparked by George Floyd’s murder by police in Minneapolis, an investigation by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission investigation found.

Seattle Nice is now available on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

At the time, then-city attorney Pete Holmes’ office told the Seattle Times his office considered the deletion of the texts a “deliberate act” that compounded what could end up being “tens of millions of dollars in damages and fees” to resolve lawsuits over Durkan’s handling of the protests. Lindsay, Davison’s deputy, is the son-in-law of a longtime friend and ally of Durkan, former Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Nadelman was not available to comment on her departure. Several people PubliCola contacted who worked closely with Nadelman spoke highly of her work and professionalism, but did not want to comment on the record.

On Tuesday evening, Davison informed employees that she had appointed Jack Johnson, who was civil chief under Mark Sidran from 1990 to 2001, to serve as interim civil chief. In a statement, Davison’s office said she would do a “robust national search” for Nadelman’s permanent replacement.

2. The King County Regional Homelessness Authority has received a one-year exemption from a federal mandate that requires government agencies overseeing homelessness to do an in-person “Point In Time Count” of the unsheltered homeless population every two years. As PubliCola reported last month, the decision put the agency at risk of losing up to 40 points—out of a possible 200—on its next application for federal housing funds.

KCRHA spokeswoman Anne Martens said HUD granted the exemption in light of the agency’s work to use different methodology to get a more accurate count of the region’s homeless population without a physical count. The new tally, which used data from several sources, suggests that the number of people experiencing homelessness in King County could be above 45,000—more than triple the tally from the latest in-person count, which advocates have always acknowledged was an undercount.

Martens said HUD gave the KCRHA an exemption for 2022 only, “with an opening to keep talking about it if we want to do something similar in future years.” On December 7, agency director Marc Dones sent a letter to King County Councilmember (and Republican congressional candidate) Reagan Dunn, responding to Dunn’s call for the agency to reconsider its decision not to do an in-person count. In the letter, Dones criticizes the methodology behind the Point In Time Count, noting that critics have said the count may not represent “an appropriate use of precious community resources.”

Advocates for the Point In Time Count have argued that the count has value beyond producing an annual number, including large-scale community engagement, and point out that they have never claimed the count represents anything other than a massive undercount.

3. Check out the second episode of Seattle Nice, where political consultant Sandeep Kaushik and I discuss what it means that Seattle elected a declared Republican, Ann Davison, as its new city attorney—and what having a Republican city attorney might mean for the city of Seattle. When we recorded, Davison had just selected Scott Lindsay—author of the “prolific offenders” report that became the basis for the infamous KOMO special “Seattle Is Dying—as deputy city attorney, and picked Natalie Walton-Anderson, a former King County deputy prosecutor popular with groups that advocate for alternatives to incarceration, to head her criminal division.

Seattle Nice is now available on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

—Erica C. Barnett

Pending Sweep Defies “New Approach to Encampments” Narrative, Ann Davison Names Top Staff, and More

1. On Monday, December 20, the city will remove a large RV and tent encampment along West Green Lake Way North, close to the lawn bowling area of Lower Woodland Park. Notice for the removal went up on Thursday and the city’s HOPE team—a group of city employees that does outreach to encampment residents in the immediate runup to a sweep—began its usual pre-sweep process of offering shelter beds to the people living there earlier this week. 

According to outreach workers in the area, most of the RV residents plan to move their vehicles about a block, to an area of Upper Woodland Park where the city has indicated they will not remove tents and RVs until next month. 

The encampment, which has persisted for many months, was the backdrop for a pre-election press conference by then-candidate Bruce Harrell, who said that if he was elected mayor, he would have the authority to “direct mental health counselors and housing advocates down here [and] bring down individualized case management experts” to find shelter or housing for the people living at the site.

Last week, City Councilmember Dan Strauss said the city planned to expand the “new, person-centered approach” used to shelter people living at the Ballard Commons into other encampments in his North Seattle district, including Lower Woodland Park. Outreach workers say that what they’ve seen instead is a business-as-usual approach that consists of putting up “no parking” signs and notices that encampment residents have 72 hours to leave.

“Every single one of these people was swept from another site, and I know that most of these people have been swept over and over.”

As PubliCola noted (and Strauss acknowledged) last week, the approach the city took at the Ballard Commons was successful thanks to an unusual flood of new openings in tiny house villages and a former hotel turned into housing in North Seattle, making it possible for outreach workers to offer something better than a basic shelter bed to nearly everyone living on site. Now that those beds are mostly full, the Human Services Department’s HOPE Team is back to offering whatever shelter beds happen to become available, including beds at shelters that offer less privacy, require gender segregation, or are located far away from the community where an encampment is located.

PubliCola contacted the Human Services Department on Friday and will update this post with any additional information we receive about the encampment removal.

Jenn Adams, a member of a team of RV outreach workers called the Scofflaw Mitigation Team, said the people living in RVs in Lower Woodland Park ended up there after being chased from someplace else. “Every single one of these people was swept from another site, and I know that most of these people have been swept over and over,” Adams said. She estimates that between 25 and 30 people will have to move when the city comes through to enforce its no-parking signs on Monday.

2. City attorney-elect Ann Davison announced two key members of her administration on Thursday. Scott Lindsay, a controversial 2017 city attorney candidate who authored an infamous report that became the basis for KOMO TV’s “Seattle Is Dying” broadcast, will be deputy city attorney. Although Lindsay, who advised Davison on her campaign, was widely expected to receive a prominent role in her office, his appointment was met with groans from allies of former city attorney Pete Holmes, who defeated Lindsay four years ago by a 51-point margin.

Lindsay has a scant record, including virtually no courtroom experience. He also tried and failed to get the job Davison won, making him a deputy who considers himself fully qualified for his boss’s position.

Lindsay’s views on crime and punishment (in brief: More punishment equals less crime) are largely in line with statements Davison, a Republican, has made during all three of her recent runs for office. As public safety advisor to Ed Murray, Lindsay was the architect of the “nine-and-a-half-block strategy” to crack down on low-level drug crime downtown; he also came up with the idea for the Navigation Team, a group of police and outreach workers who conducted encampment sweeps. (The HOPE Team is basically the Navigation Team, minus the police.) Lindsay has a scant record, including virtually no courtroom experience. Importantly, he also tried and failed to get the job Davison won, making him a deputy who considers himself fully qualified for his boss’s position.

In contrast, Davison’s pick for criminal division chief, former King County deputy prosecuting attorney Natalie Walton-Anderson, prompted sighs of relief among advocates for criminal justice reform. As the prosecuting attorney’s liaison to the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, Walton-Anderson “was instrumental in the success of the LEAD program for many years,” prosecuting attorney Dan Satterberg said in a statement. LEAD provides alternatives to prosecution for people engaged in low-level nonviolent criminal activity.

To emphasize the point, Satterberg’s office distributed an email chief deputy prosecuting attorney Daniel Clark sent around to the criminal division on Walton-Anderson’s last day earlier this year, when she left the office to join the US Attorney’s office earlier this year. In the memo, Clark called Walton-Anderson “braver, smarter, wittier, wiser, and savvier than anyone can convey in an email. And her impact on our community, our office and on the many people whose lives she has touched along the way is far greater than I can write.”

LEAD program director Tiarra Dearbone told PubliCola Walton-Anderson “has shown that prosecutors can make discretionary and creative decisions that support community based care and trauma informed recovery. She has made herself available to others across the nation who are trying to stand up alternative programs that create community safety and well-being. This is a really hopeful development.”

Davison’s announcement includes no testimonials on Lindsay’s behalf. According to the press release, Lindsay will work to “coordinate public safety strategies in neighborhoods across the city.”

3. Former City Budget Office director Ben Noble—whose departure announcement we covered last week—is staying on at the city, but moving from the CBO (an independent office that works closely with the mayor to come up with revenue forecasts and budget proposals to present to the council) to be the first director of the new Office of Economic and Revenue Forecasts, which will answer to a four-person body made up of two council members, the mayor, and the city finance director. Continue reading “Pending Sweep Defies “New Approach to Encampments” Narrative, Ann Davison Names Top Staff, and More”

Harrell Announces Key Staff, Veteran Budget Director Departs, Council Adopts New Rules and Transparency Requirements

1. Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell announced a list of top staff on Monday headlined by his campaign manager, niece, and now incoming senior deputy mayor Monisha Harrell.

But the biggest throughline in Harrell’s list of appointees wasn’t family—Harrell, who was omnipresent during her uncle’s campaign, was widely expected to take on a key role in his administration—but the elevation of so many longtime insiders to top roles in the new administration.

Of the ten appointments announced yesterday (and an eleventh, Chief of Staff Jennifer Samuels), all but one are current or recent city of Seattle staff, and half are current appointees or allies of outgoing Mayor Jenny Durkan.

Tiffany Washington, the former head of the city’s Homelessness Strategy and Investment division, is currently Durkan’s deputy mayor, and will continue in that role under Harrell. Julie Dingley, the incoming interim budget director (more on that in a minute), is Durkan’s interim Innovation and Performance director and the former lead budget staffer in Durkan’s office. Adiem Emery, the new Chief Equity Officer (“tasked with delivering on the mayor-elect’s vision to make tangible progress embedding equity across City departments and programs,” according to a a press release), is currently a division director at SDOT.  Pedro Gómez, the incoming head of external affairs, is currently director of Small Business Development for the Office of Economic Development. Harrell’s longtime council aide Vinh Tang works in the city’s IT department.

And former city council member Tim Burgess, who will head “strategic initiatives” in a position listed just below Harrell’s two announced deputy mayors, is a longtime Durkan ally—and, of course, Harrell’s former colleague.

Filling out the list are several longtime insiders who worked elsewhere in the city or are returning after an absence. Chief operating officer Marco Lowe (who will focus “on driving efficiencies in Seattle’s public utility agencies, making Seattle government more transparent and accessible, and streamlining housing and infrastructure construction,” per the press release) worked in two mayoral administrations; policy director Dan Eder is deputy director of the city council’s central staff; and chief of staff Samuels worked for Harrell’s council office.

In fact, besides Monisha Harrell—who serves as deputy monitor overseeing the federal consent decree over the Seattle Police Department—the only City Hall “outsider” on Harrell’s team is former Seattle/King County NAACP leader Gerald Hankerson, who will be Harrell’s external affairs liaison.

“One of the issues over the past few years on the council is that it hasn’t always been completely clear when a deputy of the mayor is speaking for the mayor, and I don’t think there will be any ambiguity at all that when Monisha speaks, she is speaking for her uncle. I think that’s one of the advantages of having a family member in a position like that.”—City Councilmember Andrew Lewis

City Councilmember Andrew Lewis, a member of the public safety subcommittee of Harrell’s transition team, said he has “a lot of confidence in [Monisha Harrell’s] commitment” to pursue non-police responses to emergency and crisis situations. “That’s the real nucleus for moving forward on this intractable argument that we’ve had around what the future of policing is going to be—how can you set up response alternatives?” Lewis said.

The city’s ethics code only raises conflict-of-interest alarms when a city employee supervises an “immediate family member,” which does not include nieces or nephews. (King County’s law is both more prescriptive—the Harrells would be considered each other’s “immediate family”— and slightly more vague.) Former mayor Charley Royer, who served three terms, appointed his brother Bob deputy mayor in 1978, a position the younger Royer held for more than five years.

Lewis said he believes having a mayor and deputy mayor who are related could be an asset. “One of the issues over the past few years on the council is that it hasn’t always been completely clear when a deputy of the mayor is speaking for the mayor, and I don’t think there will be any ambiguity at all that when Monisha speaks, she is speaking for her uncle,” Lewis said. “I think that’s one of the advantages of having a family member in a position like that.”

2. Seattle City Budget Office director Ben Noble announced last week that he is leaving the city after more than 20 years. A longtime city council central staffer who became central staff director in 2006, Noble took over the reins at the budget office in 2014 under Mayor Ed Murray and continued in the position under Durkan, where he often found himself on the opposite side of testy exchanges with his former colleagues over Durkan’s approach to budgeting.

In recent years, Durkan repeatedly attempted to fund her own annual priorities using funds that had already been committed to other purpose (in one case, by Durkan herself), sparking heated debates between the council and the budget office. Last year, Durkan vetoed both the budget and legislation funding COVID relief, both times unsuccessfully.

City Councilmember Alex Pedersen prevailed Monday on a change to the city council’s rules that will allow him (and other council members) to abstain rather than vote on council resolutions unrelated to city business, like the one praising Cuba for its response to the COVID pandemic last year

In a letter to city staff, Noble provided little detail about why he is leaving, calling it “very much a personal decision.” Whatever prompted it (former colleagues speculated burnout, but Noble demurred), his departure opens up a major position in the Harrell administration—and represents a significant loss of institutional knowledge, brainpower, and longstanding relationships between the executive and legislative branches.

3. City Councilmember Alex Pedersen prevailed Monday on a change to the city council’s rules that will allow him (and other council members) to abstain rather than vote on council resolutions unrelated to city business, like the one praising Cuba for its response to the COVID pandemic last year. The legislation was part of a package of council rule changes that will, among other things, move City Council meetings to Tuesdays and limit the amount of time council members can speak to a pending motion. The new rule, which Councilmember Lisa Herbold opposed as vague and open to “unintended consequences,” says that council members can abstain from any resolution that, according to the council president, “does not pertain materially to the City of Seattle.”

Pedersen has long complained that nonbinding resolutions, many of them proposed by his ideological opposite Kshama Sawant, are pointless wastes of the council’s time; in early 2020, he proposed and passed a sarcastic resolution condemning “all forms of oppression affecting communities throughout the world—a response to a Sawant resolution in on national policy in India and Iran.

4. Pedersen cast the lone “no” vote against legislation that will require incoming city attorney Ann Davison to notify the council within 90 days of making changes to, or eliminating, the city’s pre-filing diversion programs, and provide quarterly reports to the council about the effectiveness of diversion. Continue reading “Harrell Announces Key Staff, Veteran Budget Director Departs, Council Adopts New Rules and Transparency Requirements”

Harrell Announces 129-Member Transition Team after Most Expensive Mayoral Race in History; Davison to Take Over Depopulated City Attorney’s Office

1. Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell announced a 129-member transition team yesterday that includes Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan, current city council member Teresa Mosqueda, former mayoral candidate Jessyn Farrell, a long list of former Greg Nickels, Ed Murray, and Jenny Durkan staffers, and an entire committee overseeing “sports and mentorship” programs, headed by regional NAACP president Gerald Hankerson. Also on the team: Two of the leading opponents of a bike lane in Lake City that Mayor Jenny Durkan ultimately killed.

The team seems likely to grow; late on Tuesday, city council member Andrew Lewis confirmed that he will serve on the team’s public safety committee, one of 12 subject-area committees that make up the advisory group.

Harrell’s transition team also includes a “philanthropy” committee that includes representatives from the Ballmer Group, Amazon, Tableau, and a number of local foundations—echoing Harrell’s campaign promise to fund some city needs, such as programs to address homelessness, using voluntary donations from individuals and corporations.

The new administration’s transition team, for those keeping score (sports metaphor?), is more than twice the size of the transition team outgoing mayor Jenny Durkan announced when she was elected in 2017, and almost three times larger than the team ex-mayor Ed Murray set up in 2013.

Transition teams typically help mayors staff up and set priorities, but their primary role in recent years has been to demonstrate broad political support after a bruising election campaign, which this very (very) large and diverse group certainly does.

Harrell’s niece and campaign manager Monisha Harrell told the Seattle Times that Harrell would comb the transition team for potential members of the administration.

Since the August primary election, when voters kicked three-term incumbent Pete Holmes off the ballot, the city attorney’s criminal division has lost eight prosecutors, or nearly a quarter of its entire prosecution team.

As a point of recent historical reference, just two members of Durkan’s transition team joined the administration: former Transportation Choices Coalition director Shefali Ranganathan, who was one of Durkan’s deputy mayors, and former Building Changes director Helen Howell, who served briefly as interim director of the Human Services Department before joining the King County Regional Homelessness Authority as deputy CEO in July.

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2. Harrell’s campaign also set a record this year—it was the most expensive mayoral campaign in Seattle’s history by a long shot (sports metaphor?). According to campaign records, the official Harrell campaign raised just over $1.4 million in direct contributions, including $19,250 from Harrell himself.  By the same point in her campaign, Durkan had raised just over $970,000.

That’s a significant increase—Harrell has raised half again as much as Durkan had by the same point in November 2017—but it’s dwarfed by the total amount of money poured into the campaign by independent spending, primarily a real estate-backed IE called Bruce Harrell for Seattle’s Future. That campaign has raised $1.4 million, almost entirely from commercial real-estate developers and property managers; combined with independent spending from the National Association of REALTORS and the Seattle Firefighters PAC, independent groups spent almost $1.6 million getting Harrell elected, a sum that dwarfs the $835,000 an Amazon-backed group called People for Jenny Durkan spent on Durkan’s behalf.

At the time, editorial and news writers found it at least noteworthy that at a time when publicly financed “democracy vouchers” were supposed to get big money out of campaigns, the mayoral election went to the candidate who had hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate money propping her up. This year’s election, in which the winning campaign cost $3 million, or almost $20 per vote, makes 2017’s shocking outlays look almost quaint.

3. Ann Davison, the city attorney-elect, had a simple campaign platform: Unlike my opponent, I will prosecute crime. (Davison’s opponent, public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, pledged to phase out most misdemeanor prosecutions.) She’ll enter office with her work cut out for her: Since the August primary election, when voters kicked three-term incumbent Pete Holmes off the ballot, the city attorney’s criminal division has lost eight prosecutors, or nearly a quarter of its entire prosecution team. The chief of the criminal division, Kelly Harris, left the division for a private-sector job last month.

Continue reading “Harrell Announces 129-Member Transition Team after Most Expensive Mayoral Race in History; Davison to Take Over Depopulated City Attorney’s Office”

PubliCola Picks: Teresa Mosqueda for City Council Position 8

Teresa Mosqueda
Image via

In her first term on the city council, Teresa Mosqueda has distinguished herself as an effective advocate for progressive policies, fighting for Seattle’s most vulnerable residents while championing pro-housing policies—like allowing more housing in Seattle’s exclusive single-family neighborhoods—so that people who work in Seattle can also afford to live here.

After the failure of the so-called “head tax,” which the council passed and quickly repealed under pressure from Amazon and other large businesses, Mosqueda—who voted against the repeal— didn’t denounce her colleagues or spend time grandstanding. Instead, she got busy. Working largely behind the scenes, Mosqueda won consensus for a larger, more ambitious tax plan that spread the burden more broadly among big Seattle businesses but still put Amazon on the hook for tens of millions a year. In its first year, her JumpStart tax withstood a veto by Mayor Jenny Durkan and has provided tens of millions of dollars in relief for people impacted by the COVID pandemic, including rent subsidies, grocery vouchers, and assistance to small businesses and child care providers.

Another telling detail that illustrates the effectiveness of Mosqueda’s firm but collaborative style: Amazon stayed out of this year’s local elections and has not contributed a dime to her nominal competitor.

This year, for the second time in a row, Mayor Jenny Durkan is attempting to siphon revenues from JumpStart to pay for her own budget priorities, even attempting to permanently eliminate the spending plan outlining where the money should go. Mosqueda warded off a similar mayoral effort last year, giving us confidence that the money will continue to go where she and her colleagues intended—toward housing, small-business assistance, and Green New Deal programs to benefit people living in the communities hit hardest by climate change.

After four years on the council, Mosqueda has such an impressive list of accomplishments it’s easy to forget she’s just wrapping up her freshman term. To rattle off just a few: Passing the city’s first-ever Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, which guarantees minimum working standards and wages for domestic employees like housekeepers, cooks, and in-home care providers; securing funds for affordable housing and shelter, including hotel-based shelters, during COVID; and sponsoring policy changes that encourage affordable housing on surplus land owned by the city.

Mosqueda knows we can’t get to a carbon-free future by taking baby steps like electrifying the city’s motor pool. Mosqueda is the council’s champion for getting rid of exclusionary single-family zoning, which pushes lower-income people out of the city and contributes to climate-killing suburban sprawl. Early in her term, in the midst of a NIMBY backlash against her urbanist colleague Rob Johnson, she championed the Mandatory Housing Affordability rezoning plan, which has allowed denser development in more areas while funding thousands of units of new affordable housing.

Recently, Mosqueda caught flak for sponsoring legislation to change the name of the city’s most common zoning to “neighborhood residential,” a largely symbolic acknowledgement that the city’s current “single-family” areas have historically allowed many different types of housing. NIMBYs upset by that cosmetic change, watch out: In her second term, we expect Mosqueda will be deeply involved in reshaping the city’s comprehensive plan, which guides what kind of development is allowed throughout the city, and to join other pro-housing advocates on the council to end exclusionary zoning.

Mosqueda’s opponent, Kenneth Wilson, is a civil engineer who received 16 percent of the vote in an 11-way primary in which he did not campaign. Raised to visibility by his second-place finish, Wilson has spent his time in the spotlight showing exactly how out of his league he is. Asked how he would help people who are at risk of being displaced stay in Seattle, he said they could move to somewhere like Angle Lake, a suburb 20 miles south of the city. Asked to summarize why he’s running for office, Wilson said he was motivated by crime and “ghetto-style paintings everywhere.” And, asked how he would prevent displacement among homeowners in the Central District, Wilson talked about college kids getting kicked out of rental houses in Wallingford.

Mosqueda is a standout leader in Seattle with a record of collaborating to move progressive policies forward. The choice in the race for City Council Position 8 is clear. PubilCola picks Teresa Mosqueda.

The PubliCola editorial board is Josh Feit and Erica C. Barnett.

PubliCola Picks: Nikkita Oliver for Seattle City Council Position 9

Nikkita Oliver
Image via

The race for citywide council position 9 pits a white business owner and former city council aide, Sara Nelson, who wants to turn back the clock on how Seattle addresses homelessness, crime, and housing, against a progressive Black nonprofit director, activist, and attorney, Nikkita Oliver, with ambitious plans for addressing displacement, institutional racism, and the broken criminal justice system. We support Nikkita Oliver.

While we endorsed longtime city council staffer Brianna Thomas in the primary, we took time in that endorsement to make it clear how impressed we were with Oliver’s history of activism on behalf of their community and their commitment to funding community-based alternatives to policing, prosecution, and jail for low-level crimes.

Oliver is an abolitionist, a term that has caused some voters to balk in this hyper-polarized election year. But the steps they and other abolitionists call for represent an expansion of the kind of diversion programs the city already funds, including Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, Choose 180, and Community Passageways—not an abrupt divestment in police and jails without any alternatives in place. Meaningful change always happens at the local level when voters elect people whose ideas are outside the status quo—and right now, the status quo at the Seattle Police Department is one that requires more radical change than the meaningless “reimagining,” “rethinking” and “reform” of the past four years.

Speaking of the need for radical change: Oliver wants to end exclusionary zoning in Seattle, allowing more apartments throughout the city, including in areas where racist whites-only covenants were eventually replaced by exclusive single-family zoning. For decades, this invisible covenant has preserved generational wealth for white homeowners while driving renters and homeowners of color out of the city as effectively as redlining once kept Black and brown home buyers out of many Seattle neighborhoods.

Oliver’s opponent Nelson, in contrast, generally supports the current system, which segregates people who live in apartments from those who live in suburban-style single-family enclaves, arguing that the mere preservation of “naturally occurring affordable housing” (code for crappy apartments where tenants feel disempowered to complain) is a meaningful anti-displacement step.

Nelson often cites the “neighborhood planning process of the late ’90s,” as she put it recently, as a shining example of the city “pay[ing] attention to the differences and nuances in all neighborhoods.” But the neighborhood planning process of the late ’90s contributed directly to most of the city’s current housing problems, including high housing costs, gentrification in historically Black and brown neighborhoods, and the segregation of all new housing in the city into a tiny sliver of Seattle’s residential land.

Meanwhile, Oliver’s approach to homelessness is as multifaceted as their positions on criminal justice and housing, and more (to borrow a term) nuanced than the one-note Compassion Seattle model Nelson parrots. (In a bit of near-perfect symbolism, Nelson’s business, Fremont Brewing, installed massive concrete barricades in the public right-of-way to prevent unsheltered people from parking their vehicles there). Oliver—noting, correctly, that the root of homelessness isn’t addiction or behavioral health problems but a lack of housing—wants to “tax the wealthy,” using one of the mechanisms identified by the city’s Progressive Revenue Task Force in 2018, to expand access to rental and ownership housing through co-ops and community land trusts, and public housing for very low-income people, including those experiencing homelessness.

Oliver would make life a little less miserable for people living in encampments, by ending sweeps and providing restrooms and hygiene stations for people who currently lack access to both. Nelson has mocked this concept, which Oliver calls “radical hospitality,” but it actually would address some of the problems Nelson has put at the center of her backlash campaign, including the presence of trash, needles, and human waste in parks and neighborhoods. Unlike Oliver, Nelson would maintain the failing status quo: moving people from place to place while raiding the JumpStart payroll tax, which is supposed to pay for housing, equitable development, and small-business assistance, to pay for vaguely defined “services.”

These divergent approaches to homelessness define the dramatic choice in this contest. Oliver’s transformational plan may be a long shot, but real progress on homelessness will be an even longer shot if voters give in to Nelson’s fear-mongering. Calls to double down on policies that have failed will only exacerbate the homelessness crisis. It’s time to embrace new approaches that both acknowledge the realities of inequity and seek to address them.

In the race for City Council Position 9, PubliCola picks Nikkita Oliver.

The PubliCola editorial board is Josh Feit and Erica C. Barnett.

Arts Commission Chairs Resign Amid Furor Over Durkan’s “Surprise” Arts Director Appointment

By Erica C. Barnett

On Tuesday, the two co-chairs of the Seattle Arts Commission abruptly resigned, citing “grave concern surrounding Mayor Durkan’s lack of process in the recent appointment of the Acting Director for the Office of Arts and Culture, superseding both community and Council.”

“After meeting with the Mayor’s Office this past Friday and in their subsequent decisions, it was very apparent to us that they had an ulterior motive that did not include any input or involvement  from the Arts Commission or arts and cultural community members,” the co-chairs’ resignation letter continued.

Office of Arts and Culture logoEarlier this month, Durkan appointed former Center on Contemporary Arts (CoCA) director Royal Alley-Barnes to serve as interim director for the office, which has lacked a permanent leader since December 2020, when longtime director Randy Engstrom resigned. She’ll replace Calandra Childers, whom Durkan appointed to serve as interim director when Engstrom left.

Alley-Barnes is the former head of the then-city-funded Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, which is now an independent nonprofit known as LANGSTON.

LANGSTON’s current director, Tim Lennon, wrote a letter to council members expressing his opposition “not to the candidate selected but rather to the total apparent lack of consultation with our sector [and] the utter lack of an articulated strategy for ARTS which necessitates this leadership change 4 months before the end of this administration.”

Members of the ARTS Director Search Committee, including artists, curators, and academics, also wrote a letter to the Arts Commission expressing their disappointment in the process and the “surprise appointment” of Alley-Barnes. The committee convened in early 2021 to begin the process of appointing a permanent, not interim, director, according to the letter.

“The work of this Committee was initiated and overseen by Deputy Director Calandra Childers who was serving as acting Director of ARTS since February,” the letter says. “Her deep commitment and wide-ranging expertise in directing the ARTS office throughout this challenging time, while also guiding the work of this committee, is to be respected, protected, supported, and even modeled—not discarded without a conversation or any thoughtful process.”

Currently, at least eight city departments are headed by interim or acting directors.

The mayor’s office also provided a number of letters supporting the appointment. Unlike the letters of opposition, most of these focused on Alley-Barnes and her record leading arts organizations, including CoCA, over many years. Supporters of her appointment included former King County Councilmember Larry Gossett, Community Police Commission member Harriett Walden, HistoryLink director Marie McCaffrey, and CoCA board member Dr. Judith Rayl, who wrote that she “has embraced a lifetime devoted to community flourishing. Her influence is evident at all levels: regionally, locally, organizationally, and interpersonally through her excellence in leadership and mentorship.”

When a mayor appoints a new permanent department head, the city council has to vote on whether to approve the nomination. An interim appointment, in contrast, requires only the “concurrence” of the budget committee chair (currently Teresa Mosqueda) and the council president (currently Lorena González.) Both signed off on the appointment, although González said she did so only after Durkan called the question by formally announcing Alley-Barnes as the new interim director.

“It would have been my hope that the Mayor would have fulfilled the commitments made to the commission and broader arts community,”  González said in a statement. “With an interim director in place, the City will be able to search for a permanent director via a process that includes and honors input from commissioners and community members, whose role it is to advise elected officials in decisions such as these.” (Emphasis González’).

Durkan’s office disputes González’s timeline and denies that the process for appointing Alley-Barnes as interim director was in any way unusual. Durkan spokeswoman Kamaria Hightower said the mayor’s office “reached out on September 8 regarding this appointment to which both offices confirmed receipt and expressed no concerns about the imminent announcement,” adding, “the Mayor’s Office has not run a stakeholder process when appointing the Interim or Acting Directors, understanding a longer stakeholder process is needed for permanent appointments.” Continue reading “Arts Commission Chairs Resign Amid Furor Over Durkan’s “Surprise” Arts Director Appointment”

It’s Time for a Biden-Era Mandatory Housing Affordability Plan

by Josh Feit

The report is out. Mandatory Housing Affordability: Fail.

With such solid results, how can I say that?

It’s true, the numbers are impressive. MHA dollars accounted for 45 percent of the city’s affordable housing spending in 2020, or $52.3 million. (MHA actually brought in $68.3 million total last year, and the city will carry over the additional $16 million in MHA money for 2021 affordable housing projects.)

And while the longtime Seattle Housing Levy’s $56.7 million accounted for more of 2020’s affordable housing spending, 48 percent, MHA actually created 110 more rent-restricted units than the venerated levy—698 funded by MHA versus 588 funded by the levy.

In short, this brand-new inclusionary housing mechanism, which came online in 2019 after five years of old-school neighborhood lawsuits and challenges, more than matched the levy, a 40-year-old property tax program that cost homeowners a median of $122 a year in 2016.

MHA is an affordable housing mandate that upzoned a sliver of Seattle’s exclusive single-family areas while requiring developers to either pay a fee, which goes into an affordable housing fund, or build a percentage of affordable units on site. MHA applies to every new multifamily or commercial building in the city. And it costs you nothing. Oh, and the $52.3 million for 698 units doesn’t even include the 104 on-site affordable housing units that MHA created; the city does not track on-site units as affordable housing dollars.

So, with such glowing stats, why “fail?”

I mean it the same way Obama’s $800 billion stimulus package was a failure and Democrats are now applauding Biden for going big on his $4.1 trillion infrastructure plan. In other words, if we’re getting a nearly-$70 million-a-year bang for our buck on affordable housing dollars from the polite MHA upzones the council passed in 2019, it’s time to do a Biden and go bigger.

If a bumper-bowling upzone was able to create a fund comparable to the Housing Levy without raising any taxes, imagine what a grown-up upzone would do for affordable housing.

MHA only upzoned 6 percent of the city’s single-family zones, which make up around 65 percent of the city’s developable land. Under MHA, the city also did some earlier upzones between 2017 and 2019 in parts of six  neighborhoods where some density was already allowed, such as downtown, the University District, South Lake Union, and 23rd Avenue in the Central District

Back when the council passed the final pieces of MHA two years ago, the city’s two at-large council members, Lorena González and Teresa Mosqueda, were already playing Elizabeth Warren to the mayor’s Larry Summers. Caving to pressure from the slow-growth Seattle Times, former mayor Ed Murray scrapped his initial MHA upzone proposal, which would have raised the ceiling on height regulations in single family zones at large.

“For some, this housing affordability legislation goes too far,” González said from the council dais when the council passed MHA in March 2019, “for others it does not go far enough.” It was clear which side González was on. “So, let’s chat a little bit about that dynamic,” she said. “Contrary to the name of the Select Committee on Citywide MHA, this legislation is not even close to citywide. This legislation impacts a total of only 6 percent of existing areas currently and strictly zoned as single family home zones. That means even with the passage of MHA legislation, approximately 60 percent of the city of Seattle is still under the cloud of exclusionary zoning laws.” She went on to give a history lesson of racist housing covenants in Seattle.

Councilmember Mosqueda sounded the same note. “I’m sad that we’re not actually having a conversation about citywide changes,” she said. “I think that’s the next conversation to have. Larger changes that create a more inclusive Seattle. Again, this is just an effort to look at 6 percent of the single family zoning in our city.”

González is running for mayor this year, and Mosqueda is backing her. Here’s hoping González is actually committed to doing something about “the cloud of exclusionary zoning.” Not only because it will help create a more inclusive city, but according to the numbers, it would be good affordable housing policy.

Think about it. If a bumper-bowling upzone was able to create a fund comparable to the Housing Levy without raising any taxes, imagine what a grown-up upzone would do for affordable housing. While we created 1,300 units last year, we should be building a total of 244,000 net new affordable homes by 2040, according to the King County’s Regional Affordable Housing Task Force, or about 12,000 a year.

Another important stat, one that’s not in the report: $10 million of all MHA proceeds to date have come from developments within the sliver of city land that used to be zoned exclusively single-family.

Upzoning the rest of the city—the part that remains exclusively single-family—would certainly help. Another important stat, one that’s not in the report: $10 million of all MHA proceeds to date have come from developments within the sliver of city land that used to be zoned exclusively single-family.

This is noteworthy. Here’s why. There are three main streams of MHA money: first, payments from developments in selected multifamily hubs that became subject to MHA in 2017, including parts of 23rd Ave. in the Central District, the University District, and Uptown; next, payments from developments in all multifamily zones, from the new MHA legislation that took effect in 2019; and also payments from developments in the upzoned sliver of former single-family zones.

Over the four years between 2016 and 2020, the hub upzones, which went into effect earlier, have generated about 60 percent of the money from MHA, most of that in 2020. But since 2019, when MHA dollars started flowing in from the multifamily areas and the former single-family areas, nearly a third of the additional money from those new revenue sources—$10 million of $36 million remaining total—has been from development in the sliver that used to be single-family.

That outsized stat indicates just how attractive these formerly verboten zones, which sit on the edges of existing urban centers and urban villages, are for new housing. If we actually upzoned all of the city’s exclusive single-family areas, instead of just six percent, we’d have a better chance at generating the money to build the affordable housing stock this city needs.

While the upzoned former single-family zones did generate $10 million for affordable housing, there is another MHA fail. None of the on-site MHA housing was built in those areas. That needs to change. Opening up the entire city to multifamily housing, as opposed to the begrudging 6 percent allotted in MHA, would create more options for on-site multifamily development in these zones themselves. Hopefully, the next conversation about upzones will address how to actually put multifamily housing in amenity-rich SFZs.

The name of this column is Maybe Metropolis. My verdict on MHA?  Emphasis remains on “maybe” until we do mandatory housing affordability right and make it actually citywide.