Category: Morning Crank

Help Wanted at City Hall: “Discretion” and “A High Level of Tact” Essential

 

OLS director Martin Garfinkel is sworn in on April 12, 2018; image via city of Seattle.

1. Less than two years after he was sworn in, Office of Labor Standards director Martin Garfinkel is leaving. His position was just posted on a government jobs listing site. According to the listing, leading applicants will “have a reputation for exercising a high level of tact, good judgment, discretion, and diplomacy and have cooperative working relationships with diverse groups of people.”

OLS, which investigates businesses accused of violating the city’s labor laws, was in the news most recently when city council president Bruce Harrell called the entire office “extremely unprofessional” in the way it handled allegations of wage theft by businesses. Suggesting that small, minority-owned businesses accused of wage theft were guilty of nothing more than “good-faith disputes” with their employees, Harrell proposed spending $50,000 for the Office of Economic Development, which promotes businesses, to survey businesses investigated by OLS for violations to see what they thought of the agency. Council member Lorena Gonzalez, a labor attorney who has frequently clashed with both Harrell and Mayor Jenny Durkan over labor and other issues, pointed out that labor laws are about results, not intent, and noted that any survey of businesses targeted for enforcement will yield predictably negative results.

A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, Kamaria Hightower, said Garfinkel was leaving “early next year following his two year commitment to the City. … While Marty will certainly be missed, in his absence OLS will continue to chart a path forward of strong and proactive outreach and engagement with workers and businesses, to develop laws and rules for the more than 54,000 employers and 580,000 employees throughout Seattle.”

In the last year and a half, a number of department leaders and high-level staffers have left their positions, including the heads of the city’s homelessness office, the Finance and Administrative Services Department, the Office of Housing, the Parks Department, the Office of Economic Development, the Seattle Department of Human Resources, and Seattle City Light.  Deputy Mayor David Moseley will leave at the end of the year.

Support The C Is for Crank
The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

2. Mayor Jenny Durkan’s policy shop—the in-house staffers the mayor’s office relies on to do policy and planning work on big issues such as transportation, labor, and housing—is losing two more staffers. Technology advisor Kate Garman (Durkan’s tech policy advisor) and Julia Reed (a policy advisor with a broad portfolio) gave their notice earlier this month.

The departures come just three months after policy director Edie Gillis and advisor Kiersten Grove left in August. Gillis was replaced by Adrienne Thompson, who had been the mayor’s labor advisor.

Policy advisors aren’t mere seat warmers—they craft legislation, draft (and sometimes steer) executive policy, and impart their own expertise and institutional knowledge to the executive branch. Inadequate or understaffed policy offices can lead to half-baked proposals that don’t hold water politically or legally, so having a fully staffed policy shop is critical to a mayor’s success at converting ideas into law that will stand up to legal challenges.

Mark Prentice, the mayor’s communications director, provided a list of staffers in the policy shop that includes two listed as “position TBH.” Besides Thompson and Helmbrecht, they include a housing advisor, a staffer on loan from the city’s early learning department, a new hire from Washington, D.C., and an executive assistant. In contrast, previous mayoral policy shops have had between 10 and a dozen staffers, according to current city staff.

“All these people play important roles in the policy development process,” says Prentice. His last day is later this year.

3. The city’s Human Services Department is under a spending moratorium for the rest of the year after discovering a financial “shortfall of over $1 million for the department,” according to a memo sent to all HSD staff by deputy director Audrey Buehring last week. The shortfall, Buehring’s memo says, impacts new programs that were not yet implemented as of November 20 (when the moratorium went into effect), changes to contracts that use money from the city’s general fund, and “travel, training, equipment, and supply requests that require General Funds.” 

HSD took on a number of employee coaching contracts in mid-2019 or later. Several involve what the mayor’s office calls “culture work,” such as a peacekeeping circle training and Undoing Institutional Racism seminars; others involved “results-based accountability” and “coaching for results.”

HSD spokesman Will Lemke told me, “It is not uncommon for HSD to ask divisions to monitor resources as the end of year approaches, and pointed to a list of items that he said “contributed to the shortfall,” and which adds up to just over $1 million, including $250,000 for a midyear expansion of the Navigation Team; $145,000 to respond to the February snowstorm; and $193,000 to plan for the proposed new regional homelessness authority.

Council Reshuffles Durkan’s Budget, Cop Encampment Training Led to Just Nine Shelter Referrals, and Shaun Scott’s Near-Win

Mayor Durkan announces her plans for spending Mercer Megablock proceeds.

I’m back from vacation, the council has almost passed a 2020 budget with aggressive edits to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal, and the election is officially all-but-over (results will be certified on Friday). Here are a few items that are worth your attention.

1. Semi-final election results: Although the local and (to a much lesser extent) national press has fixated on the fact that incumbent Kshama Sawant came back from behind to defeat Amazon-backed challenger Egan Orion by more than 1,750 votes, an equally fascinating late-voting story has played out in Northeast Seattle’s District 4, where neighborhood activist and former Tim Burgess aide Alex Pedersen, who was backed by both the business lobby and Burgess’ People for Seattle PAC, is poised to defeat Democratic Socialists of America candidate Shaun Scott by fewer than 1,400 votes.

Sawant’s swing was more dramatic, but for Scott to come so close in a district that is less than 3 percent African American—Scott is black—and with so much less money and institutional funding was a sign, perhaps, that District 4, which includes the University of Washington along with a number of higher-turnout precincts with views of Lake Washington and incomes to match, wasn’t entirely convinced by Pedersen and Burgess’ appeals to “Seattle Is Dying”-style populism. Or that students were compelled to actually turn out for a charismatic, hard-campaigning, issue-oriented socialist; we’ll know more once precinct-level data becomes available.

Egan Orion’s loss to incumbent Kshama Sawant has overshadowed Shaun Scott’s comeback in District 4.

2.  Council pushes back on Durkan’s budget: Before I left, the council had already indicated it planned to alter Mayor Jenny Durkan’s budget proposal pretty dramatically.

I reported on many of the changes back when they were still in the proposal stage, including:

• Amendments redirecting millions in proceeds from the sale of the Mercer Megablock to fund housing and bike lanes in South Seattle (which has no uninterrupted safe bike connections to downtown);

• A proviso requiring the Human Services Department to provide quarterly reports on what the encampment-clearing Navigation Team is up to;

• The elimination of funds to relocate a tiny house village in Georgetown that both neighbors and the city agree is working well;

• Cutting the size and scope of a proposed program that would help homeowners build second units and rent them out as moderate-income housing and requiring that the city do a race and social justice analysis of the proposal;

• Reducing or freezing funds for Durkan’s plans for dealing with “prolific offenders,” including a proposed expansion of probation;

Out of an unknown number of individuals contacted by the Navigation Team as the result of 124 officer calls, nine people “accepted” a referral to shelter, and an unknown number of those nine actually showed up at shelter.

• Repurposing some of the $3 million in soda tax revenues Durkan had proposed setting aside to fund capital improvements to P-Patches, including gardens in Ballard and Capitol Hill, for other initiatives to promote healthy food in low-income communities most impacted by the tax, and stipulating that any soda tax revenues that go to the P-Patch program must be spent in designated Healthy Food Priority Areas; and

ª $3.5 million in funding for the LEAD program, whose planned expansion Durkan did not propose funding. The new money, along with a $1.5 million grant from the Ballmer foundation, will allow the pre-arrest diversion program to manage its ever-expanding caseloads in the coming year.

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In addition, the council adopted a number of smaller-ticket items and placed conditions on some of the mayor’s spending proposals, including:

• A request that the Human Services Department survey service providers that provide case management to homeless clients who wear Bluetooth-enabled “beacons” provided by a company called Samaritan, which created an app enabling donors to read up on the personal stories of beacon wearers in the area and give money to businesses and agencies on their behalf. Homeless participants can access the donations in the form of goods or debit cards, and are required to participate in case management and report on their progress through the app. The proviso asks HSD to find out what kind of burden the app is placing on agencies that provide case management, since the company requires its clients to participate in case management but does not fund any actual case managers. Continue reading “Council Reshuffles Durkan’s Budget, Cop Encampment Training Led to Just Nine Shelter Referrals, and Shaun Scott’s Near-Win”

Sound Transit CEO Takes Election Vacation, Amazon’s Revisionist History, Stranger May Lease from ICE Landlord, and More

1. Tuesday night’s election was a major blow to cities like Seattle and transit agencies like King County Metro and Sound Transit, which will have to drastically cut back on long-planned capital projects and eliminate bus service if the statewide Initiative 976, which eliminated funding for transportation projects across the state, hold up in court.

The Puget Sound’s regional transit agency, Sound Transit, stands to lose up to $20 billion in future funding for light rail and other projects through 2041, forcing the agency to dramatically scale back its plans to extend light rail to West Seattle, Ballard, Tacoma and Everett.

So where was Sound Transit’s director, Peter Rogoff, as the election results rolled in?

On vacation in Provence, then at a conference on global health in Rwanda, which his wife, Washington Global Health Alliance CEO Dena Morris, is attending.

Rogoff posted on social media about his trip, which began while votes were being cast in late October and is still ongoing (Rogoff will return to work on Monday).

Screen shots from Rogoff’s Facebook page. On the right: The Sound Transit CEO displays Washington Nationals regalia in Provence.

 

Geoff Patrick, a spokesman for Sound Transit, said Rogoff took the trip to France because “he has not vacationed for a while,” and said the agency was in the “very capable” hands of deputy CEO Kimberly Farley. As for the women in health conference in Rwanda, Patrick said, “this is a conference that he wanted to attend with his wife and it’s an important conference,” adding that Rogoff was “attending the conference with every confidence that the agency is being well run” in his absence.

Asked what Farley, the deputy CEO, has done to reassure Sound Transit employees about the future of the agency in light of an election that could gut its funding, eliminating many jobs, Patrick said Farley emailed everyone on staff and told them to keep focusing on their work. “There’s no impact whatsoever [from Rogoff’s absence] to the agency’s operations,” Patrick said.

Rob Gannon, the general manager of King County Metro, reportedly visited all of Metro’s work sites in person to answer employee questions; I have a call out to Metro to confirm this.

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2. Amazon, the company that either did or did not buy Tuesday night’s election (or tried, only to have it backfire), has a sponsored article in the Seattle Times extolling the “revitalization” of South Lake Union. It began as follows:

In the late 19th century, Washington state was still largely untapped wilderness and the area surrounding Lake Union was modest and sparsely populated. Immigrants from Scandinavia, Greece and Russia, as well as East Coast Americans, traveled west to live in humble workers cottages as they sought their fortunes in coal, the new railway system, and a mill.

Amazon’s characterization of Washington as “largely untapped wilderness” waiting to be civilized by immigrants from Europe is jarring in 2019, when tribal-land acknowledgements are customary at public meetings and when most people living in Seattle are at least dimly aware that the West wasn’t actually vacant when “settlers” moved in.

I have reached out to Amazon and the Seattle Times and will update this post if I get more information about who wrote the sponsored piece.

For those who want to learn more about the past and present of the tribes that existed in what is now Washington state when Europeans arrived in the mid-19th century and are still here, here are a couple of helpful articles. One is from HistoryLink. The other is from the Seattle Times.

3. Council member Mike O’Brien, who raised his hand to co-sponsor council president Bruce Harrell’s proposal to fund an app-based homeless donation system created by a for-profit company called Samaritan, now says he’s “almost certain that [a $75,000 add to fund the company] will not be in the final budget.”

Amazon’s characterization of Washington as “largely untapped wilderness” waiting to be civilized by immigrants from Europe is jarring in 2019, when tribal-land acknowledgements are customary at public meetings and when most people living in Seattle are at least dimly aware that the West wasn’t actually vacant when “settlers” moved in.

The app equips people experiencing homelessness with Bluetooth-equipped “beacons” that send out a signal notifying people with the app where the person is. An app user can then read the person’s story—along with details of their mandatory visits with caseworkers, which may include medical and other personal information—and decide whether to “invest in” the person by adding funds to an account that can be used at a list of approved businesses. People can get “needed nutrition and goods” (tech-speak for groceries, apparently) at Grocery Outlet, for example, or “coffee and treats”  at the Chocolati Cafe in the downtown library. Continue reading “Sound Transit CEO Takes Election Vacation, Amazon’s Revisionist History, Stranger May Lease from ICE Landlord, and More”

Campaign Crank: Complaints and Accusations Fly in Final Week Before Election

Image via Phil Tavel PDC complaint

1. Egan Orion, the former Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce director who’s challenging District 3 City Council incumbent Kshama Sawant, has filed amended reports indicating that the campaign retroactively paid Uncle Ike’s pot shop owner Ian Eisenberg $500 a month for the use of a former Shell station owned by Eisenberg as its headquarters.

Under state and Seattle law, expenses like rent have to be reported in the same month in which they’re incurred, and the campaign treasurer has to update the campaign’s books to reflect expenditures within five days. After I broke the news that the campaign had not reported its use of the space as an expenditure, the campaign filed several amendments to its expenditure report, including two changes filed late last night.

The first amendment filed yesterday retroactively reported debts of $500 in rent for September and October—an amount that appears to be significantly below the average market rent for the area where the office is located, at 21st and Union in the Central District. (Olga Laskin, Orion’s campaign manager, said the office includes 350 square feet of “usable” space and was in poor condition when the campaign arrived. It has since been upgraded and painted with a large street-facing sign for the campaign.) The second change, filed as part of a report covering a longer time period 18 seconds later, reports the same $1000 as having been paid on October 28, along with another $500, presumably for November’s rent. One person has already filed a complaint at the state Public Disclosure Commission about the initial lack of reporting, which the campaign has called an oversight.

Eisenberg, who initially refused to comment on whether or how much he was charging the Orion campaign to use the space, has since gone on a Facebook rampage aimed at me and this website, calling me “fake news” for reporting factually (via Twitter) on the campaign’s use of the space he owns. (In his initial refusal to comment, Eisenberg politely told me that the rent he charges on the space was none of my business.) Failing to report an expenditure in a timely fashion, or undervaluing the office space, would amount to a campaign finance violation and could result in a fine. The Orion campaign has already paid one fine of $1,000 after the Public Disclosure Commission determined that the campaign had failed to report who paid for an ad it ran on the cover of the biweekly Stranger newspaper, as required under state campaign finance law.

The Orion campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

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2. Speaking of Eisenberg, the Central District and Capitol Hill business owner is one of the top five funders of a group called “District 1 Neighbors for Small Business,” which recently sent out a mailer that featured a list of “neighborhood mom & pop small local businesses” (including Uncle Ike’s) who are supporting Phil Tavel over incumbent council member Lisa Herbold. Eisenberg’s name appears on that list, with about 20 other people who either are not small business owners or who do not own businesses in the district. Eisenberg has an outlet called Ike’s Place in White Center, just outside Seattle city limits.

Also on Tavel’s list of small local businesses: Roger Valdez, a lobbyist for developers who does not live in the district; one of the owners of Smarty Pants and Hudson, two restaurants in council District 2; several partners at downtown Seattle law firms; Ryan Reese, one of the employee-owners of Pike Place Fish Market in downtown Seattle; and seven people who list their occupation as “retired.”

Besides Eisenberg, the top contributors to the District 1 Neighbors PAC are developer Dan Duffus; NUCOR PAC (the political arm of the local steel company); Seattle Hospitality for Progress (the political arm of the Seattle Hotel Association and the Seattle Restaurant Alliance); and Donna and Ken Olsen, who are retired). The top three contributors to the PAC contributors are Vulcan, the Washington Hospitality Association, and Hyatt hotels. Continue reading “Campaign Crank: Complaints and Accusations Fly in Final Week Before Election”

City Contractor Charged Homeless Men for Shelter; Orion Campaign Failed to Report Using Ike’s-Owned Office Space

1. Compass Housing Alliance, a nonprofit housing and shelter agency, was charging men $3 a night to sleep at the Blaine Center shelter on Denny Way until last month, when the city’s Human Services Department informed them that charging for shelter violated the expectations of their contract with the city.

The city became aware that Compass was charging shelter clients when a former shelter resident contacted council member Sally Bagshaw to complain. (The specific details of the resident’s claims are in dispute). Meg Olberding, a spokeswoman for HSD, says the department was unaware that Compass was charging its residents what amounted to $90 in monthly rent until officials talked with the Blaine Center client in late September. At that point, Olberding says, “we instructed Compass that charging a shelter fee was a violation of their contract expectations and that they must stop the practice immediately.  Secondarily we communicated an expectation that Compass refund every person in the shelter the entirety of the payments that have previously been collected.”

Compass’ chief advancement officer, Suzanne Sullivan, says the agency used the $3 nightly charge as “a teaching tool about managing finances” and says residents get the money back in the form of a check once they find permanent housing

Olberding says that every resident who paid money to stay at the Blaine Center—or other charities, such as the Millionair Club, that paid the fees on their behalf—was reimbursed in cash. “Since receiving the complaint, the HSD Contract Manager has spoken with Compass leadership to reflect the concerns that they are implementing rules and policies inconsistently,” Olberding adds.

Compass’ chief advancement officer, Suzanne Sullivan, says the agency used the $3 nightly charge as “a teaching tool about managing finances” and says residents get the money back in the form of a check once they find permanent housing. “A lot of people who are in Blaine Shelter are employed, so it was an element of helping them to figure out how to budget their money,” Sullivan says. She does not know precisely how long the Blaine Center has charged for shelter, but says that no one is turned away from Blaine Center if they don’t have the money to pay.

However, charging for shelter creates, at a minimum, the perception of a financial barrier that could lead unsheltered people who don’t know about the shelter’s fee waiver policy to stay away. And the promise that any nightly fees will be paid back in the future, if and when a person gets permanent housing, does not alleviate the burden of coming up with an extra $3 a day in the short term.

Most shelters do not charge fees or rent for service, and HSD says it is unaware of any other city contractor that does so. The Emerald City Resource Guide published by Real Change indicates that one other shelter charges for beds—the Bread of Life Mission men’s shelter (which charges $5 a night, according to the resource guide.

2. District 3 city council candidate Egan Orion’s campaign, which was just fined $1,000 for failing to properly identify the campaign as the sponsor of a controversial ad on the front cover of the Stranger, has failed to report its use of a property owned by Uncle Ike’s pot shop owner Ian Eisenberg as an in-kind contribution to the campaign, The C Is for Crank has learned. The campaign moved into a former Shell station owned by Eisenberg at 21st Ave. and East Union Street back in September. The free office space should have been reported either as an expenditure or an in-kind contribution by Eisenberg to the campaign.

City council contributions, including in-kind contributions, are limited to $250 for candidates participating in the city’s Democracy Voucher public-financing program (as Orion is). The Shell property has a taxable value of $1.8 million, according to King County Tax records. Kshama Sawant, the incumbent Orion is challenging in District 3, pays $1,558 a month to Madrona Apartments, LLC for her office space.

Orion campaign manager Olga Laskin says the campaign’s failure to report an expenditure or contribution for the use of Eisenberg’s space “was an oversight on the part of our treasurer. She is amending the C4 [expenditure report] so we should be set.” The campaign did not respond to a followup question about the fair-market value of the space. Wayne Barnett, the head of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, says that any campaign office space that has a fair-market value has to be reported as an expenditure or in-kind contribution.

Eisenberg responded to questions about Orion’s use of his space by saying, “I don’t think it is appropriate to talk about tenants and their leases.” In fact, state campaign-finance law requires campaigns to report all contributions and expenditures, including rent.

This article has been edited from its original version to remove a reference to the YWCA charging women to stay at the Angeline’s Center enhanced shelter. A representative from the group contacted me to say that the information in the Real Change Emerald City Resource Guide linked above is inaccurate, and that some residents voluntarily put 30% of their incomes into savings accounts held by the agency.

KIRO RV Reporter Out, Big Money Swamps Seattle Mailboxes, and Where Is the 2019 Parking Study?

1. KIRO Radio program director Bryan Buckalew confirms that Carolyn Ossorio—the reporter who posted a video of herself entering and walking through a trailer that was parked in front of city council member Lisa Herbold’s house without the owner’s permission—is no longer with the station. A source close to the station told The C Is for Crank that Ossorio was fired for the stunt, which Ossorio performed at the behest of conservative KIRO personality Dori Monson.

Monson, who praised listeners who showed up at Herbold’s house, “protested” outside the RV, and covered it with spray-painted slogans including “DORI FOR PRESIDENT,” has not apologized for encouraging his listeners to vandalize and break into the vehicle and is still on the air.

The day before the RV appeared, Monson had unsuccessful District 2 city council candidate Ari Hoffman on his show. In that conversation, the two men endorsed the idea of parking locked, garbage-filled RVs in front of council members’ homes to drive the point home that “drug RVs” were destroying Seattle. When the RV showed up at Herbold’s house, Monson assumed it was in response to his radio show, calling it a welcome sign that people were “fed up with Seattle leadership.” “I had nothing to do with this,” Monson insisted. “But am I enjoying it immensely? Yes, I am. I can’t hide that.”

Monson, who praised “protesters” who showed up at Herbold’s house and covered the RV with spray-painted slogans including “DORI FOR PRESIDENT,” has not apologized for encouraging his listeners to vandalize and break into the vehicle and is still on the air.

KIRO Radio sent Ossario to the scene, where she talked to “protesters” and neighbors who, she said, supported the “protest.” This is when she filmed herself walking through the RV, which had been locked, and making disparaging contents about its contents. “The council has trashed the beautiful city I grew up in, and reduced it to being a haven for heroin addicts and meth-heads,” Monson said. “Now at least one person has said that enough is enough.”

There was just one problem with Monson’s narrative: The trailer, it turned out, was owned not by a “protester” but by a pregnant woman and her partner, who had parked it temporarily near a relative’s house and were planning to move it to a campground outside the city. When the woman, Briar Rose Williams, showed up at the trailer, someone threw a bottle at her and threatened her with a knife, the Seattle Times reported.

Monson never apologized for the stunt. Instead, he invited Williams and her family onto his show, where he peeled a hundred-dollar bill from his money clip (saying, “here’s a hunski”) and told her to split it with her partner and godfather. “You seem to understand the irony and the exquisite, delicious, unbelievable odds of parking it in front of a Seattle city council member’s house!” Monson declared, adding, “That hundred dollars is for baby food!”

2. In the final few weeks before election day, mailboxes around the city are filling up with mailers from independent groups backed by big money from business, labor, and other interest groups. Here’s how those groups are spending the millions they’ve collectively amassed to influence Seattle’s local elections:

• Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce PAC, has raised well over $2 million ($1.45 million of it from Amazon). In the last two weeks, it has turned that money into nearly $900,000 worth of canvassing, TV ads, direct mail, and phone banking calls on behalf of Heidi Wills (D6), Jim Pugel (D7), Phil Tavel (D1), Egan Orion (D3), Mark Solomon (D2) and Debora Juarez (D5). Those numbers are listed in descending order based on how much CASE has spent on each candidate.

• Civic Alliance for a Progressive Economy, a labor-backed group that presents itself as an antidote to CASE, has spent a much smaller amount—less than $125,000 so far—supporting (again in descending order) Dan Strauss (D6), Lisa Herbold (D1), Tammy Morales (D2), Shaun Scott (D4) and Kshama Sawant (D3).

People for Seattle, the PAC formed by former city council member Tim Burgess, just spent more than $350,000 on direct mail and TV ads supporting Heidi Wills, Egan Orion, Alex Pedersen, Jim Pugel, Mark Solomon, Phil Tavel, and Debora Juarez.

Moms for Seattle, which bombarded voters with Photoshopped mailers of playgrounds filled with tents and trash during the primary election, has made just a couple of major spends in the general—$15,000 each to support Jim Pugel and Heidi Wills. The group had only about $25,000 in the bank as of mid-October, and has raised around $30,000 since then.

• Neighborhoods for Smart Streets, the PAC formed by activists who opposed (and ultimately killed) a long-planned protected bike lane on 35th Ave. NE in Wedgwood, spent $7,000 on mail backing Debora Juarez and $20,000 on mail supporting Alex Pedersen in District 4.

• Pedersen also got $11,000 in support from the Seattle Displacement Coalition-backed People for Affordable Livable Seattle, whose members have opposed development and upzoning in the University District. Continue reading “KIRO RV Reporter Out, Big Money Swamps Seattle Mailboxes, and Where Is the 2019 Parking Study?”

Election Crank: Three Weeks Out

I’ll be rolling out my remaining city council candidate interviews, with Phil Tavel, Mark Solomon, and Debora Juarez, this week. (Kshama Sawant and Alex Pedersen did not respond to repeated requests to sit down for an interview, and Ann Davison Sattler canceled our interview and has not yet responded to a request to reschedule.)

In the meantime, a quick roundup of campaign news from the past week:

• Heidi Wills, the former city council member who’s running to represent District 6, held a fundraiser last week that was hosted by a who’s who of anti-Burke Gilman Trail, anti-transit, anti-authorized encampment, and anti-worker interests, along with some elected officials and neighborhood activists.

Among the sponsors:

Pacific Merchant Shipping Association director Jordan Royer, who was a spokesman for Save 35th, the group that fought to kill a planned bike lane on 35th Ave. NE  in Wedgwood;

Sonja Foster, the former vice president of Enterprise Washington and current Seattle director of the Associated General Contractors, which gave $25,000 to the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee. AGC is currently suing to overturn the state’s new prevailing wage law;

Eugene Wasserman, president of the anti-Burke Gilman Trail North Seattle Industrial Association, which sued to stop the Move Seattle transit initiative; 

Ballard Alliance director Mike Stewart, who once called on Ballard residents and businesses to  flood the city’s Find It Fix It app with reports of homeless encampments; and

Former Seattle Times reporter Marty McOmber, who organized a meeting for people opposed to a city-authorized encampment in Ballard and created a petition blaming current District 6 council member Mike O’Brien for homelessness and crime in Ballard.

Both Wills and her opponent, Dan Strauss, oppose completing the Missing Link of the Burke-Gilman trail as originally planned; Wills wants to go back to the drawing board and build an elevated pathway, while Strauss supports a plan, endorsed by the business-backed group whose court challenges have stalled the trail’s completion for years, to add a bike lane to Leary Way in lieu of the trail.

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Sorry to interrupt your reading, but THIS IS IMPORTANT. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation, supported entirely—and I mean entirely— by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going. I can’t do this work without support from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly subscriptions allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

• As I mentioned above, District 4 council candidate Alex Pedersen did not respond to my repeated requests to sit down for an interview. Turns out I’m in good company: Pedersen has failed to appear at a number of events, and respond to a number of questionnaires by, groups ranging from the Seattle Human Services Coalition to the Seattle Police Officers Guild. Laura Loe Bernstein of Share the Cities has been keeping a running tally.

The groups Pedersen has failed to respond to also include the MASS Coalition (Pedersen skipped their forum); Citizens for a Progressive Economy, sponsored by Working Washington, OneAmerica, and other progressive groups (Pedersen did not respond to their questionnaire); Rooted in Rights and Disability Rights Washington (Pedersen skipped their forum); and Seattle Subway and the Urbanist (Pedersen did not respond to their questionnaires). Continue reading “Election Crank: Three Weeks Out”

Durkan’s Comms Director To Depart; Mayor’s $250,000 General Submits One-Pager on What He Does All Day; and HSD Expects Long Contract Delays

Buried in paper: A screen shot from one of several PowerPoints and memos provided to city council members in response to the question, ““Please provide the official job title, job description, salary and source of funding for the Director of Citywide Mobility Operations. Please describe the position’s responsibilities, accomplishments and anticipated deliverables.”

1. Mark Prentice, a spokesman for Mayor Jenny Durkan who served as her communications director for the past year, is leaving Durkan’s office before the end of the year to “explor[e]opportunities to elect Democrats in 2020 and continue advocating for the issues we all care about,” according to an internal email from Durkan’s chief of staff, Stephanie Formas.

Prentice joined the mayor’s office after working for the developer Vulcan; prior to that, he (like Formas) worked for various Democrats in Washington, D.C. “Anyone who has worked with Mark knows it’s a 24/7 job that has meant countless early mornings, late nights, and weekends. I can’t think of a dull moment or a slow week, and Mark and the entire Communications Team have been critical to our major accomplishments,” Formas wrote.

The city has already advertised Prentice’s job, which pays between $102,458 and $169,023, on the Government Jobs hiring website.

Many of these departments have little or nothing to do with traffic management, and the job of reforming the city’s overall management strategy appears nowhere in Worden’s official job duties.

2. As the city council debates Mayor Durkan’s budget, one very specific line item has sparked several council members’ interest: The $200,000 position of “mobility operations director,” created for retired Air Force general Mike Worden, who was one of the runners-up for Seattle Department of Transportation director. (Worden, whose salary is partly funded with SDOT dollars, reports directly to Durkan.) Late last month, several council members asked for more details about what Worden (whom city staffers have been instructed to call “the General”) actually does; as I reported in August, his official schedule consists largely of “out and about time” during which the mayor’s office told me Worden is riding transit and talking to riders and drivers. “Not to say that work is not happening, but I am not aware of any of the work,” council member Mike O’Brien said.

Support The C Is for Crank
Sorry to interrupt your reading, but THIS IS IMPORTANT. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation, supported entirely—and I mean entirely— by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going. I can’t do this work without support from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly subscriptions allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

During that meeting, city budget director Ben Noble said the executive had provided O’Brien with a memo describing some of Worden’s specific duties, prompting council members Sally Bagshaw, Lisa Herbold, and Lorena Gonzalez to ask for a public discussion of that information, which they had not seen. Since then, I requested and received copies of what the mayor’s office provided as evidence that Worden’s position is a full-time job that merits his $200,000 salary ($250,000 when benefits are included). For reference, here is Worden’s job description:

And here is the memo Worden produced with examples of his work so far, along with PowerPoints and other documents related to the items on his list. The one-page list—which does not purport to be comprehensive— includes the following four items:

• Writing a memorandum of understanding for traffic incident and congestion management that “updated, sharpened and expanded to other Departments who respond to incidents, to ensure they all get necessary training” in traffic incident response;

• Co-writing a grant with the state Department of Transportation and the University of Washington for a statewide “Virtual Coordination Center” aimed at improving responses to traffic incidents.

• Implementing a “Lean/Six Sigma initiative throughout the city,” starting with SDOT, the Parks Department, Seattle Public Utilities, Seattle City Light, the Department of Information Technology, the Department of Finance and Administrative Services, and Human Resources, according to a PowerPoint included with the memo. Many of these departments have little or nothing to do with traffic management, and the job of reforming the city’s overall management strategy appears nowhere in Worden’s official job duties. In a memo included in the PowerPoint,, deputy mayor Mike Fong says Worden was tapped for this job because of his “considerable private sector and governmental experience in process improvement techniques.”

Buried in jargon: A screen shot from a PowerPoint about Gen. Worden’s “Lean/Six Sigma” training for eight city departments, which is not listed in his official job description or duties as the city’s Director of Mobility Operations.

• “Informal activities” related to the “Seattle Squeeze,” including “government wide debriefs and prebriefs with the City’s Private Sector” and meeting periodically with representatives from other government agencies.

Also included on this “informal activities” list: Riding transit throughout the city, an activity that made up the plurality of his official schedule.

3. According to an October 3 memo from the risk manager for the Human Services Department, “2019 review of contracts are and will be significantly delayed,” after the departure of the last remaining member of the HSD’s contract review unit, which ensures that contracts between the city and nonprofit service providers are legally compliant and accurate. “We are hoping to have a plan in place very soon,” the memo says.

The department decided to dismantle the office that reviewed provider contracts earlier this year in an effort to reallocate funding to  “reducing operational burdens on providers.” With the departure of the contract review specialist Joanna Armstrong, whose last day was Friday, the department has no one left whose full-time job consists of reviewing contracts and ensuring that they’re ready to go out the door.

The contract review unit (known as the Leadership and Administration Contracts Unit, or LADCU), was put in charge of contract compliance after a scathing state audit in 2014 concluded that HSD lacked “adequate controls” to monitor how contracts were being written or how human service providers were spending the money they received from the city. The audit found that the city did not “consistently verify the information it receives” from nonprofit human service providers or keep records adequate to ensure that public dollars were being spent appropriately by providers.

Long-term, the city plans to devolve the job of ensuring contract compliance to various department staffers who are already working other jobs, including contract specialists who write—but don’t currently review—contracts as well as others who have not been trained in contract compliance. Short-term, the lack of contract reviewers will likely mean funding delays for human service providers who rely on city funding to pay their staff and serve their clients.

Questions About Local Autonomy and Cost-Sharing at Homelessness Authority, SPD Hires KOMO Cop Reporter, and More

Emoji org chart: What staffing at the new regional authority homelessness will look like, as depicted by the consultant who helped design the plan

1. Two meetings about the proposed regional homelessness authority last week highlighted new potential fault lines between the city and county in negotiating the structure and funding of the new authority—one concerning the kind of services the new authority will provide, and one having to do with who will pay for it.

Suburban King County cities that would become a part of the authority have made it clear they’re concerned that the new body will be too “Seattle-centric”—an understandable concern given that just one member of the steering committee that oversees the body will be from a to-be-determined member of the Sound Cities Association, a group of suburban King County cities. (Under the proposal, another suburban representative could join the board once 20 suburban cities join the regional authority). A related but distinct concern is that suburban cities may not want to handle homelessness the way Seattle does, by offering services for as long as it takes and providing harm reduction as an alternative to mandatory treatment and imposed abstinence for people with addiction.

From the perspective of a city like Kent, where outreach workers say police have a zero-tolerance policy for sleeping in visible public areas, the tactics of  Seattle’s Navigation Team—which removes encampments but doesn’t arrest people for living on the street or force them to “accept” services, treatment, and housing—may seem like mushy-hearted liberalism at its worst. At last week’s King County Board of Health meeting, King County Council member Kathy Lambert, whose district includes Duvall, North Bend, and Snoqualmie, said she won’t support the regional authority “until I see a plan that acknowledges that each part of of this county has a very different idea of where they want to be and what they want to look like, and I’m not seeing that yet.”

Support The C Is for Crank
Sorry to interrupt your reading, but THIS IS IMPORTANT. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation, supported entirely—and I mean entirely— by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going. I can’t do this work without support from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time contribution via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

On the flip side, at a meeting of the Seattle City Council’s special committee on homelessness last Friday, city council president Bruce Harrell asked whether the Navigation Team, which (as I reported earlier this month) is not moving over to the new authority, will expand its operations outside the city or otherwise coordinate with other cities who have employees doing similar encampment-clearing functions. (In reality, the Navigation Team is fairly unique regionally and the equivalent agency in most other cities is the police). “I assumed we were trying to model some consistency overall—am I missing something?” Harrell asked.

Tess Colby, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s homelessness advisor, responded that the charter creating the new authority will allow for “subregional planning, which is a way for the regional authority to engage in the various regions across the county and be in dialogue about what homelessness looks like in different parts of the region and how it’s being addressed.” Specifically, the charter says that the kinds of services each sub-region of the county can vary depending on “local needs, priorities, and solutions.”

2. The other issue that came up this week was whether the city of Seattle might be paying more than its fair share of the cost to set up and, at least initially, fund the authority. The numbers HSD director Jason Johnson and National Innovation Service consultant Marc Dones presented to the council committee on Friday showed the city spending $1 million in startup costs next year (and $282,000 in “ongoing costs” beginning the year after that), including more than $800,000 in moving and office costs and $130,000 for a headhunter to find the $217,000-a-year executive director for the new authority. The city would also be responsible for paying that director’s salary, plus the salaries of his or her chief of staff ($166,000 in 2021), two deputy directors ($189,000 each), and a human resources manager ($163,000).

“I’m concerned that city paying all the costs in that first year is going to create an expectation” that the city will continue to pay all the costs in the future, city council member Lisa Herbold said. “You say that there’s an expectation that there’s going to be future cost sharing around the costs of personnel, and I don’t see that indicated anywhere.

The county, in contrast, would contribute tenant improvements in the county-owned Yesler Building, where the new authority will be located, and provide free rent, at a total value of about $1 million for “tenant improvements” and $455,000 for the use of the sixth floor of the building, which has been vacant. (Seattle Department of Human Resources director Bobby Humes described the tenant improvements as “wifi, new paint, a conference room [and] an ample restroom environment,” among other things.)

“I’m concerned that city paying all the costs in that first year is going to create an expectation” that the city will continue to pay all the costs in the future, council member Lisa Herbold told Johnson on Friday. “You say that there’s an expectation that there’s going to be future cost sharing around the costs of personnel, and I don’t see that indicated anywhere. I think that’s something that would be important to memorialize.” Council member Sally Bagshaw added that she wasn’t sure the city should be spending $130,000 for a headhunter to do a national search for the director of the new authority. “I have to say that I would rather have somebody local,” she said. “I would frankly rather have a team that knows people who are already working in our city, county, and region.”

Other issues that came up Friday included the need for human service provider representation on the board that will actually govern the new authority, the fact that capital funding for permanent supportive housing is supposed to stay with the city while operating funds for that same housing move to the new authority, and when people can actually start moving into the new building—Johnson said it will be “ready” in December, but that because “December is a heavy month for many of our employees” the actual move won’t happen until March.

3. KOMO police-beat reporter Jennifer Sullivan, who previously covered the police department for the Seattle Times, has taken a job as a strategic advisor in the  Seattle Police Department, The C Is for Crank has learned.  An SPD spokesman would not comment about how the department decided to hire the former reporter, and a mayoral spokeswoman told me the mayor had nothing to do with the hire—even emphasizing in a followup email, “the Mayor’s Office was not involved in the hiring of Jennifer Sullivan.” According to the most recent Seattle employee salary database, Sullivan is making just under $120,000 a year.

Sullivan’s recent stories for KOMO have included pieces on slow 911 response times, recruitment problems at SPD, and police officers’ efforts to get raises in their recent contract, which some reform advocates now want to reopen. Sullivan’s husband, according to a 2018 Seattle Refined profile, is a police officer in Lynnwood .

Sullivan did not respond to a request for comment; her LinkedIn and Twitter pages still identify her as a KOMO reporter.

4. 

One-Way Tickets Out of Town, Tiny House Villages’ Future In Question, and a Poll Asks, Hey, Did You Know Sawant Is a Socialist?

1. Reagan Dunn, a Republican King County Council member who has been vocal in his opposition to a proposal to merge Seattle and King County’s homelessness agencies, told me last week that one of his concerns about the plan was that it would be responsible for implementing the same policies he believes have failed at reducing homelessness, including lenient “Seattle-centric” policies like the (basically moribund) plan to open a safe drug consumption site in King County and county prosecutor Dan Satterburg’s decision not to prosecute people for simple drug possession. On Tuesday, he proposed a few policies he thinks will work better.

The first proposal would allocate at least a million dollars a year for bus tickets to send homeless people to “reunite” with family members out of town—as long as those family members don’t live in King or any adjacent county. These “Homeward Bound” programs have had mixed success, both at getting homeless people to go somewhere else and actually reuniting people with their families; according to a 2017 Guardian investigation, there’s often little tracking of what happens to homeless people once they’re sent away, and little way of knowing if they’ve been reunited with loved ones or simply become some other city’s problem. “Seattle has nothing like [Homeward Bound] and we’ve become a dead-end street,” Dunn says. “Sometimes you have to have a tough-love solution.”

Support The C Is for Crank
Sorry to interrupt your reading, but THIS IS IMPORTANT. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation, supported entirely—and I mean entirely— by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going. I can’t do this work without support from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

Surveys of people experiencing homelessness in King County consistently show that the overwhelming majority—84 percent of those surveyed as part of the 2019 point-in-time count—lived (in housing) in King County before becoming homeless.

Dunn’s other two proposals would set up a county team to do outreach to homeless people in Metro bus shelters and on buses (two of the principle places people without homes go to get dry and warm), and a plan to notify opiate prescribers when a patient dies of an opiate-related overdose.

Dunn says he thinks the proposed new regional body, which would be governed by a board of “experts” that would not include any elected officials, would be “unaccountable to the public” and could siphon funding away from King County’s other cities to Seattle. He may not be alone. County Council members Dave Upthegrove and Rod Dembowski, both Democrats, are reportedly on the fence, and Bellevue Democrat Claudie Balducci expressed some misgivings last week. The county’s regional policy committee, which includes members from many of the cities that were not included in the plan, meets to discuss the proposal this afternoon.

The language is so similar to the verbiage on People For Seattle’s vitriolic, often highly misleading primary election direct mail pieces (particularly that “back to basics,” anti-“ideology” stuff) that I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is their poll.

2. A lawsuit by the group Safe Seattle that sought to shut down a “tiny house village” in South Lake Union was rejected just as the city announced plans to extend the permits for the three officially temporary villages—in Othello, Georgetown, and West Seattle—for six more months. But the future of these “tiny house” encampments is still in question.

The three villages originally supposed to move after two years, but their permits have been extended twice, and it’s unclear whether the Human Services Department has a long-term plan for what to do with them after the extensions are up. (When I asked HSD about the future of the villages, a spokeswoman initially said they would have something to announce “soon,” then pointed me to the agency’s blog post about the six-month extension.) Continue reading “One-Way Tickets Out of Town, Tiny House Villages’ Future In Question, and a Poll Asks, Hey, Did You Know Sawant Is a Socialist?”