Category: Women

From Medium: I Was a “Fun” Drunk. Until I Wasn’t.

This piece, which has been lightly edited for sexual content, originally appeared on Medium. It was inspired by the responses to Susan Orlean’s recent series of tweets about getting wasted, which were celebrated by thousands of people and featured the following day in a laudatory piece in the Washington Post.

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When I quit drinking, there was no one around to suggest that I didn’t have a problem.

My friends were gone. My family was distant. My world consisted of an elliptical path between the grocery store, the bus stop, and the 600 square feet of my apartment, full of dirty dishes and half-eaten pizzas and empty bottles shoved into suitcases in the closet in case anyone dropped by.

My drinking took me to that point. But it didn’t start that way. Instead, like many women in their 20s, I started drinking because I wanted to fit in — at work, where everyone seemed so much older and more sophisticated, and in my social circle, which came to consist mostly of other drinkers—women who could shut down the bar, take a guy home, and wipe away the hangover with a few Bloody Marys in the morning.

It wasn’t just that no one ever told me they thought I might have a drinking problem — my drinking, like that of many young women, was celebrated, and the more over-the-top my behavior was, the more “fun” people considered me to be. I remember one night, out at a dive bar called the Jade Pagoda, when I danced on a table while my coworkers cheered, then made out with one of those coworkers on that same table while they cheered some more. What I learned from that experience, and from countless others, was that people liked me more when I was drunk and “fun.” For years, I took the lesson to heart.

I was fun. Until I wasn’t.

The parameters of acceptable femininity are wide enough to accommodate women who have “funny” meltdowns or who take their tops off or who sleep through Sundays. They don’t have room for women who lash out when they’re drunk, or who wonder whether they really gave their consent, or who say, in so many words: “This isn’t fun. Stop clapping. I need help.”

In all that time, no one ever suggested that I might consider taking a break from drinking. Why would they? Women who act out in a certain way — by being a certain acceptable type of “messy,” the type that isn’t too picky about men’s behavior and cracks jokes about her drinking (“Drinking problem” always worked when I spilled my cocktail) and laughs uproariously — are celebrated. Everyone loves a “fun” girl, a “cool” mom, a “wacky” older lady with a martini in hand. (Note that these parameters are not just gendered but aged — a 60-year-old throwing herself at young men is seen as pathetic, while a “wine mommy” who heads out to the bar while her husband takes care of the kid is irresponsible; why isn’t she celebrating “wine o’clock” at home?).

The parameters of acceptable femininity are wide enough to accommodate women who have “funny” meltdowns or who take their tops off or who sleep through Sundays. They don’t have room for women who lash out when they’re drunk, or who wonder whether they really gave their consent, or who say, in so many words: “This isn’t fun. Stop clapping. I need help.”

Women who fall into addiction — a neurological, psychological, and physical brain disorder that many people still consider the result of personal failings — are not celebrated. Strangers don’t show up to cheer when you pass out on the sidewalk, or check yourself into treatment, or say “I need help,” although addictions that lead to these behaviors tend to start benignly, with the kind of drinking women are socially permitted to do.

I thought about all this when celebrated writer Susan Orlean posted a series of increasingly incoherent tweets on Friday night, in which she acknowledged being “falling-down drunk,” embarrassing her husband in front of their neighbors, and apparently infuriating her family. “I am@being shunned by my family because I am drunk. Yes ok I am fine with that FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING FUCKERS,” she wrote. As I write this, the most recent responses — of thousands in this vein — are “Cheers to you!! This is definitely not the right time to be sober(within reason)I’m having a few with you!!,” “How wasn’t I following you until now? Best 2020 Friday night entertainment” and “Hey Family, leave her alone! Let the girl drink and tweet! 😜. Got your back”

These people piling praise onto a celebrity’s timeline are ostensibly “celebrating” Orlean for “living her best life,” as many of them put it. But in reality, they’re projecting a narrative that’s as American as Lucille Ball.

We celebrate women — particularly famous women — when they embarrass themselves, or get falling-down-drunk, or go on harmless-seeming tirades against their families. “No one on my house is talking to me right now ok!! YeH whatever I hzte you too.” We stop celebrating them when their behavior tips over into problematic territory — when Britney shaves her head, or Lindsay passes out in her Mercedes. Being a “fun” drunk is a trap, but you won’t know that until you get down off the bar, or stop live-tweeting your life like it’s a sitcom, or say something publicly that’s just a no-two-ways-about-it bummer, like expressing shame, helplessness, or regret. Watch how fast the crowds dissipate then.

Read the rest of this essay on Medium.

Exclusive: Times Reporter Rosenberg Resigns In Wake of Harassment Allegation

Mike Rosenberg, the Seattle Times real estate reporter who was suspended last month after sending unsolicited sexually explicit messages to a New York-based writer named Talia Jane, has resigned, The C Is for Crank has learned. (Update at 11:20am: The Times has confirmed Rosenberg’s resignation; statement below). The news went out to Times staffers in an email yesterday, which reportedly included no additional details such as whether Rosenberg had been asked to leave or information about an investigation the Times said it was undertaking back in May.

On May 5, Jane posted a thread about Rosenberg’s messages, which began as banal encouragement and career advice and escalated into a series of increasingly inappropriate come-ons (3:10am: “Anyway you’re so beautiful”; 3:13am: “Anyway you are hilarious”), culminating in a message at 3:55am that read, “there is so much cum on your face.” (Jane apparently stopped responding around 2:56 am, with a message about the media environment in New York.) After Jane said she was going to take the messages public, Rosenberg responded, further screen shots show, by claiming that the DMs weren’t intended for Jane, then offering to donate to the National Organization for Women in exchange for her silence.

“Being a woman is totally normal and very cool,” Jane wrote.

Contacted for comment on Rosenberg’s resignation, Jane said, “Every freelancer, new voice and marginalized body has experienced instances where power imbalances are abused [t]o the extent that someone saying ‘This isn’t appropriate or acceptable’ comes as a shock. Calling out inappropriate behavior shouldn’t be shocking. It should be standard. As the dust settles, I hope what is remembered of this situation is the importance of identifying inappropriate behavior and not laughing it off or pretending you didn’t see it, but rejecting it point blank. I hope Mike’s decision to resign leads him toward a happier, healthier future, however that may manifest.”

The Times has been very tight-lipped about the Rosenberg situation, limiting its comments to a brief statement: “The Seattle Times has been made aware of allegations of sexual harassment earlier today against a newsroom employee. We take these kinds of allegations very seriously and have suspended the employee pending an investigation by our human resources group.” In a break with the longstanding newspaper tradition of the media reporting on its own scandals, the Times did not assign anyone to report on the Rosenberg story.

Lindsay Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Times, confirmed that Rosenberg has resigned. ” As referenced in our previous comment, we did initiate and complete an investigation into this matter. We are not disclosing details of those findings as it is a personnel matter handled directly by our human resources group,” Taylor said. “As to our efforts regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, we are, as we have always been, committed to fostering a respectful workplace.  The behavior of one individual among our more than 600 employees is not reflective of our culture.  We have continued to invest in training and elevate awareness of our employee assistance program for counseling consultations as needed.  We will continue to be responsive to employee needs around this issue.”

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“You Uppity F*cking Bitch”: The Response to the Viral Public Comment Video Was Predictable and Avoidable

A couple of weeks ago, a video of the city council’s public hearing period went viral, spurred on by local conservative media and amplified by national right-wing talk show and podcast hosts. The video showed a man, Richard Schwartz, asking council member Debora Juarez, who was chairing the meeting, to stop the two-minute timer so that he could address her directly about the fact that the council didn’t seem to be listening to him with the kind of rapt attention he felt he deserved. Schwartz, who has met one-on-one with council members and complains to them frequently about cyclists going “too fast” in the Westlake bike lane, was breaking the public-comment rule that requires commenters to speak to items on the agenda; I’ve watched the council for a long time and seen them cut off many people’s mics over many years for violating this rule, but they didn’t do so in this case. (If you want to know more about Schwartz’s pet issue, KUOW did a  piece about him two days after his viral public comment). Instead, Juarez told him the clock was running and said he had her attention. Once the two-minute video clip started to spread via Facebook and Reddit, of course, none of that context mattered. The only thing many people saw was a kindly old man begging for attention from a bunch of rude government officials, mostly women, who ignored his sincere pleas for “just two minutes” of their attention.

That part was predictable: Right-wing bloviators love to crow about government (particularly liberal governments) not listening to the little guy. But so was what happened next: A torrent of abusive phone calls and emails from around the country, directly primarily at Juarez but also at every woman of color on the council, including one who was not even at the meeting. This was predictable because it’s basically what happened the last time the women on the council did something controversial. Last time, the council’s five female members voted against vacating a public alley for would-be stadium developer Chris Hansen. This time, they failed to pay sufficiently rapt attention to an older white man who was demanding that they hang on his every off-topic word.

I went through more than 1,000 emails that poured into council offices over the five-day period when the video was at its viral peak. Strung together and put into 12-point type, they made a 216-page Word document more than 130,000 words long. Some of the abusive emails went to subsets of the council, or to every council member (including the two, Bruce Harrell and Teresa Mosqueda) who weren’t there. Many others were targeted specifically at the female council members. In fact, more emails were addressed explicitly to Mosqueda—who, again was not even at the meeting—than to Mike O’Brien, who was.

In reading the emails, a few themes emerge. The first is sexist name-calling, most of it targeted at Juarez, who is referred to as “that cunt”; “a vile piece of trash”; “an entitled bitch”; an “uppity bitch” whose “ugly ass really should pay more attention to the citizens immediately in front if [sic] you, instead of looking up recipes for tortillas”; “A grotty, lazy, rude good for nothing stereotype”; a “disrespectful bitch”; a “vile old clam”; an “ugly fucking cow”; a “fat disgusting cow”; “the literal scum of the earth” whose “dusty old bones will most likely fill up all 6 feet of space [in her coffin] just by itself”; a “bitch” who should “suck my fucking dick,” and a variety of other slurs. Writers also targeted council member Kshama Sawant with sexist and racist slurs, including “a truly revolting individual and a cancer that plagues the Jewel of the Pacific Northwest”; a “racist hypocrite against the usa [sic] worthless politician”; a “piece of shit” “fucking Muslim” who should “go back to your ducking [sic] country”; and, of course, a bitch. Callers to Gonzalez’s office left messages saying she “should honestly get the fuck out of this country because you don’t belong here”; that she should “go fuck yourself, you fucking piece of shit”; and calling her “a vile and disgusting load of shit, you fucking bitch.”

Other themes: The council is being racist and sexist against Schwartz because he’s a white man (“Are you a bunch of misandrist [sic] (look that word up dummies) or just a bunch of chauvinist [sic] that are sticking up for the women but, really attacking men?.”); “I am appalled at your callous and arrogant demeanor toward the white male CITIZEN”); “Kiss America’s Ass & My White Male Veteran Ass. Now sit your Fat Ass Down.” They’re “arrogant” (a word that shows up 38 times in the emails), “entitled” (22) “elitists” (20) because they’re “Democrats” (or “Demo-craps” or “DEMON-CRAT[s]!!!!!” or “DemocRATs”). And they deserve to be “hit,” “slapped,” have someone “beat the fuck out of them” because of the way they acted. These comments, while sometimes directed at the entire council, were most often directed at Juarez, and often tended to be gendered, suggesting that while the entire council may be “DEMON-CRATS,” only the women on the council needed to be told (as Juarez was) that they are “Smug, elitist, dismissive, bored, annoyed, ignorant and ugly both inside and out.”

 

People often wonder why more women don’t go into politics, and there are many reasons—sexist double standards that require women to “prove ourselves” capable of roles men are assumed to be able to do by default; sexist societal expectations that make women primary parents, caregivers, housecleaners, and errand runners even in “progressive” cities like Seattle; gendered ageism that says that women are too young to be effective right up until the moment that they’re too old to be relevant. But the fact that women in public office are far more likely face threats, harassment, and gender-based verbal abuse is another reason, one we shouldn’t just ignore. In the weeks since the initial burst of hate speech that a staffer described as “the hurricane,” the media has moved on and the cameras (many of them trained directly on Juarez, demanding “answers to the questions” people commenting on the video were raising) have gone away. But we shouldn’t just ignore these attacks, or say the female council members “knew what they were signing up for”—or, as some members of the Seattle media did, fan the flames in order to juice our own ratings or clicks. Putting up with sexist, racist harassment and gender-based threats shouldn’t be a job requirement at any workplace, particularly one where women have to work three times as hard to be taken half as seriously.

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Durkan’s Proposed Budget Adds Funding for Cops, Congestion Pricing, and Buses, But Not for Safe Consumption or New Spending on Homelessness

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s $5.9 billion budget proposes hiring 40 net new police officers, funds shelter and rental-assistance programs that had been at risk of being cut while keeping overall homeless funding basically flat, and dramatically increases transportation spending, at least on paper—the $130 million in new funding consists primarily of unspent funds from the Move Seattle levy, which is currently undergoing a “reset” because the city can’t pay for everything it promised when voters passed the levy in 2015. The new transportation funding includes funding 100,000 new Metro service hours, including “microtransit” shuttles to bring riders to the ends of the existing RapidRide lines and to the water taxi in West Seattle. Those additional hours will require Metro to  work overtime to add buses, drivers, and bus parking capacity, but Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer says the 100,000 hours were also included in the King County budget that County Executive Dow Constantine transmitted yesterday, as part of a total increase of 177,000 hours of bus service over the next two years.

City budget director Ben Noble said that if the city wanted to significantly increase spending on homelessness, “that is going to have to happen through reprioritizing [funding] or some as-yet-unidentified source of revenues.” Alison Eisinger, director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, says that, given the ongoing homelessness crisis, “it is unconscionable to put forward a biennial budget … without additional resources for housing.”

The budget would also eliminate about 150 mostly vacant positions, eliminate funding for 217 basic shelter beds provided by the group SHARE after June of next year, fund a new city “ombud” independent from the Human Resources Department, to help employees in city department navigate the process of filing harassment or discrimination claims, and pay police officers $65 million in retroactive pay and benefits from the four years when they were working without a union contract. Officers, Durkan said, have “gone without even a raise but also [without] a [cost of living adjustment]. There hasn’t been pay raise since the beginning of 2014, so that’s four years of pay increases. …  You can get to seemingly large sums really quickly.”

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In contrast, the budget proposes making an “inflationary increase adjustment” to what it pays front-line homeless service providers of just 2 percent—less than the actual inflation rate.. Earlier this year, the Downtown Emergency Center sought more than $6 million for salaries and benefits—enough to raise an entry-level counselor’s wages from $15.45 an hour to $19.53 and to boost case managers’ salaries from a high of about $38,000 to $44,550 a year. (Currently, the lowest-paying job listed on DESC’s job board pays $16.32 an hour.) “Even a non-police officer, just a clerical position in a city department, is earning more money in salary—let alone salary plus benefits—than somebody whom we are asking to go out under bridges and work with people who have had years of being brutalized in this world,” Eisinger says.

I’ll have a lot more to say about specific budget proposals over the coming weeks as the city council digs into the details in a series of budget briefings that start on Wednesday, but for now, here are a few more highlights from the mayor’s proposal:

• Durkan’s proposed budget does not include any additional funding for a supervised consumption site (mobile or permanent); instead, it simply pushes $1.3 million that was supposed to fund a place for users to consume their drug of choice under medical supervision, with access to wound care, treatment, and case management forward into this year’s budget. Durkan said Monday that the city would not move forward with supervised consumption site until Durkan is “sure [that King County is] still willing to step up and fund the treatment portion of” a supervised consumption site. Activists, including at least one mother who had lost her son to a heroin overdose, stood outside the Pioneer Square fire station, where Durkan delivered her budget speech, protesting the fact that Durkan’s budget calls for continued inaction on safe consumption sites. It has been more than two years now since a King County task force unanimously recommended supervised consumption as part of a holistic strategy for tackling addiction to heroin and other drugs, the rest of which is slowly being implemented and funded. 

Marlys McConnell, whose son Andrew died of an accidental heroin overdose in January 2015, was wearing a “Silence=Death” t-shirt and holding up the right side of a large banner that read, “Overdose is killing a generation. Is it time to act yet, Mayor Durkan?” She said a safe consumption site could have helped diminish the shame her son felt about his own addiction, which he tried to hide from his family. “Had there been a space available for him, I would very much hope that he could have gone and taken advantage of it and been treated with love and respect and dignity. That could have been a bridge to treatment and other services early on.” McConnell is aware of the argument that safe consumption sites enable drug users to continue in their active addiction, but says, “You don’t get [recovery] ’til you get it.”

• Durkan said she would not support selling off more public land to pay for city budget priorities, as the city has done in the past. (The sale of land in South Lake Union funded new shelter beds and “tiny house village” encampments, as well as a rental-assistance program—all part of the nearly $20 million in services that this year’s budget proposal makes permanent.) The city has put its largest remaining property in South Lake Union, the so-called “Mercer Megablock,” on the market, but Durkan said the city would strongly prefer leasing the property long-term under a master lease to selling it outright. Affordable housing advocates have suggested that the city hang on to the property and use it to build high-rise affordable housing. Noble told me that nothing technically bars the city from using at least some of the land for affordable housing (either city-owned or built by a nonprofit housing provider); however, he noted that because the Seattle Department of Transportation used restricted gas-tax funds to pay for some of the Mercer Corridor Project, which used part of the megablock for construction staging, the city has to pay back SDOT (a cost that could account for about 40 percent of the proceeds from the property) before it can start building anything or funding other projects on the property. The city also has taken out significant debt on the future proceeds from the sale of the megablock site, which would also have to be repaid. Finally, high-rise housing is generally much more expensive (and therefore less appropriate for affordable housing) than low-rise, because it involves glass and steel, although advances in technology are slowly making high-rise affordable housing more feasible.

• Durkan’s budget is mostly silent on the question of the over-budget Center City Streetcar (currently stalled so city consultants can determine whether the city should finish building the downtown connector or cut its losses), but it does include about $9 million in funds over two years to help operate the existing South Lake Union and First Hill streetcars. Previously, the city had backfilled streetcar revenue shortfalls periodically as revenues consistently fell short of projections. The new budget pays for those anticipated shortfalls up front. “We’re trying to be more upfront and honest about what it’s costing for the streetcar so that we won’t continue to run in the red and having to incur the debts that we’ve seen” in the past, Durkan said.

• The transportation budget is otherwise a mixed bag for transit proponents. It includes $1 million to pay for an expanded study of congestion pricing (as currently conceived, a toll for people who want to drive into the center city during certain hours); funds new investments in adaptive signal technology, which Durkan touted as a solution for slow and delayed buses but which the National Association of City Transportation Officials says “can result in a longer cycle length that degrades multi-modal conditions” and is best for moving cars in suburban areas; and proposes asking the legislature to change state law barring the city from using traffic cameras to enforce rules against blocking bike and bus lanes. “Right now, you have to have an actual officer come over and pull them over,” Durkan said—an expensive proposition. The budget also eliminates funding for the “Play Streets” pilot program, which permanently activated some street right-of-way for active (non-car) use, and cuts funding for any new “Pavement to Parks” projects, “takes underused streets and creates public spaces for community use on a year-round, daily basis,” according to the budget.

• The proposed budget moves almost half a million dollars from parks department spending on the city’s four golf courses into the separate capital budget as a “bridge solution” for an ongoing revenue shortfall. Although the city recently invested in improvements to its golf courses—hoping that better facilities, along with higher fees, would bring in more revenue—that hasn’t panned out, and the city has hired a consultant to evaluate the program. Asked why the golf courses aren’t penciling out the way the city had hoped, Noble said that it may be that “golf just isn’t as popular as it used to be.” Affordable-housing proponents have suggested closing down at least some of the city’s golf courses and using them as sites for affordable housing.

The city council begins hearings on the mayor’s budget this week; a full schedule of budget meetings is available on the city’s website.

The Gender Gap at the City’s Largest Departments Hasn’t Improved. If Anything, It’s Wider than Ever

The latest annual analysis of racial and gender equity in city employment concludes, unsurprisingly, that the city still has a long way to go before achieving racial and gender pay equity and equal representation in employment, as measured by the number of women and people of color who are in top-tier, and top-paying, positions at the city. Meanwhile, a detailed look at the numbers reveals that one of the biggest problems identified in a workplace equity report three years ago—the lack of women employees at all levels in the three largest city departments (police, fire, and City Light)—has gotten slightly worse even as racial equity has begun to improve.

Using baseline race and gender numbers from King County as a whole (on the grounds that the city’s workforce lives all over the county), the report found that people of color, particularly Latinx people, are underrepresented at the top pay and supervisory levels across all city departments, and that women are underrepresented “at all but the bottom levels of supervisory authority and wages”—not surprising, given that women remain underrepresented in City employment overall. (The chart above shows exactly how each group identified is under- or overrepresented at the top and bottom quarters of the pay scale. A more detailed breakdown is available in the report itself.) The report did not break down pay by titles or pay bands beyond the quartile level or by department, so there’s no way to know, based on the report, what sort of pay gaps exist in each individual department, or whether the pay gap between white men and everybody else widens, for example, among city employees with salaries at the very top of the pay scale.

Taken together, the three largest city departments are just 25 percent female, and all have a lower percentage of female workers than they did back in 2015.

 

“By gender, the City of Seattle workforce is very imbalanced: overall, just 38.6 percent of City employees are female as compared to 50.1 percent in the county population,” according to the report. “Given this overall imbalance, it is not surprising that women are underrepresented at many levels of the workforce relative to the general population. Among supervisors, women are underrepresented in all but the bottom level (first quartile). In the top level, they make up 35.4 percent of supervisors. Across the pay scale, women are again underrepresented in all but the bottom level. In the top level of wage earners, they make up 33.8 percent of employees.” The situation is, of course, even worse for women of color, who “are most underrepresented at the top levels of City employment. This group makes up 19.0 percent of the county population but just 11.3 percent of the top level of supervisors and just 10.0 percent of the top level of wage earners.”

The report notes that in the five largest city departments (Police, Seattle City Light, Parks, Seattle Public Utilities, and Fire) women make up just 30.7 percent of the workforce. “Removing the top five departments, the remainder of the City reaches near gender parity (that is, while many of the smaller departments also have significant gender imbalances, these collectively offset each other),” the report concludes.

This language is remarkably similar to language in a more detailed workforce equity report released in 2015, which found that “after removing [Police, Fire, and City Light] from the citywide analysis, the City found that the percentage of females in the rest of the City workforce jumps from 37% to 46% and the unadjusted pay gap narrows from 89.7 to 98.2 %.”

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But of course, eliminating the very largest departments in the city, which account for nearly four in ten city workers, doesn’t actually cause the percentage of female employees at the city to “jump,” nor does it narrow the pay gap. It does, however, highlight where the biggest problem lies: In traditionally male-dominated departments that remain male-dominated despite a longstanding awareness of the problem and what to do about it: Recruit and hire more women.

This year’s report includes another sleight of hand which, intentionally or not, has the effect of downplaying the lack of women in the largest city departments. This year, the city added two departments to the list of the largest city departments in the 2015 report—parks and SPU, which, when their workforces are combined and averaged, actually have a higher percentage of women employees (39.6 percent) than the city as a whole. Taking these two more (relatively) gender-balanced departments back out of the equation and looking only at the three departments the city identified as particularly inequitable three years ago, it’s clear that the gender imbalance at City Light, Fire, and Police hasn’t improved—in fact, it’s gotten worse.

Taken together, the three largest city departments are just 25 percent female, and all have a lower percentage of female workers than they did back in 2015. The Seattle Police Department has gone from 29.0 percent female to 28.1 percent; City Light has gone from 32.1 percent female to 30.3 percent; and the Seattle Fire Department (already the least gender-equitable department of the three) has declined from 13.1 percent female to 12.3 percent.

When large departments make a concerted effort to recruit and hire a specific demographic group, it works, as evidenced by the data in this year’s report about the Seattle Police Department’s efforts to hire more people of color. Since 2014, which was the baseline for the 2015 report, only 22 percent of SPD’s hires were people of color; thanks to concerted effort and recruiting changes implemented by the department, that has risen steadily to 45 percent in 2018.

According to the report:

The city also identified several strategies in the past that could have helped attract and retain women as well as men of color, but did not pursue them, according to the report. These include flexible scheduling; step wage increases for part-time workers, who are more likely to be women; and seniority rules that don’t penalize people for accepting promotions. We know, from the city’s efforts to make race and social justice an integral part of hiring and recruitment decisions, that it takes targeted effort over a sustained period to address historical race and social justice inequities—and that it pays off. Why not invest a similar amount of time and effort into closing the city’s gaping gender gap?

Morning Crank: “Crime-Infused Shack Encampments”

“URGENT…tell them NO!”—the message of every call to action by anti-homeless groups in Seattle

1. A new group calling itself Unified Seattle has paid for Facebook ads urging people to turn up in force to oppose a new tiny house encampment in South Lake Union. The ads include the line “SOLUTIONS NOT SHACKS,” a reference to the fact that the encampments are made up of small wooden structures rather than tents. The encampment, which was funded as part of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s “bridge housing” strategy, will include 54 “tiny houses” and house up to 65 people; it may or may not be “low-barrier,” meaning that it would people with active mental illness or addiction would be allowed to stay there. A low-barrier encampment at Licton Springs, near Aurora Avenue in North Seattle, has been blamed for increased crime in the area, although a recent review of tiny house villages across Seattle, including Licton Springs, found that the crime rate typically goes down, not up, after such encampments open.

“URGENT community meeting on NEW Shack Encampment this Thursday, June 28!” the ad says. “The City Council is trying to put a new shack encampment in our neighborhood. Join us to tell them NO!” Despite the reference to “our neighborhood,” the ads appear to directed at anyone who lives “near Seattle.” Another indication that Unified Seattle is not a homegrown South Lake Union group? Their website indicates that the group is sponsored by the Neighborhood Safety Alliance, Safe Seattle, and Speak Out Seattle, all citywide groups in existence long before the South Lake Union tiny house village was ever announced.

“The city has imposed an unconstitutional income tax on residents which was ultimately struck down by the courts,” the website claims. “It passed a job-killing head-tax that was embarrassingly repealed. Now, it has undertaken a campaign to seize valuable land and build crime-infused shack encampments to house city homeless. All this in the course of six months.”  The income tax, which actually passed a year ago and was struck down by a court, was never implemented. The head tax was never implemented, either. And no land is being “seized” to build the encampment; the land is owned by the city of Seattle.

The meeting is on Thursday night at 6pm, at 415 Westlake Avenue N.

2. Overshadowed by yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling upholding Trump’s Muslim Ban 3.0 was another ruling that could have significant implications for pregnant women in King County. The Court’s ruling in NIFLA v. California struck down a state law requiring that so-called “crisis pregnancy centers”—fake clinics run by anti-choice religious organizations that provide false and misleading information to pregnant women in an effort to talk them out of having abortions—post signs saying what services they do and don’t provide. In its 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the California law violated the center’s First Amendment rights (to lie to women).

Earlier this year, the King County Board of Health adopted a rule requiring so-called crisis pregnancy centers to post signs that say “This facility is not a health care facility” in 10 different languages. Crisis pregnancy centers typically offer sonograms, anti-abortion “counseling,” and misinformation about the risks associated with abortion, including (false) claims that abortion is linked to breast cancer and a higher risk of suicide.

In a statement, Board of Health director and King County Council member Rod Dembowski said that he and the county’s legal team were mindful of the California challenge when drafting the rule. “We intentionally crafted King County’s rule to be less broad than the California … requirements, while still ensuring that women who are or may be pregnant understand that limited service pregnancy centers are not health care facilities,” Dembowski said. “If we need to fine tune the particulars of the form of the disclosure, we will do so.  Regardless, I am optimistic that the County’s more narrow regulation that was supported with a strong factual record is constitutional and will remain in place.”

3. A presentation by the city’s Human Services Department on how well its programs are performing supported the narrative that the Pathways Home approach to getting people off the streets, which emphasizes rapid rehousing and diversion programs over temporary shelter and transitional housing, is working. But it continued to raise a question the city has yet to answer directly: What does the city mean by “permanent housing,” and how does they know that people who get vouchers for private-market apartments through rapid rehousing programs remain in their apartments once their voucher funding runs out?

According to HSD’s first-quarter performance report, which department staffers presented to the council’s housing committee on Tuesday, 83 percent of people in rapid rehousing ended up in “permanent housing” after their vouchers ran out. Meanwhile, according to HSD director Jason Johnson, aggregated data suggests that 95 percent of the people enrolled in rapid rehousing were still housed after six months. In contrast, the department found that just 59 percent of people in transitional housing moved directly into permanent housing, and that just 3.8 percent of people in basic shelter did so, compared to more than 20 percent of people in “enhanced” shelter with 24/7 capacity and case management. Ninety-eight percent of people in permanent supportive housing were counted as “exiting” to permanent housing, giving permanent supportive housing the best success rate of any type of program.

However, there are a few factors that make those numbers somewhat less definitive than they sound. First of all, “permanent housing” is not defined as “housing that a person is able to afford for the long term after his or her voucher runs out”; rather, the term encompasses any housing that isn’t transitional housing or shelter, no matter how long a person actually lives in it. If your voucher runs out and you get evicted after paying the rent for one month, then wind up sleeping on a cousin’s couch for a while, that still counts as an exit to permanent housing, and a rapid rehousing success.

Second, the six-month data is aggregated data on how many people reenter King County’s formal homelessness system; the fact that a person gets a voucher and is not back in a shelter within six months does not automatically mean that they were able to afford market rent on their apartment after their voucher ran out (which, after all, is the promise of rapid rehousing.)

Third, the fact that permanent supportive housing received a 98 percent “success” rate highlights the difficulty of basing performance ratings on “exits to permanent housing”; success, in the case of a program that consists entirely of permanent housing, means people simply stayed in the program. To give an even odder example, HSD notes an 89 percent rate of “exits to permanent housing” from diversion programs, which are by definition targeted at people who are already housed but at risk of slipping into homelessness. “Prevention is successful when people maintain housing and don’t become homeless,” the presentation says. It’s unclear how the city counts “exits to permanent housing” among a population that is, by definition, not homeless to begin with. I’ll update if and when I get more information from HSD about how people who are already housed are being counted toward HSD’s “exits to permanent housing” rate.

4 .Last week, after months of inaction from One Table—a regional task force that was charged with coming up with regional solutions to the homelessness crisis—King County Executive Dow Constantine announced plans to issue $100 million in bonds to pay for housing for people earning up to 80 percent of the Seattle-area median income (AMI), calling the move an “immediate ste[p] to tackle the region’s homelessness crisis.”

That sounds like an impressive amount of money, and it is, with a few major caveats: First, the money isn’t new. Constantine is just bumping up the timeline for issuing bonds that will be paid back with future proceeds from the existing tax on hotel and motel stays in King County. Second, the $100 million—like an earlier bond issuance estimated at $87 million—won’t be available until 2021, when the debt on CenturyLink Field (for which the hotel/motel tax was originally intended) is paid off. King County has been providing some funds to housing developers since 2016 by borrowing from itself now and promising to pay itself back later. Both the $87 million figure and the new $100 million figure are based on county forecasts of future tourism revenue. And third, the amount of hotel/motel tax revenue dedicated to affordable housing could, under state law, be much higher—two-thirds more than what Constantine proposed last week—if the county weren’t planning to spend up to $190 million on improvements at Safeco Field that include luxury suite upgrades and improvements to the concession stands. That’s because although state law dictates that at least 37.5 percent of the hotel/motel tax be spent on arts and affordable housing, and that whatever money remains be spent on tourism, it does not limit the amount that can be spent on either arts or housing. Theoretically, the county could dedicate 37.5 percent of its revenues to arts spending and the remaining 62.5 percent to housing.

The fact  that Constantine is describing the new bonds as a solution to homelessness is itself a matter of some debate. Under state law, the hotel/motel tax can only be used to build “workforce housing” near transit stops, which the county interprets to mean housing for people making between 30 and 80 percent of AMI. Homeless people generally don’t earn anywhere close to that. Alison Eisinger, director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, says that although “taking steps that will help to address the critical need for affordable housing for low-wage workers and people who can afford housing at 30 to 80 percent is a good  thing, unless there’s a plan to prioritize those units for people experiencing homelessness, along with resources to help buy down some of the rents for people for whom 30 to 80 percent is out of reach, I’m not sure how that helps address homelessness.”

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Morning Crank: “Why Is the Mayor Allowed To Dictate the Law?”

1. On Tuesday, May 15, the Consumer Protection Division of Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s found itself suddenly inundated with Consumer Protection Act complaints against the Seattle City Council, claiming that the council had violated citizens’ consumer rights by, among other things, allowing the city’s “public areas, streets, sidewalks, parks and cemeteries” to be “destroyed by unsanctioned homeless people and drug addicts.”  The written complaints—more than a dozen in one day—had a couple things in common. They all came from residents of Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood. And they all used strikingly similar language, replicated here from one of the complaints, which I obtained through a public records request:

Dear Attorney General: I am writing to you because our public areas, streets, sidewalks, parks and cemeteries and currently being destroyed by unsanctioned homeless people and drug addicts. You cannot drive anywhere in Seattle and surrounding neighborhoods without seeing a homeless tent, evidence of where a homeless tent once was, trash and drug needles, bottles of urine, human feces, etc. in any open space around the city. The homeless are destroying public property by cutting down trees and shrubs to make their encampments. They are littering, urinating and depositing used needles around their encampments. They are harassing pedestrians for money. Often these camps are elaborate, built of shipping pallets, plywood, and other building materials stolen from neighbors or construction sites. Some are built using Yellow Bikes with tarps draped over them. RV’s equipped with generators and BBQ grills are being setup alongside public roads as if it were a camp ground! On occasion, they have stolen power from neighboring houses or businesses. This has gotten way out of control. These camps are dangerous to both the homeless and residents using the public spaces, as they are often setup right next to a busy road with trash and debris spilling into the road and sidewalk areas. Needles can be picked up by children or accidently stepped on by children or pets. The trash attracts rodents. The urine and human feces is a health concern. We report these encampments when they spring up, but we are told by the police that there is nothing that they can do ??? that they have been instructed by the Chief of Police and Mayor to not do anything unless a felony crime has taken place. Currently there are laws against camping along side public roadways and on sidewalks. There are laws against littering. There are laws against camping out of your vehicle along a public road. There are laws against public urination. There are laws against illegal drug use. There are laws against loitering. There are laws against illegal parking. There are laws against vagrancy. Why are the laws not being enforced? Why is the Mayor allowed to dictate the law? I see this no differently than if the Mayor asked the Chief of Police not to arrest her brother for drunk driving and felony hit and run. She should not be able to dictate which laws are enforced and which laws are overlooked. As Attorney General, I would like to know what you can do to ensure that these laws are enforced? Laws were created for the protection and safety of everyone in the community. The homeless is not a protective class. They should not be exempt from following the laws that we all must follow simply because of their income status. Please advise as to what can to be done to enforce our laws! Thank you.
Curious how so many people in Magnolia came to file essentially the same complaint (sometimes shortened or dolled up with a few personal details) at the exact same time, I checked out what seemed to me the most likely suspect: The Magnolia NextDoor page. (NextDoor is a semi-private social network for people who live in the same area of the city.) Sure enough, a little over a week ago, there it was: A post from a Magnolia resident, titled “Homeless Encampments – Letter to the Attorney General,” that encouraged people concerned about the issue of “tents that are springing up all over the city” to “file a complaint with the Attorney General” using his letter as a template.
The complaints are all listed as “closed” in the state’s consumer complaint database, and the division referred all the complaints back to the Seattle City Council “to process in accordance with your agency’s procedures.” The consumer protection division deals only with complaints against businesses, not government agencies or officials, and according to its website, “is authorized to bring legal action only in the name of the State of Washington, and is prohibited from serving as an attorney for individual consumers.”  You can almost hear the deep, bureaucratic sigh as another pile of frivolous complaints land on the AG’s virtual desk.

2. Tonight at 6, the Seattle LGBTQ Commission will host a screening of “Pinkwashing Exposed: Seattle Fights Back!,” a film that argues Israel has enlisted unwitting LGBTQ people in service to so-called “Israeli apartheid” by “promoting [Israel] as ‘gay friendly’ to divert attention from terrible human rights violations.” The term “Israeli apartheid,” which likens Israel’s control of the West Bank and its policies toward Palestinians to the racist policies of the former South African government, is common in far-left circles but is considered anti-Semitic by many Jews. On Wednesday, the Jewish Federation Seattle created a petition to stop the event, which the group says “promotes lies about Israel, alienates and discriminates against the tens of thousands of Jews and Israelis living here, and is likely at the very least to stir up increased anti-Semitism.” In 2006, a gunman went on an anti-Israel tirade while he shot six people, killing one, at the Jewish Federation’s headquarters in downtown Seattle.

According to the event page for the screening, which is being co-hosted by the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities and socialist city council member Kshama Sawant the 10-member, city council-appointed commission is “standing in solidarity with Palestinians who face daily persecution from the occupying forces of the Israeli government. We are critiquing the Israeli governmental use of force, not individual Jewish people nor or we suggesting limiting human rights of Jewish people.”

But individual Jewish people in Seattle, and groups that work to combat anti-Semitism in the city, see the event differently. Maxima Patashnik, a spokeswoman for the Jewish Federation, says the documentary “presents a really one-sided view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and is really a detriment to the LGBTQ activists in Israel who have worked hard to gain equality and human rights and lumps them in with this Israeli propaganda campaign.” She says that while the film (like the event itself) does include the perspectives of a handful of Jewish people, “The events in the film as they are presented are extremely exclusionary, unwelcoming, and alienating to the vast majority Jews and Israelis here in Seattle.”

Patashnik also questions whether a city-funded commission whose mission does not include weighing in on international affairs should be sponsoring an event at City Hall that promotes the idea that (according to the website for the film) “Israel is the country most famous for” pretending to be LGBTQ-friendly to cover up human rights violations. “If this film was just being sponsored by Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, they would be well within their rights to do that. Where it crosses the line is that this is city-sponsored,” she says.

In a statement, the Seattle LGBTQ Commission said it was “hosting the film screening as an opportunity to encourage learning and civil discourse” and notes that the film was “made by a Jewish filmmaker and features Jewish and Palestinian activists working together.” The panel discussing the film will also include a Jewish member, the commission says. (LGBTQ Commission co-chair Julia Ricciardi did not respond to a followup question about whether any of the commission members who signed off on the event are themselves Jewish.)

“The Seattle LGBTQ Commission is committed to highlighting and centering experiences of individuals who are often marginalized, underrepresented or erased from public discourse,” the statement continues. “This film screening is an opportunity to invite all individuals from the Seattle community to engage in learning and discussion around information that may not be widely known, as well as provide valuable space for people to engage in dialogue about governmental practices, whether those practices be local, federal, or international.”

Patashnik says the Jewish Federation does not have any plans to formally protest the event.

 

3. Earlier this month, a woman was the victim of a brutal rape by a stranger in the restroom of a car dealership in Ballard. (Most rapes occur in people’s homes and are committed by men who are known to their victims.) Much of the media, and certainly many members of the public, have fixated on the fact that the man was homeless, suggesting that women are at particular risk of being raped by homeless strangers in Seattle due to policies the city council has adopted. And over the last few weeks, they have expressed their feelings
Many of the emails were directed at District 6 council member Mike O’Brien, whose district includes Ballard, where the rape occurred. Some, by the standards of anti-homeless social media screeds, are fairly mundane—a woman claims that she and her children are now “forced to stay in our homes and no longer feel safe to interact in the community we once loved”—but others are darker.
You probably know where this is going.

“Hey Mike,” one man writes. “Heard one of you Ballard BUMS raped someone today? Care to comment? The blame for this is COMPLETELY on your head due to your coddling of the BUM herds in Ballard.

“I sincerely, SINCERELY, hope that your wife is the next rape victim. Please do the world in general a favor and kill yourself.”

Another letter, from a woman, says that if council members like the “unsafe dump” Seattle has turned into, they should invite “these people” into their homes, where “They can rape your friends and do drugs in your backyard.”

A letter from a couple suggests that council members may “wake up” once  “your mother, wife, daughter, son [is] the next victim brutally raped by some mentally deranged homeless person from God knows where!!! … It takes city workers days to clean up after these PIGS!!,” the letter continues. “That’s appreciation isn’t it??  Wake up!!!  Who is in charge here??  Seems like the homeless are.  If they don’t want help, screw them, lock them up.”

A real estate broker, who helpfully includes the name of her employer, her personal website, and the signature line, “Realtor since 1990. Real Property. Real Expertise,” suggests that council members should “make every square foot of the floor space in Your yard, Your home Your children’s rooms available for the outlaws you seem to care for so much. Between Yourselves and all Your staffers You can get a true taste of what the policies you have wrought mean.

The vagrants have No rules

They could …Rape and assault, immolate, stab, kidnap you and your neighbors.

And don’t call the police they shouldn’t respond, you have instructed them not to.

You have already given the vagrants all the permission they need to do all of the above.”

Finally, to end on a (slightly) lighter note, there is this slightly deranged email, with the subject line “Rape of Seattle,” from a man who believes that city council members are accompanied at all times by security details and never “openly walk on the street.”

“If indeed you were running a safe city, then why do you require personal security?,” the writer asks. “Seattle’s political women like you Jenny, Sally, Kshama, Lisa, Debora, Lorena, Teresa, should be able to walk or bike the streets you are responsible for. At least bring your vehicle in for work without security.”

City council members do not have security details, and can regularly be seen on buses, walking on city sidewalks, riding their bikes along Fourth Avenue, and even at the downtown YMCA.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Crisis of Confidence at the King County Democrats

Update: As Jim Brunner at the Seattle Times reported this evening, Bailey Stober  now says he is running for the 47th District state house seat currently held by Republican Mark Hargrove. The announcement came just days after Stober lost his job at King County (receiving a $37,700 payout in exchange for an agreement not to sue) after an investigation concluded he had harassed and behaved inappropriately toward a female employee in his separate position as chair of the King County Democrats, a position from which he was also forced to resign. Stober told Brunner he will run as an “independent Democrat” and has the backing of two local officials, Kent Mayor Dana Ralph and Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus.

Over the past two days, I contacted more than a dozen local officials and Party activists, including Stober, about the rumor that he was running; unsurprisingly, Stober did not respond to my request for comment. Many people in Stober’s circle have advised him against running for office and suggested that he spend at least a few months out of the spotlight before attempting a comeback, given the gravity of the charges that forced him to resign from both positions. His announcement to the Times came just two days before a woman of color was expected to announce her candidacy for the same position.

This story originally ran in the South Seattle Emerald.

Earlier this month—after multiple investigations, a vote of no confidence, and a lengthy internal trial that found him guilty on five counts of workplace misconduct, financial malfeasance, and “conduct unbecoming an officer,” King County Democratic Party chairman Bailey Stober resigned from both his position as chair of the county party and his $98,000-a-year job as communications director for King County Assessor John Arthur Wilson. The announcements capped a months-long process that turned into a referendum on not just Stober but the culture and future of the local Democratic Party.

Even after losing his position at the party and his paying job at the county, Stober remained defiant and mostly unapologetic. In a letter to Party members announcing his resignation, Stober took credit for numerous successes, including a fundraising campaign that began before his tenure. Then, he offered a vague apology, “to those I have let down and disappointed.” He did not mention the sexual harassment and financial misconduct charges that led to his ouster or the fact that after one year under his leadership, the county party had almost no money in the bank.

His resignation letter to Wilson went even further. After taking credit for a long list of successes at the assessor’s office, Stober suggested he was the real reason “longshot” Wilson managed to win his election in 2015 when Stober was 23. Furthermore, he claimed people were telling him Wilson “didn’t stand a chance to succeed.” Stober did not apologize for, or even mention, the investigation, which concluded that Stober had behaved inappropriately toward his employee, Natalia Koss Vallejo by, among other things, calling her a “cunt” and a “bitch.”

In exchange for agreeing not to sue or seek employment at the county in the future, Stober received a $37,700 payout from the jurisdiction, on top of unemployment benefits that could, over six months, total nearly $20,000. Combined with the full pay Stober received during the one month in 2018 when he was on the job at the assessor’s office and the nearly three months when he was on fully paid leave, Stober could make more than $87,000 in 2018 even if he does not work another day. The investigation itself cost taxpayers another $25,360.

To the end, Stober’s supporters have insisted that the investigation into his behavior was a witchhunt by a group of politically motivated fabulists who resented his success. Several allies even resigned their positions at the King County Democrats after the trial, saying that they no longer felt “safe” in the organization. Even after three separate investigations concluded he had committed many of the actionsof which he was accused, Stober professed his innocence and insisted that his accusers had “made up [or] exaggerated” most of their claims.

“If I have to be the first one to go through this process to open our eyes to the flaws that we have … so be it,” Stober said after the trial, noting how hard it had been for him personally to sit in the room throughout the proceedings and listen to people “debate whether or not I’m a horrible person.”

Stober’s opponents, including Koss Vallejo, said their goal was to hold Stober accountable for his actions and ensure future leaders accused of misconduct will not be able to manipulate party rules to hold on to power to the bitter end.

Who won? Strictly speaking, of course, the group of Democrats who accused Stober of misconduct prevailed. The former Chairman is no longer in power, and his ambition to become state Democratic Party Chair has been dashed for now. In a larger sense, though, the jury is still out on that question. The bruising debate over Stober’s guilt or innocence has split the local Democratic Party into factions, and the King County Democrats have been left with no permanent leader, no money in the bank, and no consensus on whether justice was served.

To understand the implications of Stober’s resignation, and the arguments that were made by his supporters and detractors, it is important to know a little about the charges brought against him. They included:

  • Spending thousands of dollars in Party funds without the approval of the group’s treasurer, Nancy Podscwhit, or its governing board.

The expenditures in question included a $1,826 stay at a house on Vashon Island for Stober and a few Party officials; an office in Auburn that cost more than twice the amount Stober was authorized to spend; a $500-a-month Internet package with enough bandwidth to power a mid-size e-commerce firm; and thousands of dollars in brand-new office equipment for Stober and Koss Vallejo. By the end of Stober’s term, according to treasurer Nancy Podschwit, the group was “broke.” (Stober defended his financial decisions in a lengthy open letter).

  • Firing his lone employee, Natalia Koss Vallejo, on shaky grounds and without board approval.

Stober said he dismissed Koss Vallejo after she “vandalized” a car in a parking lot because it had a hat with the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement logo displayed in the back window. A security-camera video of the incident, obtained by Stober and posted anonymously to Youtube by a new account called “DemsAre BadPeople,” shows Vallejo tossing the contents of a cup on the hood of the car. (Koss Vallejo said the cup contained the dregs of an iced coffee.)

  • “Conduct unbecoming an officer,” including frequent “excessive public intoxication,” sexual harassment, incidents of pushing drinks on party volunteers and subordinates, and bullying Koss Vallejo and other Party members.

Among other accusations, Stober allegedly grabbed Koss Vallejo’s phone and posted “I shit my pants” on her Facebook wall, mocked her appearance in front of other people, called her a “bitch” and a “lying sack of shit,” and made sexist jokesincluding one about a party member who was accused of raping an underage volunteer at a state Party event in Walla Walla last year.

Stober spent nearly two months pleading his own case—on Facebook, his personal blog, at party meetings, and in emails to party members—but the trial was Koss Vallejo’s first formal opportunity to speak on her own behalf. During and after Koss Vallejo’s testimony, Stober’s supporters aggressively questioned her credibility and even accused her of having a drug problem, witnesses recounted—a claim for which they reportedly provided no evidence, which Koss Vallejo denies, and which is irrelevant to the question of whether Stober was guilty of misconduct.

“It was absolutely humiliating and degrading,” Koss Vallejo said afterward. “I wasn’t the person on trial. He was on trial for misconduct, and he was able to waste several hours focusing on my character and maligning me.”

After the trial ended, Koss Vallejo said, she didn’t feel like she had “won.” “It was never my goal to get Bailey Stober to resign; it gives me no pleasure,” she said. “No one should have to spend this much time on an internal process to remove someone who is guilty of malfeasance. All of those volunteer hours should have gone toward knocking on doors and strategizing about the real work that we’re supposed to be doing”—promoting and electing Democratic Party candidates, Koss Vallejo said.

In King County, electing Democrats might seem like an easy lift. Last year, as Stober himself noted in his farewell message to members, Democrats prevailed in three out of four partisan elections in King County. Currently, they also hold the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature. However, the way King County Democrats have handled allegations of workplace and financial misconduct could have ripple effects across the state.

Will donors, including elected officials, put their funds and efforts into building a party that seems to care more about protecting its own than building power? Will young women considering careers in politics think twice before joining a party that has a reputation of disbelieving women? Will people who do not fit in with the prevailing “party culture”—a culture that, according to many party members, has long revolved around drinking—feel unwelcome?

Stober, who blamed some of his behavior on a “combination of volunteering 30 to 40 hours a week, working a full-time job … stress, alcohol, and immaturity,” was an enthusiastic participant in, and proponent of, the kind of party culture that state Party chairwoman Tina Podlodowski has been trying to root out. Indeed, several witnesses have described him and another Party member mocking Podlodowski for banning alcohol at Party functions and trying to tamp down the drinking culture in the organization. Such effort that was thrown into high relief when an underage Party member said she was sexually assaulted after a state Party event in Walla Walla, where she says she was given alcohol by, among others, Bailey Stober.

More recently, Jin-Ah Kim, a recovering addict who is active in the 32nd District Democrats, said Stober repeatedly pressured her to drink with him, despite knowing she is in recovery. While drinking alcohol neither causes nor excuses misconduct, it undoubtedly contributes to bad decision making and excludes people who, for whatever reason, prefer not to do business at bars or after hours.

Many of the women who supported Koss Vallejo have said they are enthusiastic to get back to the work of promoting Democratic candidates for the 2018 elections and rebuilding the party. This task will require not just changes to the group’s code of conduct and its process for removing officers but a period of reconciliation between party members on both sides of the Stober divide.

Two weeks after the trial, Stober’s most stalwart allies were still lashing out at Koss Vallejo’s supporters online, accusing them of misrepresenting her experience as a part of the MeToo movement and chastising them for deciding Stober was guilty before the 14-hour trial had concluded. With Stober himself out of the picture, though, many on both sides of the debate over his behavior hope the group can start to heal itself and rebuild—starting with the adoption of an HR and a revised code of conduct that gives victims who are not part of the formal party structure an opportunity to speak on their own behalf.

One person who will not be involved in that rebuilding process is Koss Vallejo. “I still care deeply about the Party,” Vallejo says. “I’m deeply invested in helping Democrats win and helping women win. But it’s not my place to fix these problems. I’m hoping that the people who are still involved, and the new people who have come into the party through this process, will be able to correct the problems that have taken place over the course of this investigation,” so that the next person who believes she has been harassed, bullied, or mistreated by someone in the Party will feel safe coming forward.

King County Democrats Chair Bailey Stober Resigns After 13-Hour Trial Finds Him Guilty of Workplace Misconduct

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, including and especially extended coverage of ongoing stories like this one that get short shrift in the mainstream press, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers like you. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Bailey Stober, the chairman of the King County Democrats, resigned last night after a 13-hour internal trial that ultimately found him guilty on five counts relating to workplace misconduct and sexual harassment of a former employee, Natalia Koss Vallejo, whom he fired shortly after a third party filed a complaint against him on Koss Vallejo’s behalf (and, she says, without her knowledge). Stober’s resignation, which will take effect next Saturday, comes after more than two months of internal and external debate about his actions as party chair, including three separate internal investigations into both the workplace misconduct allegations and charges of financial misconduct.

Koss Vallejo, who has been barred from speaking on her own behalf because the entire process, including the trial, has been held under Robert’s Rules of Order, which only gives “voice” to voting members of the group, says she’s relieved by the outcome but does not feel victorious. “This does not feel like a win to me. I am grateful that he did finally step down, because, as everyone knows, his grandstanding and drawing this process out was only hurting Democrats,” she says. “However the fact that I and many other nameless people who were involved had to give their time and their emotional and mental energy to this process for over nine weeks means that the process is still flawed, and we have a lot of work to do to correct this so that this never happens again.” Specifically, Koss Vallejo points to the fact that the King County Democrats do not have a formal HR policy or any policy for dealing with allegations against a Party member by someone who is not within the formal party structure, such as an employee.

Stober has said he fired Koss Vallejo after she “vandalized” a car in a parking lot because it had a hat with the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement logo displayed in the back window; a video of the incident, obtained by Stober and posted to Youtube by an anonymous account called “DemsAre BadPeople,” shows her tossing the contents of a cup on the hood of the car, which she says were the dregs of an iced coffee. The firing Stober has also claimed that he had consent from his then-vice chairwoman, Cat Williams, and his treasurer, Nancy Podschwit, to fire Koss Vallejo, which both Williams and Podschwit have denied.

Yesterday’s trial addressed only the workplace misconduct allegations (I’ve covered the financial charges before, including here and here), which included the following claims:

– That Stober repeatedly pressured Koss Vallejo to drink to excess;

–  That Koss Vallejo had told numerous people that she was afraid Stober would retaliate against her if she brought up her concerns;

– That Stober fired Koss Vallejo without consulting with the board’s vice chairwoman or the treasurer of the group;

– That Stober called her a “bitch” and a “cunt” while they were out drinking;

– That Stober sprayed Koss Vallejo with Silly String while she was driving; and

– That Stober had grabbed Koss Vallejo’s phone while she was in the restroom and posted “I shit my pants” on her Facebook timeline without her knowledge.

Last night, Stober was apologetic but defiant when he emerged from the closed-door trial shortly after 11pm to announce his resignation “after 11 years of Party leadership.” (Stober is 26 and has been chair of the group for a little over one year). “If I have to be the first one to go through this process to open our eyes to the flaws that we have … so be it,” Stober said, adding that it was especially difficult for him to sit through his own trial for 13 hours and listen to people “debate whether or not I’m a horrible person.” Some of Stober’s supporters have insinuated that his opponents are engaging in a racially biased witch hunt against him, even though several of Koss Vallejo’s most vocal supporters, and Koss Vallejo herself, are women of color.

Stober sat in the room throughout the trial as witnesses, including his alleged victim and her supporters, gave testimony and were cross-examined by representatives from both the “prosecution” and the “defense,” much as they would in a legal trial. Yesterday, witnesses described the process as intimidating and re-traumatizing, and said at times it seemed as though Koss Vallejo and other people who agreed to testify on her behalf were the ones on trial. At one point, an executive board member reportedly asked a witness at length about whether Koss Vallejo used illegal substances. Witnesses said the line of questioning seemed intended to imply she had a drug problem and was therefore an unreliable witness—the kind of off-point question that is often used in legal trials to discredit victims and refocus attention away from the person accused of misconduct or worse.

Oddly, given how many statements Stober has made on his own behalf on his own website, on Facebook, in meetings, and in emails to the Party members who would have been voting on his fate next weekend if he had not stepped down last night, yesterday’s trial was Koss Vallejo’s first official opportunity to speak on her own behalf. After the meeting, Koss Vallejo said that the process that led up to the trial has treated her as if “I didn’t exist”; for example, while Stober was given a chance to review all the evidence against him nearly a week in advance of the trial, Koss Vallejo says she still has not seen any of the evidence, and only found out when and where the trial would be held through word of mouth from friends, since she is not on any official Party email list. “The whole process treated me like I literally wasn’t a person, and that was one of the most frustrating things about it,” she says.

Prior to Stober’s resignation, two-thirds of his executive board signed a petition calling for his resignation, which triggered the scheduling of a vote by all the precinct committee officers (low-ranking party officials) in the county; if two-thirds of the PCOs at that meeting had voted to remove him, Stober would have lost his position involuntarily. (Prior to that, district Democratic groups across King County passed resolutions calling for his resignation, and several voted to withhold funds from the organization until Stober stepped down. More than 200 Democratic Party members, including several elected officials, also signed a letter calling for his resignation.) At the moment, the organization is basically insolvent; as of late last month, according to recent a financial report from King County Democrats chair Nancy Podschwit, the group had just $3,200 in the bank, with thousands of dollars of outstanding obligations and a potential fine from the state over campaign finance violations from 2016, before Stober was chair, that could total tens of thousands of dollars.

Separately, a court just ordered Stober to pay more than $5,000 in attorney’s fees in an investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office into campaign finance violations Stober allegedly committed in his capacity as both a candidate for Kent City Council and as King County Democrats chair—a case that has not been resolved, in part, because Stober has refused to turn over documents to the state—and several other campaign finance allegations against him remain pending. And his employer, the King County Assessor’s Office, is spending up to $10,000 on a separate investigation to determine whether his workplace behavior as the Democrats’ chair has any bearing on his ability to perform his job as communications director for the office. He is currently on paid leave from that position, which pays more than $90,000.

 

Investigation Into King County Democrats Chair Stober Finds Some Allegations Substantiated, Others Harder to Prove

Instagram screen shot.

An investigation into allegations of sexual harassment, financial misconduct, and bullying by King County Democratic Party chairman Bailey Stober has found several of the charges to be “substantiated,” while others remain “inconclusive,” according to the a report summarizing the conclusions of an investigation that went out to members of the organization’s executive board on Tuesday.

The report, by labor negotiator and executive board member Afton Larsen, is based on interviews with 14 witnesses, plus Stober and Natalia Koss Vallejo, the former King County Democrats executive director who says Stober harassed her, pressured her to drink, put her in physical danger, and required her to make expenditures that were not approved by the executive board or the party treasurer. (Koss Vallejo did not file the initial complaint against Stober and has said she had no intention of filing a complaint herself; she was fired by Stober, supposedly for throwing a cup of ice on the hood of a car, shortly after the complaint was filed by a third-party witness to Stober’s alleged behavior.)

Larsen’s report will be among the materials the executive board will consider at a “trial” on the workplace misconduct and harassment charges this coming weekend. The trial, at which both representatives for Stober and Koss Vallejo will present evidence,  will be the prelude to an April 15 vote by the county party’s precinct committee officers on whether to remove Stober from his position.

In her report. Larsen restricted her findings to the allegations about workplace misconduct; in a separate investigation, the group’s five-member finance committee  found Stober guilty of misspending party funds and called for his removal.

The workplace misconduct allegations against Stober included:

1. Violation of KCDCC Code of Conduct anti-harassment policy as follows. i) Offensive verbal or written comments related to gender and physical appearance. ii) Sexist or otherwise discriminatory jokes and language. iii) Posting without permission [on social media], without permission from that individual, other people’s personally identifying information (also known as “doxing”) in any public forum. 2. Additional allegations, not relevant to the KCDCC code of conduct, set forth by KCDCC Vice Chairs recommendations and findings report of January 8, 2018. i) Pressuring staff to drink alcohol. ii) Creating a hostile work environment of fear of retaliation. iii) Creating a dangerous work environment. iv) Evidence of physical assault.   

Among other allegations, the original complaint against Stober claimed:

– That Stober had pressured Koss Vallejo constantly “to engage in excessive drinking”;

– That Koss Vallejo had told numerous people that she was afraid Stober would retaliate against her if she brought up her concerns, and showed them screen shots and text messages confirming some of her allegations;

– That Stober fired Koss Vallejo without consulting with the board’s vice chairwoman or the treasurer of the group;

– That Stober statement alleged that Stober made derogatory comments about someone’s, perhaps Koss Vallejo’s, physical appearance and relationship status;

– That Stober called her a “bitch” and a “cunt” while they were out drinking;

– That Stober sprayed Koss Vallejo with Silly String while she was driving; and

– That Stober had grabbed Koss Vallejo’s phone while she was in the restroom and posted “I shit my pants” on her Facebook timeline without her knowledge.

Ultimately, Larsen only found the allegations that could be directly verified through physical evidence such as videos and text to be “substantiated.” That included the allegation that Stober made derogatory comments about Koss Vallejo’s appearance, the allegation that he made sexist comments, the allegation that he used her Facebook account to post an embarrassing update without her knowledge or consent, and the allegation that he had created a dangerous work environment by spraying her with Silly String while she was driving, an incident that Stober himself filmed and posted to Instagram.

The allegations that couldn’t be verified by documentary evidence, or which Larsen determined took place in murky circumstances (e.g., when both Stober and Koss Vallejo had been drinking “and were at varying degrees of sobriety”) were all deemed “inconclusive.” No one directly witnessed Stober calling Koss Vallejo a “bitch” in a derogatory manner, for example, and Koss Vallejo herself said Stober was using the term in a gender-neutral way when he called her a “bitch” in multiple texts. (Theoretically, certain language is always considered inappropriate in certain contexts, such as a boss calling a subordinate a “bitch” and a “lying sack of shit” in late-night texts. In practice, a victim’s statement that an inappropriate behavior didn’t really bother her that much can be used to weaken her larger case.) Similarly, although four people said Koss Vallejo approached them about her fear of retaliation, “no direct threats were ever observed or witnessed”—and Stober “received [the allegations] with surprise.” (In a video posted back in February, and in 8,800-word self-defense posted to his website, Stober made a similar claim. “Nobody was as shocked as I was,” he said in February.) In any case, Larsen apparently weighed testimony by multiple women against Stober’s denial and called it a tie.

Texts and photos and video proof are obviously rock-solid evidence compared to  witness testimony after the fact. But the flip side of this approach is that it draws no distinction between the motivation of an accused harasser to deny he did anything wrong and the motivation of a victim and multiple witnesses to lie. Believing women, in this case, means listening to the testimony from all the women who say they witnessed Stober harassing, bullying, and pressuring Koss Vallejo and others and considering that testimony in the context of the evidence that is irrefutable—the texts, the Facebook “prank,” the video showing a terrified Koss Vallejo behind the wheel, screaming as Stober covers her in Silly String. Not believing women means choosing to dismiss all that evidence, the testimony of multiple witnesses, and statements from the reluctant accuser herself, and taking the accused man at his word. Either Stober is lying, or all the people who have given statements against him, including the organization’s longtime treasurer and a former vice-chairwoman who is no longer associated with the group, are. Given that Stober is the one who is on record mocking Koss Vallejo’s appearance, joking about crowning the man who allegedly sexually assaulted an underage volunteer at a Democratic Party function “party rapist of the year,” and pressuring Koss Vallejo to come out for drinks even after she demurred again and  again, I’d say the former scenario is more plausible.

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