Tag: mayor’s office

Mayor Reshuffles Office Chairs, Council Considers Fixes for Pedestrian-Hostile Third Avenue

Third Avenue downtown (image via Downtown Seattle Association)

1. Learn to trust the Fizz: As PubliCola reported last week, Mayor Bruce Harrell has just reorganized his office, including the reassignment of former Director of Public Safety Andrew Myerberg to the newly created position of special projects director, answering to Harrell’s favored public safety advisor Tim Burgess (whose own title is, confusingly, Director of Strategic Initiatives). The public safety shuffle reportedly reflects a division in the mayor’s office between Burgess (a former city council member who favored law-and-order strategies like a ban on “aggressive panhandling”), Myerberg (the former Office of Police Accountability Director) and Harrell’s niece and senior deputy mayor, Monisha Harrell, who was previously Myerberg’s boss.

The divide between all these players isn’t just about policy, but perception—Myerberg, whose experience is more in the realm of policy than politics, is reportedly getting stuck with the blame for the negative public response to an ill-conceived plan to crack down on people gathering at Third and Pine downtown by using rarely deployed laws governing behavior on buses and bus stops.

The reorganization of the mayor’s office doesn’t stop there. Jeremy Racca, Harrell’s former council aide-turned-general counsel, has taken on additional duties under the new secondary title of “chief administrative officer,” while policy director Dan Eder, a former council central staffer, now reports not to the mayor but to Racca.

Jamie Housen, the mayor’s campaign consultant-turned-communications director, has been bumped up to report directly to Harrell, while deputy mayor Tiffany Washington, the former homelessness director for the Human Services Department, gained two new direct reports, including Lisa Gustaveson, a former homelessness staffer at HSD who worked briefly for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority before returning to the city earlier this year.

So what does it all mean? As Harrell told PubliCola during a press conference last week, “moving people around” early in a mayoral term isn’t uncommon—but it does speak to who’s in and out on the seventh floor (and the mayor’s good graces). Out: Myerberg (who is, interestingly, the only person Burgess oversees), Eder… and possibly another top staffer whose responsibilities are officially the same, but who we’ve heard been relieved of some duties. In: Washington, Burgess, and Housen—whose former boss, Harrell’s political consultant Christian Sinderman, reportedly has his own office space at the city. In addition, top-level staffer Adiam Emery, the mayor’s former chief equity officer, has a heightened public presence and new title, executive general manager.

Closed-for-business vibes: Pre-pandemic snapshots of Third Avenue from the DSA report.

2. The city council’s homelessness and public assets committee considered a resolution yesterday to endorse a plan created by the Downtown Seattle Association to revitalize the Third Avenue transit corridor—currently a wide, bus-clogged expanse of pavement flanked by narrow sidewalks and many boarded-up businesses.

The DSA’s “Third Avenue Vision” has actually been around for several years, but got sidelined by the pandemic, which exacerbated some of the issues the DSA raises in its report while reducing the number of people riding buses on the street—which, as of 2019, was the busiest bus-only corridor in the nation.

DSA director Jon Scholes said the business group’s pre-pandemic surveys found “a strong consensus that Third Avenue is the street that most people don’t want to be on. … It really hasn’t recovered as a street since the … original transit tunnel was dug through and along Third Avenue in the early ’90s.” That tunnel has served light rail exclusively since buses were kicked onto surface streets, including Third Ave., in 2019. Since then, many businesses shut their doors because of the pandemic, and Third Avenue continues to be the focus of periodic crackdowns on drug sales, retail theft, and people hanging out without an obvious destination (what’s often lumped the general category of “disorder.”)

The proposal aims to reduce bus traffic volumes, provide more exposure for street-level businesses, and give pedestrians more space through four potential strategies: A “compact transitway” that would create new sidewalk space by reducing Third Avenue from four lanes to two; a “median transitway” option that would move bus stops to a new median and convert the street into a two-way transit street, using shuttles to move riders through downtown; a “transit shuttle and hub” model that would also rely on shuttles through downtown, but eliminate the median in favor of a two-lane roadway; and a “transit couplet” framework that would turn a three-lane Third Avenue into a lower-volume one-way “couplet,” with buses traveling north on Third and southbound on a parallel street such as Second Ave.

Although the DSA’s report does not explicitly mention crime or homelessness, focusing instead on ways to improve the pedestrian environment broadly, council president Debora Juarez brought it up on Wednesday, saying, “We should be honest about it how Third and other streets have changed and have become not safe. We want it to be safe for everybody, and also for addressing homelessness and getting the right people down there to handle it, but also alleviating some of what pressure from a major corridor like Third. So I think we have to be honest about that.”

Scholes did not respond to Juarez’s comments directly; however, the vision the DSA has proposed for Third Avenue appears to offer little room for poor or homeless people. Notably, two sites of frequent crackdowns on homelessness and crime—the area around the McDonald’s at Third and Pine and City Hall Park in Pioneer Square—have been reimagined in the DSA’s renderings: The park, which was closed and fenced after the removal of a large encampment, appears as the front door to a fanciful “osteria” on the south side of the King County Courthouse, and the McDonald’s has been replaced by a sidewalk cafe.

Harrell Shakes Up Top Staff, Police Accountability Office Clears Officers Accused of Extortion

NewPhoto of Deputy Mayor Greg Wong
Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Greg Wong

1. Last week, Mayor Bruce Harrell informed his cabinet that he had replaced Deputy Mayor for external relations Kendee Yamaguchi, the former executive director for Snohomish County, with Department of Neighborhoods director Greg Wong, a former Pacifica Law Group attorney who took over at DON in February. PubliCola broke the news of Yamaguchi’s departure, and Wong’s promotion, on Twitter Monday morning.

The mayor’s office did not respond to a question about the reason for Yamaguchi’s departure, and an email sent to her city of Seattle address bounced back with a message containing Wong’s contact information.

A press release set to go out today said simply, “Kendee Yamaguchi served an instrumental role during our transition to office and in our early efforts to establish sincere and enduring relationships with stakeholders, organizations, and local leaders,” said Mayor Harrell. “We are grateful for her service and wish her all the best in her future endeavors.”

Wong, who lives in southeast Seattle, was the head of the Schools First campaign for the Seattle school levy elections in 2013 and 2016. According to the mayor’s office, he will focus on economic development, community relations, and arts and culture.

2. The Office of Police Accountability declined to sustain, or uphold, any of ten separate allegations in a 2017 case in which two police officers accused another officer of running a “mini-mafia” to prevent new companies from entering the market for off-duty work. The two officers were the founders of called Cops for Hire, since rebranded as Blucadia, that also connects businesses with off-duty officers.

The OPA complaint, which attracted significant attention at the time, accused officers working for Seattle’s Finest, a security company started by a retired SPD officer, of colluding to increase the pay of off-duty officers by intimidating and extorting the companies that contract with the firm, including the owners of Columbia Tower downtown. The OPA wrapped up its investigation in October 2018 but did not release the summary of its findings until last week.

The investigation found that the officer expressed his frustration by commenting that he would put a person who worked at the company in a “carotid choke hold.” A separate, related case described an interview with the FBI in which the officer said he was “just joking around and was trying to get a rise out of his audience.”

Police officers can make thousands of dollars in additional income by taking off-duty jobs in security or directing traffic through companies like Seattle’s Finest and Seattle Security, which is affiliated with the Seattle Police Officers Guild.  In some cases, police are paid for a certain number of hours even if they work less—four hours, for example, for two hours’ actual work.

According to the investigation, the officer with Seattle’s Finest, identified by the Seattle Times as MacGregor Gordon, said one of the company’s bargaining tactics was to name a high price for their services, and then—if a building owner balked—withhold their work as parking garage flaggers and force the owners to bear the consequences until they finally gave up and paid the price Seattle’s Finest demanded.

Investigators said they were “hindered” in investigating the claims of extortion because the business owners “refused to discuss the matter unless OPA could guarantee full confidentiality

The investigation also found that Gordon expressed his “frustration with garage management’s attempts to modify his contract” by commenting that he would put a person who worked at the company in a “carotid choke hold.” A separate, related case described an interview with the FBI in which Gordon said he was “just joking around and was trying to get a rise out of his audience” with his inflammatory comments

Former police chief Kathleen O’Toole referred the case to the FBI, which decided not to prosecute. We have a call out to OPA for information about why it waited until now to release the summary of its investigation.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Durkan Shuffles the Deck in Major Office Reorg

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

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

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

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

Fong’s full email to the mayor’s staff is below the jump.  Continue reading “Durkan Shuffles the Deck in Major Office Reorg”

Morning Crank: “I Just Don’t Think It’s a Big Deal.”

1. Yesterday, new Mayor Tim Burgess announced he was hiring Eli Sanders—an old Stranger colleague of mine—as his deputy communications director and speechwriter. Sanders, who writes feature stories and comments on national politics for the Stranger, will return to his job at the paper in November and write about what he learned during his ten weeks on the city payroll. (He will also continue to host the Stranger’s Blabbermouth podcast while working for Burgess). In his Slog post about his new temporary gig, Sanders writes, “I’ve often wondered… what it’s actually like on the inside.”  Now Burgess is giving him the chance to find out, and Seattle taxpayers will be picking up the tab.

Burgess says he chose Sanders because “I respect him. He’s a talented writer, I trust him, and I wanted to do something different in terms of not just another person who’s been writing in government. I wanted a new perspective—a new, outside set of ideas— and he’s capable of delivering.”

City hall staffers and others who work with the mayor’s office are understandably wondering whether it will be possible to hold sensitive conversations with Burgess in the future, given that all conversations in Sanders’ presence will effectively be on the record. (Sanders writes that he told Burgess, “If I do this, I’ll be writing about the experience afterward. Everyone will have to know that going in. And I’ll be coming back to The Stranger with a story. “) Sanders and Burgess got to know each other back in 2012, when Sanders wrote a long, mostly laudatory piece about the council member, who went on to run for mayor the following year.

Asked about the wisdom of embedding a reporter in his office and entrusting him with confidential information, Burgess says, “We have an understanding about confidentiality parameters with Eli—what he can and can’t write about, who he can and can’t quote. We’ve worked all that out.” Burgess says people will be reminded of those parameters whenever Sanders is in the room, adding, “I just don’t think it’s a big deal.” Reporters go to work in government jobs and then write about it afterward all the time, Burgess pointed out. That’s true. However, I can think of no other time when a reporter has gone on temporary leave from his journalism job to work for an elected official with the express purpose of using the temporary gig as material for an “eye-opening” story about “what it’s actually like on the inside” of City Hall.

Sanders didn’t return my call for comment, but as a reporter, I understand the appeal of his new assignment—dipping one’s toe into city politics for a couple of months, at what I’m guessing is a significantly higher salary (Sanders’ predecessor in the job, Katherine Bush, made $127,650 a year), is a plum reporting gig. (In his post, Sanders calls it  “experiential journalism.”) What motivated Burgess (whose paramount mission right now should be to restore trust and integrity to municipal government) to bring Sanders on now  is more inscrutable. Burgess took the office promising to restore sanity and a steady hand to an office rocked by scandal and low morale. It’s hard to see how participating in a Stranger writer’s reporting experiment furthers that goal.

2. As Sanders was packing up his notebooks at the Stranger, his coworkers were gleefully celebrating the firing of another mayoral staffer, communications director Benton Strong.  (Previously,  Strong was a spokesman for the state Democrats and SEIU 775). In a post titled “Good Riddance, Benton Strong,” the Stranger‘s news staffers—Heidi Groover, Sydney Brownstone, Ana Sofia Knauf, and news editor Steven Hsieh—took turns trashing the “bad flack,” concluding with a call for readers to submit their own damaging stories about Murray’s former spokesman. As I said on Twitter, I’ve been frustrated and irritated by many different spokespeople for elected officials over the years, Strong included, but shitting all over a largely unknown staffer who just lost his job is unnecessary, tacky, and pointless.

3. Former city council member Nick Licata has been lobbying hard to fill Burgess’ now-empty seat on the council, sending a letter to council members “formally requesting that the City Council consider me as a candidate for filling the Council seat.”

“I believe that I can bring additional value to the Council’s budget process since I’ve been through it 18 times and have served as either the Chair or Vice Chair of the Budget Committee for a third of that time,” the letter continues. “As the former chair of the public safety, human services, and parks committees, as well as serving as Council President, I’m familiar with both the operations and capital budget’s contents and process. And, I understand from that experience how it affects city government services in a number of different areas.”

If appointed, Licata would be working alongside his former council aide, Lisa Herbold, who is now a council member and Burgess’ replacement as chair of the budget committee. Licata, once considered the furthest-left member of the council, now says his politics are more or less in line with most of the current council members’. “I think my agenda has always been pretty much a rational, cost-effective way to try to get social justice issues passed. That’s not new,” Licata says. “The majority of the council and I are on pretty much the same page on most issues.” Former interim council member John Okamoto’s name is also circulating as a potential “consensus” appointment, as is former council member Sally Clark’s. Neither is a shoo-in, though, particularly Okamoto, who won his appointment in 2015 (to Clark’s old position) by a vote of 5-3. Three of the people who voted for him two years ago are no longer on the council.

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