By Erica C. Barnett
The city of Seattle spent $280,000 over the past year paying longtime local consultant Tim Ceis—a former deputy mayor widely known as “the Shark” for his combative, “Machiavellian” style—to lobby Sound Transit on a West Seattle-to-Ballard light rail extension, PubliCola has learned. The no-bid, sole-source contract falls just under the maximum amount, $285,000, that city agencies can legally pay consultants before they have to solicit public bids.
According to Ceis’ contract, his work included building “community consensus” on behalf of the city’s preferred light rail alternative—a controversial last-minute option that eliminates long-planned stations serving the Chinatown-International District and First Hill in favor of a second station in Pioneer Square and a new station a few blocks from the existing Stadium Station. Mayoral spokesman Jamie Housen said the contract amounts to around 20 hours of work a week, although it’s unclear how many hours Ceis has actually worked on the mayor’s behalf.
Harrell sponsored the new alternative with the support of King County Executive Dow Constantine, at a meeting where the Sound Transit board adopted Harrell’s proposal as its preferred alternative last week.
According to a redacted copy of Ceis’ amended contract, his work for the city involved “developing and representing the Mayor’s position” on the light-rail route, “developing positive board-level relationships that support Seattle’s goals for [the West Seattle-Ballard Light Rail Extension] and enable effective decision-making at the ST Board” and “encourag[ing] agreement around recommendations and modifications considered by the ST Board.” Formally, the contract is between the Seattle Department of Transportation, which answers to the mayor, and Ceis’ firm, Ceis Bayne East.
Update March 29: At PubliCola’s request, the city’s website has been updated to include Ceis’ original contract, which was not publicly available until today. The contract includes heavy redactions, including a blacked-out page titled “Consultant costs and estimated hours,” as seen above. State public disclosure law requires disclosure of public documents except in specifically, clearly defined cases; I’ve asked which exemption they believe Ceis’ contract terms fall under.
Update April 3: After PubliCola asked for a legal justification for redacting Ceis’ costs and estimated hours, the Seattle Department of Transportation provided unredacted copies of the original contract and the amended version. Both show that Ceis claimed 20 hours of work per week at $250 an hour—a rate that’s significantly lower than what consultants at Ceis’ level (both as a partner in his own firm and with his decades of experience) generally charge. Ceis’ contract does not require a specific accounting of hours.
Harrell and King County Executive Dow Constantine have repeatedly suggested that “the CID community” was united in support of a light rail alternative that bypasses their neighborhood, but the illusion of that consensus was decisively broken when thousands of people signed a petition supporting a station in Chinatown, and dozens showed up to hold signs and testify against a route that skips their neighborhood, last week.
Under the contract, Ceis was responsible for getting “key constituencies” to support the mayor’s preferred route and station locations and helping them craft their “comments and positions” in favor of this route.
Supporters of the “north-south” alternative have argued that “the CID community” was united in support of a light rail alternative that bypasses their neighborhood, but the illusion of that consensus was decisively broken when thousands of people signed a petition supporting a station in Chinatown, and dozens showed up to hold signs and testify against a route that skips their neighborhood, last week.
Ceis and his firm are being paid significantly more per year than Anne Fennessy, a consultant hired by then-mayor Jenny Durkan to serve as the city’s dedicated representative to Sound Transit in 2018. Fennessy’s $180,000-a-year contract raised eyebrows both for its size and the fact that Fennessy was a personal friend of Durkan’s. Fennessy’s work consisted largely of representing the city in meetings with Sound Transit staff and coordinating technical input, according to her contract.
Ceis’ firm, which helped draft the Compassion Seattle initiative, received $25,000 for its work on Compassion Seattle, the failed initiative on homelessness that Harrell adopted as a pillar of his homelessness policy. Ceis maxed out to Harrell’s mayoral campaign in 2021 and worked behind the scenes on an independent expenditure committee supporting Harrell.
Ceis directed our questions about his contract to Harrell’s office. Housen said Ceis “filled a gap” when the city was transitioning between dedicated representatives to Sound Transit, “providing expertise, analysis, and historical context over the last year.”