Morning Crank: We Have an Obligation to Our Employees

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1. Three hours after he announced he was pulling the plug on a proposal for a citywide homelessness levy, Mayor Ed Murray’s lobby was inundated with protesters chanting, “No coal, no oil! We want our money back!” The group of about 40 Keystone XL Pipeline opponents was targeting the mayor because he agreed to sign off on a resolution expressing the city’s concern about doing business with banks that invest in the pipeline or the company that is building it, and committing the city to “look for meaningful ways to communicate these positions of the Seattle City Council to prospective financial institutions.”

The legislation was a heavily amended version of a proposal originally put forward by council member Kshama Sawant, which would have directed the city to divest itself from all banks that do business in any way with Keystone or TransCanada. As I noted in a post on that resolution last week, divesting from every bank that does business with companies that don’t mesh perfectly with the city’s progressive values could leave the city without a bank, and leave 10,000 city workers without paychecks. Today, council member Lisa Herbold took up that torch, noting pointedly both in the morning council briefings meeting and in front of a chambers packed with people holding “No Keystone XL” signs that there are only so many banks that meet all the current requirements to do business with the city.

Of 63 banks that are authorized to provide services to cities in Washington State, Herbold said, only 10 are eligible under state law to bid on the city’s services, and “we don’t know for certain that they are, because we have still other banking criteria,” like a rule saying that the city can only do business with banks that received a rating of “outstanding” under the Community Reinvestment Act, which requires investment in low-income communities. “We have an obligation to our employees to be able to pay them, and we need a bank in order to pay them, so we need to really work collaboratively with the executive in identifying which banking institutions can really reflect our values,” Herbold said.

Sawant countered by accusing all the council members who supported Herbold’s amendment of joining other politicians across the country who were “bought out by the oil lobby” and declaring, to cheers from the crowd, that the city has a “political and moral obligation to clearly oppose investment in such destructive projects,” and that “if there are no banks existing that will qualify, then we have to fight to set up a public bank, we have to fight to lift the state ban on banking with credit unions.”

Council member Rob Johnson, who noted that his prior job was as head of an environmental group, the Transportation Choices Coalition, countered that although he didn’t want to do business with banks that invest in pipelines, either, “We need to [make sure we] have real options for writing those 10,000 employees’ paychecks every two weeks, and because we don’t yet have a municipal banking option, and because we don’t yet have … the authority to work with local credit unions, I feel it is important to balance that fiduciary duty to our 10,000 employees alongside our environmental commitment.” The crowd booed loudly at that, but the council passed the resolution unanimously.

2. The intended consequence of the four $25 “democracy vouchers” that went out to every registered voter in Seattle in January is that regular people have a say in city council elections.

The perhaps unintended consequence is that just like people who contribute their own money to campaigns, people who contribute through the voucher program are on the record, and with a couple of clicks, you can find out exactly who your coworker, neighbor, or boss supported with their city-funded campaign dollars.

Wayne Barnett, director of the city’s Ethics and Elections Commission, says the city is still working to update the elections website so contributions will be tallied automatically, but for now, you can download a spreadsheet showing all the voucher contributions so far, and find out, among other things, which elected officials are already all-in—for themselves.

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