Last Friday, MayorJenny Durkan announced the departure of Seattle Department of Transportation director Scott Kubly, who got in trouble over his role in promoting a now-defunct bikeshare company affiliated with his former employer, and Patricia Lally, head of the city’s Office for Civil Rights. Durkan replaced both Kubly and Lally with interim directors from outside the city—former SDOT director Goran Sparrman and former Youth Violence Initiative director Mariko Lockhart. Kubly reportedly lobbied hard to keep his job, but that was probably never in the cards—his fans saw a visionary, big-picture leader, but his detractors inside and outside the city saw an outsider (from Austin by way of D.C. and Chicago) who threw elbows at too many people.
Durkan also announced a number of department heads she plans to keep, including Office of Housing director Steve Walker, Human Services Department director Catherine Lester, and Department of Education and Early Learning director Dwane Chappelle.
One name that wasn’t on either list was Department of Neighborhoods director Kathy Nyland, the onetime Georgetown neighborhood activist who emerged as one of the most transformative figures of the last four years. Nyland reorganized and attempted to remove the deadweight from DON (her email signature: “New Day, New DON!”, which had been the city department where miscellaneous programs went to languish, and to reimagine the concept of “neighborhoods” itself, to include the renters, immigrants, and newcomers who actually make up the majority of the city. Nyland’s dedication to inclusiveness riled the old-guard neighborhood movement—single-family homeowners, mostly white baby boomers, who tended to oppose changes that would add new people, particularly “transient” renters, to their” neighborhoods.
Those old-guard activists lost big during the last election—NIMBY darlings Jon Grant, Pat Murakami, and Bob Hasegawa lost decisively—but are hoping Durkan won’t realize that their time has passed.
The biggest rift between Nyland and the old guard came when Murray announced that the city would no longer fund or staff the 13 neighborhood district councils, and would dedicate the money they had spent supporting the councils to other purposes. Nyland took the brunt of the blame, as neighborhood activists accused her of failing to get their input and shutting them out of the system they have dominated for decades. On the campaign trail, Durkan talked about “bringing back the district councils,” and said she thinks “the city has quit listening to the neighborhoods’ needs.”
They haven’t—they’ve just started listening to underrepresented people, too—and as Nyland has pointed out, when you’re used to being the only voice in the room, inclusion can feel like an affront. But neighborhoods are made up of renters, immigrants, night-shift workers, and young people, too. It would be a shame if complaints from activists who want to restore things to the “good old days” of Seattle circa 1990 were successful at pushing out an effective advocate whose work is just getting started.
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