Morning Crank: “It Is Little Wonder that Many Good People Won’t Consider Public Service.”

 

1. Learn to trust the Crank: After I reported last week that the nomination of Jason Johnson, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s pick to head the Human Services Department, was on the rocks, Durkan withdrew his name from consideration, trashing the city council in a bitter and harshly worded statement for holding up the nomination with a “never-ending confirmation process.” Durkan’s office also confirmed that they would not submit a new nominee for consideration; instead, Durkan plans to keep Johnson on as an unappointed interim director “through at least next year,” according to Durkan’s spokeswoman Chelsea Kellogg.

Durkan appointed Johnson as interim director in May 2018, and did not forward his name to the city council for permanent appointment until New Year’s Eve. As a result, Johnson served for nearly seven and a half months before Durkan officially nominated him to the position. Since then, however, Durkan has emphasized the urgency of moving his nomination through as quickly as possible.

The Council’s failure to follow its own procedures or give Jason a fair confirmation process has been harmful to the work of the Human Services Department, impaired our effort to respond to the homelessness crisis and has been deeply unfair to a person that has served this city tirelessly on one of the toughest issues facing our city, region and country,” Durkan said in the statement. “It is little wonder that many good people won’t consider public service.”

“City Council has done something remarkable: nothing. The City Council’s inaction has done a disservice to Jason, to Human Services Department employees, and to the ability of the City to focus on the crisis of homelessness.” — Statement from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office announcing her decision to pull Jason Johnson’s nomination as head of the Human Services Department

Durkan (later echoed by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce) placed the blame for the length of the nomination process squarely on council member Kshama Sawant, who advocated for a new nomination process and refused to bring Johnson up for a hearing  in her human services committee. That may have been true initially, but once Johnson’s nomination was moved to a new committee, Sally Bagshaw’s Special Committee on Homelessness, it became increasingly clear that he didn’t have the votes to win confirmation. (In her statement, Durkan said that no one on the council except Sawant had “expressed publicly or to Mayor Durkan that they are opposed to Jason.” Last week, two Durkan staffers asked me to tell them which council members had expressed concerns to me about Johnson.)  

Council members raised questions in Johnson’s first confirmation hearing, on March 28, about low morale among HSD staff, particularly in the homelessness division, which he attributed to the fact that the agency is in the middle of a time of “instability” and “immense change,” including the new mayoral administration. (The fact that the city and county are planning to merge their homelessness programs into a single regional agency is also causing heartburn in the department). Some HSD employees and members of the Seattle Silence Breakers have also raised concerns about Johnson’s commitment to race and social justice, an issue that also came up at his confirmation hearing.

Council members were unavailable Monday to talk about Durkan’s decision to pull Johnson’s name from consideration. If Johnson does remain in his position through next year, he will be working with a much different council; all seven district council positions are on the ballot this year, and four incumbents are not seeking reelection.

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2. On Monday, the council appointed its newest member to replace Rob Johnson, who resigned his District 4 (northeast Seattle) council seat seven months before the end of his term:  Abel Pacheco, currently the strategic engagement director at a University of Washington STEM program. Pacheco, who has sought a position on the council twice before (once in 2015, when he ran for the seat Johnson won, and once in 2017, when he sought appointment to a different council seat), was one of ten candidates running for the permanent District 4 position but has committed to dropping out of that race. Pacheco will chair the council’s land use and zoning committee, which will take up legislation that would make it easier to build accessory dwelling units, as well as a proposal to upzone University Way Northeast, which Johnson stripped from the Mandatory Housing Ability plan adopted last month.

3. Also Monday, the council voted to move the $219 million Libraries for All levy proposal—amended to include additional library hours, programs for kids, and outreach workers for homeless youth—to the August ballot Monday. But even before the levy plan hit the mayor’s desk, anti-tax newspaper pundits were spinning the numbers to represent the new levy as a shocking increase over 2012’s $123 million proposal. The Seattle Times reported that the original levy proposal, at $213 million, represented a “73 percent increase” over the levy adopted in 2012. On Monday, the Seattle P-I’s Joel Connelly inflated that amount to a “doubling” of the levy, a claim that would be inaccurate even if inflation and population growth did not exist, as $219 million is not twice as much as $123 million.

But inflation and population growth do exist. Since 2012, the city has grown by more than 100,000 residents, and the value of a median house has more than doubled, from $361,000 to $726,000 last year. As a result, the actual levy that’s being proposed this year—that is, the number of cents levied per $1,000 of property value—is lower than it was in the initial year of the 2012 levy.  That plan raised property taxes by 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2013. (The actual assessment needed to raise $123 million went down in successive years as property values spiked.) The new plan raises taxes just over 12 cents per $1,000 in 2020—an amount that will also decline if property values continue their skyward trajectory.

Don’t expect to see accurate representations of property taxes in the Seattle Times or PI, though. Instead, get ready for three more months of misleading figures and tirades against “tax fatigue,” all capped off with a Times editorial urging a “no” vote on the levy in July.

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