The C Is for Crank Interviews: Nikkita Oliver

 

Image result for nikkita oliver

via Youtube.

Nikkita Oliver, an attorney, spoken-word poet, and educator who works for Creative Justice, a program that provides arts-based alternatives to youth incarceration, announced she was running for mayor back in early March, a month before allegations of sexual misconduct sidelined incumbent Ed Murray’s campaign, and two months before he announced he will not run for reelection. What once looked like a relatively simple choice between a popular incumbent and a social-justice advocate who promised to shake up the system has since become a free-for-all, with 13 candidates—including a former mayor, two state legislators, and an ex-federal prosecutor—in the race so far, with five more days remaining for other candidates (such as city council member Lorena Gonzalez, who would have to give up her council seat to run for mayor) to jump in.

Oliver is running as a representative of a new group called the People’s Party (city races are nonpartisan), which aims to “break down barriers and open doors for collective leadership that is willing, able, and experienced in divesting from practices, corporations, and institutions that don’t reflect the values and interests of our city,” according to its platform. Oliver argues for rent control, larger mandatory affordable housing contributions from developers than what is mandated by Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) and Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) programs, and restorative justice practices like mediation and restitution over incarceration. I sat down with Oliver at the Creative Justice Office at Washington Hall, in the Central District.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): Given that you aren’t raising money or hiring staff, some have raised questions about whether you’re actually hoping to win, or if you’re just running to lift up issues and raise questions. Can you talk a little bit about why you’re running and what you and the People’s Party hope to accomplish?

NO: Absolutely we’re running to win, but there’s also multiple lenses here. To become mayor would be incredibly transformative in and of itself. I’d be the first woman mayor in 91 years, the first woman of color mayor ever in Seattle, and I would certainly be someone who very progressively and honestly speaks to substantive issues, and I’m very well acquainted with the community.

But there are also all kinds of other wins. The conversation around housing and homelessness, around what economics looks like in our city, the gap between the rich and the poor, what does racial justice and equity actually look like—those conversations have been substantively pushed to a place that they would not have been pushed to if the People’s Party and myself had not joined in the race. And I think that’s an essential place for us to be. It’s challenging the unwillingness of our electeds to actually engage in talking about the substantive issues. They tend to talk about these things at the 30,000-foot level, and then they get into office, and what they promised doesn’t really happen.

ECB: You’ve focused on the issue of displacement, particularly in the Central District. What is your policy plan to prevent displacement? If you could erase HALA and MHA today, what would you replace them with?

NO: I don’t think it’s about erasing HALA and MHA. I think the real problem there is that the Grand Bargain [between social justice advocates and developers] really created a developer incentive to just build as much as they want to at whatever cost they want to, because they don’t have to actually invest in the communities that have been impacted by the very fast change that’s happened in our city.

The same areas have taken the brunt of that zoning over and over again, and there are solutions for that. Some of that’s [building] mother-in-law [apartments in single-family areas]. Some of that is simply saying to a neighborhood, ‘Look, our city is growing. We’re absolutely going to have to build some places, maybe somewhere in your neighborhood. Where would you want that density to go?’

What HALA and MHA does is, one, it doesn’t ask for enough in investment from developers in the city. It makes us very reliant on the private market to develop enough housing to meet the needs of the people who are already here and the people who are coming, and we just know from basic supply and demand that that’s going to increase the cost of housing. So yeah, we do talk a lot about displacement, because Seattleites of all colors and ethnicities and backgrounds have actually been displaced from the neighborhoods. So when we think about displacement, there’s making sure we don’t continue to push people out, and there’s finding ways to build enough housing fast enough that people could in theory actually come back.

And I think it’s a multifaceted strategy. It’s not just MHA and HALA. It’s also thinking about market intervention strategies, like looking at who’s buying what, what places are left unused, addressing the conversation about speculative capital and how that’s impacting our overall economy.

And also, if the city truly cares about ensuring that people have the right to stay, the city will get invested in building housing and will expand what our own housing authority is doing around providing affordable housing, as well as redefining what is affordable.

ECB: Did you support the housing levy? 

NO: Which levy?

ECB: The one that passed last year, that will bring in $290 million to build affordable housing.

NO: Honestly I don’t remember.

ECB: It was a property tax levy that doubled the amount the city is spending to build affordable housing.

NO: That’s where we’re at, right? Using property taxes to pay for things. If we’re not asking developers to invest at a higher level, we’re going to have to continue to leverage the dollars of people that have already taken on the burden of what development is doing in our city instead of asking the developers to take their fair share of that burden.

The zoning issues do need to be differently distributed throughout the city. The same areas have taken the brunt of that zoning over and over again, and there are solutions for that. Some of that’s [building] mother-in-law [apartments in single-family areas]. Some of that is simply saying to a neighborhood, ‘Look, our city is growing. We’re absolutely going to have to build some places, maybe somewhere in your neighborhood. Where would you want that density to go?’

ECB: Having covered the issue for a long time, I think that for a lot of neighborhood activists, the answer would be, ‘Nowhere in my neighborhood.’ 

NO: And we’re going to have to deal with that, the same way communities of color are often pushed to continue being in conversations until we achieve a consensus or, in our case, typically a compromise. I think asking more wealthy, affluent communities to do the same is important.

ECB: The homeowners who don’t want density have gone so far as to sue the city to stop backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments, which are about the gentlest form of density there is. What makes you think you can work with them to reach a compromise?

NO: I think at either end, you’re going to have people with extreme [views]. You’re going to have people who say, ‘We want density everywhere, as much as possible,’ and you’re going to have people who say, ‘We want absolutely no additional density anywhere. That’s what the media talks about. Rarely do we see stories in the media about homeowners who have sat down and are willing to compromise in some areas, and I know those folks exist because we’ve had  really great conversations with them, where what we’ve been told is the three things they want are: Input in the process, connection to the offices that are making the decisions, and preservation of the culture of their neighborhood, of the space, as much as possible. I don’t think that’s impossible. I don’t think it will be a time-efficient process. I think it can be a very effective process.

“I think we need to adjust that approach and trust that when folks in encampments ask for certain services, that those are the exact services that will help them do better.”

ECB: Murray says his approach to homelessness is a compassionate middle ground – clearing encampments periodically but offering people services and shelter while working to rebid all the contracts for homeless providers who that they’re focused on permanent housing. What is your critique of that approach?

NO: I think they’re absolutely sweeps. I’m sure there’s an attempt to offer services, but are they the services that people are asking for? The city doesn’t have any 24/7 shelters or storage spaces. One of the most damaging things about a sweep is that people lose all of their belongings, but also what we’re missing is the personal agency and self determination that is created when people develop an encampment, that they are, together, developing a community that’s self-regulated and is also creating a certain amount of stability for those community members, and when sweeps occur, they disrupt all of that.

These are intelligent folks. To figure out how to survive outside is no easy task. I think that when people see folks who are living in encampments, they tend to think that they don’t know what they need and to assume that their requests are maybe not the solution. I think we need to adjust that approach and trust that when folks in encampments ask for certain services, that those are the exact services that will help them do better. I think the city has to actually philosophically shift, in some ways, the way that we view houseless and homeless folks and also understand that there is a certain amount of self-determination that has to be honored in order for any solution and any services provided to actually be effective.

ECB: Mayor Murray has gotten quite a bit of credit for moving the city forward on police accountability and complying with the Justice Department’s consent decree. What’s your specific critique of the way the city has responding to DOJ’s directives and dealing with excessive use of force and biased policing?

NO: The Community Police Commission has made tons of recommendations, many of which are very good solutions for how to move forward, but the CPC has no teeth currently and can’t actually enforce those changes. There’s a lot of distrust of police in the neighborhoods that are highly overpoliced. We need to figure out how you give people a voice in the actual process. How do we help officers figure out how to better engage with actual community members? How do we get more officers on foot in neighborhoods? How do we get more officers at community events, not just as officers but as community members? A lot of our officers don’t actually function as community members, so then they are just police. The overpoliced communities, the most impacted communities, should get community input into the community policing project.

“In 2008, we saw burglaries go up, we saw more youth snatching people’s phones out of their hands, and it’s because they didn’t have access to resources. We’ve created a system where for some people, the only way to access those resources is to take them.

ECB: You’ve said that you’d like to get to a place where we don’t need police. What would that look like?

NO: I grew up in a place where, if I got in trouble, I literally got in trouble on every block until I got home, which meant that I just didn’t get in trouble too often anymore after the first few times. And that was how me and all my siblings and my cousins grew up. Over time, as communities become gentrified and more policed and there’s less relationships between neighbors, I think what we see is the decrease in that accountability and ownership for each other. So you might see your neighbor’s house getting broke into, but you’re not going to say anything because that’s not your house. That’s not how I was raised. I think gentrification has really began to decrease how much communities know about each other. Most people do not know their neighbors. So I think part of the culture shifting that has to happen in our neighborhoods is, how do we get neighbors to know each other? It sounds kind of corny, but in a lot of places, block parties play a major role in that. Just having resources for neighborhoods to get out and be around each other is very valuable.

I’m not an unreasonable abolitionist. But those things have to happen simultaneously. We can’t just get rid of police. It’s not going to work like that. We do need an infrastructure for how we address harm. But I don’t think police have to be the first resort. I think police can be the last resort. I also think we have a fire department and EMT services when there is an actual physical harm, and there are processes we can go through, first of all, to see if people want to be involved in a restorative justice process.

It also has to be coupled with an economic, job opportunity and education response. Some of the harms that we see are literally a response to not having access to resources, and we know this because when we see recessions happen, like in 2008, we saw burglaries go up, we saw more youth snatching people’s phones out of their hands, and it’s because they didn’t have access to resources. We’ve created a system where for some people, the only way to access those resources is to take them. I think we tend to look at abolitionists and say, ‘Oh, y’all just want to get rid of police,’ but what I really want is to create a healthy, just system where people have a lot of options.

 

Think about what happens when you put someone in jail for a property crime, and the trauma that jail causes, and the likelihood that they will actually recidivize after being released, but not for another property crime, most likely for a crime that’s categorized as violent. What it shows is that we’re actually using an ineffective system. We’re neither rehabilitating, nor are we getting the retribution that people seem to want, because what we’re doing is we’re actually creating the likelihood that we’re going to end up with more crime, and with more violent crime, from folks who hadn’t actually quite yet reached that level.

ECB: What do you think the media has gotten wrong about you?

NO: I think that they’ve labeled me as a protest candidate, and this is not about protest. It’s about transformation. It’s about, this is a system of inaccessibility and inequality that I’ve lived in my entire life, and other people in the People’s Party have as well, and instead of being complacent and giving in to it we continue to strive to be organizers who are solution-oriented. I think that the media has purposely tied to strip me of my merits and my credentials. It is easier to label me a Black Lives Matter leader, which I’m not. I’m black, so I do advocate for my life and the life of my family, but I’m also a lawyer and an educator, and I have worked very hard to get those credentials. I have done a lot of work in the community that has given me a lot of trust and respect with community members.

When you see the way that [fellow mayoral candidate] Cary Moon is talked about, she’s an urban planner, an engineer, and a civic leader. The term ‘civic leader’ has never been used for me, but I’ve probably been to more council meetings than most of the other candidates in the race. Is that not civic leadership? Is that not civic engagement? I think the media has played into a trope or a stereotypical narrative. It’s an easier box to put me in as a woman of color than it is to actually talk about me as a human being with merits and credentials and substantive work that I’ve done around education and juvenile incarceration and community development. I don’t ever get tied to substantive issues. I think it is an unfair characterization. It’s not unexpected, though.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful foryour support.

Morning Crank: “Let’s Actually Do It.”

1. For a few weeks, a rumor has been going around that Scott Lindsay, Mayor Ed Murray’s public safety advisor and the most vocal defender of encampment sweeps in the mayor’s office, was thinking of running for city attorney against longtime incumbent Pete Holmes. Yesterday, Lindsay put those rumors to rest, announcing that not only is he running, he’s leaving the mayor’s office in one week, presumably to campaign full-time. Perhaps most interesting, Lindsay’s announcement included two unlikely endorsements, from Mothers for Police Accountability founder Rev. Harriet Walden and Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard. Walden is a longtime police accountability advocate and Daugaard has been highly critical of Murray’s homeless encampment sweeps; both serve on the Community Police Commission, the civilian body that oversees police reform efforts at the city.

Daugaard’s decision to support Lindsay is surprising not only because she supported Holmes in the past (over two campaign cycles, Daugaard  contributed $246 to Holmes’ campaigns), but because Lindsay is widely seen as a law-and-order guy and a strong defender of Murray’s encampment removal policies. (Shortly after Lindsay announced, Safe Seattle—a group opposed to homeless encampments, safe drug-consumption sites, and Murray’s pro-density policies—sung his praises on their Facebook page.

I asked Daugaard why she was supporting Lindsay. Her response: “We need to do more with the office of City Attorney. We’re entering an era when we had better be doing things worth defending here in Seattle. If we’re saying safe consumption [sites for drug users], let’s do it. If we’re saying we can care for people and reduce crime through community based alternatives, let’s actually do it.

“Scott’s analysis that we can take a more serious approach to all of these issues is correct. I haven’t always agreed with him and that may continue, but I respect his energy and openness to evidence about it what works.”

Daugaard says she’s concerned that after eight years with Holmes as city attorney, misdemeanor defendants “still serve long sentences on cases with excessive probation, are held in lieu of bail because they are poor, and are made to give up their trial rights to get services in too many cases. Jail utilization has climbed.”

“I give Pete great credit for hiring Kelly Harris as his criminal division chief last year. Kelly has made important improvements. But we need to get serious about making more effective city wide use of community based diversion. This has to work—we don’t have an infinite time frame to get it right and take it to scale. Scott is very serious about showing that we can achieve strong neighborhood-level outcomes through a public health-based approach. We need that kind of energy or people are going to get fed up.”

Murray’s campaign confirms that he will continue to support Holmes, whom he endorsed before Lindsay got in the race. The timing of Lindsay’s announcement puts Murray, who is running for reelection himself amid allegations that he sexually abused teenage boys in the 1980s, in a tough position—having a top staffer abandon ship during a tough reelection campaign does not exactly inspire confidence.

There may be another reason Lindsay decided to leave Murray in the lurch: Because polling suggested he could win. So far, Lindsay has reported one expenditure: A $20,000 phone poll, conducted between April 21 and April 23.

2. Four years after denouncing a soda tax proposal by his then- (and future) opponent, Mike McGinn (and getting trounced by his opponents as a shill for the beverage industry) on soda and sugar-sweetened beverages, Mayor Murray rolled out the details of his own soda tax proposal Thursday. The proposal would impose a 1.75-cent-per-ounce on all sodas, including diet sodas, to be paid by soda distributors, who would almost certainly pass the cost on to customers. (This, I should note, hits Crank where she lives. Don’t mess with my garbage water, Mr. Mayor, SIR.)

The money—an estimated $18 million a year, depreciated from the $23 million the city budget office estimates it would taken in on current soda sales to account for the fact that soda taxes reduce consumption—would pay for programs that support education and access to healthy food in low-income communities, including: $469,000 a year to expand school-based mentorships; $1.1 million a year for workplace learning programs for kids in high school; $1.1 million a year for case management and training to reduce racial disparities in discipline; and a one-time investment of $5 million to create an endowment that, Murray said Thursday, will provide “one free year of college at Seattle colleges [formerly known as community colleges] to all public schools students who graduate.”

Acknowledging that a soda tax is regressive—not only does it hit lower-income people hardest, lower-income people buy more soda—Murray said, “To those who say that we are resorting to a regressive tax, I say, you know what is more regressive? You know what is really taking money out of African American communities? Tolerating an education system that is failing students of color every day and leaving them without a future and giving them food that will only lead to health problems.” Excessive soda consumption has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and heart and liver problems, Murray noted. Murray said he decided to include diet soda in the tax for equity reasons—higher-income white people are more likely to drink diet soda than sugar-sweetened drinks—but the expansion to diet drinks also allowed him to lower the tax slightly from the 2-cents-per-ounce tax he originally proposed in his State of the City speech in February.

The soda tax requires council approval; two council members, Rob Johnson and Tim Burgess, flanked Murray at yesterday’s press conference.

Immediately after Murray’s press conference, a group of Teamsters and other soda-tax opponents gathered in the lobby of City Hall to denounce the proposal.  Pete Lamb, a representative from Teamsters Local 174, said similar taxes had already forced companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi to cut jobs in Philadelphia, where a 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on soda went into effect this year. (The mayor of Philadelphia pointed out that the two companies saw gross profits of more than $6 billion last year, and called the company- and union-led efforts to blame the tax for layoffs a “new low.”) “We will not support a tax that puts our members’ jobs on the line,” Lamb said.

“Just in the soda and beverage industry alone, we have 1,200 to 1,300 workers, plus distributors and warehouse workers—when you really look at the full scope of it, you’re looking at thousands of jobs being potentially impacted,” Lamb said. “We support … working to combat obesity, but to just target soda when we have so many things in our food chain that are sugary—we can’t support that.”

Interesting foot note: The spokesman for the soda tax campaign, the Seattle Healthy Kids Coalition, is Aaron Pickus—the longtime spokesman for former Mayor McGinn, who proposed the original soda tax four years ago.

3. This morning, the city will once again remove a persistent unauthorized encampment above the Ballard Locks and provide its residents with information about open shelter beds and services in the hopes that some will accept their offers. The Locks encampment has been swept numerous times thanks in large part to repeated complaints by Ballard residents about garbage and erosion at the site.

George Scarola, Murray’s homelessness director, acknowledged Thursday that “of course [the decision to clear a particular encampment] is in part based on complaints. He says the Locks encampment is a “longstanding issue—as long as I’ve been here, I’ve heard people complain about it.” But, he says, the city is getting better about offering real services and shelter, rather than simply directing people to line up at bare-bones shelters downtown. “Are we simply moving people from one place to another? We are doing some of that,” Scarola acknowledges. But, he says, “We are getting 40 percent who are accepting services.” And “moving people around is somewhat useful, because we can remove some of the garbage,” which is a major source of neighborhood complaints.

The sweep begins at 8:30 this morning.

4. A new website that includes a petition to “recruit” 2016 Republican. gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant for mayor appears to be the handiwork of Matthew Donnellan, Bryant’s campaign manager in his unsuccessful effort to unseat Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee last year. Although the owner of the site paid to register it through a service that hides site owner identity, Ben Krokower of  the consulting firm Strategies 360 noticed Donnellan’s name in the source code and pointed it out on Twitter. Bill Bryant received 32 percent of the vote in King County in his race for governor.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful foryour support.

Morning Crank: It’s On

The big news from the first joint mayoral-city council election forum of 2017, sponsored by the 46th District Democrats last night at the Mennonite Church in Lake City, was Mayor Ed Murray’s announcement that he will propose a local income tax on high earners, taking away a major campaign talking point from one opponent, former mayor Mike McGinn, and potentially overshadowing efforts by a coalition called Trump-Proof Seattle that has been working for months to come up with a local income tax that will pass legal muster.

At the forum, Murray said he planned to “send to council … a proposal for a high-end income tax.” Murray announced the proposal in response to a question about solutions to homelessness, and preceded McGinn in the order, knocking the former mayor a bit off balance. “In my announcement, I proposed an income tax,” McGinn said. “If that is found not to be legal, we need to tax the big corporations that are benefiting from the growth” in Seattle.

Murray said a high-earners income tax would probably face an immediate legal challenge, one reason he has cited in the past for not proposing such a tax. (Murray initially proposed a new local property tax to pay for programs to address homelessness, but abandoned that plan in favor of a countywide sales tax, which he endorsed along with King County Executive Dow Constantine last month.

Of the eight mayoral candidates on stage last night, only one—Cary Moon—raised her “no” sign to the lightning round question, “Do you support a local income tax?” Moon told me yesterday afternoon that she is more interested in a capital gains tax, which she believes is more likely to hold up in court.

I live-tweeted the entire event, including the Position 8 city council debate, and Storified all those tweets here.

Welcome to Election 2017. Much, much more to come.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful foryour support.

Afternoon Crank: I’m Shocked At the Scale of That

1. The city auditor has completed his investigation into the implementation of a new joint billing system for Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities customers (memorably known as the New Customer Information System, or NCIS), and concluded that the reason the NCIS went $34 million over budget is that … the system ended up being more complicated than anyone had anticipated, and took more time and manpower to implement.

Or, as assistant city auditor Jane Dunkel put it during a briefing before the council utilities committee Tuesday, “The simple answer is that it took … ten months longer than anticipated,” and the extra cost “was in labor—city labor and consultants.” Specifically, the city spent $10.8 million more than budgeted on consultants, and $20.6 million over budget on city staffing, in the 10 extra months it took to complete the new billing system.

Mike O’Brien, a former CFO himself, seemed incredulous at those figures. “When I look at $20 million over 10 months—so, $2 million a month— if a city employee is costing us $10,000 a month, that means 200 employees were on this project,” O’Brien said. “I’m shocked at the scale of that.” Dunkel said that many of those employees had probably been reassigned from other tasks, but acknowledged that 200 employees is a lot of city workers to dedicate full-time to a single project. (The city calculates costs in full-time equivalent employees, or FTEs, so 200 full-time workers is just a proxy for the total cost.) And, Dunkel said, the city decided to “prioritize quality over timeliness.”

That brought O’Brien to his second question: Why, if project leaders knew they were slipping over budget and behind schedule, did they not inform the council sooner? (Committee chair Lisa Herbold had the same question.) Dunkel acknowledged that the trend toward being over budget and late was obvious “in retrospect,” but said the people working on the project may have thought they could make up the money and time. “Is it just well-intentioned people who are optimistic and thinking, ‘If we just keep working harder and faster, we’re going to make it’? Or is it people saying, ‘Wait a minute, we’re not going to make it and we need to let someone know that,'” Dunkel said.

“There were vacations and leaves, there was mandatory overtime—there wasn’t a point when they said, ‘Let’s stop and recalibrate.’ And part of it is that it’s hard to come back and report on that. You don’t want to do that until you’re really certain that you can’t make that date.”

You can read the auditors’ recommendations—which include requiring the city’s Chief Technology Office, Michael Matmiller, to report back to the council monthly on the status of the city’s IT projects—as well as the auditor’s presentation and a report on best practices by an outside consultant—on the city’s website.

2. On Wednesday, Mayor Ed Murray’s Human Services Department announced the location of a new, 24/7, low-barrier homeless shelter on First Hill. The shelter, which will accommodate about 100 men and women, will be located at First Presybterian Church, at 1013 8th Avenue. The city will hold one community meeting on the shelter at the church, on May 22 and 6pm, and hopes to open the shelter in June or July. If opposition to a methadone clinic in the neighborhood is any sort of guide, expect protests.

3. HSD and the mayor’s homelessness director, George Scarola, came to the council’s human services committee yesterday armed with numbers that they say demonstrate the success of the city’s new Navigation Team. The eight-member team, which includes both police and outreach workers, notifies residents of homeless encampments when the city plans to remove them from public property, and provides information on services and shelter, including other, authorized encampments. Scott Lindsay, the mayor’s special assistant on public safety, said that of 291 homeless people the team has contacted since it formed in February, 116 went into “alternative living arrangements”—about 70 to traditional shelters, and 46 to authorized encampments. “That’s more than just a referral—that’s actually a connection,” Lindsay said. “Those are people who were weeks or days or months ago living on streets unsheltered, who are now living inside or at an authorized encampment.”

But how big of a victory is that, really? People who live in camps tend to do so for many reasons: Shelters tend to be dirty and crowded, and most don’t allow people to come in with partners, possessions, or pets. Major addiction problems and mental illnesses that make it difficult to sleep in close quarters with hundreds of other people can also be issues. And sanctioned encampments fill up as fast as the city opens them—a point HSD deputy director Jason Johnson acknowledged.

Tuesday’s sweep of the encampment under the Spokane Street Viaduct, which the city said was necessary because of an RV fire at the site last week, was less successful by the city’s standards. Of 38 “total contacts,” Lindsay said, 15 “declined any form of services,” and 8 agreed to go to shelter or an authorized encampment. The rest took referrals to employment, case management, and other services, Lindsay said.

4. Chris Potter, director of operations for the Department of Finance and Administrative Services, updated council members on the city’s new delivery service, which allows people to retrieve  belongings confiscated from encampments without busing all the way down to the city’s storage facility on Airport Way. So far, Potter said, two people have asked for the belongings back, and one has gotten their “materials” returned. Pressed by council member Tim Burgess to explain why this was good news—given that the city has hundreds of bins full of unclaimed stuff taken from homeless encampments—Potter said, “Getting two calls represents a dramatic increase in the number of people who have reached out to us and said, ‘Hey, can I get my things back?'” But, he acknowledged, “It’s difficult to have a conversation with somebody whose material you’ve gotten and who hasn’t made a phone call to try to recover it from us.”

5. The Seattle Times ran a breathtakingly solipsistic, question-begging editorial this week calling on Mayor Ed Murray not to run for reelection. Their argument: Someone under such a “cloud” of “sordid” allegations can’t possibly win reelection, but could divide the electorate, leaving the city stuck with “Mayor Kshama Sawant, or some other extreme left-wing ideologue.” First of all, Kshama Sawant has repeatedly and explicitly said she does not plan to run for mayor—a minor detail the Times omits. (Obviously, people can change their minds, but this seems a somewhat crucial point.) Second, and more glaring: The Times itself is the publication that decided to publish all the sordid details about the allegations in the first place, including detailed allegations about rough sex and a mole on Murray’s genitals, so if anyone has created an environment of “sordid theater,” it’s them.

Finally, it requires a truly special sort of arrogance for a newspaper to first declare that its own story is “the biggest political scandal in Seattle in generation,” then claim that the subject of that story has been “transformed [by that story] from the bold big-city mayor into one who defers to his defense lawyer when he is invited to speak to The Seattle Times editorial board,” and then use that entirely reasonable deferral—which no one was aware of until the paper reported it, making the story about itself—as a justification for demanding his resignation.  Traditionally, a newspaper that wants a public official to step aside cites public opinion or some other outside evidence to shore up such a demand; the Times cites only itself, and its own declaration that its own reporters have uncovered the biggest scandal in generations.

As I said on Twitter:

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

 

Morning Crank: We Have an Obligation to Our Employees

keystone-council-chambers

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.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Mayor: Just Kidding About That $275 Million Property Tax for Homelessness

Dow-Ed-Claudia

Just three weeks after rolling out a proposal to increase Seattle residents’ property taxes about $135 a year to raise $275 million for homelessness over the next five years, Mayor Ed Murray, joined by King County Executive Dow Constantine and other county officials, announced today that he was scrapping that proposal in favor of a countywide 0.1-percent sales tax, which will go on the ballot in 2018. The measure would raise $68.6 million in the first year, according to the city, rising to $91.1 million in year 10. (Murray’s original proposal would have raised about $45 million a year, but the new, higher figure will have to be spread across the county and its 39 cities).

Standing in a room filled with many of the same city and nonprofit agency staffers who flanked him at the last announcement, Murray called the new-look homelessness plan a “regional approach” that unites the county and city in fighting what Murray called a “regional problem” that impacts cities across the county, from Seattle to Bellevue to Enumclaw.

It was a remarkable, and remarkably abrupt, turnaround for a mayor who had touted his earlier proposal as a data-driven, results-oriented approach to homelessness, mental health care and addiction. Based on last year’s Pathways Home report from Ohio consultant Barb Poppe, the proposal would have invested heavily in short-, medium-, and long-term “rapid rehousing” vouchers, and would have gotten the city into “new lines of business,” in Murray’s term, such as mental health care and opioid addiction treatment. Signature gathers have been out in force over the past two weeks, collecting tens of thousands of names to qualify the measure for the August 2017 ballot—a path Murray chose for his measure, at least in part, because it would allow him to circumvent the red pens of the city council. All reports are that the measure, known as Initiative 126, was polling well, but not great, and with the mayor facing election in November, the prospect of fighting a pitched battle over property taxes with homeowners disinclined to like him anyway couldn’t have been appealing. (A handout provided by the mayor’s office included several data points about Seattle’s relatively low property taxes that would be non sequiturs if they didn’t come from a mayor who tends to get defensive when criticized about property taxes.)

On the other hand, the political calculus also includes King County Executive Dow Constantine, who is trying to pass his own taxes this year—one old, a levy that funds programs for health care and human services for veterans and other county residents, and one new, a sales tax for arts, science, and cultural education. Speculation at city hall today was that Constantine didn’t want all three measures to be on the ballot in the same year—arts and culture and homelessness in August, and veterans and human services in November.

Neither Constantine nor Murray would directly answer questions about what changed between three weeks ago and today, instead falling back on boilerplate about realizing the need for a regional approach to homelessness. “The conversation got started with the city about how we can team up and do a better job to do a comprehensive approach, and really put together a plan that involves all of the stakeholders in the community,” Constantine said. “If you don’t plan, if you don’t take into account where you can get the most value, you end up measuring success by the amount of money you’re putting in and that is not the right way to do it.”

While Constantine was throwing gentle shade at the mayor’s abandoned proposal, two of the men who helped craft that measure were openly disappointed that the plan on which they both collaborated was headed for the shredder. Nick Hanauer, the lefty billionaire whose entrepreneurial expertise was supposedly key to the original proposal, said he felt “a little sad to not be moving forward with our city initiative,” and Downtown Emergency Service Center director Daniel Malone said that “giving that up isn’t something that any of us were ready to do lightly. But,” he added, we’ve settled on something that is even better, bigger, and bolder … and still has the same key emphasis, which is to house people.”

Murray (and Hanauer) also carefully sidestepped questions about whether opposition from property owners helped sink the proposal, and whether a sales tax, which is more regressive (that is, it falls harder on the poor) than a tax on property, was the right way to fund services for homeless people (who don’t pay property taxes but do pay sales tax. Hanauer seemed to deny that the sales tax is particularly burdensome, with an ill-conceived comment that “I pay way more” in sales taxes than a homeless person, “because I buy way more stuff!” Murray launched into a verbal assault on the state’s tax system, which doesn’t allow an income tax. Gesturing at the officials around him, many of whom were state legislators once themselves, Murray said, “Washington State doesn’t have progressive taxes. There’s just no way around it. … Because of our state tax structure, we don’t have the tools here to try and change that.” A fact sheet passed out by Murray staffers at the end of the conference said the average household would pay $30 more in sales taxes per year, and a person making around $11,000 a year (the median low-income person’s annual pay, according to the mayor’s office) would pay an extra $9.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: Trump Didn’t Give Me Enough Notice

anti-keystone-council1. An anti-Keystone XL Pipeline resolution proposed by council member Kshama Sawant’s resolution would direct the city’s Department of Finance and Administrative Services to come up with a plan to avoid doing business with the 17 banks that have invested in the pipeline. On Monday,  council members said they needed more time to look at the proposal, which Sawant sent out at 9:00 Monday morning hoping for a 9:30 discussion and a 2:00 full council vote.

Sawant’s resolution directs FAS “to investigate ways to establish contracting criteria to prioritize the City’s goals to avoid contracting for banking services to The City of Seattle with financial institutions that provide credit-level facilities or project-level loans to TransCanada.” At the council’s Monday briefings meeting, council member Sally Bagshaw said she felt “steamrolled” by Sawant’s last-minute proposal. “I appreciate the political stripes that we’re trying to show here. That said, I want  to make sure that we’re not making a political decision that’s going to have an negative impact on the fiscal health of the city,” Bagshaw said. To Bagshaw and other council members who said Sawant didn’t give them enough notice before introducing her resolution, Sawant responded, “Well, Trump didn’t give me enough notice” that he was approving Keystone construction.

Tim Burgess, chair of the council’s budget committee, pointed out that when the city decided to divest from Wells Fargo, which is financing the Dakota Access Pipeline, they took their time and “got over 10 legal opinions,” as opposed to passing the resolution the day it was introduced. Another difference between the two resolutions is intent: Originally, the reason the city moved to divest from Wells Fargo was because it committed fraud against its customers; the pipeline issue was tacked on later. That resolution committed the city to partnering with businesses that are “committed to and consistently demonstrate engaging in fair and responsible business practices and avoid conducting City business with partners that engage in criminal or systematic deceptive, fraudulent, or abusive business practices.” It was silent on the issue of banks that aren’t breaking the law, but merely do business with companies, like TransCanada, that the city opposes for political reasons.

It would be one thing if the city had a lot of banking options, and only some banks were “bad.” The problem, according to sources familiar with the proposal, is that insisting on ideological purity could leave the city without a viable banking option. If the city won’t do business with banks that lend to polluters, what justification will it have for turning around and working with banks that finance union-busting corporations, or companies that deny women birth control? The city is reportedly looking into options that would allow it to put some of its money in smaller banks, but state law mandates that the bulk of the city’s money be in large institutions that are stable enough to weather financial storms, to avoid putting city employees’ paychecks and pensions—not to mention many progressive city programs aimed at counteracting Trump Administration policies—at risk.

The council will take up Sawant’s resolution sometime in the next two weeks.

2. When voters passed Initiative 122  last year, creating a public financing system that gives every voter $100 in “democracy vouchers” to spend on the city council candidates of their choice, opponents predicted that businesses and labor would take advantage of the early money, holding “voucher parties” to encourage their members to donate en masse. (The initiative encourages early spending in two ways: It requires the city to mail vouchers out in January, when only the most organized candidates have declared they’re running, and actually funds only a fraction of the vouchers in circulation, creating an incentive for business and labor to anoint and fund their candidates early).

Labor and business groups haven’t thrown their weight behind any candidates yet, but voucher parties have come to pass. The first one is happening this Thursday, when a group of urbanist techies calling themselves “Sea Tech 4 Housing” meet at Optimism Brewing Company on Capitol Hill to support Teresa Mosqueda, one of 10 candidates running for citywide Position 8. The suggested donation: $100—or four $25 democracy vouchers.

3. While some local news stations are wringing their hands over the safety of children playing during the day near a temporary men’s shelter that doesn’t open until 9:30 at night, Operation Nightwatch is worried about where it will go next. The 75-bed men’s shelter was recently displaced from its longtime home in the International District’s Pearl Warren Building, after the city announced it was opening a new 24-7 low-barrier Navigation Center shelter at the site. Last week, the city told the Compass Housing-run shelter it could set up in the Next 50 Pavilion at Seattle Center until April 17, but it’s unclear what will happen after that; Human Services Department spokeswoman Meg Olberding says “We are calling on community members who might have space we can use to let us know, and we are combing our networks to try and find space.”

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: How Many of You Guys Are Catholics?

1. Earlier this week, I talked to state Sen. Mark Miloscia about a heated conversation he had with a group of student lobbyists from OneAmerica. (A source in Olympia had told me Miloscia grilled the students about their religious affiliations and belittled their views). In Miloscia’s version, he asked the students whether they were “Catholic or Christian” to illustrate a point: Representatives don’t have to have the same skin color or background as constituents in order to represent them. ” I said, ‘You can be represented based on religion, not just skin color,'” Miloscia said. Awkwardly, the group included multiple young women wearing headscarves who were obviously Muslim.

Monica Roman, one of the students who confronted Miloscia about his views on voting rights outside the senate chamber, tells a different story. She says this was actually the second time her student club, Fuerte (“strong” in Spanish) had met with Miloscia. Both times, Roman says, the students argued with Miloscia about the Voting Rights Act, a long-delayed bill that would give citizens a path to challenge voting systems that result in unequal representation. (In Yakima, citizens challenged the city’s at-large city council system, which resulted in an all-white city council in a city with a large Latino population, forcing the city to switch to more representative district elections). Both the Democratic and Republican versions of the bill would make it easier for citizens to challenge local election systems in court, but the Republican bill, sponsored by Miloscia, includes fewer protections and gives cities more time to address unrepresentative systems.

“Last year, we asked if he could represent us, and we said ‘No.’ He asked us again this year,” Roman says. The students told him that “as a white, straight male, he views things from a place of privilege, and he can’t really comprehend our experience. I think that really triggered him. He said, ‘I feel like  you guys are attacking me.'” That’s when Miloscia brought religion into the conversation, Roman says.

“He was like, ‘How many of you guys are Catholics?’ when he could clearly see that we had multiple girls wearing hijabs. We were like, ‘You’re completely disregarding these Muslim girls right in front of you.'” When the group pointed out that some members of the group were Muslim, Roman says Miloscia “pointed out one of our hijabi girls and was like, ‘Can you not represent me?'”

Roman says that unlike last year, when she felt too “awkward” in the private conference room where they met with Miloscia to stand up for herself, this year, she “just laughed in his face. … I just didn’t back down. I was kind of proud of myself. I just didn’t let him yell at me.”

2. Operation Nightwatch, the overnight shelter for men that is being displaced from its current location, the Pearl Warren Building in the International District, has found a temporary home in the Next 50 Pavilion at Seattle Center, Crank has learned. Operation Nightwatch had been renting the space in the Pearl Warren which provides beds for about 75 men a night, from Compass Housing Alliance for $3,100 a month. The city previously told Operation Nightwatch it would help the group find a new space; according to Nightwatch director Rick Reynolds, the city initially handed the group a list of commercial spaces in places like Georgetown and the Rainier Valley, which rented for more than twice as much as their current space.

Meg Olberding, spokeswoman for the city’s Human Services Department, says Operation Nightwatch will not have to pay rent for the space, and can stay at Seattle Center until April 17. ”  The City continues to provide resources through FAS, HSD and OEM to locate a new permanent site for this shelter program,” Olberding said in an email. “Compass is also using its relationships to find a new site, and is considering using the dining hall and lobby of its own administrative facilities as a backup in the case a location cannot be identified.”

 3. At this week’s presentation about paid family leave (council member Lorena Gonzalez is proposing up to 26 weeks of paid leave for all employees in Seattle), consultant Maggie Simich presented some data that starkly illustrates the need for paid time off. Based on a survey of 400 Seattle residents who work in Seattle and 400 Seattle companies of all sizes, the survey found:

  • 41 percent of Seattle residents did not have access to paid parental leave;
  • The smaller the company, the less likely it is to offer paid parental leave; 70 percent of those who worked for a company with fewer than 50 employees said they had access to paid parental leave;
  • Zero percent of employees said they had access to 12 weeks or more of paid leave, not counting vacation and sick time;
  • Half of all companies surveyed do not offer any form of paid family leave at all;
  • Companies in the health care, education, restaurant, and hotel industries were the least likely to offer any kind of paid leave;
  • And, somewhat surprisingly, six out of ten employers who offered paid leave said fewer than 10 percent of their workers had taken any kind of paid family leave within the previous year, belying the common assumption that employees (particularly women, who are most likely to take parental leave) will take advantage of paid leave if it’s offered.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: “We Are the Dakota Access [Pipe]line Tribe.”

Last night, the Mercer Island City Council voted unanimously to sue Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), in part, to preserve the right of island residents to drive alone in the westbound I-90 HOV lanes.

The island has been fighting to preserve this highly unusual privilege for decades, despite the fact that the original agreement granting them special access to carpool lanes, signed in 1976, anticipates a future when transit lanes, or fixed-rail transit, will supplant some freeway lanes and require island residents to give up their access. (Mercer Island also wants its residents to be permanently exempt from tolls on I-90, to restrict parking at the Mercer Island park-and-ride serving light rail to Mercer Island residents only, and to prohibit bus transfers on the island, keeping the people who ride buses from deboarding in the wealthy enclave.) The lawsuit seeks to force the state and Sound Transit to grant all these privileges, which, as Zach Shaner at Seattle Transit Blog has noted, would be “completely unique to Mercer Island.”

If you weren’t following along last night, I Storified all my tweets here.

2. Jan Angel, a conservative Republican legislator from Port Orchard, has introduced a bill that would prohibit cities from passing laws barring landlords from discriminating against tenants based on their source of income—a proposal that would, if passed, slap down Seattle’s new law that says landlords can’t refuse to people because their income comes from sources like Social Security or unemployment, and requiring them to rent to the first qualified applicant. (The Seattle law also prohibits landlords from offering special deals to employees of specific companies, such as Amazon.)

That Angel has introduced such a bill is hardly news—in recent years, the conservative Republican has proposed drug testing for welfare recipients and business-friendly changes to the workers’ compensation system. What was surprising is who showed up to testify in favor of the anti-Seattle bill: Smart Growth Seattle lobbyist Roger Valdez, who once worked for a liberal environmentalist think tank, the Sightline Institute, and a liberal city council member, Peter Steinbrueck.

“At a time when demand for housing is outpacing supply, producers and operators of housing have faced an ever-expanding gauntlet of rules, regulations, fees, fines, inspections, infringements, and limitations that are confusing for both housing providers and consumers,” Valdez said. “It’s time for the state to take back the control. … What’s also important is that the mayor and council have pursued this improvisational regulatory spree with no consultation of housing developers, property managers, or anyone in the housing business whatsoever. None. That’s true. They have not talked with us at all. That’s why this was a problem.”

Sen. David Frockt (D-46) pointed out that developers were very much represented on the Housing Affordability and Livability Committee, which worked to create many of the rules Valdez was opposing so vociferously; in fact, supposed overrepresentation by developers is one reason many neighborhood groups and anti-development liberals oppose HALA. In a testy back and forth, Frockt challenged Valdez, who eventually allowed that the city did give developers a seat at the table, but that “sitting in the room on a large committee is not consultation.”

Historically, anti-discrimination laws have come from cities first before being adopted by the state; it is unprecedented for the state to adopt renter protection laws before they have first emerged at the municipal level.

3. Crank hears that another candidate may soon be jumping in the race for City Council Position 8, the citywide seat that Tim Burgess will vacate next year: Stephan Blanford, a Seattle Public School director who has focused on closing the achievement gap between black and white students in Seattle schools. Blanford, who was endorsed in his 2013 school board run by local Democratic groups and elected officials as well as the political arm of the Chamber of Commerce and former King County Executive Ron Sims, would join a crowded race that already includes 2015 Burgess challenger and tenant organizer Jon Grant and Washington State Labor Council policy director Teresa Mosqueda.

Grant sent out two job announcements this week seeking a campaign manager and an organizer; his campaign will rely heavily on the city’s new Democracy Voucher program, which provides $100 in vouchers for Seattle residents to donate to the candidate or candidates of their choice.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into it as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: “Not Gonna Happen”

1024x10241. Update on an item earlier this week about the Washington State Democrats’ Executive Committee had about possibly reducing the salary of the party chair now that Tina Podlodowski has been elected to that position. According to several Democrats who were present at the meeting (including members of the executive board itself), the person who raised the possibility of reducing Podlodowski’s salary was executive board member Ed Cote, who suggested reexamining the salaries for both the chair of the party and its executive director. After some discussion, another male board member, Don Schwerin, reportedly asked Podlodowski point-blank if she was willing to take a pay cut; she said no. Folks I talked to who were in the room said they were “horrified,” “appalled,” and “shocked” at both Cote’s line of questioning and Schwerin’s request.

The former party chair, Jaxon Ravens, was paid about $120,000, according to board members, plus a car allowance.

Cote says he raised the question of Podlodowski’s salary as part of a broader conversation about whether both the party chair and executive director should be paid, and how much. But it wasn’t lost on many in the room that Podlodowski is only the second woman to ever serve as state Democratic Party chair—and that the board discussing the possibility that she didn’t deserve the same salary as her male predecessors, Jaxon Ravens and Dwight Pelz, was two-thirds men.

“I just brought up that when [Podlodowski] presents a [Party] budget, I thought it would be good that we have a conversation around the right administrative structure going forward,” Cote says. “We have a paid chair and a paid executive director, and many states have one or the other. … I wasn’t suggesting that the chair was paid too much. … I wasn’t trying to suggest that she was overpaid or anything of that nature.”

Podlodowski says she thinks it’s possible that Cote didn’t think about how his question would come across (and indeed, those who questioned Cote’s suggestion reportedly did so by discussing what similar positions paid at other large nonprofits, rather than observing that the whole conversation was sexist). But, she adds, “when someone did ask me if I would take a pay cut, I was like, ‘Not gonna happen,’ and I’m certainly not going to cut pay of anybody who’s female. But I am going to look at the budget, because it’s always important to make sure that we’re paying people appropriately.”

Podlodowski says that when she signed up for her new insurance plan, she learned that it didn’t cover children, only spouses. (Podlodowski and her wife have three children.) That’s another example, she says, of “why women should rule.”

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-9-24-50-pm

2. If you think you’re confused about what to do with the four “democracy vouchers,” worth a total of $100, that appeared in your mailbox earlier this year, don’t worry, you’re in good company. Seattle City Council members and staffed grilled Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission director Wayne Barnett on some basic details of the program yesterday—details that were all laid out in the language of Initiative 122, which voters passed last year, but which, in fairness, you might have missed in the 15 pages of fine print. Some of the council members’ questions, answered:

  • Why is the city mailing vouchers to 508,000 people—are there even that many voters in Seattle? Under the initiative, vouchers must be mailed to every registered voter in the city, which includes “inactive” voters who have long since moved away.
  • Could the city cover the cost if all 508,000 voters tried to “spend” their vouchers at once? The cost of the program, which will cost the city $3 million a year, is limited by campaign spending limits, not the number of vouchers; I-122 specifically says that there must be enough in the budget to pay for three council races in which a total of 18 candidates run using voucher money exclusively. That works out to around $3 million.
  • Can organizations or employers bundle contributions from their members or employees and make a big contribution to a single candidate that way? Not that way—bundling, where a person collects many individual donations and then writes a big check for the entire amount—is illegal, but a campaign is free to ask the members or employees of a large group or company to spend their vouchers on a particular candidate.
  • Since the requirement to qualify for voucher funding is a minimum of 400 contributions of $10 each, couldn’t a candidate just get someone to write them a check for $4,000? No, because viability is determined by how many contributions (100 or more), not the total (a minimum of $4,000, but in all likelihood more).

3. All Home, the coalition that coordinates efforts to reduce homelessness in King County, used a different approach and a different vendor to conduct its point-in-time count of people living unsheltered this year, and homeless advocates like Tim Harris at Real Change have questioned one major change this year: Unlike in every previous year, All Home won’t announce the number of people it counted right away. Previously, All Home and its former partner, the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, released the number the day after the count; this year, the number won’t be released until June. All Home says it needs the extra time to survey people experiencing homelessness to get a better count of people living in vehicles and tents.

The delay also isn’t sitting easy with Seattle City Council member Sally Bagshaw, who heads up the council’s human services committee. She said yesterday that she wrote a email to Putnam asking him for the raw count number now, figuring that even if a more accurate number is issued later, at least the city would have a baseline for comparison when discussing its strategy for addressing homelessness. “Mark, I’d love an informal update on how the count went and how you’re doing with data when you get a chance,” Bagshaw wrote. “It’s important that we have a baseline and provide my committee with some trend information.”