Durkan Shuffles the Deck in Major Office Reorg

Nine months into her term, Mayor Jenny Durkan is reorganizing the top brass at her office, promoting her communications director, Stephanie Formas, to chief of staff, and making deputy mayor David Moseley the “sole lead” over homelessness and human services, duties that have been split between Moseley and deputy mayor Shefali Ranganathan.

According to an email Durkan’s third deputy mayor, Mike Fong, sent to mayor’s office staff earlier today, Ranganathan will “shift her focus to advancing the Mayor’s policy agenda and major initiatives continuing to oversee the Mayor’s outreach and external relations as well as major transportation related policy.” What this means, Ranganathan says, is that she’ll be focusing on “major initiatives” like congestion pricing and a planned restructuring of the city’s youth programs while overseeing fewer departments. Those departments will still include the Seattle Department of Transportation—before her current position, Ranganathan was head of the pro-transit Transportation Choices Coalition— but will no longer include the Human Services Department, the Department of Neighborhoods, the Office of Economic Development, or the Department of Education and Early Learning, among others. Fong will now oversee those departments, along with fire, police, and emergency management.

Formas’ promotion isn’t too much of a surprise; a top aide during Durkan’s 2016 campaign and the mayor’s closest city confidante, she’s already Durkan’s right-hand woman—the person who works hard to make sure the headlines are positive and keep a lid on anything that could turn into negative news. The promotion will make Formas’ de facto role in the administration official, while keeping her in charge of communications ,along with the day to day operations of the mayor’s office. Durkan isn’t the first mayor to go for a while without a chief of staff, but she is the first to have not only a chief of staff but three deputy mayors.

Mark Prentice, who worked for Democratic groups in D.C. and Vulcan before joining Durkan’s office as a communications advisor, will take over Formas’ old role as communications director. (Most mayors end up having several communications directors over the course of their terms. For example, Durkan’s predecessor, Ed Murray, had four—and he didn’t even serve out his full term.) Current press secretary Kamaria Hightower will become deputy communications director.

Fong’s full email to the mayor’s staff is below the jump.  Continue reading

Another Durkan Shakeup Adds to Long List of Departments Without Permanent Directors

Mayor Jenny Durkan announced yet another departmental shakeup at the city today, moving longtime Finance and Administrative Services department director Fred Podesta over to the Human Services Department to head up an expanded Navigation Team. The Navigation Team—a joint effort between HSD, outreach workers from REACH/Evergreen Treatment Services, and the police department— oversees the removal of unauthorized homeless encampments and provides outreach services and referrals to people living in encampments.

As head of FAS, Podesta was in charge of coordinating the team responsible for outreach and garbage removal at unauthorized encampments, so moving him to the Navigation Team isn’t as out of left field as it might appear. (The Nav Team’s transition to HSD was approved, in fact, as part of last year’s budget).  It does, however, look very much like a demotion for the city veteran, who will now report to new deputy director Tiffany Washington, under interim director Jason Johnson. This latest reshuffle also leaves another city department without a permanent director at a time when an unusually high number of city departments lack permanent leadership, and when the mayor’s own policy shop is short-staffed.

Some of this goes with the territory of working in a job where the person at the top changes every four to eight years. Every mayor makes his or her mark on the city by changing out departmental leadership, reorganizing some departments, and generally shaking things up. That’s the mayor’s prerogative, and it can serve as a vital corrective to entrenched bureaucracy and government waste. What is unusual in this particular administration is the number of significant departments that lack permanent leadership more than eight months into the mayor’s term.

Here’s a list of some of the departments that currently have interim directors or that are being headed up by deputies:

• Seattle City Light. After former City Light CEO Larry Weis resigned last year, Durkan appointed chief compliance officer Jim Baggs to take his place as interim director while the administration conducted a national search. In February, Durkan announced the formation of a search committee to hire Weis’ replacement. Her office has made no further announcements about how the search is going. Meanwhile, City Light is losing another top administrator, as Chief of Staff Calvin Goings (who, like Podesta, is by all accounts well-liked at the city) moves over to replace Podesta as interim director of FAS.

• Seattle Office for Civil Rights. Former SOCR director Patricia Lally left her position as head of SOCR in December, shortly after Durkan took office. Since then, the office has been headed up by interim director Mariko Lockhart.

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• The Office of Economic Development, which has been headed by Rebecca Lovell  on an acting basis since last December.

• The Human Services Department, which has been headed by former deputy director Jason Johnson since May (his promotion, from deputy director, was announced in March). Today’s announcement about Podesta also included the news that Tiffany Washington—appointed as a division director in charge of homelessness strategy by Durkan earlier this year—will step into the deputy director position.

• The Department of Neighborhoods. Durkan removed Kathy Nyland from her position as director of DON in April and appointed former Greg Nickels aide Andres Mantilla as interim. Nyland, who had a target on her back because of her reputation as a change agent at DON, was moved into a position advising the parks department on neighborhood outreach.

• The Seattle Parks Department. Jesus Aguirre left the department last November, shortly after Durkan’s election, and was replaced by acting director Christopher Williams in January “as a search process for a permanent head begins.” Seven months later, Williams remains acting director at Parks.

• Human Resources. After Susan Coskey stepped down last December, Durkan appointed an interim director, Melissa Beatty, who has since left and been replaced by another interim, Susan McNab.

• Information Technology. Former Chief Technology Officer Michael Mattmiller was cut loose by the Durkan Administration last December, and replaced by acting director Tracye Cantrell in February, when Durkan also announced plans to  “launch a search process to find a candidate for the permanent position.” Cantrell is still in the position.

• Seattle Department of Transportation. I reported last week that Goran Sparrman, who has served as interim director since Durkan sacked former director Scott Kubly last December, is preparing to leave SDOT to take a job at HNTB Corporation, a big transportation engineering firm, at the end of August. He will be reportedly be replaced by another interim director.

And, of course, Seattle has not had permanent police chief since the departure of former chief Kathleen O’Toole, announced last December.

 

March Money Madness

Among many other goals (neighborhood representation, “a voice for the people” at City Hall, closer council contact with constituents), one of the aims of district elections, in which every citizen has a council member from their general geographic area, was to reduce the role of money in local politics, by removing some of the barriers to entry that blocked ordinary citizens from running for city council. If candidates have to reach fewer people, the logic went, they shouldn’t have to spend as much money on fancy consultants, citywide mailings, and TV, radio, and print ads.

Did it work? With the filing deadline still more than a month away, it’s obviously too soon to say whether money will cease being the defining characteristic of successful council candidates, but it is clear that in races where incumbents are seeking reelection, challengers are finding it much harder to woo contributors. Chalk that up to the power of incumbency or the desire for some institutional knowledge on a council that will soon be filled with first-timers and political novices.

What’s also clear is that district elections have lowered the barriers to entry at least somewhat: Four years ago, when five incumbents were up for reelection, they drew a total of eight challengers. This year, six council incumbents (excluding the three open seats) have drawn 14 challengers.

(The total often cited as proof that districts shake up the system—40 candidates running in all—ignores the fact that there are open seats, although three of those seats arguably might not be open if it weren’t for district elections.)

Overall, the candidates, including both challengers and incumbents, are generally on par with where comparable contenders were at this time four years ago

I’ll go district by district, look at the money so far, and say what I think the numbers might indicate at this early stage. I’ll point out in advance that I’ve excluded candidates who aren’t likely to go far or raise much money; Alex Tsimerman fans, you can stop reading now.

In District 1, West Seattle, the hasty departure of three-term incumbent Tom Rasmussen has created a vacuum that ten candidates (previously 11) have volunteered to fill, more than a couple of them credible.

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West Seattle’s District 1 has drawn 10 candidates … so far.

Shannon Braddock, a legislative aide to West Seattle’s representative on the King County Council, Joe McDermott, brought in $10,880 this month, for a total raised of $19,993, with $8,103 on hand. Lisa Herbold (who—full disclosure—is a longtime friend whom I’m supporting) brought in a comparable $10,324, for a total of $23,273 on hand. Brianna Thomas, a lefty housing advocate who worked on the $15 minimum wage campaign in SeaTac, raised $5,111 in March for a total of $16,034, with $11,576 on hand. And Charles (Chaz) Redmond, the first candidate to declare his intentions, back in late 2013), raised just $900 in March, for a total of $4,134 with $2,679 on hand.

Herbold and Braddock seem like the top contenders in this race, now that business owner Dave Montoure—owner of the West 5 bar and opponent of the $15 minimum—has dropped out.

In Southeast Seattle’s second district, incumbent Bruce Harrell has, as expected, far outraised challenger Tammy Morales, a food-systems advocate and principal at Urban Food Link. This past month, Harrell brought in $17,565, for a total of $96,421 raised with $75,662 on hand. In comparison, Morales raised $4,323 in March, for a total of $28,653 but with just $4,115 on hand. For Morales, success will be a strong showing against fundraising juggernaut Harrell, positioning her to run for an open seat in the future.

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In Seattle’s District 3, three are challenging popular incumbent Kshama Sawant.

Over in Capitol Hill and central Seattle’s District 3, the realm of internationally popular Socialist council member Kshama Sawant, challenger Pamela Banks, formerly of the Urban League, raised $17,785 in March—her first month of fundraising—and has $6,460 on hand. Fellow challenger Rod Hearne, former director of the gay-rights group Equal Rights Washington, brought in $9,180 for a total of $30,295, with $14,536 on hand, while self-proclaimed women’s rights advocate Morgan Beach raised $2,587 in March, for a total of $8,406 with $5,340 on hand.

Incumbent Sawant, meanwhile, brought in more money than any of her challengers—$26,998, for a total of $51,329 with $7,677 on hand. Expect Banks to quickly catch up on Sawant in the money race, but remember that even big spending and an endorsement from Sawant’s turncoat colleague Harrell may not be enough to combat Sawant’s cult of personality.

Up in Northeast Seattle’s District 4, incumbent Jean Godden continue to spend money as fast as she raised it, bringing in $15,329 for a total of $63,152, but with just $21,451 on hand. (This month alone, more than $5,100 went to consultant Cathy Allen’s Connections Group, including $3,000 for consulting and thousands more for miscellaneous expenses. Godden spent another $2,000 on a fundraising consultant, McKenna Hartman).

Challenger Rob Johnson, longtime director of Transportation Choices Coalition, raised a comparatively meager $7,901, for a total of $38,293, but had almost as much as Godden—$18,497—on hand. Democratic Party activist and parks advocate Michael Maddux brought in $2,605 for a total of $9,845, with $5,619 on hand.

Further north in District 5, the only district in which no sitting city council members lives, no candidate has massively outraised any other (making the case, I suppose, that districts suppress the influence of money in this one, very specific, instance), four of the seven candidates raised any significant amount of cash.

Sandy Brown, former director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, raised $7,015 this month for a total of $42,768 with $8,846 on hand. Former mayor Norm Rice’s son, Port of Seattle manager Mian Rice, raised $9,191 in March, for a total of $35,340 with $9,701 on hand. Low-income housing advocate Mercedes Elizalde, meanwhile, raised just $381 this month, for a total of $3,106 with $2,975 on hand; and Planned Parenthood organizer Halei Watkins had the unlucky distinction of being the only person in the race (and one of just a few in all nine races) with a negative balance: $1,770 raised in March, for a total of $9,704 raised, and negative $1,535 on hand.

Mike O’Brien, the incumbent council member and Fremont resident now running in District 6, started raising money in earnest this month after a quiet January and February, raising $21,805 in March to bring his total to $23,814, with $19,702 on hand. His opponent, City Neighborhood Council co-chair Catherine Weatbrook, brought in $8,641, for a total of $9,903, with $6,342 on hand.

In the downtown-to-Magnolia seventh district, council incumbent Sally Bagshaw continues, inexplicably, to draw no opponents, but also continues to raise money at a slow but respectable pace. In March, the downtown resident raised $$8,796, for a total of $52,247, with $24,043 on hand.

In the first of the two citywide council seats, council incumbent Tim Burgess, a formidable fundraiser in his previous, at-large, races, brought in $36,004 this month—more than any other candidate in any race—for  total of $115,449, with a whopping $96,493 on hand. (Last time, when he ran at large and did not have a credible opponent, Burgess raised $253,964.) Tenants Union director Jonathan Grant, who is running on an affordable-housing platform, raised a fraction of Burgess’ haul, bringing in $2,485 for a total of $21,127 with $19,358 on hand. John Persak, a lefty longshoreman’s union member, raised $3,160 for a total of $20,690, with $16,024 on hand, and Long Winters frontman John Roderick, who just announced his candidacy early this month, had raised a nominal $300, for a total of $1,000 with $209 on hand.

Finally, in the completely open race for the second at-large seat nine (council member Sally Clark withdrew from the race and subsequently resigned from the council), Mayor Ed Murray’s legal counsel, Lorena Gonzalez, raised more than her two leading opponents, though both will likely give her a run for her money. In March, Gonzalez raised $21,003, for a total of $42,108 with $36,108 on hand, while neighborhood gadfly and density opponent Bill Bradburd raised $13,175 for a total of $36,878, with a very competitive $32,268 on hand. EDITED TO ADD: And James Keblas, former director of the city’s office of film and music, has dropped out of the race after just two weeks in it.

None of those numbers count liabilities (debts and obligations that candidates can either repay or forgive by the end of their campaigns), and the candidate rankings are obviously subject to change in the coming months. New candidates may emerge before the May 15 filing deadline, throwing off the dynamics of still-fluid races, and some single-issue candidates may hit their natural fundraising limit. Stay tuned; we still have four months to go before the first city Election Day.

No Circus In Store for This Council Appointment

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City Council member Sally Clark’s abrupt announcement this morning (as a panelist at last night’s Civic Cocktail, held at the Palace ballroom downtown, she betrayed no inkling of her planned bombshell) that she will step down from the council on April 12 set a series of events in motion that we haven’t seen since 2005, when then-council member Jim Compton resigned under the shadow of Strippergate, a scandal involving bundled contributions from strip-club impresario Frank Colucurcio.

Unlike that raucous three-ring event, the process of replacing Clark promises to be a fairly swift, streamlined affair. No more “individuals seeking congruity in the oneness of our city.” No more candidates bragging that their main qualification is that they’re totally unqualified. No more candidates endorsing other candidates. No more (I assume) Pete Holmes and Roger Valdez seeking the same elective office. 

Instead, the council—helmed by council president Tim Burgess, who’s losing a frequent ally in Clark—will publish the final list of applicants and their qualifications on April 14, when the application period closes, pick three finalists in executive session, announce them on the 20th, and hold a public hearing—at which the rejected candidates will have their only opportunity to address the council, in the one minute allotted during public comments—before picking the winner, who is supposed to pledge to serve only the remainder of Clark’s term.

Burgess has also said the candidate should “understand city government and the public policy issues associated with the Council’s Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services and Economic Resiliency; demonstrate a commitment to social justice and the ability to communicate and collaborate effectively across cultures and with diverse populations; and [have a] desire to serve the people of Seattle and assume the responsibilities and accountability inherent in the work of a Councilmember.”

So many questions. Why not vet the candidates in public like the last time, and let the public in on the process of selecting one of its representatives? Why not take a little more time with the vetting process (the city charter’s “requirement” that a vacancy be filled within 20 days of a council member’s departure, by May 2 in Clark’s case, allows the council to keep deliberating as long as they do so every day, publicly, until they decide)? And why all the mandatory-seeming “qualifications,” like experience with health and human services (Clark’s committee) and the promise not to run for reelection?

Nothing in the charter says that a council appointee must take the committee of the person she’s replacing; the only possible reasons to insist on that tradition are to ensure continuity amid chaos, or to lock other council members out of the job.

The first is obvious: The last council appointment was a circus that made the council appear weak and disorganized, and still produced council member Sally Clark. Why go through all the hassle when so many more virtual eyes will be on the council (and its now-weakened president Burgess) this time around?

As for the second and third: In short, the council wants to get this done quickly and have someone who can “hit the ground running” because of the upcoming districted elections, in which five incumbents will be fighting to keep their seats; plus, a lame duck council member won’t threaten candidates like Mayor Murray’s legal counsel, Lorena Gonzalez, who have already announced for the new at-large position for which Clark had declared.

Another wrinkle: The “qualifications”—housing and human-services expertise—presume that whoever takes Clark’s seat will also take over her committee, which is telling in itself. Other incumbents, including Kshama Sawant (currently making socialist pronouncements from the dais as City Light committee chair) might want that relatively high-profile assignment. Nothing in the charter says that a council appointee must take the committee of the person she’s replacing; the only possible reasons to insist on that tradition are to ensure continuity amid chaos, or to lock other council members out of the job.

Say what you will about the sometimes anarchic character of the 2006 process, it was one of the first times we’ve ever seen the council really process in public, and it may well be one of the last. When the council appointed Clark, Twitter hadn’t even been founded, and blogs like the one I was writing for (where Josh Feit and I foreshadowed Twitter by liveblogging the nearly five-hour-long public vetting) were just getting their sea legs. The council wasn’t quite as media-savvy and insistent on controlling the message (plus, there weren’t as many web sites covering city politics and policy, and meetings weren’t yet broadcast online), which left some breathing room for interesting, unpredictable things to happen. Yes, we would have probably gotten Sally Clark with or without the parade of weirdos. But it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.

Hey, Mayor Murray: There Are Progressives in Indiana, Too

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This morning, Mayor Ed Murray announcd an executive order barring city employees from traveling to Indiana on city business or with city funds.

Murray said the travel ban would ensure that “none of our taxpayer dollars [will] go toward supporting this discriminatory law.”

In the same breath, he said that by participating in #boycattindiana, the city was showing its solidarity with progressive Hoosiers as they “continue [their] efforts to end discrimination and protect civil rights for everyone.”

Murray is also directing city staff to make sure the city doesn’t have any contracts with companies based in Indiana.

This sort of thing, more than lofty declarations like the council’s resolution last week to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, makes my blood curdle. It’s one thing to say that Indiana’s anti-LGBT law (which explicitly allows businesses to discriminate against gays, lesbians, and transgender people); it’s quite another to say entire cities should “boycott Indiana” by withholding their business from Indiana companies—companies that, incidentally, employ gay, lesbian and transgender individuals.

What the “boycott Indiana” movement is really arguing for is action that would do the most harm to the people with the least, including struggling LGBT-owned businesses. It’s stereotyping an entire state (a phenomenon with which I, as a Mississippi and Texas native, am all too familiar) as a bunch of illiterate corn-pone bigots. Yet there are plenty of progressives in Indiana, and plenty of people fighting against discrimination and the very law Murray and others claim to be standing up against by opposing investment in their state.

As my pal Melissa McEwan noted pungently at Shakesville:

And if you understand that this “religious freedom” bill was a reactionary act by people who were angry that the federal government did something they didn’t like (force them to legalize same-sex marriage), then you should understand that a reactionary act by people angry at our state government because they did something you didn’t like (codify bigotry) is just part of the same damn problem.

It’s not thoughtful and it’s not compassionate and it’s not helpful.

And let’s be honest here: It isn’t like the vast majority of people who are cheering “Boycott Indiana!” had any plans to visit Indiana and spend money in this state, anyway. It’s just a slogan to shout at a state they perceive to be full of fat, poor, lazy, conservative, straight, cis, white people.

Which underlines what’s really the worst thing about this idea: It’s reflective of a vicious stereotype that disappears the existence of the very people for whom the sloganeers purport to care.

Melissa’s Twitter feed is blowing up now over the #boycottindiana meme right now, and I strongly suggest you check out her perspective and positive suggestions for what progressives can actually do to help LGBT people and their allies in Indiana.
Hint: It isn’t withdrawing money from their already crippled economy. Mayor Murray would do more for LGBT people in Indiana by donating money to progressive groups in the state than he is by supporting a misguided boycott that will only hurt the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

The Space Blanket Brigade Has Spoken

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While some concerns about city council actions are based on genuine concerns about privacy, I feel confident saying that “the city council is trying to murder us all with their radioactive surveillance death rays” is not among them. Like anti-vaxxers or people who believe that evolution stopped 10,000 years ago therefore we should eat nothing but meat, the anti-smart meter crowd is just ridiculous enough to be amusing, and not quite loud enough to be dangerous.

If you haven’t been following this rather one-sided “debate,” there is a vocal but ultimately ineffectual group of people who oppose the “smart” meters Seattle City Light plans to install this year, which will allow the city to track and charge for electricity use remotely. Several of them turned out to make their voices heard (again) at this morning’s City Council energy committee meeting, chaired by a patient but unamused council member Kshama Sawant.

Supporters say the new meters will give the city real-time information that can help customers and the city cut costs, and provide timely information during power outages. Opponents say the meters are a gateway into our homes that will make us sick and give the city unfettered access into our homes.

Citing such sources as “Project Censored: The News That Didn’t Make the News” (then how did you know about it, Project Censored? HOW DID YOU KNOW?) and the U.S. constitution, opponents argued this morning that smart meters will enable the city to illegally spy on Seattle residents; use data from the meters to target citizens suspected of crimes; track when you sleep, eat, and leave the house; or figure out when you’re taking a bath. They also suspect the new meters will catch on fire and cause health problems like headaches and depression, and provide opportunities for hackers to wreak havoc on smart meter customers.

People who don’t want smart meters can opt out of the program and keep their old electrical meters, but that isn’t enough for opponents, who say the ill effects of smart meters are so insidious, they’ll impact everyone who lives in the city.

“Opt out is a copout!” one speaker, after reading the Fourth Amendment aloud, yelled. “Even with the opt-out, there are going to be people who aren’t aware of the EMF (electromagnetic field) and other dangers posed by these meters.”

Another speaker likened the city to the Mafia, saying officials were running a “protection racket” to extort money (in the form of opt-out fees) from people who just want to keep their homes “electropeaceful.” She then suggested that the city should pay for electromagnetic shields—basically, walls made of space blankets—to protect people from their neighbors’ meters, whose emissions could leak through walls.

“More folks are starting to recognize, at last, the harm from smart meters to household security and health,” she said.

Another speaker, who proudly claimed to have “four—no, three” public-access TV shows, said smart meters would usher in an “Orwellian” surveillance society.

And still another (the Project Censored citer) flashed angry air quotes every time she said the word “smart” (the visual equivalent of yelling “NOT!”) and spoke ominously of “dangerous electromagnetic rays” and “hidden agendas, including [smart meters’] potential for social control through energy rationing and monitoring” of civilians.

As entertaining as it is, in a Parks & Rec kind of way, to listen to these alarmists yell at the council, in reality-land, smart meters are going to happen, and critics are going to have to find another miasmatic “toxin” to freak out about.

Or, if they actually want to effect change, they could aim their efforts lower, focusing their anger on something that poses an actual, proven threat to their health and well-being. May I suggest greenhouse gas emissions?