Tag: King County Board of Health

Late Afternoon Crank: Resignations

1. Embattled King County Democrats chairman Bailey Stober, who has been accused of sexually harassing an employee he later fired and misappropriating Party funds, was in Eastern Washington this week, hanging out at the office of the Whitman County Democrats and reportedly campaigning for Democratic state House candidate Matthew Sutherland, while three more local Democratic organizations—the 32nd, 34th, and 46th District Democrats—were adopting resolutions that, to varying degrees, call for his removal as chair.

The 34th District Democrats’ resolution turned out to be the most contentious, thanks in part to 34th District chairman David Ginsberg—a Stober ally who told the Seattle  Times he did not believe Stober had harassed the employee, Natalia Koss Vallejo,  because Koss Vallejo had socialized with Stober and seemed “chummy” with him before he fired her. (Stober told me he could not harass a female employee because he is gay.) The day before the meeting, Ginsberg sent a letter to the district’s email list asserting that “any resolution condemning the alleged behavior of Chair Stober cannot be considered tomorrow night.” This led to a watered-down resolution calling on Precinct Committee Officers from the 34th to petition the King County Democrats for a special meeting to vote on Stober’s removal.

Ultimately, that resolution passed, but not before several speakers spoke strongly against it. One, 34th District state committeeman Chris Porter, likened Stober to Emmett Till, the 14-year-old boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 after a white woman falsely accused him of whistling at her (along with several other civil-rights martyrs). “None of us know the facts,” he added. Porter was followed by another speaker who said Stober was falling victim to “the ‘big black man’ scenario … it’s intimidation.”

Most of the speakers defending Stober were men. One said he had worked with Stober “every day for a couple of hours a day” and “I never saw in all my interactions with him acting inappropriately at all.” Another noted that Stober has said that he has a significant amount of of unspecified “evidence” that will exonerate him.**

At the 32nd, the most notable comment in favor of a more strongly worded resolution calling on Stober to step down came from former Shoreline city council candidate and recovering addict Jin-ah Kim, who said Stober had repeatedly pressured her to drink with him, despite knowing she is in recovery. Koss Vallejo has also said Stober pressured her to drink when she didn’t want to. The 46th would have passed a watered-down resolution similar to the one passed by the 34th if not for the intervention of former 46th District chair Jesse Piedfort, who also happened to be one of the only men at any of the recent district meetings to speak up strongly on behalf of harassment victims. The resolution that ultimately passed combined a call for Stober to resign with a call for a meeting of PCOs to remove him.

The King County Democrats will hold a meeting this coming Monday night to decide how to proceed with the investigation into Stober’s behavior since the group’s one remaining vice chair (the other two have resigned) was unable to find anyone willing to serve on the proposed investigating panel. Pierce County Democrats chair Tim Farrell, who recently called on another accused sexual harasser, state Rep. David Sawyer (D-29), to resign, will preside.

Earlier today, state Rep. Rebecca Saldaña (D-37), whose own district declined to pass a resolution condemning Stober (the chair of the 37th, Alec Stephens, also suggested that there was a “racial element” to the accusations), sent a letter to the King County Democrats saying that she will withhold all contributions to the group until the Stober situation is resolved.

2. Over at city hall, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a major cabinet departure on Friday—Catherine Lester, head of the city’s Human Services Department, will be leaving her position and “returning to her family in Toronto, Canada after seven years with the department.” Deputy director Jason Johnson will replace Lester as interim HSD director starting in May.

During her tenure, Lester oversaw the adoption and implementation of Pathways Home, a new approach to homelessness that relies heavily on the private market and short-term vouchers to move people quickly from the streets to housing, a strategy known as “rapid rehousing.” Pathways Home has been criticized by some political leaders and service providers, as well as by this blog, because it makes some highly optimistic assumptions about people’s ability to transition from homelessness to relative financial independence within just a few months without the kind of wraparound services that are provided in traditional transitional housing.

Lester also oversaw the city’s first competitive bidding process for homeless service contracts in more than a decade. That process, which prioritized programs that move people into permanent housing over those providing transitional housing or traditional shelter and hygiene services, was also controversial.

3. Lester defended the city’s efforts to provide restrooms and showers for unsheltered people this week to the Seattle/King County Board of Health, which adopted a resolution calling for additional investments in handwashing facilities, showers, and toilets across King County, while also acknowledging that “there are improvements to be made.” The city recently cut, then partially restored, funding for hygiene centers that serve some of the city’s homeless population, and has appeared sensitive to the issue of whether it is doing enough to ensure that people on the streets can wash their hands or relieve themselves. In a memo that Lester echoed in her comments to the Board of Health, the city enumerated 117 restrooms “available to all members of the public,” including Port-a-Potties near five transit stops and restrooms at libraries, community centers and parks, as well as restrooms at enhanced shelters, which are currently open only to those who stay at those shelters. The resolution notes that King County is currently experiencing a strep outbreak “that is particularly affecting those experiencing homelessness and injection drug users” and that other diseases that hit homeless populations hardest, like hepatitis A, can be controlled simply by giving people places to wash their hands.

* Ginsberg’s letter went on to denounce “some pretty bad reporting on the situation by local bloggers which has only made the entre [sic] situation worse” (ahem). It continued: “Bloggers have made a big deal out of the fact that the Chair got to select 2 of the 5 committee members, but failed to mention that the Vice Chair, operating on behalf of the accuser, also got to choose 2 of the 5. Bloggers have an understandable need to drive people to read their writing with salacious narratives to gain the ad revenue they depend on. But that doesn’t always serve the truth, and in this case it has not.” In fact, this blog—the one that has been reporting on the Stober situation—has mentioned consistently that the vice chairs were asked to appoint two of the four investigating panel members. They are not acting “on behalf of the accused,” and are meant to be a neutral party. The fact that Stober was allowed to choose two of the people who were going to investigate him for a workplace misconduct allegation is highly unusual, to put it very mildly. Finally, as anyone who has ever visited my site can see, I do not have any ads, and therefore have no ad revenues. I look forward to Ginsberg’s explanation of why he feels my ongoing reporting on city hall, land use, transportation, and local elections is “salacious.”

** I have seen at least one piece of this “evidence”—a message from Koss Vallejo making a fat joke about an unspecified person. Stober sent me a screen shot of the message when I asked about this text exchange, between him and King County Committeeman Jon Culver. The two men are expressing frustration about an event planned by the organizers of the Women’s March that apparently conflicted with a King County Democrats event:

Asked about this and similar exchanges, Stober told me, “I’m not going to have this trial occur in the media-it doesn’t respect my board, the process or due process. But I will say this-my close circle of friends and advisors  have engaged in internal jokes and conversations that could have and should have been avoided and we will address that and improve. But for Natalia to pretend that is one sided is a far stretch. Here is one of MANY screenshots I’ll be turning over to investigators to show Natalia engaging in the same behavior she’s now accusing others of. This should at least ensure fair reporting. The rest I’ll give to investigators and will provide to you as appropriate.” The screen shot followed. As I’ve mentioned many times, women who play along with men who make inappropriate “jokes” in workplace situations, particularly when those men are their bosses, often do so as a coping mechanism. In any case, “But so-and-so did it too!” is not a generally recognized excuse for workplace misconduct.

Morning Crank: I Don’t Want That Rumor to Be Perpetuated

1. Sitting at the year’s first meeting of the Progressive Revenue task force Thursday morning, it was hard not to flash back to a press conference the previous day, when Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that the city would spend some of the $11 million it expects to receive from the sale of a city-owned property in South Lake Union (a different property than the “teardrop” site council members discussed as part of their budget deliberations last year). At that briefing, held in front of two “tiny houses” under construction at the Seattle Vocational Institute, Durkan said it would take time to build all the housing that will ultimately be funded by the $290 million 2016 housing levy, and that in the meantime, a $5.5 million investment in “bridge housing”—or, in the clunky title Durkan chose for the initiative, “building a bridge to housing for all”—would give people living on the street slightly better options. “In an ideal world, we would not need to be building tiny houses,” Durkan said. Then she acknowledged that state and federal support for affordable housing is about to fall off a cliff.

The rest of the money would pay for rental assistance for people on SHA’s Section 8 voucher waiting list—”we’re going to focus on the people who need that assistance the most,” Durkan said— design of a new fire station, and city expenses related to the land sale. The developer buying the property would also provide $2 million of a total $7.7 million payment toward affordable housing projects elsewhere, required as part of the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability program, to build actual affordable housing.

The reason I was thinking about Durkan’s announcement Thursday morning is that it was basically a rounding error—what government staffers sometimes call “budget dust”— in the funding needed to actually address the city’s homelessness problem, which has been growing every year since at least 2013. According to task force co-chair Kirsten Harris-Talley, if every unit of affordable housing requires $160,000 in capital expenditures from the city (more on how advocates for a higher employee hours tax arrived at that number in a minute), and the city will need around 20,000 new units for very low-income people in the next 10 years, that means the city will need to spend around $3.2 billion over that time. As you can probably imagine, the city isn’t spending anywhere close to that right now—according to the presentation, the city spent just under $95 million from all sources on capital housing investments last year. At that rate, it would take more than 33 years to come up with $3.2 billion (and that’s assuming housing costs stayed flat).

Obviously, none of this is an exact science. The $160,000 figure is an estimate provided by council member Kshama Sawant’s office, of what the city would need to contribute if it ramped up its affordable housing production and was unable to find a significant amount of new funding from other sources to help pay for all the new units. (Currently, each new unit costs the city about $93,000 in capital costs, but the programs that pay for the difference between the city’s contribution and the total cost to build a new unit, about $311,000, are only committed to a certain number of units, requiring the city—theoretically—to pay more for each additional unit out of its own pockets.)

If Harris-Talley and Sawant’s figures are correct, that provides a ready-made argument for the employee hours tax (effectively a flat annual tax for each full-time employee on every business over a certain revenue threshold) that they’ve wanted to pass all along. Today, the task force looked at potential revenues from the so-called head tax at different levels and with different sizes of business exempt from the tax, which I’ve copied below. (Last year’s proposed head tax would have exempted businesses with less than $10 million in gross revenues, up from $5 million in the initial proposal; some businesses argued that basing the tax on gross revenues was unfair because it didn’t take into account thin profit margins in certain industries, like restaurants.)

If the city goes through a recession, of course, the amount it can expect to collect will shrink. However, recessions tend to actually lower rents; Downtown Emergency Service Center director and task force member Daniel Malone pointed out that during the last recession, the county’s annual point in time count of people living outdoors tends to stagnate or even decrease, as it did between 2010 and 2011, and between 2011 and 2012. That’s one of the paradoxes of a weakening economy: Although revenues from taxes that are less stable, like direct taxes on businesses, tend to decline, so do rents, making it possible for some people forced onto the street by an impossible housing market to actually find a place to live.

2. In a King County Board of Health discussion about the possibility of a Hepatitis A outbreak in Seattle yesterday (a nationwide outbreak, ongoing now, began in California and was widely blamed on lack of access to handwashing facilities for the state’s homeless population), King County Health Department Director Patty Hayes expressed concern about the city’s decision last year to cut funding for three downtown hygiene centers that provide restrooms, showers, and handwashing and laundry facilities for homeless people living and moving through downtown.

City council and Board of Health member Sally Bagshaw—a vocal proponent for cutting funding to the facilities as part of the city’s new “performance-based” approach to homeless service contracts—objected to Hayes’ characterization of the problem.

“I think that [problem with the closure of the hygiene centers] is more apparent than real,” Bagshaw said. “We’re putting huge investments into new 24/7 shelters …  I’m working with those 24-hours shelters to say, ‘Can you open these up for people who aren’t [staying] here tonight” to take showers, she said. “We opened up community centers [for people to shower]. There are more facilities open now than before. It’s just that the money’s being shifted. I don’t want that rumor to be perpetuated. There were some organizations that didn’t get funded” because the city went to a competitive process, Bagshaw said.

I covered the cuts to funding for hygiene centers, and the reason some advocates believe community centers and shelters are not an adequate substitute for public restrooms and dedicated hygiene facilities, here.

3. The Sightline Institute, a progressive think tank that researches and covers of housing, transportation, and environmental policy from a green, pro-transit, pro-housing perspective, just brought on a new (unpaid) fellow to cover “issues of infrastructure, technology and energy with a view towards sustainability.” His name: Daniel Malarkey.

If that name sounds familiar, it should. (If it doesn’t, you weren’t following Seattle politics in the early 2000s.) He was the finance director for the Seattle Monorail Project, the transportation agency that was going to build a monorail line from Ballard to downtown to West Seattle. That project was doomed to failure after Malarkey’s revenue projections overshot the mark by about 50 percent, and after the agency compounded the problem by trying to paper over the error. (The error Malarkey made was counting revenues from taxes on every single car in Seattle, when in reality, thanks to heavy lobbying from the auto industry, all new cars and cars brought to the city by people moving here from out of state were exempt from the monorail tax. The result was that Malarkey overestimated the monorail’s tax base by a third) When he resigned at the end of 2003, I wrote this. Interestingly, it looks like his three years consulting or working directly for the monorail agency aren’t on his official Sightline bio.

Anyway, it looks like he’ll be writing about autonomous cars.

Full disclosure: I have written several pieces for Sightline and often use their research in my reporting.

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