Morning Crank: Planning Is Necessary. Stalling Is Not.

L-R: Commissioners Vickie Rawlins, Brendan Donckers, Eileen Norton, Bruce Carter, Charlene Angeles

1. The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission dealt another blow to defenders of Mayor Ed Murray yesterday afternoon, agreeing unanimously that the mayor’s supporters couldn’t create a legal defense fund and solicit unlimited anonymous contributions on his behalf.  Moreover, the board ruled that the supporters’ backup plan—limiting the amount of contributions and disclosing the names of donors—was equally unacceptable, on the grounds that the city’s ethics rules contain no provision allowing legal defense funds for elected officials.

“Given our current ethics code, or what we care about in the city about transparency and accountability, I don’t see a path for you,”  commission chair Eileen Norton addd.

Murray’s supporters proposed creating the fund to help the mayor defray the cost of defending himself against charges that he sexually assaulted a young man in the 1980s, and some speculated that one reason the mayor announced he would not run for reelection was to eliminate one objection to the fund—that it would violate campaign-finance rules.

 

“There is concern about whether the mayor has the resources” to defend himself, Flevaris said, “and the folks putting the fund together want to address that issue and make sure that the lawsuit can’t be used as a political tool” against him. “When you have a scandalous lawsuit like this, we think [that] informs this issue.”

“I don’t think the emotional issue around the lawsuit should inform our decision,” Norton responded.

Flevaris and Lawrence argued that by keeping the names of contributors to the fund anonymous and requiring donors to sign a nondisclosure agreement, the fund would avoid any appearance of political impropriety. However, commission director Wayne Barnett countered that if, for example, “someone involved with the development of an arena in SoDo makes a substantial gift to the legal defense fund, I don’t see how an unenforceable nondisclosure agreement is going to persuade a reasonable person that it was not given with an intent to influence” city policy.

Moreover, Barnett said, if the commission granted the defense fund the right to solicit anonymous, unlimited contributions, the commission wouldn’t have a leg to stand on the next time a campaign came before them asking for the right to take anonymous contributions, which has happened in the past.

Murray can still accept very nominal gifts under the city’s gift rules, but the commission did not appear to leave any path for the legal defense fund to proceed. After the vote, Flevaris said he was glad that the commission had given the attorneys for the fund some “clarity” on whether they could proceed. Once Murray’s term ends on December 31, he will be a private citizen no longer subject to the city’s ethics rules; however, Flevaris said “time is of the essence” in the lawsuit. Paul Lawrence, another attorney for the mayor’s supporters, said he hadn’t “heard anything to suggest” Murray would resign in order to start collecting contributions to help him defend against the lawsuit.

Turina James: “I’m the face of a heroin addict. Just a year and seven months ago, I was right out there with all of them. Without harm reduction … I don’t know what I would have done.”

2. Also yesterday, the King County Council’s Health, Housing, and Human Services Committee decided to delay for another month a motion that would direct King County Executive Dow Constantine to prepare a report and work plan for the creation of two pilot supervised drug consumption sites in King County. Citing the number of people (about 40) who showed up to testify in the middle of the afternoon, committee chair Jeanne Kohl-Welles postponed the measure that was the subject of all that testimony on the grounds that there was too much else on yesterday’s agenda.

Most of those who turned out to testify—including emergency room nurses, recovering addicts, Real Change vendors, and residents of neighborhoods, like Belltown, where injection drug use is common—supported the sites. However, the delay speaks to the disproportionate weight of opponents’ voices.  Yesterday, those opponents claimed, as they always do, that supervised consumption sites will turn entire neighborhoods into apocalyptic landscapes overrun by strung-out zombies who shoot up, turn tricks, and lie half-dead with their faces on the sidewalk in front of “legalized shooting galleries” that exist to “enable human suffering.”

“You seem to be forgetting that heroin is illegal,” one opponent, who identified himself as a recovering addict, said. “This plan is completely insane,” argued another.

Peer-reviewed studies from supervised-injection and -consumption sites around the world show that they reduce deaths from overdoses, infections, HIV, and hepatitis C, and connect people struggling with addiction to services and treatment.

Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard, a member of the task force that, almost nine months ago, recommended a supervised consumption site pilot project as part of a comprehensive package of recommendations to address the opiate and heroin addiction epidemic, said after the meeting that she was frustrated with the slow pace the committee has taken. “It’s hard to say that it’s behind schedule, given that it would be the first of its kind in the country. That said, this isn’t ideal, because these recommendations have been sitting for months.” Noting that the task force only recommended a three-year pilot project, Daugaard said the only way to demonstrate whether supervised consumption can work, or that it’s doomed to disaster, is to try it.

“The answer to those questions [opponents raised] lies is the implementation. We will find out whether there are good, bad, or neutral effects, and we will make an assessment at that point,” Daugaard said.

“But staying in this limbo is the worst of all possible worlds. Planning was necessary. Stalling is not.”

3. In response to a 58 percent increase since 2013 in the number of complaints about vacant buildings, mostly single-family houses, that have fallen into disrepair across the city, the council is considering legislation that would streamline the process for declaring empty buildings hazardous and tearing them down.

Currently, city law requires property owners to wait a full year before tearing down a building if it was most recently occupied by renters; the changes would lower that timeline to four months (which the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections says  is still plenty of time to “ensure that good-quality rental housing is not inappropriately removed”) and make it easier for the city to demolish or clean out hazardous properties and so-called squatter houses. At the city’s planning, land use, and zoning committee Tuesday, Seattle fire chief Harold Scoggins said that in the past 28 months, the fire department has responded to 47 fires in vacant buildings. “That’s very significant for us,” Scoggins said.

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

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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.

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.”

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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.”