As if Mayor Paul Schell's Administration needed another WTO-related bobble, he's once again got the City Council steaming mad—this time for his clumsy handling of the resignation of Police Chief Norm Stamper.
Like most other major news items from Schell's office, Stamper's departure was carefully leaked to a friendly reporter (in this case, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Kimberly A.C. Wilson). But council members say the chief's resignation was too important an event to be stage-managed by the Schell publicity machine. "It's just sort of indicative of the lack of communication between the mayor's office and the council over the last year," says council member Tina Podlodowski.
Adding to the problem is Schell's ignorance of the news-gathering process. When the P-I story was posted on its Web site after midnight on Tuesday morning, other reporters considered it an important enough news event to track down council members at home. "I got a call at 1:30 in the morning on Tuesday morning from KIRO news radio," says Podlodowski, one of several council members to be rousted out of bed. Council President Sue Donaldson was also unimpressed with Schell's gaffe. In a chilly statement disseminated to Seattle media, Donaldson called the mayor's handling of the situation "unfortunate" and ended her missive with this intriguing line: "I thought that the Mayoral-Council relations in the 1980s taught this city that very little gets done when the mayor fights with the council."
The mayor's slipping-and-sliding press relations seem even more remarkable when you consider that his office has recently summoned some of the best political minds in city employment to his 12th-floor bunker. Former council aide Kym Allen, onetime deputy mayor Bob Royer, and longtime Seattle Times reporter Dick Lilly have left their public relations posts elsewhere in the city to help Schell smooth over the wreckage left behind by the WTO meeting.
So just how does the city go about investigating itself in the wake of the WTO troubles? An early proposal by council member Margaret Pageler to give the job to an ad hoc committee of council members has served as the skeleton of a larger proposal.
Now it looks like the job will be led by three council members (Jan Drago, Nick Licata, and chair Jim Compton), with subcommittees of experts and citizens studying the city's decision to bring the ministerial meeting to town, the planning for WTO week, operation and strategic decisions made during the conference, and civil rights violations (including police misconduct). The investigating committee will have the power to subpoena witnesses (something that Mayor Schell's blue-ribbon panel investigating police disciplinary practices lacked).
Given this power, and the fact that council members actually have some power to take action on the panel's findings and recommendations, this arrangement could go far toward satisfying many of the city's critics. Well, some of the city's critics—let's not get too confident.
Thanks for writing
In addition to a flood of phone calls so relentless that most council offices let the voice mail system handle them, the week after WTO saw a major crash of City Hall e-mail systems. The culprit? Thousands of messages from a single source, a prankster whose simple message was contained in the subject line: "Mayor Schell You Suck."
Pretty hilarious, folks, but seeing as many constituents rely on e-mail to write their elected officials, such electronic sabotage is as undemocratic as anything the cops pulled during WTO week.
Four friends needed
Just when the mayor thought things were going lousy, he's got one more thing to worry about, courtesy of his friends and admirers at KVI radio.
They've drawn attention to an obscure provision of the Seattle City Charter that allows the council to remove the mayor after an impeachment trial for "any willful violation of duty." What's more, impeachment can be accomplished by a two-thirds vote of council (six of the nine total members). Just call this a reminder to the mayor that he needs at least four friends on council.
Good ideas available
So, you thought that the WTO hoopla would save you from further discussion of that nasty ol' Initiative 695. Fat chance, bucko.
The latest cogent commentary on the situation comes from our good conservative friends over in Delridge, that "independent, free market think tank" the Washington Institute Foundation. The foundation's list of 25 ways governments can cut costs isn't all brilliance, of course. As the unrestrained boosters of privatizing darn near every government service, 11 of the foundation's 25 suggestions naturally involve contracting out such diverse areas as park maintenance, health services, and liquor sales. Other ideas are controversial, if probably worthy of examination, such as ditching "prevailing wage" provisions, which bestow inflated wages to workers on government construction projects. A few no-brainers made the list, including ditching the state's presidential primary, the results of which aren't honored by the Democratic Party and are used as only a minor factor in selecting national Republican Party delegates. There's also a few brainless suggestions, including dumping the One Percent for the Arts program on construction projects, which would save just $1 million annually.
But the key provision is buried late in the list—"Restrain the Growth of Government Workforce." The unrestrained growth of government has been the impetus behind both I-695 and the spending limitations of Initiative 601. People just don't approve of keeping the government workforce in a state of constant growth—and until the bureaucrats acknowledge that, the initiatives will just keep on coming.