IS IT VALUABLE public information or a four-color example of the power of incumbency?
That's what some political observers are asking about a Neighborhood Planning Implementation newsletter, 136,500 copies of which were distributed as inserts in various community newspapers. Opening with a letter signed by Mayor Paul Schell and City Council member Richard Conlin, both of whom are up for re-election this fall, the four-page pamphlet documents the various goodies—new parks, libraries, and transportation improvements—each neighborhood has received from city government recently as a result of the neighborhood planning process. A different newsletter was printed for the residents of each geographic sector of the city.
While no complaint has been filed over the newsletters with the city's Ethics and Elections Commission, political circles are buzzing over the timing of their distribution—which occurs just as Schell faces a tough primary fight against Seattle City Attorney Mark Sidran and King County Council member Greg Nickels.
"It's certainly convenient that we found out this year everything that Paul Schell has done for us," says U District activist Matt Fox. But Fox doesn't believe the mailing is illegal under the city's campaign laws—or even that unusual. "It's par for the course," he says.
Officials of the city's Department of Neighborhoods say the mailers are merely one more in a long series of public engagement efforts. Senior public relations specialist Irene Stewart notes that the department prepared and distributed a similar report last year, although individual reports for the six sectors weren't prepared.
Director Jim Diers says the inclusion of the letter from Conlin and Schell is merely a case of giving credit where credit is due. "They're the people who had the most to do with the neighborhood plan implementation," he says. Schell created the six city sectors as part of his plan for decentralizing city government; Conlin's Neighborhoods Committee reviewed all the neighborhood plans before their approval.
The entire cost of the project, including an additional 7,500 copies of the newsletters distributed at meetings and through city offices, was about $40,320.