Mid-point check-in

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Somehow we got into July and I’m not sure how that happened. At the top of this year the Council went through our annual agenda priorities exercise which yielded this 2012 Action Agenda and I thought, “Great. We finished this relatively quickly at the start of the year. Now we have the year ahead of us to get work done.”


Suddenly, we have less than half the year ahead of us. The good news is we’ve accomplished a great deal. The bad news is this is when I look at my wall calendar I realize we’re almost at the August hiatus which means we’re almost to the budget break which means we’re almost to the end of the year. Cripes!


My goals as Council President have been to 1) not screw up anything permanently (the general elected person’s version of the medical world’s “do no harm” oath); 2) keep the Council moving forward on our action priorities; and 3) do my part to keep the city focused on delivering service in a high quality way while we wrestle with the complex, knotty questions that invariably pop up despite the fact they aren’t listed anywhere on the action agenda. (Arenas, historic streetcars and profit-making ziplines, anyone?)


I may be biased (OK, quite biased), but I think the Council (and the city staff who help us) did pretty well by our priorities in the first half of the year. Among other accomplishments:


  • The Third Avenue Initiative is underway coordinating city department work to clean up and better maintain Third Avenue through Downtown. Councilmember Rasmussen knows every inch of Third Ave. at this point.


  • Construction of the First Hill Street Car is underway with the extension into Pioneer Square assured and the extension to Aloha Street under review. Councilmember Rasmussen has pushed this, as well, with Councilmember Conlin doing his part at the Sound Transit Board.


  • We adopted an administration and finance plan for effectively using the Families & Education Levy funds approved by voters last fall. Councilmember Burgess spearheaded that work.


  • The first Neighborhood Greenway opened through Wallingford this spring. Councilmember Bagshaw’s middle name is “Greenway.”


  • We worked with allies in other cities and the state legislature to quell costly changes in Business and Occupation Tax collection and have launched work with allies on a better approach to simplification for businesses. This has been a big one for me.


  • Squeaking in just at the start of July we adopted a Strategic Plan for Seattle City Light after thousands of hours of work by volunteers and staff. Councilmember O’Brien carried this over the line after multiple years of effort by Councilmember Harrell.


  • Earlier this week we gave the final committee-level nod to asking voters to approve a bond sale for financing replacement of the central seawall. Councilmember Godden chairs this special committee.


We have a list of big items ahead of us before the December break – final decisions on new housing, zoning, parks and streets for the Yesler Terrace neighborhood (Councilmember Licata has the sharpest pencil reviewing this proposal); the SODO arena proposal; new zoning for South Lake Union; final rules on a rental housing licensing and inspection program; and more. We’ll receive the concept plan for the future Seattle waterfront later this month. We’ll spend October and November taking apart and reassembling the budget for 2013, including a probable shortfall of approximately $30 million.


We’ve also taken up brief conversations a few readers will think less important. I’m an optimist, though. I think we can review and act on something as detailed as the Seattle City Light Strategic Plan and have brain space available to consider a resolution on the potential impacts of coal trains chugging through Seattle.


I am disappointed to not have progress to report in one particular area – the City’s response to the United States Department of Justice’s December report on cases of excessive use of force by Seattle Police. While negotiations are currently the work of the Mayor and City Attorney, the crafting of new policies and the necessary staff and budget changes are of concern to all Councilmembers and rated as the Council’s highest priority for this year.


I believe the sooner the City reaches a fair agreement with the DOJ, the better for our police officers and the greater community. Ongoing pokes and disagreements about the validity of certain statistics cited in the DOJ findings do nothing to move us forward. Instead, the delays, intentional leaks to media, and resistance to change allow doubt and resentment to fester. 


It’s time for a reasonable negotiated agreement that puts Seattle on track to developing and living the policies and procedures, the training, the supervision and the accountability our officers and community deserve. 


There will be a price tag for making changes. We should calculate the real cost of reasonable, negotiated changes and then take responsibility for the difficult decisions we’ll need to make to pay for these changes.


We can do this. We can use this difficult opportunity to elevate Seattle to the top tier of urban policing. I hope to be able to blog soon that we have. We have less than half the year to go to get started.