Save the District Councils

On Monday, Nov. 21, 2016 via Resolution 31718 and Ordinance 125192, the Seattle City Council removed the status as official City advisory bodies of the thirteen district councils and the citywide City Neighborhood Council, and removed their modest dedicated funding. Despite the City Council’s rush to this result and its resistance to reasonable modifications, the Councilmembers claim that they support continuing the district councils and CNC.

All those who have been involved in the district councils or want to save and improve the district councils system are invited to an end of the year social hosted by the City Neighborhood Council on Sunday, Dec. 17, noon to 2 p.m. at Seattle University’s Chardin Hall, room 145 (1020 East Jefferson, south side of campus). Click here for the invitation.

What is wrong with Res.31718 and ordinance C.B.118834 . Detailed recommendations for improving this legislation were outlined by the Lake Union District Council in its Nov. 9 letter (click here) to the City Council and in the following line-by-line versions of Res. 31718 (click here for the PDF version and click here for the Word version; and C.B. 118834 (click here for the PDF version and click here for the Word version).

The City Council should shorten Res. 31718 and C.B 118834 to focus on two important things: create a Community Involvement Commission and increase language access services citywide. The Council must remove the parts that defund and decertify the District Councils and City Neighborhood Council before the Commission even has the chance to engage with and make recommendations about these official City advisory bodies.

It is truly unprecedented in Seattle history for the City Council to decertify and defund 14 official advisory bodies without even consulting them about their continuation, without trying to save what is best, without providing help and guidance (as called for by the 2009 audit–click here), without allowing a meaningful opportunity for a public hearing, and with only polemical and unsupported analysis. The City Council must not validate the disinformation and polarization in the Executive’s “whereas” statements and the fiscal notes for these two bills. On these, click here.

On Nov. 9, just two days after Res. 31718 and C.B 118834 were introduced, the Lake Union District Council sent each City Councilmember the attached 7-page letter (click here). To make things easier for you, below is a capsulized summary of nine needed changes. But first, please note that LUDC’s letter fully supports creating a Community Involvement Commission, while urging that the City Council not deny the Commission the opportunity to engage with and come to its own conclusions about the future of the District Councils and CNC. The LUDC letter also supports C.B 118834’s increase in language access services for all City bodies, including the District Councils and CNC in their efforts to reach out to diverse language groups.

Explanation of suggested changes in Resolution 31718 and Ordinance 125192

(1) Res. 31718 and C.B 118834 would move Seattle away from public meetings and into primary reliance on digital participation, even though the City’s own research shows that one fifth of the population lacks web access. Contrary a Mayor who doesn’t particularly like public meetings, they are fundamental to the American tradition, and are a time-tested technology for inclusion. To attend or speak, one doesn’t need web access, a computer, or even to be able to read. The district councils are the only City advisory bodies that hold monthly public meetings throughout Seattle, close to where people live or work. These public meetings number well over 100 per year (thirteen different District Councils, each with about nine meetings a year). These meetings are major opportunities for members of the public to engage with City officials and with one another. The City Council should help the District Councils get word out the public about these public meetings, not kill the meetings along with the advisory bodies that make them possible.
(2) As dramatized by our recent national election, digital media encourage misunderstanding and anonymous invective. Participation by e-mail, web surveys, and social media can be isolating, harsh, and rife with the potential for misunderstanding. Public meetings encourage civility and compromise among people with diverse backgrounds. As you have heard from the Southeast District Council, “when we may be dealing with class or ethnic divides, in the final analysis there is no good substitute for in-person, face-to-face communication and dialogue. … Even where consensus is not easy to come by, understanding and respect can make a big difference.” The Mayor’s crusade against the District Councils is a disservice to them and to the City Council, obscuring how much the District Councils do to bridge gaps between races, ethnic groups, and economic classes; between homeowners and renters; and between residents and businesses. With help from City government to improve their equity and effectiveness, they can and will do this task better than ever.
(3) The Res. 31718 and C.B 118834 “whereas” clauses and fiscal notes falsely state that the District Councils and the City Neighborhood Council receive unique and undue staff resources. The portion of the District Coordinators’ time occupied by District Council chores has been wildly exaggerated. And there is nothing unique about a department spending some staff resources for the official City advisory bodies it administers; every official City advisory body receives staff assistance. The only thing unique about the District Councils and the CNC is that they receive FAR LESS staff assistance than any of the other official City advisory bodies.
(4) Res. 31718 and C.B 118834 would warp the official mission of the Department of Neighborhoods. The proposed new mission lacks any sense of enhancing neighborhoods, such as through mutual aid, empowerment of people, and ensuring the responsiveness of government. In fact, almost all references to “neighborhoods” would disappear—certainly odd for a Department of Neighborhoods! The focus becomes “dividing up the pie” of City resources rather than on community-building that can “grow the pie” of community resources through physical improvements and social bonds which the City could never afford to fund on its own.
(5) Section 5 of Res. 31718 would erase the charter and guidance for the district councils and the City Neighborhood Council as official advisory bodies, including regarding the Neighborhood Matching Fund by repealing Resolution 27709 (1987), Res. 28115 (1989), and Res. 28948 (1994),. The LUDC letter identifies language from these resolutions that should be retained while strengthening the equity of these advisory bodies’ civic engagement.
(6) Res. 31718 would lead astray the Department of Neighborhoods and other agencies with a poorly drafted “Glossary of Terms” that “shall guide ongoing efforts by City of Seattle departments to develop, implement and periodically update community involvement plans and practices that prioritize equity.” It would place the Department of Neighborhoods at the center in controlling various demographic groups, destroying its longtime role of empowering these groups to interact and cooperate on their own. Res. 31718 should be amended to include the current purposes to “foster cooperation and consensus among diverse interest within neighborhoods and to encourage the constructive settlement of disputes.” The glossary should be deferred so that the Community Involvement Commission can help shape it.
(7) C.B 118834 would centralize the Department of Neighborhoods and make it permanently an arm of the Mayor, jettisoning its longtime role as honest broker by repealing its function to “mediate disputes between City departments and affected communities.” [p. 4] One reason the City has not needed an ombudsman is that the Department of Neighborhoods has taken this assignment seriously; do not repeal it.
(8) C.B 118834 would move the Department of Neighborhoods away from community empowerment by replacing its current assignment to “facilitate community meetings on City issues and actions” with new language to “convene public meetings on City issues and actions”. The Department’s long-celebrated effort to help communities organize themselves is replaced by heavy-handed control.
(9) The City Council will not benefit if all advisory bodies are people it and the Mayor have appointed. The District Councils and CNC are the only advisory bodies that are selected at the grassroots, with viewpoints that the City Council inadvertently edits out in its appointments. A decision against grassroots selection of District Council members will also deny to the communities themselves the advantages of grassroots ideas and involvement. As demographic groups meet face-to-face, the experience promotes civility, mutual understanding, cooperation, compromise, and team building, benefitting the entire City.

Conclusion. Creating a Community Involvement Commission and increasing funds for language access surveys are worthy purposes of Res. 31718 and C.B 118834. But please amend these bills so they are no longer vehicles for defunding and decertifying fourteen City advisory bodies that are equally worthy instruments of civic engagement and inclusiveness and are already in place and deserving to be helped, not harmed.

Background. Among Seattle’s 60 official advisory bodies are its 13 neighborhood district councils, which jointly meet also as the City Neighborhood Council. The district councils and the CNC were created by 1987 legislation (see below). For the boundaries of the district councils, click here. Each district council is composed of a dozen or more grassroots organizations including neighborhood associations, chambers of commerce, and others, each of which sends a representative to the monthly district council meeting. The district council meetings are public meetings that are open to everyone. For a history of the district council/CNC system, click here.

On July 13, 2016 without any prior inclusion or collaboration, Mayor Ed Murray issued an executive order (links below include the documents as well as video of the Mayor’s remarks and his responses to media questions) attempting to disassociate the City from this longstanding system. It turns out that as legislation established the district councils system, this decision is up to the City Council. On Sept. 20, Department of Neighborhoods officials were grilled by a City Council committee (see link below for a media account)

On Sept. 26, the Mayor sent his proposed resolution and ordinance to the City Council (click here) for the Mayor’s proposed ordinance; click here for the Mayor’s proposed resolution. Before the City Council introduced it as a bill, the proposed ordinance was informally amended, and it was introduced on Nov. 7 as Council Bill 118834 (click here) along with a Fiscal Note (click here). The proposed resolution was introduced on Nov. 7 (click here) apparently without revision from the Mayor’s version, and a Fiscal Note for the resolution was also filed (click here).

The Fiscal Notes regarding the proposed ordinance and resolution contain false and inflammatory statements: Regarding Res. 31718, the Fiscal Note state: “If this resolution is not adopted, District Councils and the City Neighborhood Council could continue to receive a higher level of City assistance (prioritized support from DON’s team of Neighborhood District Coordinators, a distinct role in the review and ranking of Neighborhood Matching Fund grant applications) than all other community organizations located and working in Seattle neighborhoods. … These potential outcomes are inconsistent with the City of Seattle’s responsibility, as a steward of public funds, to direct its limited staff and public engagement resources and activities that are inclusive, effective, and encourage participation by a broad range of community members.” Also: “This resolution would end the City’s practice of providing District Councils and the City Neighborhood Council with prioritized access to City resources, allowing City staff to support a greater diversity of community organizations, including those that serve vulnerable and/or historically disadvantaged populations.”

The Fiscal Note for the C.B. 118834 ordinance uses the same false and inflammatory language: “If this ordinance is not adopted, District Councils and the City Neighborhood Council could continue to receive a higher level of City assistance (prioritized support from DON’s team of Neighborhood District Coordinators, a distinct role in the review and ranking of Neighborhood Matching Fund grant applications) than all other community organizations located and working in Seattle neighborhoods. … These potential outcomes are inconsistent with the City of Seattle’s responsibility, as a steward of public funds, to direct its limited staff and public engagement resources and activities that are inclusive, effective, and encourage participation by a broad range of community members.” Also: “Ending the City’s practice of providing District Councils and the City Neighborhood Council with prioritized access to City resources will allow City staff to support a greater diversity of community organizations, including those that serve vulnerable and/or historically disadvantaged populations.”

The Mayor’s campaign against the district councils. On Sept. 26, the Mayor released his proposed Department of Neighborhoods budget (see link below) which would undermine the nationally acclaimed district coordinator model that sustains the district councils as independent and inclusive advisory bodies. The budget, if approved, would divert much of the district coordinator resources that are the current lifeblood of the district councils. Instead, those funds would go to the Mayor’s appointees and priorities, and some even to the already well-funded SDOT.

The campaign against the district councils ignores and dishonors their 27-year history of successfully empowering diverse communities (the district councils are the only advisory bodies that are selected entirely at the grassroots, not appointed top-down by the government echo chamber). The Mayor does not want to hear from people he has not appointed. He is hostile to open town meetings and geographic representation–and indeed to the very existence of neighborhoods as communities. These are views that are at odds with the traditions of American democracy and culture.

The Mayor seems oblivious to the district councils’ important role in promoting inter-racial understanding, bringing together neighborhood businesses and residents, and leveraging huge amounts of volunteer involvement. He attacked the district councils without having offered suggestions for their improvement. Supposedly to back up his case, the Mayor cited a 2009 City Auditor report, but this report calls for restoring staff support to the district councils. In the video of his July 13 remarks (see link below), a reporter presses this point, and the Mayor blames his predecessors for not having complied. But the starving of the district councils has reached its lowest ebb under his leadership, and when there is no budget crisis to hide behind.

It is time for a reset, and to remember the answers for why we need strong, independent district councils. Toward that end, below are some useful links.

Links to documents and videos about efforts to undermine the district council and the campaign to save and strengthen them

The Mayor’s Sept. 26, 2016 proposed resolution repealing the resolutions that charter the district councils and the Neighborhood Matching Fund and replacing them with a system of mayoral and city council appointments: click here.

The Mayor’s Sept. 26, 2016 proposed ordinance repealing the parts of the municipal code that charter the district councils and the Neighborhood Matching Fund and replacing them with a system of mayoral and city council appointments: click here.

Lake Union District Council’s Nov. 9, 2016 letter (click here) to the City Council.

Line-by-line versions of the Lake Union District Council’s proposed amendments for Res. 31718 (click here for the PDF version and click here for the Word version); and C.B. 118834 (click here for the PDF version and click here for the Word version).

Explanation of the above changes in the Res. 31718 and C.B. 118834: click here.

Mayor Ed Murray’s July 13. 2016 statement, with links to his executive order and a FAQ. Click here

Video of the Mayor’s July 13, 2016 remarks and answers to media questions (provided by the West Seattle Blog). Click here.

Mayor’s July 13, 2016 executive order: For links to his statement and executive order and a FAQ, click here.

Mayor’s July 13, 2016 executive order: click here

FAQ about the Mayor’s July 13, 2016 executive order: click here

Mayor’s Sept. 26 budget proposal for the Department of Neighborhoods: click here.

Department of Neighborhoods director Kathy Nyland’s Sept. 26 comments on the Mayor’s budget and policies regarding neighborhoods: click here

Department of Neighborhoods director Kathy Nyland’s Sept. 28 FAQ on the Mayor’s effort to remove existing staff support from the district councils: click here

City Neighborhood Council’s August 2016 letter to the City Council. Click here.

City Neighborhood Council’s web page on the City of Seattle web site (has many useful documents and links): click here

City Neighborhood Council’s additional web page (has background on the district councils issue, a survey to take, etc.): click here

City Neighborhood Council’s Facebook page: Click here.

Seattle Times July 19, 2016 article by former Department of Neighborhoods director Jim Diers, “Neighborhoods need City’s support, not a Mayoral panel”: Click here.

Seattle Times July 20, 2016 editorial, “City council should challenge mayor murray on neighborhood councils” (July 21, 2016): Clickhere.

Seattle Times columnist Jonathan Martin July 21, 2016 article, “Get ready for a neighborhood rebellion.” Click here.

Crosscut July 19, 2016 article by Jordan Royer, “Murray squanders chance for positive neighborhood reform”: Click here

SCC Insight Sept. 25, 2016 article, “City backpedals on dissolving ties with district councils”: Click here

SCC Insight Oct. 5, 2016 article, “Department of Neighborhoods equivocates on support for District Councils, insulates itself”: Click here

Seattle City Auditor’s 2009 report on the district council system: click here

Links regarding the City Council’s 2015 “Statement of Legislative Intent” request for information about neighborhood programs: (1) 2015 request: click here; (2) Department of Neighborhoods’ first response: click here; and (3) Department of Neighborhoods’ final response: click here

Links regarding the City Council’s 2015 “Statement of Legislative Intent” request for race and social justice analysis of neighborhood grant programs: (1) 2015 request: click here; Department of Neighborhoods’ first response: click here; and (3) Department of Neighborhoods’ final response: click here

Boundaries and web sites for the district councils: click here

Department of Neighborhood’s “Engage Seattle” page: click here

History of City Neighborhood Council and the District Councils system. Click here.

List of the 60 Seattle boards and commissions. Click here.

Video (in two parts) of the first hour of the July 20, 2016 citywide meeting that was hosted by the Delridge District Council. Click here for the first half hour; the second half hour will follow automatically. However, to listen to the second half hour separately, click here.

Messages that have been sent to the City Council on this issue: For the NE District Council Oct. 3, 2016 letter, click here. For an account of the SE Disrict Council Oct. 28, 2016 public meeting, click here. For the Nov. 9, 2016 Lake Union District Council letter, click here.

Contacting the City Councilmembers

Web page: http://www.seattle.gov/council/meet-the-council.

City Council’s U.S. mail address is 600 Fourth Avenue, 2nd floor, P.O. Box 34025, Seattle, WA 98124-4025.
Fax is 206-684-8587.

E-mail addresses: (it is always best to contact them individually, not as a group)
sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov
tim.burgess@seattle.gov
lorena.gonzalez@seattle.gov
bruce.harrell@seattle.gov
lisa.herbold@seattle.gov
rob.johnson@seattle.gov
debora.juarez@seattle.gov
mike.obrien@seattle.gov
kshama.sawant@seattle.gov.

Note: The present web page is contributed as a public service by the Eastlake Community Council. Suggestions are welcome for its improvement.

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