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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.
Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.
Pine St. Parking Garage And The Courts
Blue Suit Power – A Holiday Story
Swearing In Monday January 5th
I, along with Council-elect Members Richard Conlin, Dick McIver, Council Member Jan Drago, and Mayor-elect Paul Schell, will be sworn into office on Monday, January 5th at 2PM at the start of the regular City Council business meeting. A reception for all of us will be held at the Paramount Theater from 4 to 7PM. Both events are open to the public, so even if you did not receive a mailed invitation (the city could only afford to mail a limited number) please stop by either event. The City Clerk allows each City Councilmember to select who they wish to swear them in at the Ceremony. I’ve chosen out-going City Councilmember Charlie Chong. I will be occupying City Council Position # 6, which is the seat he is vacating after serving a high profile year in office. Last year when Charlie was sworn in, he had both the ceremony and the reception held in the evening to allow for more of supporters to attend. I thought that was a good idea, since many people work during the day and can’t get the time off to attend the swearing in at 2PM. I would have liked to do the same. However, because there are four new members of City Government being sworn in, moving the event to the evening proved to be too logistically difficult. I did ask that the reception be moved from the Dome Room in the Arctic Bldg. to a larger facility. The City Clerk and others readily agreed and the reception was scheduled for the Paramount with the hours extended to 7PM. It’s also my understanding that Mayor Paul Schell’s transition team is providing entertainment for the reception as well.
Pine St. Parking Garage And The Courts
The City overpaid the Pine St. Associates by $23 million to have their new 1,200 parking garage built. Responses from the press varied. An initial Seattle Times editorial (Times’ reporters exposed the arrangement) expressed concern about tax dollars being carelessly spent. Meanwhile the Post- Intelligencer’s editorial defended the action. However, one of the best commentaries was written by P.I. business columnist Bruce Ramsey. He put his finger on the problem: the courts refuse to uphold the State Constitution’s wording that bars public entities from “giving any money, or property, loan its money, or credit to … any individual, association, company or corporation…” except to help the poor. I personally doubt that any audit of the downtown garage transaction by the City Auditor or State Auditor will uncover anything “wrong”. They will review the documents and find that the City received “consideration” for its $23 million overpayment, i.e. that government representatives expected the downtown economy to improve. Obviously after spending millions of dollars, an economy is going to improve. Therefore their actions are legally justified. What we have here is not a story of graft – of public officials pocketing money or gaining private financial gain. Rather it’s a story of attitude – of determining who should receive public welfare. I’m a Democrat. I believe that welfare is not a bad thing. I think that some people do need to receive welfare in order to get by and improve their lives. But when we, as a public body, give out our money it should be to the neediest, not the wealthiest. Otherwise, we should expect a return that is commensurate with the risk being taken. If we loan out public funds to a corporation, then we need to think like an investor and ask, “What is my return and when do I get it?” Usually the answers are far too fuzzy to calibrate. I imagine that the inherent risk and lack of accountability with using public funds in private ventures was why the framers of our state constitution restricted the giving or lending of public funds. The State Supreme Court has repeatedly weakened this restriction by allowing the legislative branches, like city councils, county commissions and the state legislature, to loan public money with the most minimal level of “consideration” being received. There will be an opening on the Supreme Court this coming fall. Kris Sundberg is running. I’ve worked with him in fighting the stadium public financing packages. He has argued this position in court and intends to highlight the State Constitution’s wording which denies the dispersal of public funds for private ventures. Another candidate, Hugh Spitzer, whom I know and respect, is also running. I know that Hugh is a Democrat. I don’t know Kris’s party affiliation. But I suspect that unless the Democrats start arguing that the Supreme Court must address the issue of public corporate welfare and not duck it, then good candidates like Hugh will have difficulty appealing to a growing body of voters who are disturbed with this trend.
Blue Suit Power – A Holiday Story
I received an invitation to the Alki Foundation’s Holiday Party at a private downtown club honoring newly elected officials. Although I’ve been on the opposite side on a number of issues from them, like funding the two stadiums and the Pine St. Garage, I put on my dark blue suit and decided to go and be social. At the sign-in table I was greeted warmly although they had no name tag for me. No problem, they apologized, asked me to spell my name and wrote one out. I was then admitted to a room packed with more white males in blue suits than I could have ever imagined. I thought to myself, ah I’ve finally entered the hallowed grounds of the “power establishment”. There was nary a female in sight and racial minorities were as evident as a trace of Vermouth in a Martini. But the exquisite buffet of fine meats, pastries and especially the sushi from Shiro’s, overrode my qualms about staying. Unfortunately no one was eating. The chefs stood alone at their posts ready to carve or dish out their fare while clumps of intensely talking men stood around with only drinks in hand. I sauntered up to one chef and asked, “We can eat the food, right?” “Yes, of course.” He replied and eagerly filled my plate, providing both of us a useful and satisfying purpose for being there. Setting a good example, others fell into place behind me and soon the room was transformed from one of drinkers to diners – making the roads much safer that night. To pass the time I meandered around the room munching ebi (shrimp) maguro (tuna), and hamachi (yellowtail). Darn if I didn’t recognize one face. And that did surprise me. I may have my differences with them, but I thought I knew people in the Alki Foundation. These surely were Seattle’s hidden power brokers. Even their name tags were difficult to read. But I did make out one from the Port of Seattle – of course, a power center if there ever was one. And there was another from the Port of Tacoma. That figured, Puget Sound is one integrated economic entity. The third one was from the Port of Angeles. Hmm, that’s casting a pretty wide net. Other name tags, however, were indicating that something was slightly askew. I asked the bartender next to me. This is the “x” club? Oh yes, he replied it was. And who, I asked, was this group that I was now enjoying the company of. He didn’t know, but he took off in search of the club manager to get the name. I finished my sushi in the meantime, but decided not to go back for seconds. The Shipping Lines Association of America (approx. name) throws one fine party, but it wasn’t the one I was invited to. The Alki Foundation was in the smaller room down the hall. They had cold cuts, sliced cheese and veggies, they had a more diverse group and I knew some of them.
Admittedly, I did wistfully glance over my shoulder once or twice looking down that long hall, calculating how much sushi might be left and asking myself the same question that Butch Cassidy once asked the Sundance Kid, “Who are those guys?”