Urban Politics #33: City Council Rule Changes

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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.



  • City Council Rule Changes
  • Multilateral Ageement On Investments (Mai)
  • Civic Center Resolution
  • Cap Committee Meeting
  • George Will Speech

City Council Rule Changes

On Monday City Council will consider approving final changes to its Rules and Procedures. Changes were begun at the beginning of the year by the City Clerk to make current practice consistent with the existing published City Rules.

A review of the changes by the Seattle Community Council Federation lead to a number of suggestions to maximize citizen oversight and involvement and Council President Sue Donaldson addressed their concerns in a lengthy reply. Councilmember (CM) Peter Steinbrueck and I will be introducing five amendments this Monday to make some final adjustments.

Amendment One adds a new section allowing the majority CMs to convene or end an executive session. It will also clearly state that a unanimous agreement to waive the Council’s attorney-client privilege is regards to “legal” matters discussed “with counsel” at an executive session by those members attending said session.

Amendment Two allows the majority of the CMs at the regular Full Council Meeting on Mondays to suspend the rules and take public testimony.

Amendment Three proposes to change the name of the regular Monday morning “business meeting” to another name to distinguish it from the regular Full Council Meeting held in the afternoon. There is no final action taken at business meetings, and there are no attendance requirements. I have proposed two names either the “Precambrian Meeting” or the “Preambulus Meeting”. The first term is used by geologists to describe a period in which primitive life forms first appeared. Likewise, the genesis of ordinances often occur at the “Business Meeting”. The other suggestion is a more pedestrian, but it conveys a similar sense of the business meeting dealing actions which precede the main action of the Full Council meeting.

Amendment Four provides for the location of the above business meeting being consistent with the Full Council meeting. It would be held in the Muni Bldg. and unless another location is posted it would be in the Council Chambers.

The Fifth and final Amendment, which may prove to be the most controversial, establishes a one week minimum from the date a committee votes on an item, until it appears before the Full Council for final action. This waiting period could be waived by the Council President and the committee chair to expedite items like grant applications, contract renewal deadlines and opportunity deadlines. Currently there is no one week minimum wait between a committee vote and the final vote of the Council if there is no desenting vote.

Multilateral Ageement On Investments (MAI)

This Friday (4/24) at 1PM at the Mountaineer’s Club (300 3rd Ave. West) the Washington Fair Trade Campaign will be holding a press conference to protest the expected signing in Paris by the OECD (an international organization of the 29 largest trading nations) of the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI).

County Council Members Brian Derdowski (Republican) and Larry Gossett (Democrat) and I will be speaking at the event. Derdowski plans on introducing a County Council resolution critical of the MAI.

I supported the prior multinational trade agreement, NAFTA, which opened up trade between Canada, the USA and Mexico. But the MAI goes much further and has some serious restrictions on democratic principals and our national sovereignty. Accordingly, the traditionally conservative Western States Governors Association earlier this year joined organized labor in opposing the MAI.

The new treaty grants corporations and investors rights that have not been adequately discussed in the public, unlike the heated discussions that occurred around the NAFTA signing. MAI would give foreign investors and corporations equal status with nations, thus allowing them to directly sue local, state and federal governments if they suspect violations of any part of the treaty.

While the environmental and labor agreements in NAFTA may not be well enforced, they are established by law. In contrast, the MAI rules are only voluntary suggestions for labor and environmental standards, without the force of law which protect the rights of corporations in the treaty.

The MAI would also impact us locally because it proposes a ban on performance requirements, which are the conditions governments require of investors and businesses. A national example is the Federal Community Reinvestment Act, which I lobbied for and helped get established locally. Critics believe that the City could be sued by an international company if we continued our present practice of considering factors which favor women or minority ownership in allocating city contracts.

Civic Center Resolution

The City Council will consider a resolution this Monday that will outline the next steps in developing the decisions that need to be made for a City Municipal Civic Center. The resolution includes the three following key elements:

  1. Retain Key Tower as a municipal office building but not as a City Hall.
  2. Locate the Municipal Court and Police Administration on the Cordes site, across from the current Municipal Building.
  3. Identify the current Municipal Building site or the current Public Safety Building site as the future site for City Hall. The resolution goes on to direct the city to take a number of steps to develop a concept plan, a finance and management plan and an accessibility plan for the new civic center.

By about June 20, the Council will

  1. Contract for the development of a Master Plan,
  2. Decide whether to build to the maximum allowed building size on the Cordes site
  3. Determine which “customer service functions” will be housed with the Mayor and Council in a new City Hall building
  4. Decide on what to do with the Alaska Building, Dexter Horton Building and Arctic Buildings
  5. Develop a parking plan for obtaining more space for the city’s motor pool

The resolution also identifies longer-term decisions without setting a deadline for reaching them.

Cap Committee Meeting

The Culture Arts and Parks Committee meets this Wednesday at 2PM. A briefing will be given on the Sandpoint Design Workshop that was held several weeks ago. No other briefings are planned for the meeting. Arthur Tulee will read his poem, “Saving Face” at CAP’s Words Worth poetry reading.

George Will Speech

Heard this conservative newspaper columnist speak this week and was struck by two of his main comments. First he argued that liberalism’s greatest success this century has been the growth of the welfare state, as evidenced by the existence of social security and Medicare (the latter of which didn’t come about until the sixties). It struck me that both liberals and conservatives would probably concur.

When these welfare entitlements are combined with our current national debt service, close to two-thirds of our national budget is pretty much spoken for. He argues that the public policy is now in an equilibrium between those groups that are dependent on these programs and the general public mood which resists any further taxation. Consequently the government’s spending can neither expand nor contract without creating major social unrest.

His second point was that despite the common complaint that government (local and national) cannot take quick and decisive actions, because of political gridlock, we must recognize that the basis of our democracy is based on the notion of balancing the executive, legislative and judiciary branches. Gridlock, Will argued, is not a vice, so much as a virtue which allows for a slow and deliberative process.

Both points resonated with me because I saw how they were relevant to Seattle.

In the first instance, as the federal government cuts back on the social safety net, urban areas (primarily central cities and not suburbs) are forced to mend them or face the additional cost of controlling social unrest. With limited taxing authority, central cities will begin to see the financial strain manifested by cutting back on funding the less visible physical infrastructure needs. This approach leads to conflict between neighborhood groups and social service advocates. I’ve heard on a number of occasions “Why are we providing welfare benefits when we cannot fix our potholes.”

I believe the solution must be resolved by recognizing that national social and economic forces have stripped away the relevancy of our local political boundaries. The basic unit must be an integrated metropolitan government, and not the atomized “city” we have inherited from another era.

A recent study that CM Martha Choe commissioned, showed that millions of tax dollars flow out of Seattle to the suburbs each year. Suburban populations are not in need of the social welfare benefits that Seattle finds itself having to manage. It’s time the State legislature and the Governor take some bold steps in truly reorganizing government.

The second issue of recognizing political gridlock as a byproduct of the deliberative process reminds me again of the attraction that Singapore held to many of our City’s delegation that recently visited that city. As one local politician said, “When they make five year plans they stick to them.” I wish we could too. But government plans are only as strong as the governments that promote them.

If we didn’t have an independent judiciary, like the Hearing Examiner for instance, we could get a lot of zoning decisions made faster. No politician would recommend that this position be abolished because they recognize that it provides a citizen or neighborhood counterbalance to a private developer or city planner.

So for me at least, George Will revealed some truths that shape our political climate. While we might not appreciate them, like the rain, which we all love to complain about, I think we should recognize their importance in clearing the air.

Keep in touch…

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