Urban Politics #54: Thanks To My Staff


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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.

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CONTENTS:

  • Thanks To My Staff
  • Quick Review Of 1998
  • My Philosophy
  • TCI – Cable TV & The City

Thanks To My Staff

Every Council Member depends heavily on the skills, commitment and energy of his or her staff. I am very fortunate to have staff who have an abundance of all three. In appreciation of their fine work and to let others know what they work on, I’d like to briefly say a few words about each of them.

Lisa Herbold (lisa.herbold@seattle.gov) has been with me the longest. After being organizer for the Tenants Union for a number of years, she was initiated into electoral politics by managing my campaign. She now manages my schedule and my Culture Arts & Parks Committee. With the exception of the Arboretum she also monitors park issues south of the canal.

Newell Aldrich (newell.aldrich@seattle.gov) handled my campaign’s media relations and had previously been the co-chair of the Washington State Ralph Nader Campaign. He now manages all constituent mail and our extensive database on issues. With the exception of Sandpoint/Mangunson Park he also monitors park issues north of the canal.

Frank Video (frank.video@seattle.gov) is my half-time legislative assistant and is a respected, successful artist when he is not working at City Hall. He was responsible for coordinating our Neighborhood Arts Conference in ..and is currently organizing the first annual Seattle Neighborhood Arts Celebration to take place on February 13th in Benaroya Hall.

Kris Tsujikawa (kris.tsujikawa@seattle.gov) has been interning with us for the past 6 months and will continue to work half time next year as well. She coordinated hundreds of volunteers during my campaign and now helps us from being buried alive in paper work.

Quick Review Of 1998

Opening up City Hall was one of my goals, and I think I’ve contributed in some ways to that process. Working with other City Council Members, the Council has taken a number of steps to allow for greater citizen access. The next significant change will be the televised Monday morning state legislative briefings that we will be receiving from our Office of Intergovernmental Relations. These briefings were not televised last year or at any time in the past. Look up past Urban Politics issue #33 for more details on this topic of City Council Rules at our web site: http://www.seattle.gov/leg/licata/up00dex.htm

I’ve also carried that approach over to the Parks Department, which my committee has oversight. I had the Council pass the Parks Citizen Participation Resolution 29845 setting up three public workshops early next year to provide residents an opportunity to meet with Park Dept. staff. The workshops will provide an open and frank discussion on ways that the Dept. can improve their notification process and commitments to neighborhoods when parks receive major changes in use. Look up past Urban Politics issue #48 for more details on this topic at our web site: http://www.seattle.gov/leg/licata/up00dex.htm

The biggest disappointment I had last year was the Council’s rejection of my Burma Ordinance (by a 4 to 5 vote) which would have limited the City’s business dealings with Burma’s brutal dictatorship. Meanwhile many other major West coast cities, (Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland) have all passed similar ordinances, most unanimously. Look up past Urban Politics issues #37 and #38 for more details on this topic at our web site: http://www.seattle.gov/leg/licata/up00dex.htm

Probably the most controversial issue, as measured by media coverage generated, was the Council’s decision not to host the 2012 Olympics. Being a City Council Member allowed me to confirm and then disseminate information to the public on the potential costs and legal obligations to our city. The subsequent response was overwhelming from Seattle residents; the Council heard it and responded accordingly. Look up past Urban Politics issues #45, #46, #47, #50 and #52 for more details on this topic at our web site: http://www.seattle.gov/leg/licata/up00dex.htm

A small but important piece of legislation that I was proud to author and see the Council pass, was the 60-Day Rental Notice Ordinance. It requires landlords to provide their tenants that amount of time if they increase rents by ten percent or more in the last 12 months. Look up past Urban Politics issues #42, #43 and #45 for more details on this topic at our web site: http://www.seattle.gov/leg/licata/up00dex.htm

My Philosophy

One does not necessarily have to have a political philosophy to be a good City Council Member. One should be responsive to the concerns of all constituents in a timely manner and see that City Government be fair and effective in its delivery of public services. These are solid, good principles that I believe all Council Members strive towards. But such a position is not a philosophy so much as common sense.

For me the heart of a political philosophy is a belief in democracy and the crucial role that a metropolitan legislative body plays in keeping our democracy vibrant at the local level.

A couple of weeks ago Seattle Times Columnist David Brewster wrote that “What the mayor most needs are council members who understand how to be legislators, not managers and second-guessers.”

I believe that a city council is not supposed to be a “Mayor’s Council”, which exists to make the executive’s job easier. It is a separate and equal branch of government. In some ways it is more important than the executive branch, just as the executive branch is more important than the legislative in other cases. Each branch of government performs a “different” function, not necessarily built on conflict or on cooperation, but on the traditional federal model of achieving a balance of power between the two.

If we were to view the Mayor’s Office as being the head of the Council, we would be adapting a parliamentary system, where the executive comes out of the legislative branch and is ultimately accountable to it. The executive in our American tradition is directly accountable to all of the citizens and not the legislative branch. That makes the exeutive a leader of the populace. But that leadership has two institutional constraints: the courts and the legislature.

The executive should provide an administrative role, such as drawing up the budget and directing the various city departments to execute the laws. But it is the Council, acting as the legislative branch, which makes the laws, not the executive branch.

The basic tenants of a democracy are embedded in the legislative branch of government. The deliberative function that a City Council must perform cannot be abrogated to the executive branch without cheating the citizens of their representation.

On a final note, when we talk of democracy I believe we often think of it dry textbook terms, not something that is of any immediate application in our daily lives. But some times the value, the importance of democracy is illustrated in a particularly powerful way.

I was reading of a man Xu Wenli, who is 55 and was just arrested for trying to register a democratic political party (which is legally guaranteed under China’s constitution) and sentenced to 13 years in jail. What makes this particularly remarkable, is that he had already spent 12 years in solitary confinement for advocating democracy. He had been allowed to see his family for 40 minutes every month for the first 5 years during this time. But that privilege was denied when he had allowed his meager prison notes to be smuggled out of prison and published in the United States.

This story may not have much to do with Seattle politics, but it captures a tenacious spirit of hope in democracy, one that I hope can guide my own less grand objectives.

TCI – Cable TV & The City

Last month TCI informed the City that it would not be able to meet its contractual obligation to rewire the City by the deadline of January 31, 1999. They had 3 years to do the job and 60 days before the deadline they informed the City that they were only half way there. Ever since then, City Council has been hearing from hundreds of citizens about TCI’s services and charges. Let me say that I have yet to receive just one heaping praise on them.

According to the conditions of TCI’s contract the City could impose a $10,000 monthly fine on them until they meet their obligation. To a multi-billion dollar company this is equivalent to tossing a dime in a tin cup. Especially in light of the announcement last June that AT&T and TCI would merge, creating a $48.3 billion company to provide a one-stop shopping place for local, long- distance, Internet and cable services.

The city is now faced with a number of choices. First we must decide how to respond to TCI’s request for an extension of 9 months to complete their rewiring. In evaluating this request the City must also consider all other options. One such option is to duplicate Tacoma’s City Light “Click! Network” which now provides cable TV to its citizens for a $9 monthly rate.

Tacoma began constructing its publicly owned cable network in December of 1997 and now has 15% of the city wired. They have also launched WorldGate Internet Services (Internet over cable TV without a modem) with a price of $9 per month. At this Monday Morning City Council Briefings, Click staff will be describing how their system works and how it compete with TCI in Tacoma.

While most constituent complaints mention TCI’s failure to provide a sufficient number and choice of channels, another major issue that looms on the horizon is the relationship between cable and the Internet. A new era of local cable television is dawning. It will soon provide a medium for two-way interactive video, telephone and Internet services. There are over 25 million Internet subscribers in the nation right now and that number is growing exponentially.

The City Council must look at the pending AT&T – TCI merger as an opportunity to provide our community competition to both telephone services and high-speed Internet access. But if we don’t take an aggressive, pro-consumer stance then we may face an unpleasant reality.

Unlike telephone companies, cable companies aren’t required to open their networks to Internet companies and others. To access an alternate Internet provider, consumers would have to pay twice – once to TCI and once to their Internet provider. Right now TCI is only offering Internet service through an exclusive contract with “@Home”. None of the other Internet providers will have access to TCI’s cable.

We could condition the transfer of TCI’s cable network to AT&T like Portland has done. The City of Portland voted 5 -0 and Multnomah County 4 -1 this past month to require TCI/ATT to allow open access to Internet Service Providers as a condition of the transfer of control. In other words they have requested de- coupling the cable infrastructure from anyone exclusive Internet Provider. This will allow for open access and competition.

I’m obtaining copies of their legislation and plan on sponsoring similar legislation at our Council. Future Urban Politics will be following this issue.

Keep in touch…

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Comment from Ronald Ullom
Time December 14, 2011 at 1:07 am

Just a smiling visitor here to share the love (:, btw outstanding style. “Better by far you should forget and smile than that you should remember and be sad.” by Christina Georgina Rossetti.

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