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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.
On a serious note, this year posed some unexpected challenges. After chosen for the two-year position of Council President, I immediately faced hiring an outside investigator to review our department’s management-employee relations. That the Council President – among other duties – is essentially the director of the Legislative Department is not well known. Several employees felt that they had been discriminated against. I took their concerns seriously. The investigation conducted 58 interviews and resulted in files of more than 30,000 pages to review. There was no conclusion that any discrimination occurred yet changes in some management policies are definitely needed. Consequently, as Council President, I have initiated a set of new procedures governing our managers and employees to improve communication, evaluation and opportunities for advancement. In addition, new workshops and trainings will be held with required attendance.
While the Council President usually does not chair a major Council Committee, I decided to keep the chair of the Public Safety, Government Relations and Arts Committee. This seemed the best way to sustain the Council’s progress towards the goals I established when began leading this committee two years ago. In particular, over the last two years I have focused on the development of a comprehensive approach to public safety, funding an increase in police officers and matching these investments with resources for crime prevention and intervention programs that help individuals and groups.
The crime prevention efforts are twofold:
- Increase options available to people who otherwise may end up in the downward spiral of arrest, prosecution/defense, and perhaps jail. There are huge costs at each step in every criminal justice system. There are people who need to go that path; but prevention programs help people who, with better options, will choose better. This saves lives and dollars.
- Support citizen groups in their efforts to promote public safety improvements for their neighborhoods.
The second tier of this strategy is “intervention.” When unable to eliminate a public safety challenge, intervention programs mitigate the negative (and costly) impact on individuals and surrounding environment. As a result of my efforts in the last two year’s budget deliberations, funding for new intervention programs were supported and funding for others – eliminated by cuts in previous years – was also restored by the Council.
My third public safety objective has been more visible policing. Since taking the public safety chair three years ago I’ve heard a consistent call from constituents for dedicated bike and foot-beat patrols – especially in our neighborhood business districts. I continue to believe that visible policing is one of the most effective tools the SPD can use to enhance safety in the neighborhoods where we work, live, and play.
Finally, I believe citizen confidence in our Seattle Police Department will be enhanced with effective civilian oversight that provides timely and fair disposal of complaints concerning police behavior.
Significant progress was made in each of these areas in 2006. The Council initiated a unique pilot program in three neighborhoods (Central Area, Rainier Beach and Downtown), to link policing with social services through community outreach efforts. These programs will be evaluated for their effectiveness in 2007 to determine if they should be continued. Over 30 new police officers have been budgeted for 2007 and 2008. The Council will review plans for adding additional officers and evaluate how best to deploy them during the first quarter of 2007. Lastly, following my leadership, the Council made two significant reforms in the area of police oversight. In the 2007 – 2008 budget, the Council funded another investigator for the Office of Professional Accountability to speed up processing complaints. Also, for the first time since its inception, next year, the OPA Review Board will have access to the complete and unredacted files of completed cases. This will allow a more thorough review of how complaints are handled.
Along with public safety concerns, I have continued oversight of the arts, as I have since arriving on the Council. In 2006 I tackled the issue of how the City can best support our cultural and art institutions, including the Seattle Center. I proposed a financial plan to State Legislators to earmark existing taxes for these institutions and arts education in Seattle and King County when they are no longer needed to pay the bill for the demolished Kingdome and the two new professional sport stadiums. This approach avoids establishing new taxes, while promoting our economy in a way that is more fiscally sound. In 2003, 219 arts and heritage organizations generated 6.3 million event admissions and $835 million in business activity in King County; 14,851 jobs are directly tied to local arts and heritage organizations.
I believe the most effective stimulus for the local economy is to leverage our taxes for support of a diverse portfolio of cultural organizations. I am opposed to the plan to extend this tax for just one or two professional sport teams. The same old mantra for economic development via hope of a trickle-down largess is little more than the reckless risk of the resources that belong to us all. Don’t personal financial planners advise diversification among proven investments to reduce risks? Why should it be different when taxpayer dollars are on the table? I don’t believe it is. When precious public resources are used as subsidies, they must be prioritized according to their best likely return.
There are many more issues that I worked on in 2006 but only so much time for review. I have a periodic electronic newsletter called Urban Politics to share my perspective on the issues before me. I have been writing Urban Politics since 1996. To view all of the past editions by subject matter and date click here.
I hope this year has treated all of the UP readers well and that next year will be even better. Serving the citizens of Seattle continues to be my pleasure and honor.
Have a Happy Holliday and New Year,
Seattle City Council President