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Boring but Invaluable

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On election night, as an increasingly raucous horde of monorail supporters packed tighter and tighter into the small, breakable-filled Fifth Avenue storefront that houses the Seattle Glassblowing Studio, City Council President Jan Drago pulled me aside for a little city budget update. My precise memory of events at this point is a little fuzzy (Ohio was about to go to Kerry, and I was about to go to my third party of the evening), but fortunately, I jotted down this note: "Jan. Budget. Street seepers [sic]."

One week later, still unable to conjure the slightest memory of the conversation, I peeked into Drago's office--which was filled, improbably, with an array of ornate gift baskets prepared by Drago herself for various charity auctions. Fortunately, the council prez was on it. "They"--the mayor's office--"were going to switch control of the street sweepers from [the city Department of Transportation] to [Seattle Public Utilities]," she explained. "I said, 'No way. I am putting my foot down.'" Drago got her wish.

Such was the stuff of this year's budget battles, which concluded last Friday with a back-patting session punctuated by a few minor hiccups. Among them: The (interminably debated) loss of the city's last staffed public toilet, in Pioneer Square, and the (nearly unheralded) loss of the city's sole demographer, Diana Cornelius, who sat stolidly in council chambers as the council voted to approve the budget without restoring her job on Friday.

The former debate, which centered on the question of whether the toilet was really necessary, given that a new automated toilet had just been sited a mere 300 feet away, ended in a 6-3 vote to do away with the toilet monitor, though not before Peter Steinbrueck and Tom Rasmussen had exchanged some testy words with their penny-pinching council cohorts. "[One toilet] should be enough, but the question is, will it be?" Rasmussen asked. Nick Licata joined the pair in their unsuccessful push to preserve the potty, which had cost the city $69,000 a year. That sum, incidentally, is nearly enough to restore funding for statistician Cornelius, whose demographic analysis is boring but invaluable to city departments.

For three years, Kathryn Harper has served as special assistant to City Attorney Tom Carr with a no-bullshit, impartial manner that sets her apart from the legion of closed-mouthed city bureaucrats who answer questions in circular jargon and keep their bosses under tight rein. In 2001, the 42-year-old Harper came into an office in which "special assistant" had meant something akin to "secretary" and began rewriting her job description. In the process, Harper opened up an office that had famously been sealed off, under Carr's predecessor, Mark Sidran, from public view. "If you don't hear back from me, even if you're not a reporter, I'm dead," she told me once. Harper isn't dead, but she is leaving--to take a lobbying job at MCI. She will be missed.

barnett@thestranger.com

 

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