In the Hall
New City Council Member Tim Burgess Learns Fast
art cred: Kyle Webster
Tim Burgess has only spent two afternoons on the council dais, but he's already been to what feels like a hundred meetings. After his landslide victory over incumbent David Della (the biggest victory over an incumbent, he claims, since at least 1960), the tall, thin ex-cop with closely cropped, receding hair spent his afternoons sitting in council chambers, watching as the council (including his defeated opponent Della—ouch), rewrote the city's industrial-lands policy, tackled Mayor Nickels's budget, and debated the minutiae of land-use policies. Did he find it tedious? "I did have that reaction, but I also wanted to learn what was happening with the issues," Burgess says.
Burgess is a bit of an enigma, by design. (Typical quote: "I have subjects and themes, but not specific legislation.") During the campaign, he was adept at dodging specific questions with general answers about themes and process; and over beers and dim sum at O'Asian restaurant near City Hall earlier this week, I tried to get him talking specifics. Sitting on a low couch in O'Asian's dim dining room, Burgess was unflappable as I fired off a long list of issues outside his jurisdiction as head of the newly revamped Public Safety, Human Services & Education Committee. Last year's industrial-lands legislation? "I would have supported the [Richard] Conlin amendment to pull the area around the stadiums from the industrial zone." White Center annexation? "I'm open-minded on that issue, but we have other pressing needs." The city's design-review process, which Burgess's colleague Sally Clark wants to revamp? "Our design standards should be much more aggressive to protect traditional neighborhood character and move us more toward environmentally friendly design."
Burgess is most comfortable, however, in the area of public safety—a product of seven years spent in the Seattle Police Department. Some have expressed concern that Burgess's history will make him too cozy with the cops, who have spent the last year mired in police-misconduct scandals. Burgess says the experience gives him a unique perspective on police oversight. "I don't think the system is broken, but I do think it could use some improvements," Burgess says of the city's police-accountability system. "We need more transparency."
In a few weeks, the council will announce a joint effort with the mayor's office, social-service groups, and the police to tackle gang violence in the wake of a recent string of shootings police believe may have been gang-related. "We need to talk about what we're doing as a community to address the problem and prevent it," Burgess says. "If the communities don't step up, the council should get involved."