The city's new Income Inequality Advisory Committee, convened by Mayor Ed Murray to tackle the issue of raising Seattle's minimum wage to $15 an hour, has been meeting for a few weeks now. Labor and business leaders, the most vocal advocates and opponents of raising the wage, are sitting at the same table and discussing what many consider to be the paramount issue facing the city this year.
But if you want to know how it's going, you're going to have to be patient. The meetings are happening completely out of the public eye.
Why a secret task force? Murray's communications director, Jeff Reading, says, "In order to gain the full and candid input of the advisory committee participants—a group that represents a broad and diverse range of interests—we felt that some element of confidentiality was necessary." He says some future meetings will be open to the public and a schedule is coming soon.
It's perfectly legal to have private meetings—the same way the mayor and his staff meet with lots of members of the community, says Reading—and to be honest, it's probably smart. It's likely that members can get more bargaining done if they're not worried about grandstanding.
But you deserve a goddamn say, right? Well, the Seattle City Council, which operates under more strict open-meetings rules, is offering you just that.
Last week, the council announced it would create a special committee of all nine members solely to consider the minimum-wage issue. Unlike the mayor's committee, it will be very public (aired on TV and anyone can sign up to testify).
Chaired by Council Member Sally Clark, the committee is intended to ready the legislative body to move quickly once it gets a proposal from the mayor, in the hopes of avoiding ballot measures on the issue. They're also going a step further: Clark says in order to "maximize the ability for people to participate," they'll hold some meetings in the evenings and in places other than City Hall.
Council Member Kshama Sawant, for her part, calls the minimum-wage committee (an idea she proposed in December) "a step in the right direction."