Open-Government Activist Arrested for Assault


Ohhh, you have a sore wrist?! You poor little sack of bitch. Next time a man asks you for something, you better deliver.
Chris is just one of a number of neighborhood activists who are involved out of a mental illness rather than a belief in representing their neighborhoods. They have a captive audience in government staff who are forced to listen to their anguish. Although most of these sad, ill people would not resort to this violence, I feel sorry for the public servants who are forced to be berated and harassed by these people.
Wow, sounds like someone didn't get enough attention from mommy and daddy as a child.
Too bad they didn't put a cap in his ass.
sounds like a soul mate for richard lee.
I'm really getting tired of the way we just put up with crazy people until they hurt somebody. Why do we do that?

Is it because we're too wimpy to institutionalize or supervise them? Or too cheap?

I guess when you combine the cheap ass conservatives and they wimpy ass liberals, they become an unstoppable coalition of "lets let the crazies run the bus, the park, the library and city hall."
I disagree with a lot of what Chris Leman advocates.

But it strikes me as comical that Erica Barnett -- a pen with no ink -- would propose to criticize him.

And, alas, it certainly does not surprise me that she would do so in such a nasty and mean-spirited way.
Making Eastlake proud. Chris puts in a lot of time but unfortunately has to be managed more often than not.
@7: You're right, she should thank him for his frank, unflinching assault on a poorly-paid civil servant. Go, Chris!
A PDF of the Pedestrian Master Plan was available for download yesterday. Perhaps Chris Leman needs a web tutorial.
I've met some crazies during my time as a city employee: People who've told me about the secret Jewish power lines in Seward Park, people who tell me about how their neighbors are trying to kill them with microwaves, folks who accuse City Light and SPU of compiling master databases to spy on them (If you knew what passes for technology in the city, you'd die laughing from that one)

Only once of twice have I ever felt physically threatened, or been creeped out by the circumstances I'm in. I feel bad for that receptionist.
This is really sad. While I have not always agreed with Chris or his tactics, I think that his determination to hold the City accountable for its actions has had an overall positive impact on all of our lives. I hope that someone steps in to take his place as the omni-present gadfly at City Hall, but perhaps with more tact and inter-personal abilities.
Chris is a freak show. The City has coddled him for way too long - nice someone finally called the cops on him.
The transportation manager who presided over Seattle's botched snowstorm response was promoted into his job after the city spent $515,000 on a yearlong investigation that found serious problems with his management style.

I'm so worried about his public disclosure requests.

I receive Chris Leman's e-mail updates, and they generally seem reasonable to me. Could one of the Leman haters quote something he's written about City Council actions that seems unreasonable?

I don't see anything on Slog today about the Pedestrian Master Plan. Is it newsworthy? If not, isn't that newsworthy? What constitutes "after hours" at SDOT? What city office pays a receptionist to work after hours? What receptionist sticks around the office off the clock? Leman sent an e-mail Thursday morning inviting people to come discuss the needs of youth and teens with the City Neighborhood Council's committee on Youth, Schools, and Education, which was to meet at the Queen Anne/Magnolia Neighborhood Service Center from 6:00 until 7:30 p.m. Given that he was later arrested in Queen Anne, I'd bet that his arrival at SDOT was well before 6:00.

Erica, you're known to gripe a lot. It's rather odd of you to refer to a neighborhood activist who takes the time to speak up about his concerns with our local government's actions when our elected representatives solicit input as someone with "with a nearly endless list of gripes." As evidence of this never-ending list, you refer to two Slog posts and a The Stranger article which describe exactly two complaints Leman has voiced.

If this recent event happened as described, then of course he was out of line. But given some of the comments in the Slog posts to which Erica linked, it wouldn't surprise me if things aren't as they seem. That city staff have been told to be "be extra-vigilant in case Leman shows up" suggests to me that he's asking questions they would prefer not to answer and shedding light on issues they would prefer to keep under wraps.

Imagine this hypothetical scenario: It's Thursday afternoon. Leman leaves work early to go pick up a draft copy of the big report that is to be released tomorrow so that he can get a jump on reporting about it, since he caught wind of the fact that that it will be another Greg Nickels theater production with anything of use to pedestrians that might affect Nickels' campaign funders' profit margins stripped out. He goes to the SDOT office because he was told that the draft report -- public information -- would not be published on the Web, so he'd have to stop by in person to get a copy. He arrives at the SDOT office at 4:45. The receptionist recognizes Leman as the guy who's always coming in shoving his nose into City business, and after muttering, "Here we go again; would this guy get a life?" under her breath, smiles a big fake smile and says, "I'm sorry, everyone leaves at 4:30 on Thursdays." Leman says he doesn't need to speak to any of the engineers, he just wants a copy of the much heralded Pedestrian Master Plan that is to be released in less than 24 hours. The receptionist first feigns ignorance, then ruffles a few papers on her desk and says, "Sorry, can't find it." Leman, frustrated, says, "Come on. You know as well as I do that this is supposed to be available to the public, and it's not like I showed up here late in the evening looking for it. Could you just get me a copy?" She stands up and says, "I'm afraid you're going to have to leave." A heated discussion ensues, and at some point, Leman points his finger, she steps in, they make contact, she says, "don't you touch me." He says, "Just get me the report." She threatens to call the police and tell them he assaulted her. He says he did no such thing. She pulls out her mobile phone (because there's no land line in the office?) he grabs it and tosses it on her desk, decides he better leave, and goes to catch a bus over to Queen Anne for his 6:00 meeting.

Who knows.

Past experience suggests he's a thorn in the side of government secrecy and opponent of Nickels continued centralization of power, someone who won't put up with being brushed off by civil servants -- not that he goes around physically shoving people around. Or shoplifting.
@R15 - I'm wondering if you've ever met Chris.

He can be pretty reasonable on paper. In person he is very difficult to deal with and doesn't seem to have the capacity to effectively manage his emotions. He doesn't just have this reputation with the City - I know of nonprofit organizations where the bylaws were explicitly written to keep him off the board of directors.
I'm all for open government in general. But it helps if you aren't a complete douche when you try to make your point.
For general information, city offices are closed at 5:00. Mr. Leman arrived at 5:15. The employee was not working overtime, but her regular hours.
@16: I have, but only once. He seemed very mild-mannered, made an attempt to get a neighborhood group I'm involved with connected with the City Neighborhood Council, and put me on his e-mail distribution list.

I have no other information about his conduct in person. Aside from yesterday's incident -- which again, I believe to be absolutely inappropriate as described by the police report as reported by Erica -- I'm less concerned with how he says things than what he has to say. When you are ignored by those we employ to manage our shared resources for us, sometimes you have to speak more loudly.

The two examples Erica cited involved requiring private citizens, but not city employees, to register as lobbyists before lobbying City Council members, and allowing businesses in certain areas of the city to avoid State Environmental Policy Act review.

When I receive Leman's e-mails, I almost always think, "I'm glad someone is taking the time to speak up about this." Looking through e-mails I've received from him in the past six months, I see him rallying support to oppose giving businesses priority over pedestrians in the use of sidewalks, to oppose decreasing government transparency, to oppose weakening the residential parking zone program, and to oppose weakening noise ordinance restrictions.

To the best of my memory, everything about which I've heard that Leman speaks out involves him standing up for the general population against pressure from a few select members of the public -- business owners -- and standing up for open government.

Instead of calling names and making vague accusations about the difficulty of working with Mr. Leman, could someone please cite some examples of what you find to be unreasonable about his efforts? For all I know, everyone who complains about him does so because he or she works in government and would rather operate with less oversight from the people or because he or she operates a business and wants to change the laws to increase his profits even when it would happen to the detriment of the majority of people.

Concrete examples, please.
I started working for the city rather recently (last summer) and have yet to personally encounter Mr. Lehman, but he has threatened many of my coworkers. City employees typically work here because we care about Seattle and want to help make it a better place to live. Projects like the Residential Parking Program (aka RPZ) involve numerous public meetings and other opportunities for people to comment. Mr. Lehman is not the only person paying attention to these issues but his threatening behavior lowers the level of civic discourse for everyone, not just public employees.
@17: I think I agree with you, but consider which is more deserving of the label of douchebaggery: Leman, when he speaks out against Nickels' latest plan to line the pockets of his financial supporters and put himself in the spotlight, or the douche-bag plans themselves? Why does Leman even have to go out and complain about more government secrecy? Shouldn't it just be a given that less transparency is bad? Why do such plans get far as having Leman come speak out before someone else nixes the idea?

If Leman's methods are flawed, please go do a better job at what he's trying to do than he is doing. Just don't let his message be brushed aside because it wasn't delivered with candy and flowers.

When people who speak out against the things Leman speaks out against are accused of making trouble, I'm leery of taking the report at face value. Leman may well be a pain in the ass -- I don't know. But if he is, it seems that the assess in which is is a pain are a bit too comfortable.
Phil, I don't know Chris, so I'm not going to say anything about him, but having worked in reception and other office jobs, I can say your characterization of "the city staff" seems a little off. The government is not a giant monolithic entity of which every part is dedicated to the same purposes, least of which the receptionist. She isn't told to be "extra vigilant" because the City is trying to hide things from the public, but because there are a lot of unstable people out there that she has to deal with because she fields requests for the government. There is no conspiracy to keep the public in the dark about things, I promise.
@20: Northquirk, could you be more specific about the many threats to which you refer? Are we talking, "This is bad for the people you serve, and I'll do everything I can to make sure that people find out about it." or "I know where you live."?

Here's what I've heard, via e-mail from Leman on April 13, 2009:

The Residential Parking Zone program is one of the most important protections that neighborhoods have. On March 31, the Seattle Department of Transportation issued proposals that would make it much harder for neighborhoods to get an RPZ, and SDOT would have almost unlimited discretion to revoke the existing ones. Many other changes would render the program almost unrecognizable--in fact SDOT proposes even to remove the word "residential" from the term RPZ! The proposals in many respects diverge dramatically from what SDOT had discussed before. The "public involvement" that SDOT engaged in seems to have been a sham.

What is worse, SDOT released these proposals only on March 31 along with a "Declaration of Non-Significance," claiming that the changes would not be a significant action under the State Environmental Policy Act. And SDOT set today, April 13, as the comment deadline. That is less than two weeks, and surely they know this is tax time! It is the wrong time and not enough time for asking comment on the DNS, and SDOT set the April 20 as the deadline for appealing the DNS to the City Hearing Examiner (see below). This gives SDOT no meaningful opportunity to revise the DNS based on the comments that it obviously does not want to hear. To be fair to those who comment on the DNS or may wish to lodge an appeal, SDOT must extend both deadlines by at least a month.

The proposed ordinance, SEPA checklist, and DNS, can be found at… Please send in some comments today (suggestions attached), and please also ask that the comment and appeal deadlines be extended for 30 days to give a genuine opportunity for neighborhoods to learn about, discuss, and if needed, appeal these proposals. Attached is a powerful critique of the proposals by Larry Hettick, a neighborhood leader who has been following the process. Larry can be reached at [e-mail address]. Please Larry know your thoughts, and if you would like to get involved in a coalition effort to save the Residential Parking Zone program. And is there anyone out there willing to appeal the DNS by April 20, or willing to contribute to the costs of those who do?

Is that unreasonable?
That city staff have been told to be "be extra-vigilant in case Leman shows up" suggests to me that he's asking questions they would prefer not to answer and shedding light on issues they would prefer to keep under wraps.

I think the context of this post makes it pretty clear that staffers have been advised to be extra-vigilant in light of this assault.
@21: Phil, I can tell you enjoy your apologist role for Chris Leman, but have admitted several times now that you've had limited personal contact with him. Chris, like a lot of activists, started off as a reasonable, if strident, voice on neighborhood issues. But, over the years, he has become rude, belligerent, and pushy in his personal dealings with city employees and elected officials. Frankly, if people hate you personally, it kills your effectiveness as an activist, despite the righteousness of your cause.
Phil: if you're going to spend the entire afternoon trying to rationalize assault and battery on a lone woman, please look to Mr. Poe @1 for pointers on how to do it with more style.
Following are those attached suggestions mentioned in the e-mail I quoted @23:

First is it important to remember that the Residential Parking Zone (RPZ) Program was created to help ease parking congestion in residential neighborhoods while walking a fine line to balance the needs of all people to be able to use the public streets. The focus was, and to this day remains on neighborhoods and on the residential component of our neighborhoods. RPZ were to be and have been established on blocks that have adjacent residential use (houses, apts., or condos) to discourage long-term parking by non-residents. RPZ were considered necessary and appropriate where the parking congestion was caused by being near a business district with limited parking, and/or is caused by parking generated by visitors or employees of a hospital, school or factory. As such the RPZ permits are currently issued only to residents who actually have the signs installed on their block or who live within the RPZ boundary. Permits cannot be issued to non-residents, business owners or employees.

The proposed change effectively dismantles many of the basic tenets of the existing program. Right from the start the name changes from Residential Parking Zone to Restricted Parking Zone – which itself is a strong indicator that the RPZ program as we know it will morph into an entirely new entity. Upon careful review of the project goals and the list of major changes it is abundantly clear that the “residential” flavor of the program has been vastly depreciated and supplanted by the interests of the business community. I was on one of the community focus groups and I can find nothing in our group’s work that even remotely resembles the proposed changes. The substantive changes contained in the proposed SMC change are all about adding a new and dominant player to the equation – businesses whose employees or their visitors who will simply inundate residents of neighborhoods who now enjoy at least some protection via RPZs.

To support this conclusion I offer the following comments to the stated SDOT Policy Review Project Goals and the List of Proposed Changes both of which are presented in SDOTs website at…

RPZ Policy Review Project Goals
Revise program to:

• continue to reduce traffic impacts to neighborhoods from large parking demand generators
I don’t see anything in the changes that will reduce the impacts of large parking generators. In fact the changes will promote and encourage the large generators to bombard Seattle neighborhoods with demand for parking that is already saturated.

• add support for mixed-use neighborhoods and local business districts
This was never one of the goals we were working with in our focus groups. It’s fundamental to remember that the RPZ program was implemented to mitigate parking congestion in neighborhoods caused by being near a business district with limited parking, and/or is caused by parking generated by visitors or employees of “a hospital, school or factory.” Giving or adding support for mixed use or local business districts was NOT part of our agenda and in fact it seems rather counterproductive to do so.

• maintain reductions in overall energy use and vehicle emissions
This seems to be just an obligatory “green” component. With or without RPZs the overall energy use or vehicle emissions are not impacted or affected.

• implement program with simple rules that are easily understood and clearly applied
From my perspective the proposed changes are much more complex, more confusing and accordingly suffer in their application. Enforcement remains a key unresolved issue. And as already mentions introducing the mixed-use and businesses into the RPZ equation will only exacerbate the critical parking shortfalls in nearly all Seattle neighborhoods. The permits will become meaningless in a environment will be even more saturated with a demand for on-street parking that already exceeds the supply of such spaces.

Proposed Major Changes

• Managing permit parking demand – Limit RPZ permit sales to 8 permits per household
Not sure how much of an impact this will have as I have no data to support how many “households” there are that have a need for 8 permits. During our focus group meetings it was pointed out that areas like the U district had a number of old homes that had been converted into “boarding houses” with 10 + “residents.” The simple fact is that in such areas of the city the parking is already in such an upside-down supply vs. demand posture this restriction on the number of permits per household will not have much of a positive impact. Maybe restricting the number to 2 or 3 would help but to 8 is nothing more than a cosmetic amendment to the existing program.

• Permit eligibility–Require that vehicles be registered in resident’s name and permit-eligible address
This seems like a good idea in concept but not in execution as it will be very difficult to enforce – at least until the city comse up with some easy way to cross-reference registered names with addresses. SDOT indicated in our focus group meeting that the Seattle Police Department is supposed to be getting some type of license plate scanner but I see nothing in the proposed legislation to support this nor any reference to such in SDOTs or the Police Dept’s websites.

• Major Institutions policy – For new or expanding major institutions, limit major institution permit payment to no more than two permits for first permit cycle.
I think this is a nothing more than a gift to the business community as it removes, in part, the established agreements with major institutions (such as the U and First Hill medical faculties that now subsidize the permits for the adversely impacts residential neighborhoods.. This is just another example of how these changes show an obvious and deliberate strategy to support the business community at the expense of the adversely impacted residential communities.

• RPZ location – Prohibition of RPZ implementation in downtown Seattle given high demand and multiple, competing needs for on-street parking
Once again business interests over the residential community.

• Business and institution permit pilot program – Create a pilot program that allows eligible employees in the Sound Transit LINK Light Rail Initial Segment to purchase permits
Wow, why single out transit employees is beyond me. I see as it as just another effort to depreciate the merits of the RPZ program. Pretty soon every special interest group will have a permit but with fewer and fewer on-street space what’s the point? The RPZ program becomes nothing more than an income generator for the city!

• Guest permits– Create single-day guest pass in addition to biennial permit
Seems like a good idea but in reality my be tough to actually get such passes on a timely basis and it seems there is plenty of room for misuse.

• New RPZ zone creation process – Change technical and community engagement requirements. Parking study must generally demonstrate at least 75% parking occupancy along affected blocks, and 50% non-resident vehicles. Any proposed RPZ zone would need to contain at least 10 contiguous city blocks.
This is VERY anti-residential. The Seattle Municipal Code specifies the thresholds that must be met in order to establish an RPZ. Currently the SMC states that 75% of on-street spaces must be in use for at least eight hours, with at least 25% of those spaces used by non-local vehicles, all in an area of at least five contiguous blocks. The proposed legislation marginalizes the residential focus of the existing program by allowing over 50% parking by non-resident vehicles before an RPZ can be created and by doubling catachment requirement from 5 to 10 contiguous blocks. Bottom line: no new RPZs will ever be aapproved and probably some of the existing ones will be removed when this new criteria are applied. It is especially noteworthy to highlight a key element in the draft legislation (bottom of page 12) which gives new powers to the SDOT Director: “may initiate dissolution of an RPZ when he or she determines that it best serves the public interest and meets at least one of the following criteria, including but not limited to, low permit sales in a zone, a small number of blocks with RPZ signs, or the original traffic generator no longer exists. The zone would be removed at the beginning of a new permit cycle.” Such powers would not be subject little if an public scrutiny.

• Modifying and removing zones process – Change technical and community engagement requirements.
As states above these changes bestow super powers to the SDOT Director that are above and beyond what might be considers usual and customary.

• Parking enforcement – Create additional fines to address permit abuse
Enforcement is the operational backbone of this program. Additional fines for permit abuse are just the tip of the iceberg. SDOT and the Seattle Police have yet to demonstrate that they have a workable, cost-effective plan for enforcement.

• Customer service – Create on-line permit payment and eligibility checks for permit holders
The city should have done this years ago.

• Director’s Rule –Replace existing resolution with procedures in Director’s Rule
Once again these changes bestow super powers to the SDOT Director that are above and beyond what might be considers usual and customary and are simply unnecessary. They are not justified by the supporting studies conducted in the review process.

Submitted by
Larry Hettick
For the third time: If what happened is as it was reported by Erica, I completely agree that it was absolutely wrong.

Keshimeshi: Good point.

J.R. I'm not apologizing for his actions, just suggesting that his message seems worthy of attention. If you think he has become ineffective, please step in and take over saying the same things in a more effective manner, or convince us that those things need not be said.

Dr. Memory: You seem to have forgotten some of what I wrote here.
I recently met Chris because he is one of only a handful of people in the city who bother to show up to meetings about open government. These meetings have to my knowledge received no press attention whatsoever.

During these meetings, Chris played an important watchdog role. The Council has exempted itself from part of the state's public disclosure laws while passing transparency guidelines that are full of loopholes. The open government committee solicited community organization input into this process, but then promptly dismissed almost all of the organizations' suggestions. At the last meeting, after recently passing legislation that rejected the possibility of having a single web page to coordinate public disclosure requests, the open government committee had someone from the City of Bellevue give a 40 minute presentation on how they've successfully made this transition. Acting as if they had never considered the proposal before, the committee vowed to maybe look into it... in a year. After that, the Council spent almost 40 minutes mischaracterizing Leman's proposals for increasing transparency so they could casually dismiss them as absurd. When he got up to complain during the "public comment" period, he was treated as a nuisance, and I could tell that the frustration he exhibited at how he was being treated was being used by Councilmembers as evidence that he is unreasonable.

None of this justifies what Leman may or may not have done at SDOT (would like to get his side first-- though obviously the accusations sound bad). But I do think that a lot of people in government use character assassination as a technique to dismiss their critics, especially when their critics are everyday citizens and not people with wealth or power. Journalists should thus be cautious about adopting a similar tone and dismissing everyday people's criticism of government because of their deportment.

Though obviously, if someone's persistent criticism crosses over into harassment, that's a different matter. I would be sad if that's what's happened here.
Leman doesn't seem to realize how much he is hurting his (often) worthy causes. In fact, he seems to think his gadflyism is worthy of imitation, as evidenced by a class he apparently taught recently. Don't want to scroll down to find the goods? No prob. Let me blockquote them for you:

Proactive Best Practices for Open Government

Presenters: Chris Leman and Donna McKereghan

A bedrock for open government is obedience to laws on open public meetings and the disclosure of public records. But governing will never be as open as it can be unless government operates not just by the letter of the law but with a spirit of openness. This course outlines a proactive strategy for governments to go beyond the minimal requirements of Washington’s Public Records Act and its Open Public Meetings Act. Examples from state and local agencies, governing bodies, and advisory boards illustrate the opportunities that government has to help citizens find out what it is doing. The instructors engage members of the course in discussion of the benefits and risks of these initiatives, as well as possible barriers and the pathways for overcoming them.

Seattle tolerates loonies!
For those who believe Chris Leman is a valuable voice for certain issues: theoretically -yes, in reality - no. Mr. Leman's difficult, divisive and adamant ways compel other volunteers to participate elsewhere or de-activate. More effective open government advocates will appear when Mr. Leman is required to disappear from his self-appointed perch.
@29: Trevor, I'd like to find out if video of that meeting is available. Could you provide the date on which it was held?
all council meetings are on video.
@33: 5/1/09. Warning: this meeting was VERY boring.

@32: you're saying that the only thing stopping a flood tide of open government activists from appearing at city council meetings is Leman? I doubt it. The ACLU and other organizations with a lot of cred submitted comments to the City Council's Open Government Committee, but to my knowledge have not shown up in person to present their recommendations, have not challenged the City Council for ignoring their recommendations, have not educated their members about what's going on. In general everyone supports open government. In practice, the rule-making that ensures open government can be technical and dull, and I don't think anyone's chomping at the bit to get involved in this issue.
I'd respect this discussion and take it seriously a bit more if people didn't hide their nastiness behind anonymity.

And if there wasn't such a mean-spirited adolescent and obviously ignorant bullshit tone to it all.

You folks who so value politesse ought to look in the mirror sometimes.

They only value faux politesse.
Here's a six minute clip of Mr. Leman speaking to the Seattle City Council's Special Committee on Open Government at the May 1, 2009, meeting Trevor Griffey referenced (and a clip of Mr. Griffey speaking at the meeting). He doesn't appear to me to be someone who is about to come unhinged.

Can someone give a specific example -- other than the alleged activity of May 8 that is the topic of this post -- of the inappropriate behavior that people have repeatedly, anonymously, accused Mr. Leman of exhibiting? I'm not saying it doesn't happen, I'd just like to see for myself, and City Council meetings are archived on the Web. I don't know who these people complaining about Mr. Leman are or what they are trying to achieve by anonymously tarnishing his reputation.
Good grief - what, if anything does Leman's political activism and effectiveness have to do with the fact that he assaulted a woman? The way Erica reported it is exactly the way it happened - I'm a fellow city employee.

He was pist because the offices were closed and the receptionist was unable to locate the document (Ped Master Plan Draft) that Leman had "made a special trip" to pick up. He had called earlier in the day to say that he needed a printed copy. It was printed and left for him at the main reception desk on the floor - not with the receptionist who had the misfortune to try to help Mr. Leman. All areas of the floor are locked at 5:00 and this woman was kind enough to open her door enough for Leman to get his foot in it and overwhelm her.
@39: Good question (except for the "fact" part; I'd call that an allegation until Mr. Leman has his day in court). Erica brought up his activism, then a bunch of anonymous blog commenters jumped on the bandwagon.

The only connection I see is that if things are as described, Mr. Leman's viewpoints, which seem to generally support the good of the majority to the detriment of a few, will be less well represented. That would be unfortunate for most of us. The few people who will benefit from things like weakened noise ordinances, having our residential parking program warped into something available to non-residents, the reservation of portions of sidewalks for the exclusive use of neighboring businesses, and increased governmental secrecy, would surely be happy to see him silenced.