While city hall watchers await this fall's budget showdown between the Seattle City Council and Mayor Nickels, another heated battle took place last month that, as far as I can tell, was the council's first successful flip-off of the mayor's office all year. It wasn't tough-talking Budget Chair Jan Drago or proud Council President Peter Steinbrueck or even outspoken Council Member Judy Nicastro who thwarted the mayor's machine, though.

Meet Bob Morgan, the behind-the-scenes bureaucrat who--in his nerdy job as a legislative analyst for the council's central staff--stood up to the mayor's office, pissing Nickels' staff off in the process.

Morgan, a small, quiet man with a red-brown beard, glasses, and the standard dark blue oxford and khakis, informed council members in a series of e-mails earlier this month that Nickels' recent efforts to lobby council members on the controversial preliminary University of Washington campus master plan weren't kosher.

Neighborhood groups are currently battling the UW over revising the master plan; basically, the UW wants to build new facilities and expand, while neighbors are nervous about the impact. Nickels sided with the university and was pressing the council to give the UW a green light. Unfortunately, according to Morgan, Nickels' lobbying--which included a September 6 letter to the council advocating things like unrestricted UW property acquisitions off campus--fell outside the agreed-upon decision-making process.

"The council decision is supposed to be based on the record of the hearing examiner and comments at council hearings," Morgan says. Essentially, stakeholders like the UW Board of Regents, the North East District Council, and the University District Community Council have formally testified--adding their input to the official record. Morgan advised council members not to meet with Nickels' pushy staff or factor Nickels' September 6 letter into the record.

"We strongly believe the communication was proper," says Nickels' legal counsel, Regina LaBelle. Nickels' office enlisted the weight of the city attorney, arguing in a September 9 morning council briefing that Nickels' letter went to all the interested parties. (A vote on the preliminary plan took place later in the day.) No dice. The council decided to ignore Nickels and pushed through the preliminary plan 7-1, irking both the UW and Nickels by retaining a prohibition on the UW's ability to purchase off-campus land for anything but housing.

The process is far from over. The plan is on its way to the stakeholders, and it'll come back to the council this fall.

The council--thanks to Morgan--clearly won round one. The mayor's office was left grumbling about Morgan's "inappropriate" legal admonitions, and the council managed to frame the debate on this issue. That's a council first in 2002.