Mayor Greg Nickels has opposed the work of the city council's newly formed charter review committee, which will consider sending 15 city charter amendments to Seattle voters in November, because one of its proposals would give the council the ability to reconfirm (or fire) five department heads that currently answer only to the mayor. (Five of 16 department heads already undergo council confirmation; five more are governed by a different section of city law; and one, the city librarian, is appointed by the library board.)

As the dailies have reported, Nickels chided committee chairman Peter Steinbrueck in a June 1 letter, suggesting that the council "appoint a citizens' charter review committee" to oversee (and, not coincidentally, postpone) the process. "I understand the city council will hold public hearings on its proposed amendments, but I do not believe hearings alone are sufficient," Nickels wrote.

On June 7, Steinbrueck issued his response to Nickels's letter. The upshot: Thanks, but a public vote constitutes more than enough public process. "We are satisfied that our public-involvement process is appropriate and consistent with past council practices for placing proposed charter amendments on the ballot," Steinbrueck wrote. The city charter has been amended 14 times since 1946; in that time, to the knowledge of Steinbrueck's staff, the city has never appointed a citizens' committee to oversee the amendment process.

The mayor's professed commitment to public process apparently doesn't extend to speaking about the proposal on the city-owned Seattle Channel. According to Seattle Channel news host C. R. Douglas, mayoral spokeswoman Marianne Bichsel "respectfully declined" when he invited the mayor's office to explain its position on his show. Neither Bichsel nor Nickels spokesman Marty McOmber returned numerous calls for comment.

"What if we hadn't had [firing] power with [ousted former City Light Superintendent Gary] Zarker?" Steinbrueck says. "The council determined he needed to go after exhaustive review of his performance and the state of City Light. It's not that we want to run the departments—it's that we need that kind of accountability."