Ever since Mayor Greg Nickels surreptitiously redirected a chunk of parks funding to pay for four surveillance cameras in Cal Anderson Park—in violation of a budget proviso that was supposed to bar him from spending the money—the city council has been plotting its revenge.

Last Thursday, the council's budget committee had an unusually bellicose, if one-sided, discussion about the mayor's sneaky end run, replete with terms like "prosecutable offense," "misdemeanor," and "violation of trust." Although it doesn't appear the mayor's actions actually rose to the level of a misdemeanor—punishable, according to an internal council e-mail, by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail—the council's central staff director, Ben Noble, told council members that budget restrictions have always operated on the principle of "trust ... that the intent of the council will be followed."

With that trust violated, the council has some decisions to make. The options council members are considering range from writing an angry letter—which council members Jean Godden and Richard Conlin are working on—to refusing to carry capital spending forward, so that, for example, a park under construction in 2008 would have to be approved all over again in 2009.

Council president Conlin—who likened the latter option to a "nuclear standoff"—seems inclined to take the slightly less radical step of tacking all future provisos to the entire city budget, so that if any city department spends money improperly, the entire city budget would be frozen. Council Member Tom Rasmussen, meanwhile, says he'd like to require department heads to notify the council directly when the mayor tells them to spend money contrary to a proviso. "Most department heads come up for review for continuation of their jobs in front of the council," Rasmussen notes. "This would be a significant mark against them"—so significant, Rasmussen believes, that department heads wouldn't risk violating budget provisos in the future.

Will the council live up to its chest-thumping rhetoric? That's unclear. The last time the council made noises about challenging the mayor's authority—two years ago, when Nickels refused to hold his State of the City speech at City Hall, opting instead for an audience of Rotarians at the downtown Convention Center—the council caved. Nickels delivered last year's speech at the Pacific Science Center.

The council's budget committee, which will be responsible for any legislation restricting Nickels's ability to circumvent provisos, is holding meetings around the city throughout May. (Full information at www.seattle.gov/council.) Perhaps if enough people show up to tell the council members to act like the co-equal branch of government they are and reclaim their budget authority, they'll listen. recommended