- Seattle Municipal Archives
- STILL CAN'T TRUST 'EM The Seattle City Council, in 1900, at Kinnear Park. Opponents of this year's Proposition No. 1 argue that the measure gives too much power to people like this. (Click to enlarge.)
Early on, proponents of City of Seattle Proposition No. 1, which would create a Metropolitan Parks District (MPD), claimed that a winning argument for this new taxing district would be that citizens won't have the onerous task of voting every few years on a parks levy. They can relax and let the City Council make all the decisions. Judging from the reactions of disgruntled citizens, that is not a winning argument for the MPD. It seems citizens do not want to give the City Council the proverbial blank check.
To determine the consequences of taking the democratic voting process permanently out of parks funding, it is necessary to understand what an MPD actually is. Because neither the language of the ballot measure nor the explanatory statement in the voters guide define the powers and authority of an MPD, one must refer directly to the state statute for answers, RCW 35.61. Under state (not city) authority, citizens are granted the right to vote to create an independent taxing district (separate from the city) to support parks.
The MPD, as a separate and independent entity, is not bound by city ordinances or the city charter. The RCW grants very broad powers to the MPD: purchasing, selling and condemning property; the power of eminent domain; the right to sell food and merchandise; and a green light for “conducting any business that can be judged as desirable or beneficial for the public or for the production of revenue for expenditure for parks purposes.” (RCW35.61.130) Given these broad powers, one can easily see our taxes going to projects like the grand waterfront park, or possibly an arena, rather than neighborhood parks. And none of the decisions would come before the voters on a ballot.
A vote for Prop 1 grants the city council, acting as the MPD Board, power and authority over how our tax dollars are spent, plus the ongoing authority to continue to raise our parks taxes up to four times the current levy amount—all without a vote.
Unilateral decisions made by the MPD bypass the citizens and cannot be vetoed by the mayor. Giving the MPD both legislative and executive powers defeats the democratic standard of separation of powers, eliminates checks and balances, and diminishes true accountability. This is of serious concern to the League of Women Voters who recommend voting no on Prop 1.
The city council tries to silence opponents of the MPD by arguing about how the tax district will operate—that it will have citizen oversight committees, won’t supplant the general funds, will list spending categories, and is bound by an Interlocal Agreement (ILA). What else is in the ILA that they created? Their right to alter all their promises regarding accountability, citizen participation, and use of funds without a vote of the public. You can’t have honest accountability if those being held accountable can change their own rules.
The traditional levy process allows us a periodic vote on the collection of taxes and the allocation of funds to specified projects and programs. It provides a definitive dollar amount. It states the applicable duration of time for the tax. These are all characteristics not included in an MPD.
For levies, citizens work with parks staff and the city council to help create the levy contents—although it is the city council that has the final say in what will be in the levy proposal. The proposal then appears on the ballot and citizens get to vote for or against it. This means the levy process has built-in accountability: the authority of the citizens’ vote on what was specified in the levy is something we can hold the council to.
Admittedly past levies have not been perfect. There is give and take in every solution. But stop and consider whose signature was on the levy proposals that are being bastardized by the pro-MPD campaign: the very people who are asking for a blank check via the MPD are the authors of those levies.
The pro-parks/pro-levy campaign is fighting to defeat Prop 1. Taking away a voting right that we currently have through levies is a drastic measure that gives the city council, in the name of the MPD Board, sole rights to decision-making for permanent added funds for the Parks Department. Vote NO on Prop 1.
Don Harper and Carol Fisher are Chair and Vice Chair, respectively, of Our Parks Forever. They've volunteered thousands of hours and raised over $2 million for neighborhood parks. Don is on the Queen Anne Community Council and chairs its Parks Committee. Carol is the President of the Lifelong Recreation Program Advisory Council for Seattle seniors and volunteers in Off-Leash Areas.