In a hardball move intended to thwart City Council Member Peter Steinbrueck's work, Mayor Nickels reportedly threatened to fire a city staffer from the Department of Planning and Development last week. The Stranger has learned that Nickels sent word to Steinbrueck on Friday, January 28, that unless Steinbrueck withdrew a bill he'd proposed earlier in the day, Team Nickels would axe DPD analyst Lynne Barker. Nickels was holding Barker hostage in a political game of chicken with Steinbrueck.

Nickels' tacky threat stemmed from an ongoing battle between Steinbrueck and Nickels. Last year, Steinbrueck passed a council mandate, technically known as a "proviso," directing DPD to research potential city code amendments that would promote green building practices. However, earlier this year, after Steinbrueck learned that DPD had been instructed to disregard his proviso, he drafted a new bill to force the issue. Steinbrueck's new bill would have yanked $100,000 from the DPD--the money earmarked to fund the original proviso.

When Nickels' staff learned about Steinbrueck's gambit they flipped and sent word that unless Steinbrueck withdrew his bill, DPD staffer Barker would be fired. (To cool the standoff, Council President Jan Drago temporarily withdrew Steinbrueck's bill, but Steinbrueck intends to reintroduce it.)

While Nickels' ploy posits a connection between the $100,000 and a DPD staff position--holding Barker's job hostage to guilt trip Steinbrueck--the connection between Barker and the money doesn't actually make sense: Nickels may claim that nixing $100,000 jeopardizes a DPD job, but the money is only available to fund Steinbrueck's research. If the DPD isn't doing the research--which they aren't--then the money shouldn't be part of the DPD's budget in the first place.

This specific battle extends a general feud that has persisted since Nickels took office. Early in his term, Nickels ordered city departments to stop taking direction from the council--transforming departments into exclusive agents for the mayor's agenda.

That conflict is playing out here. For example, in addition to his proviso, Steinbrueck had requested info from DPD--like how many Seattle buildings meet green standards, and how much does it cost to meet those standards. However, Steinbrueck was not able to get any data from DPD. He eventually got the info from former City Architect Tony Gale (a green-buildings advocate who left the city in 2004.) Along with the answers to Steinbrueck's questions, Gale's e-mail read: "The mayor will not allow [DPD staffers] permission to release info to Peter."

So, why is a supposed environmental Democrat like Nickels trying to thwart Steinbrueck's green agenda? The likely answer is that Steinbrueck is moving too fast for Nickels, whose own environmental ideals have been checked by his newfound donor base: Seattle's traditional developers. And, after all, it's an election year.

Nickels' spokeswoman Marianne Bichsel did not return calls from The Stranger.

josh@thestranger.com

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