FOR ABOUT SIX MONTHS NOW, THE city council's Music & Youth Task Force has been meeting to untangle Seattle's infamous Teen Dance Ordinance, a legislative mess that has loomed over this city's youth entertainment culture for 15 years.

With Mayor Paul Schell checking in at the most recent task force meeting on July 27, the group had an opportunity to share what they've accomplished. Unfortunately, the task force didn't have much to report, emphasizing a disappointing reality: Despite all the initial hoopla, the task force hasn't done much at all.

The whole process has been maddeningly slow and distracted. Since the task force's introductory meeting in February, hours have spun by with back-and-forth rhetoric between music advocates and law-and-order types. The lack of a clear mandate was evidenced by Schell's ability to breeze through the meeting without a real challenge, placating the group with sunny sound bites about "positive youth experiences," "proactive approaches," and how "Pearl Jam... has put us on the global map." Rock on.

The task force -- an eclectic bunch -- includes music business experts Kate Becker and Lori LeFavor, city reps Jim Pugel (police department), Phil Brenneman (law department), Walt Hubbard (mayor's office), and Janet Beal (fire department), and music scene advocate Angel Combs of JAMPAC (Joint Artists and Music Promotions Political Action Committee).

The task force's charge is to decide how the city can regulate all-ages events -- in a safe, legal, effective manner. This meant revisiting the Teen Dance Ordinance, which was slapped together in 1985 to appease public animosity toward the Monastery, a local (now-defunct) all-ages nightclub, notorious for problems with teen prostitution, drug use, and adult-teen sex. The "umbrella" policy regulates all-ages events with licensing regulations, peculiar age restrictions, extensive insurance and security requirements, and blurry definitions.

As the weeks passed by, task force members seemed to get more exasperated. Music and arts advocates like Kate Becker and Dave Meinert want to enhance Seattle's all-ages music scene (pontificating about our "vibrant youth culture"), while others lean toward the tight-lid Sidran approach -- preventing trouble before it happens. Lawyer Phil Brenneman, for example, has warned the task force about the "dark room" aspect of clubs, raising concerns about adult men hanging out with underage girls.

Like most task force members, Angel Combs, Executive Director of JAMPAC, was reluctant to criticize the group. But let's get real: The best thing she could say was that she welcomed the slow process, and "enjoys the debate and feedback so far." The ultimate Pollyanna, Combs says she hopes the process extends into the fall(!), so the task force can appeal to a fresh, new (and hopefully super-progressive) city council.

To their credit, the group did try to hot-wire the process. In July, after several weeks of squabbling, the task force finally got down to business and broke up into smaller subcommittees, so each group could focus on something specific.

So when Mayor Schell checked in with the task force, they were able to avoid total embarrassment by presenting some new ideas. The group proposed forming a Youth Arts Advisory Commission and publishing a city-sponsored booklet on "How to Put on a Safe All-Ages Show" -- complete with step-by-step details about liability insurance, bonded security, and admissions tax.

These suggestions were general enough, however, to let Mayor Schell waltz on by with neutral P.R. responses. When asked about the proposed Youth Advisory Commission at the meeting, Mayor Schell answered cautiously: "I think it's an interesting approach. I don't want to conclude anything until I... fully understand the risks." When Task Force Member Dave Meinert asked him how he felt about repealing the old Teen Dance Ordinance, he conveniently threw the ball right back into the task force's court: "I'll leave that to you. That is really what you've been asked to help [the city council] with." When pressed for more details, Schell's spokeswoman Vivian Phillips gave an equally vague response: "The mayor is willing to negotiate... and the door is open. He understands the task force's concerns, but also feels that there's merit to some of the objections."

No one deserves this sort of fluff, but the Music & Youth Task Force hasn't really given the mayor much to respond to.

How do task force members deal with the glaring lack of real results?

Newell Aldrich, task force member and aide to Council Member Nick Licata, is quick to defend the task force's slow start and intense quarrels. "[In the beginning], there was such a lack of common understanding... I think all that venting was necessary, and actually productive. Of course it's frustrating. I get frustrated every day," he sighs. "You have to remember that stuff takes forever at City Hall."

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