Your Tentative City Council

The Seattle City Council is heading to Discovery Park on January 30 for its annual retreat, where members plan to determine the city's "tentative" legislative agenda. Then, the council plans to hold six neighborhood workshops throughout February at high schools and community centers to get public feedback. Then it will hold a second retreat in late February to finalize the priorities. "This timeline leaves flexibility to allow for citizens to influence the process," the council announced proudly. How annoying.

I'm all for community input, but this whole exercise reveals how lacking our city council actually is. For starters, it'll be April 2004 before any of the council committees even send stuff to full council for votes. (Let's hope the viaduct doesn't fall down by then.) Again, I'm all for community input, but listening to the public is something council members should have done already. Typically, don't politicians get elected or reelected on the merits of their agendas (not their tentative agendas)--and once they're in office, aren't they supposed to spend their time making shit happen rather than trying to figure out what they'd tentatively like to make happen? Shouldn't the council already have a sense of community priorities?

(Perhaps, if these folks were elected by districts, they'd be more confident about setting a community-friendly agenda--but, alas, that's a different column.)

Don't get me wrong. I'll be the first one to say this group of nine folks desperately needs an agenda. After all the no-agenda city council has let agenda-heavy Mayor Nickels dictate Seattle's course by default. However, it's galling--and revealing about last year's campaign season in which folks like Jean Godden got elected without telling voters what they'd do--that the council is just getting around to something that should be a prerequisite for holding office: having a prioritized to-do list. We're not paying these folks $90,000 salaries so they can break off into brainstorming groups, write ideas on butcher paper, and then circle their top three priorities in red Magic Marker at the Discovery Park Education Center.

They oughta be hunkering down at the new $76 million city hall and figuring out their priorities the old-fashioned way: by slugging it out in council chambers with proposals and counterproposals, and legislation. Certainly, I understand that they've got to reconcile nine sets of priorities, but that's exactly what the legislative process (and the new $76 million council chambers) is for. Reconciling agendas is the kind of thing that happens organically in the legislative process--and in fact, creates meaningful legislation, rather than more process.

I appreciate the council's aspiration to get an agenda--especially one that's backed with community legitimacy--but it strikes me that if Seattle had legitimate legislators, the city's agenda would already be in play, getting hashed out with votes and ordinances rather than with Magic Markers, outreach publicity stunts, and more process.

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