as former leaders of the anti-monorail campaign were announcing the formation of OnTrack, a new monorail "accountability" group, a push for real accountability sprung from surprising ground: the monorail board itself. The inside push, which came from a dissident faction headed by the board's two newly elected members, made the anti-monorail crew's stated mission--to "highlight serious concerns" about the project--seem not only disingenuous but irrelevant.

Since it was created back in 2002, the board of the Seattle Monorail Project (SMP) has been a virtual citadel of consensus. In recent memory, in fact, only a handful of votes have not been unanimous; the most frequent dissenter, Dick Falkenbury, is no longer on the board.

All that may be about to change. Indeed, from the moment the SMP board's two newly elected members, Cindi Laws and Cleve Stockmeyer, took their oaths of office on Wednesday, January 7, it was clear that the board had undergone a major symbolic shift. In their oaths, both returning board member Laws (sworn in by Falkenbury) and new member Stockmeyer (sworn in by monorail true believer Grant Cogswell) pointedly referred to the monorail agency as the "Seattle Popular Monorail Authority," a name the agency has eschewed in favor of the more staid Seattle Monorail Project. Then, minutes after taking their seats, the two elected members staged a mini-coup, prompting a raucous and lively discussion that extended what was supposed to be a routine housecleaning meeting into the late evening hours.

The subject of the debate: a proposed public outreach committee, which Laws and Stockmeyer shoehorned onto the evening's agenda at the last minute over the objections of Tom Weeks, Kristina Hill, and two others on the board. "I had talked with both Cindi and Cleve about the concept" of an outreach committee, a perturbed Weeks says now. "What I didn't know is that they were going to ask for a vote that night."

To undercut the move, Weeks and Hill made a pitch for more process before approving the committee, which Weeks said was "not a fully developed notion." In response to Hill's and Weeks' objections, Stockmeyer--an attorney whose patient, sonorous tone can seem condescending--countered that with the agency poised to approve a draft request for proposals (RFP) in February, time is of the essence. "[Given that] the drop-dead date on one of the most major issues [facing the board] is this month, I don't think we have time to wait," Stockmeyer told Weeks trenchantly. "Frankly, it's not a real big deal to go out and start a committee to listen to and inform the public." Laws, who made the motion to form the committee, said "Britney Spears' wedding lasted longer" than the public comment period for the RFP. "That is wholly inadequate, and I really believe that a decision of this nature deserves a more substantial consideration in the public eye."

Eventually, with the help of board members Paul Toliver, Rick Sundberg, and Steve Williamson, Laws and Stockmeyer got their wish. The ordinarily reticent Toliver even spoke up on the dissidents' behalf, noting that "the two members who are directly elected feel very strongly that they need this method of receiving input.... I think that's a very important thing." Architect Sundberg joined the chorus, calling the public outreach committee "extraordinarily important."

The new committee, whose meeting time has not yet been determined, will give the public a chance to meet with board members, ask questions, and air concerns in an informal setting. More important than the new committee itself, however, was the subtle message it sent to the board's leadership: The days of 9-0 consensuses are coming to an end. And while it's too soon to call the contentious 5-4 vote creating the committee the beginning of a new era at the agency, many who were at the meeting saw it as a hint of changes to come. "There was really a moment where you realized that the chemistry of the board has changed," Cogswell says. "[Stockmeyer and Laws] are the real watchdogs." Stockmeyer, too, sensed the shift. As an elected official, he says, "I know I am accountable to the people of Seattle and I have to be answerable to them. I think the board will be much more lively and engaged."

barnett@thestranger.com

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