When I wrote, on The Stranger's blog, that government watchdogs "didn't miss much" at the city council's annual retreat (held earlier this month at the Kitsap Conference Center in Bremerton), I assumed that the agenda the council provided (sample sessions: "Be a Part of the Solution" and "Innovations in Financing") offered a fairly thorough overview of council members' dreary daily schedule. (The second day of the retreat, which I attended, bore out my assumption.) A public-records request by the good-government gadflies at the Seattle Community Council Federation, however, uncovered a second, far more detailed agenda, which called for council members to, among other things, "identify key council initiatives"; "brainstorm ideas"; and make "30-second passionate pleas." For three and a half hours, the request revealed, the council strategized and set priorities for the coming year.
Under the state's open public meetings act, the council is supposed to make a public announcement any time it conducts city business. Although it's not unheard of for council members to discuss priorities out of public view (this year's retreat, as in years past, drew just two reporters and not a single private citizen), it's highly questionable for the council to conduct public business without revealing what they're doing. Council President Nick Licata calls the refined agenda a "last-minute add-on" that resulted from "an oversight," not a deliberate attempt to suppress the council's schedule, but the SNC's letter to Licata and the state auditor alleges otherwise, accusing the council of eight separate violations of the open public meetings act.
The Office of Professional Accountability Review Board (OPARB), established to watchdog the police-accountability watchdogs at the OPA, has refused to issue a long-overdue report on police misconduct until City Attorney Tom Carr agrees to represent OPARB if the group is sued. Recently, however, the American Civil Liberties Union said it was interested in representing OPARB members; according to ACLU spokesman Doug Honig, the group "certainly shares [OPARB's] concerns about getting sued" and "would seriously consider representing" them if Carr refused. Nearly two years have passed since OPARB released its last report, but a guarantee of representation from the ACLU could convince the group to end its long-lasting standoff with the city.
Different city department heads serve different masters. Some, like ousted Seattle City Light Director Gary Zarker, answer to the city council (which fired him in 2003). Others, such as controversial Seattle Parks Superintendent Ken Bounds (the target of a citizen protest last week) serve at the pleasure of the mayor, and can only be fired for "cause." This year, several council members have expressed an interest in revising city rules to require that all superintendents be confirmed by the council, something Council President Licata calls "a good idea" but says may require a change in the city's charter, which the council is just now preparing to review.