On Monday, January 12—in a meeting announced in at least five separate press releases, so you know they wanted people to pay attention—the city council announced its priorities
for 2009. Going around the dais, show-and-tell style, each council member presented his or her two- or three-item wish list. Among the scintillating details:
• Tim Burgess wants to improve the city's relationship with the school district, make neighborhoods safer, and improve delivery of city services. Vague, but not as vague as things quickly became, as you'll see.
• Richard McIver—retiring later this year—said he wants to create more housing and jobs (see? vague) and "make sure that Seattle has a vibrant and creative industry that thrives on live music as well as recorded, but primarily live because that has been a major part of blah blah blah" (bizarrely specific).
• Jean Godden wants to "continue to put people first" in the city budget and improve customer service. She also quoted Barack Obama at length—something about making the world "just a little bit better than the one we have today."
• Bruce Harrell dispensed completely with the priorities theme and went on for a while about "very strategic issues" and "critically important... regional and national relationships." Plus he wants the city to make some kind of system that will tell people they have to clear snow off their sidewalks and "what to do when their televisions no longer work."
• Tom Rasmussen wants to make sure the parks levy gets off to a good start and to improve Seattle Center, with its sad little amusement park and its even sadder little arena.
• And Richard Conlin wants to "take steps toward the goal" of reducing homelessness and hunger.
Well, who doesn't? The problem with that worthy laundry list (apart from the fact that it's basically the same every year) is that there isn't one proposal in there that might cause anyone to raise an eyebrow (in disapproval or even interest). Why doesn't the council use the opportunity—the TV cameras, the assembled audience—to roll out some real initiatives, along the lines of the proposals Mayor Nickels rolls out in his State of the City speech every year?
Instead of trying to paper over its differences, the council should use them to its advantage—introducing individual priorities, rather than inventing collective ones. Council members often complain that the mayor hogs the civic spotlight, but that isn't really fair—the mayor gets attention because he demands it. If council members want citizens to pay attention to them, they need priorities more substantial than "making Seattle a better place for everyone."