King County Executive Dow Constantine cancelled his state of the county speech in Burien yesterday in response to protesters who showed up at the podium.
King County Executive Dow Constantine cancelled his state of the county speech in Burien yesterday in response to protesters who showed up at the podium. King County

Yesterday, King County Executive Dow Constantine suddenly cancelled his State of the County speech in the Burien Library when anti-youth jail protesters showed up and held a sign behind his podium. After half an hour, Constantine's communications director, Alex Fryer, told the audience that Constantine's speech had been taped and would be made available by video instead.

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That video went up last night. I was originally just going to post a link to it, but in between the time I started writing this post and got ready to hit publish, the video went down for the better part of an hour. Then it came up again. Then it went down again. (Fryer blames technical difficulties.) And in between yesterday's cancelled speech and today, I also learned some interesting things about the way the county shared news of the event in the first place.

On Monday, King County Executive deputy communications director Chad Lewis told The Stranger that he believed major outlets had been invited to the speech in Burien, but reporters from the the Seattle Times, the Seattle Weekly, and the Seattle Post Intelligencer said they didn't remember seeing a press advisory ahead of time. (The Stranger definitely didn't receive any notice.) A call to the Seattle Times' politics editor confirmed there was no press advisory in the Times' inbox, though he didn't rule out the possibility that it could have been deleted. The Times' assistant metro editor also said he did not find one after searching for it yesterday.

Even the majority of King County employees were only made aware of Constantine's speech by an advisory eight minutes before the event, according to sources. The year before, 14,000 King County employees were alerted to the state of the city speech four days in advance, and two more advisories went out to King County employees the day of the event. The same year, Constantine's office gave notice of the state of the county speech four days in advance. In 2016, County employees were made aware of the state of the county speech twice: two weeks and four days ahead of the event. Press were also alerted the day of the event.

Over the last month, Constantine has faced increasing pressure from protesters who want to halt construction of the county's Children and Family Justice Center, which, among various services, will feature a refurbished youth jail with 114 beds. (The levy for the facility was approved by voters in 2012, but has since been challenged in the courts.) The original design featured 154 beds, but was reduced as a concession to critics of the project. Since protesters began denouncing the new facility, which will replace the old and decrepit current one, Constantine and other county officials have also embraced the goal of "zero youth detention," which The Stranger covered in depth here. The biggest split between Constantine and protesters comes down to how we get there: Protesters believe that the county should stop investing in new infrastructure to detain youth, and disproportionately youth of color, period, and divert youth who commit crimes to community alternatives instead. Constantine has insisted a new facility is necessary as part of a transition to eventually detain zero youth. Both sides agree that much more is needed in the way of support and intervention earlier in a child's life, before contact with the criminal justice system.

I asked Fryer, Constantine's communications director, if his office tried to limit media knowledge of the event in order to avoid protesters. Here's what he said:

Given the pace of protests and the fact that this was Dow’s 9th State of the County, we opted for a smaller, more intimate space. With limited number of seats, we provided early copies of relevant remarks to reporters who had expressed interest in key subject areas, i.e. inquests, juvenile justice and mobility. On day of, we determined we could fit a few cameras in the back of the room, and notified TV/radio stations.

In the meantime, big takeaways from Constantine's state of the county:

• It's significant that Constantine decided to hold the event in Burien, which was roiled by immigration-related tensions last year. An anti-immigration group launched an effort to repeal the city's sanctuary city ordinance, which drew the support of some sitting Burien City Council members. But after The Stranger revealed the group's funders' ties to a white nationalist publisher, and after they sent fliers out with the names and addresses of alleged "illegal aliens" living in Burien, Burien voters swept out conservative council members in the November elections and voted in Burien's most progressive and ethnically diverse council yet. Jimmy Matta, a former farmworker, became Burien's first Latino mayor.

• "Burien - this quiet city along the Sound – became the center of a storm," Constantine said in his taped remarks. "And when the clouds finally parted, Burien became a symbol of the change we want to see."

• Constantine also announced that all juvenile justice at the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention would be placed under the care of the Department of Public Health, part of an initiative that Constantine first announced in November of last year. While Constantine noted that the county has reduced the average daily population of juveniles in detention by 80 percent in the last 16 years, and that most stay in detention between three and five days, he said that "any length of time in detention can be traumatic."

"We must do better for them, to help their families heal, to help those victimized by crime heal, to look upstream and reduce the trauma and inequities that will inevitably lead other youth into trouble," Constantine said.

• Yesterday, King County's advisory committee on deadly force inquests released a report with recommendations on how to reform the process. "I will craft a new directive on inquests that provides the greatest opportunity to understand what happened in these tragic circumstances, and help ensure future inquests – and the incidents that make them necessary – are as rare as we can possibly make them," Constantine said.

• Metro Transit is becoming its own department. Constantine says he wants more partnerships among government, business, and labor to move people around. He also announced a new pilot that will offer "on-demand shuttles to overcrowded park-and-rides and transit centers."

• Constantine said that One Table, the regional effort launched last year to combat homelessness with Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Auburn's Mayor Nancy Backus, will soon announce "a series of action steps on affordable housing, access to behavioral health care, criminal justice and child welfare reforms, and jobs and wages."

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Here's the video:


2018 State of the County from King County Executive on Vimeo.


This post has been updated to include comment from King County Executive spokesperson Alex Fryer.