When Ben Gibbard showed up at City Hall last month to rally around saving the Showbox it was a surprise to almost everyone in the room. But it turns out the people running the City Council knew the rock star was coming, they even had an idea of what he was going to say.
According to documents obtained by independent journalist Erica Barnett, a City Council spokesperson coached Gibbard on how to give public testimony, including giving him a draft speech to give the council. Dana Robinson Slote, who works as a spokesperson for the entire council, emailed Gibbard the prepared remarks at noon on Friday Aug. 3; he gave his testimony at the council meeting on the following Monday.
"A promised, below you’ll find suggested talking points for Monday’s Full Council meeting. In short, I summarized many of the themes from an interview you gave in June this year…" Slote wrote in the e-mail.
Council staff wrote public comment for Ben Gibbard (of Death Cab for Cutie) and shepherded him throughout the city to promote Sawant's "Save the Showbox" message last month, emails obtained through a public disclosure request reveal. pic.twitter.com/B7Z8DedqnT
— Erica C. Barnett (@ericacbarnett) September 6, 2018
Robinson's e-mail includes a lengthy prepared speech but Gibbard's actual testimony did not follow the remarks she sent. The one quote I pulled out of Gibbard's testimony for my story on that meeting—that the venue was a "cornerstone of this city’s cultural history for almost eighty years"—was not included in the remarks Robinson e-mailed him.
Robinson told me the prepared remarks were quotes she had pulled from an interview Gibbard had given a radio station and were not quotes she wrote herself. She said her correspondence to Gibbard was a standard constituent service for her office.
"We serve all nine members so… if anyone that comes to us and says ‘how does this go?’ we’re going to tell them here’s what you need to know going into public comment. If someone said to me ‘here’s my remarks what do you think?’ We’re public servants, so if someone asks for our help we are going to give it." Robinson said.
It's not clear if Robinson's email violated any city laws or council procedures, but having a city employee coach a member of the public on how to lobby for a pending law certainly raises some eyebrows. Dan Nolte, a spokesperson for the city attorney's office, said they could not publicly comment on the issue.
"Our office is only able to provide legal insight to our clients (City departments and elected officials)," Nolte said in an e-mail.
***UPDATE 5:30 p.m.***
Wayne Barnett, the executive director of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, told me that Robinson's actions did not appear to constitute.
"Based on my review of your post, it looks to me like that same principle would cover this scenario. Dana Robinson-Slote, acting at the behest of a councilmember, supplied a member of the public with something to assist that person with making their case in support of the councilmember’s legislation. So there isn’t an ethics or elections code violation," Barnett said in an e-mail.