VIDEO: Mayor announces new ‘system for promoting public engagement,’ to ‘replace District Council system’

(Added 8 pm, WSB video of this afternoon’s announcement, including Q&A, where we’d embedded Seattle Channel live stream during event)

As-it-happened coverage:

2:30 PM: We’re at City Hall downtown, where Mayor Ed Murray is about “to announce the formation of the Community Involvement Commission, which will replace the District Council system,” per the media advisory sent about this time yesterday. The live Seattle Channel stream should appear above, once the event begins, if you hit “play.”

QUICK PRIMER: For the purpose of interaction between city government and neighborhoods, Seattle was split into 13 “districts” more than a quarter century ago.

West Seattle has two – western WS comprises most of the Southwest District, while most of eastern West Seattle is in the Delridge Neighborhoods District. They, and the other 11, each have a “district council” made up of representatives from community councils and other organizations in their respective areas. District councils usually meet monthly; each of their member groups/organizations decides who to send as a representative. They are informal advisory councils, without governmental powers, without stipends or salaries; the city has supported them with neighborhood district coordinators, whose numbers have been reduced in the past five years.

When the City Council switched last year to being elected mostly by district – seven districts whose boundaries had nothing to do with the 13 pre-existing neighborhood districts – they issued a “statement of legislative intent” asking the Department of Neighborhoods to evaluate the neighborhood-district system and whether the community involvement might be realigned with the council districts.

The draft report on that review came out in May; the final report was expected at the end of this week – and suddenly, the mayor announced he was going to make a move.

2:36 PM: The mayor has entered the room. He says, “We should constantly be looking for ways to bring down barriers and open up dialogue. Our city has changed dramatically … since the district councils were created. We communicated by picking up a phone or putting a letter in the mail.”

He says communities have been created in the years since then. Going to an evening meeting doesn’t work for many people, he says. “The executive order I’m about to sign directs city departments to begin developing robust community engagement plans, and take steps toward dissolving the city’s ties to each of the 13 district councils. The district councils may still exist, but Department of Neighborhoods resources that previously supported the district councils will be redirected to support all City departments in these efforts.”

The mayor says the city will be “more in touch with itself” once a number of steps are completed – civic engagement focus groups in August, and Department of Neighborhoods drafting “legislation for a new citywide community engagement framework and strategic plan” by September 26th. A “digital engagement plan” will have to be submitted by March 1st, with the city’s IT department working on that along with Department of Neighborhoods.

We asked the mayor how much of a budget cut would result – he said there will be no budget cut resulting, “the money will stay in the neighborhoods.” He says the spending had to change, though, to evolve to being offered to a “more diverse group of people” per the city’s race and social justice policies.


Kathy Nyland (at left in photo above) of the Department of Neighborhoods says the current eight district coordinators will keep their jobs – the descriptions will be updated, and hasn’t been updated in 15 years.

The mayor also says the timing of this – as we mentioned in the “primer” above, sooner than expected – does not have anything to do with an upcoming possible “backlash against HALA,” as one reporter asked.

We asked who the people in the front of the room are, besides the University District renter and Ingraham High School student who have spoken. Evan Clifthorne from Belltown came up and spoke. DoN director Nyland then explains more, saying she has a “file of complaints” about existing community councils, and the people who were invited are those who” were in that file.

2:55 PM: In the FAQs, one question is “Will the District Councils and City Neighborhood Council be disbanded?” The answer is no – but “the level of staff support that is provided” is what this is about. They “can continue to participate/advocate/inform as they do now even if not formally supported by City. They don’t need to be formally recognized by statute to exist or to be valued.”

We ask about Neighborhood Matching Funds and how this will affect those. The mayor says basically, what will change is who decides who gets that money. (District councils have had some review responsibilities.)

Nyland says that the Statement of Legislative Intent final report IS still coming out on Friday – the mayor says he hasn’t seen it, but “doesn’t think these things will be in conflict with each other.”

And with that, the event is over. We never did hear who the rest of the people behind the mayor were. The news release isn’t online yet so far as we can tell, but another line of interest – #3 of the 5 action steps:

The Department of Neighborhoods, in partnership with the Seattle Office of Civil Rights and the City Budget Office will draft a resolution for City Council consideration detailing the community outreach and engagement principles and ending the City’s official ties to District Councils and the City Neighborhood Council.

So the city council does have a role in this, regarding whether the city formally breaks its ties with the DCs and CNC.

3:27 PM: We’re heading back to West Seattle now, and will add either the city’s archived video of the event or ours, whichever is ready first. Meantime, the “Community Involvement Commission” touted in the announcement of today’s event did not get much discussion; the printed materials say it will be created by January 2017, but that “details regarding the commission have not been worked out.”

Two West Seattle neighborhood advocates were here to observe, Cindi Barker from the Morgan Community Association – a veteran of many city-appointed committees and commissions – and David Whiting from the Admiral Neighborhood Association, current co-chair of the Southwest District Council. We talked with them briefly afterward; Barker said she was puzzled about why this wasn’t presented by the mayor and council with a unified front, since the latter was already engaged in a process of reviewing the district-council system. Whiting said the statement that the district councils could continue to exist really wouldn’t mean much without any city support.

3:44 PM: The FAQs about the mayor’s action are now on the city website, here. And the news release is here.

P.S. If you have a question for the mayor about this or something else – reminder, he’s due at the 34th District Democrats‘ meeting tonight at The Hall at Fauntleroy (9131 California SW), around 8 pm (the meeting starts at 7).

32 Replies to "VIDEO: Mayor announces new 'system for promoting public engagement,' to 'replace District Council system'"

  • Diane July 13, 2016 (2:50 pm)

    this mayor is the worst with press conferences; there are no microphones for people asking questions, so we cannot hear the questions, and he never repeats the questions; so we have no idea what he’s talking about in his answer; can you please tell us what were the questions that were asked

  • Rick July 13, 2016 (3:55 pm)

    Your first 5 words were sufficient.

  • they July 13, 2016 (4:03 pm)

    This is such good news, with all the success Seattle has been experiencing this will be a great way to reach out and illustrate how our leadership has developed systems through efficiency’s of scale to lower taxes and expand much needed programs.

  • flimflam July 13, 2016 (4:43 pm)

    didn’t the district set up just start?

    • WSB July 13, 2016 (4:59 pm)

      I tried to clarify in the “primer” section but: This is NOT about the districts by which City Councilmembers are now elected (7 of the 9, anyway).

      This is about the districts into which the city was divided, to organize how neighborhoods dealt with city government. Those 13 districts have been in place for more than a quartercentury. They involve unpaid volunteer community members serving on the councils, representing in turn the community councils and other organizations in their respective districts.

      A review had been under way about possibly aligning the “neighborhood districts” with the “council districts.” The mayor’s announcement basically pre-empts the rest of that review and just blows up the neighborhood districts entirely, at least in terms of any city support for or recognition of them. The City Council districts remain. There’s another explainer story to come .. probably tomorrow. – TR

  • Nancy Folsom July 13, 2016 (5:23 pm)

    The Mayor’s commitment to diversity is certainly
    mirrored in the composition of the participants in the photo-op, as well as in
    the executive suites of the City departments and Mayor’s office. I am shocked,
    shocked, that the district councils had so much power they were able to block
    the city from engaging more communities in more effective ways. It was clever
    of them to mask that nefarious skulduggery while begging for translation
    services and outreach help…with requests for diversity training and help with
    reaching all the many people who can’t, or won’t, come to meetings…with work
    advocating for better transit options for those with few choices; healthy food
    for those without a PCC or Wholefoods on every corner; ADA curb ramps; street
    drainage for people whose houses regularly flood; with save routes to schools
    and youth activities. Damn the district councils with their pesky, power-mad
    volunteers. Thank god someone has finally raised the issue of the corruption
    rife within.

    • Nora July 13, 2016 (8:54 pm)

      Nancy, can you show me where the press release, FAQ, and WSB article say that the district councils blocked (I read this word as “actively prevented”) the City from performing more effective outreach?

      The way I read everything, it sounds like the current system is just obsolete.

      • Nancy Folsom July 14, 2016 (8:02 am)

        @Nora: it is rather strongly implied, IMO, by tying ending DCs with creating a new entity to accomplish his aims. The message for some time now has been “district councils, bad, not diverse, need change.” The Mayor and a few City Councilmembers are fairly clearly blaiming DCs for the City’s failure to create equitable community involvement.

  • Jim borrow July 13, 2016 (7:13 pm)

    Power grab by the mayor…not willing to work with a district council system that only has been in place x 1 year. District council members who are answerable to the constituents in their districts are less malleable than city council members elected at large (the previous system). The mayor wants a malleable council.

  • Steve July 13, 2016 (7:36 pm)

    Will the village collect its idiot.  The worse!

  • Mark July 13, 2016 (8:33 pm)

    Another move to Top Down City versus Grass Roots District Councils.  

  • Pete July 13, 2016 (9:52 pm)

    Now how will all of his city departments be able to check off the outreach box when they can’t present to neighborhood or district councils ?  Does that mean his own city departments have to figure out how to do outreach on their own. This is gonna be a fun circus to watch. 

    • Nancy Folsom July 14, 2016 (8:26 am)

      However they do it, they won’t be accountable to the city at large. Fine, create a commission, but I want to hold the city’s feet to the fire (feets?) and hold them accountable for what they say they’ll be doing.  The attempt to broaden and make more equitable access to the city officials and our resources is laudable and right. Is this the way to do it? Who will be on the commission? Will they be residents with crappy developers or no drainage on their streets? Or will they be organizations that get funding from the city, and so are beholden in a way residents aren’t? We’ll see. Or not, I guess, unless the commissions hold public hearings or the Mayor and CC are transparent about what their actions will be as a result of commissions’ work.

      Director Nyland highlighted a problem she sees that we often communicate to both the DoN and our district’s city council member. She said that’s hard because then “who knows who is supposed to respond?” Uh, huh. Seriously? I somehow manage to deal with this sort of question every day at work. I imagine you do, too. The fact she highlighted it in a presentation to the CC tells me she thinks it’s a big problem, which is telling. 

      We have much more serious problems in the city including the way the education and incarceration and hiring practices discriminate. Dissolving the district councils helps with these issues by? What? Actually dissolving the groups that advocate for resources to be distributed more equitably around the city? 

  • Roxy July 13, 2016 (10:33 pm)

    When is the election for Mayor and City Attorney? Yesterday would have been good. 

  • Gunner July 13, 2016 (10:45 pm)

    Considering the current administration does not utilize or recognize the current commissions that represent underrepresented communities in the city, I fail to see how these new commissions will fare any better. Unless they plan to provide resources for child care, interpreters, and plan to support community organizing events, leadership development, and neighbor relationship building, all while actually investing in communities outside South Lake Union, downtown, Queen Anne, Magnolia, etc… It is a way to continue to erode public input and accountability in City government.  Let’s actually work on developing planning for resource and infrastructure improvements in neighborhoods, instead piece mealing. 

    over the years the district councils recieved less and less support, training, etc…

    So when you stop investing these are the results – those who have time to volunteer and it is a lot of time can show up. Those who have flexible work schedules that can attend meetings during work hours with city departments, often with little notice, and those who have some experience jumping through some ridiculous hoops to get so called funds for neighborhood improvements. 

    Maybe start by looking internally at what can and should change in City departments first, before trashing community members that do the best they can with a system that would like us to stop asking for sidewalks, clean air, crosswalks, curb cuts, traffic mitigation, funded and high performing public schools, assistance for folks with homelessness, substance abuse, and mental illness, programs for seniors, and buses that actual go into low income communities. 

    Work with us… Not against us.

    • JanS July 16, 2016 (5:16 pm)

      HEAR ! HEAR!

      Mayor Ed and his cronies does not give a damnb as long as they advance their rigid agenda…cannot wait to vote against them !

  • Diane July 14, 2016 (1:16 am)

    completely agree Gunner

  • Diane July 14, 2016 (1:26 am)

    so, the mayor holds a press conference with a stage full of white people, and talks about how he wants to increase diversity

  • Nancy Folsom July 14, 2016 (8:09 am)

    The department of neighborhoods has admitted they are only just now starting to keep statistics on who they’re reaching on the city review teams and district council review teams. It’s doubtful to me that they even know who they’re reaching much less who they are not.

    It would have more impressive if the Mayor had the support of, say, people active in the Black Live Matter movement or some of the other in-community activists. They are out there. Working hard. 

    I’m learning more about commissions or communities that are ignored by the city. So, while I agree the District Council structure could use constructive attention, it is only a mirror of the city itself. The problems people have pointed to–of councils explicitly denying membership to renters, say–are, so far as I’ve been able to tell, neighborhood groups, not DCs, for the most part, but if the city doesn’t exert any influence there, why do we think they’ll be successful changing their departments?

    This is a classic case of Right Problem, Wrong Solution.

  • Gatewooder July 14, 2016 (8:30 am)

    Great White Father has spoken.

    • Nancy Folsom July 14, 2016 (9:55 am)

      <snort> Yeah, I don’t see any of the white folks in the video making room for people of color to take actual positions of power instead of being used to gather more info that won’t be acted upon.

  • Gunner Scott July 14, 2016 (11:42 am)

    and here is what it is all about….

    “The Department of Neighborhoods will draft legislation for a new community- engagement model by Sept. 26. By January 2017, the mayor’s order says, the city will establish a Community Involvement Commission that will oversee engagement efforts. The mayor will choose the members of the commission, and Reading said it will act as a facilitator of community engagement and succeed the City Neighborhood Council as an advisory body.”


    • WSB July 14, 2016 (11:56 am)

      If it is true that the mayor will appoint the commission members – that appears to have been left out of the five-page FAQ, which included:

      Who will be on the Community Involvement Commission?

      The details of formation and composition have not been determined at this time. We have ideas and know there will be community involvement in the development of the charter and membership of the Committee.

      • Gunner Scott July 14, 2016 (12:36 pm)

        Such intentions are often left out the Mayor’s pre-written press release communications.

  • McBride July 14, 2016 (11:46 am)

    The Press release and FAQ borrow heavily or lift directly from the draft report of the DoN response to the SLI (Statement of Legislative Intent). That draft was pretty clear in holding the DC’s responsible for lack of outreach, attendance, and diversity of membership and representative interest both. As such, the primary engagement model of the City with citizens was deemed a barrier.


    The problem is, that report was a canard.


    The District Council system is (was) a representative body. Membership is (was) comprised of representatives from Neighborhood Councils and institutions within the boundaries of the District. While the actual room count was often in the teens, hundreds or thousands were present by proxy. This includes homeowners, renters, diverse ethnicity groups, and political and philosophical orientation. This is how representative democracy works – a small group of individuals with the skills and availability (as volunteers) dealing with mostly boring (to most folks) policy matters so you don’t have to.


    The work of the District Council primarily served the City as a distributor venue to communicate initiatives, planned projects, and ideas. It was flawed, but within their power to fix, and the District Councils spent a lot of effort over many years trying to get the City to do exactly that. The District Councils served the Neighborhoods and community by serving as a first line of defense and Community coordinating agency against bad ideas generated by the City. Trust me, as many as you perceive the City to be making, the District Councils were instrumental in stopping or softening the impact of many, many more. This, I believe was ultimately their undoing: We had the temerity and City-sanctioned authority to disagree.


    Whether it’s recognized (yet) or not, the City lost an important voice yesterday.

  • Diane July 14, 2016 (12:57 pm)

    and THIS also happened last night; same day as press
    conference about increasing diversity, with a line-up of all white folks on
    stage with him; “Sheley Secrest, “NAACP got dissed by Mayor Murray at
    the KIRO 7 Searching for Solutions discussion. He refused to sit beside James
    Bible and insisted that they air his segment separately from the NAACP. Aren’t
    we supposed to be on the same side of advancing civil rights of others? Team
    us, right?” followed by more details from Sheley Secrest, “NAACP was
    preparing for the KIRO news segment when we were called into the hallway by
    Essex and KIRO’s producer informing us that the Mayor wouldn’t appear in the
    same segment with the NAACP. They had believed there was a lawsuit between us
    and the city. James and I assured them that we had not initiated any
    litigation. They asked James about his role in the Taylor inquest, and he
    explained it was a county process of fact finding, not a lawsuit. James offered
    to step aside and allow me to appear on the segment if Murray had anything
    against him personally, but we were told that it was the NAACP. Murray said he
    would not participate if we were on the same panel. We fight against
    violations, who could possibly be against that? Why would anyone refuse to
    collaborate with a civil rights organization? I’m shocked”

    • AmandaKH July 14, 2016 (1:50 pm)

      Wait, I feel like I am experiencing deja vu.

  • Diane July 14, 2016 (1:06 pm)

    and in answer to my question “what the heck did Essex
    think about all that?” Sheley answers, “Gerald called and spoke
    directly with Essex, and I’m told that Essex agreed the Mayor shouldn’t have
    made the refusal. Gerald was so upset that he stated KIRO shouldn’t have made
    the NAACP accommodate such foolishness. He told Essex that if the Mayor didn’t
    want to be on the panel with us, then KIRO shouldn’t have let the Mayor participate.”;
    ps; Gerald Hankerson is Seattle King County NAACP President

  • JanS July 16, 2016 (5:21 pm)

    Is Mayor Ed taking something that doesn’t agree with the rest of us? Damn…WTF?

  • Carol July 17, 2016 (6:31 pm)

    Why does the Mayor want to dismantle District Neighborhood Councils.  They have no power, are not even advisory to the city.  They function as a conduit for information between city departments and neighborhoods.  The only programs where District Councils give input are the Neighborhood Street and Parks Fund – and those decisions can be vetoed by SDOT or Parks.  District Council Review teams provide input  on Large Grant applications, that score is 50% of the total.  The other 50% comes from a citywide review team which represents the diversity of the city. 

    As an earlier comment said District Councils are a council of councils – each member  represents many other.  A quickie survey of members present at one meeting doesn’t represent the actual diversity. 

  • Carol July 17, 2016 (6:32 pm)

    Thank you West Seattle Blog for the excellent coverage of this and other issues.  You don’t have to live in West Seattle to benefit from WSB reporting.

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