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