In a packed conference room on the 40th floor of the Seattle Municipal Tower this morning, dozens of city employees, most of them classified as strategic advisors and managers, spoke against Mayor Mike McGinn's proposal to target their job titles for cuts and strongly suggested that they might file a civil-rights complaint against the administration.
During his campaign, McGinn promised repeatedly that if elected, he would cut hundreds of "political appointees" added by his predecessor Greg Nickels—strategic advisors and "senior management" who owe their jobs to political patronage. The claim, a staple of McGinn's stump speech, was a red-meat line for the fiscal-conservative wing of his supporters.
The problem, as the testimony at this morning's meeting laid plain, is that most of the folks McGinn is targeting aren't political appointees at all. In fact, the majority of those who spoke this morning have been at the city for many years or decades. And many were elevated to their current positions after taking on new responsibilities, or, ironically, as a way of saving money—because strategic advisors are management, they aren't paid overtime for working extra hours.
"I am not a political appointee. I would assume that most people in this room are not,” said Sandi Fukumoto, a strategic advisor at City Light. "We competed for our positions, and the positions went to most qualified candidates." She added: "We are the only [job] classification that to sit down and write in 100 words or less why we're important to the city," one of the mandates of McGinn's executive orders that other employees later called "embarrassing."
"This is targeted, this is disparate, and this is based entirely on a political position [McGinn took] during his campaign."
One worker who spoke had started out at City Light as an apprentice 30 years ago and worked his way up to management; another, Seattle Public Utilities economist Jenny Bagby, has been at the city since 1984 and just got reclassified as a strategic advisor a couple of months ago. "Whoopee," she deadpanned.
Other employees said they were worried about retaliation from McGinn for supporting one of his opponents, then-incumbent mayor Greg Nickels, in the primary election. Noting that McGinn highlighted contributions to Nickels from city employees on his campaign web site, they said they worried he would cut their jobs for political reasons.
"My concern about that is the chill that that spreads about participating in campaigns even on our personal time," said Barbara Lewy, a financial manager in the human services department
Lewy noted that, on his campaign web site, McGinn listed former HSD director Alan Painter as one of the top city contributors to Nickels, "and he was the first department head to be terminated. So I have concerns that this [job reduction] is politically motivated."
Several employees expressed concerns that McGinn's proposal for cuts had already led to a decline in productivity in departments like Seattle Public Utilities and City Light; others, like a City Light compliance officer charged with ensuring the city complies with federal energy rules, noted that their jobs actually saved the city money. Still others noted that cutting positions that are funded by utility rates does nothing to accomplish McGinn's stated goal of closing a $50 million gap in the city's general fund, a problem we've written about before.
Finally, several managers pointed to the fact that the majority of senior city staffers are older than 40, a class of workers protected by city and federal anti-discrimination laws. Julie Nelson, head of the city's Office of Civil Rights, told the employees that they were free to file a complaint with either her office or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; by the end of the meeting, a sign-up sheet for those interested in filing a civil-rights complaint ran to several pages.
Although the mayor was invited to attend or åsend a representative, no one from the mayor's office showed up at the meeting. Mayoral spokesman Mark Matassa has not yet returned a call asking why the mayor's office did not attend. Civil Service Commission Executive Director Glenda Graham-Walton said the commission would send a tape of the meeting to both Mark McDermott, head of human resources at the city, and Mayor McGinn's office.