Four Observations About Today's Murray Announcement
Some observations about today's personnel announcements by mayor-elect Ed Murray.
1. As we noted in today's post about mayor-elect Ed Murray's rainbow-coalition cabinet and roster of department heads (nearly half are women, and nearly half are ethnic minorities), Murray certainly seems committed to his campaign promise to hire a staff that "looks like Seattle." That's particularly true when it comes to terms of gender equity.
As we reported earlier this year: Murray's predecessor, Mike McGinn, hired a cabinet that was 70 percent men, 30 percent women. And the gender pay gap in McGinn's office was one of the largest of any city department, with men who worked for McGinn making, on average, 20 percent more than women. Of the five highest-paid appointments Murray announced today, three (both deputy mayors and the head of the personnel department) are women.
2. One new hire we questioned at today's press conference was the appointment of Jared Smith, Parsons Brinckerhoff's Principal-in-Charge of the viaduct replacement project, to advise Murray on the seawall and waterfront. Murray and McGinn frequently sparred over the tunnel, with McGinn criticizing Murray for signing off on legislation, as a state senator, that could leave Seattle on the hook for cost overruns, and Murray accusing McGinn, who led the charge on a failed 2011 referendum against the tunnel, of obstructionism.
Is hiring an unabashed pro-tunnel partisan a conflict for a mayor whose first duty is to protect the city of Seattle?
Murray said no; Smith, he said, "is leaving [Parsons Brinckerhoff] and he is taking a huge pay cut. Jared is someone who has worked for Sound Transit"—he was a strategic advisor for the agency—"and who is a huge transit advocate. He has experience replacing huge megaprojects such as the collapsed bridge over the Skagit River [Smith led the design work on the temporary bridge]. I think those are the skills we need—someone who has worked for both government and the private sector."
A few hours after Murray's announcement, the state department of transportation (WSDOT) updated reporters on plans to dislodge a mystery object (a boulder? a train car?) that has stalled the tunnel-boring machine, Bertha, in its tracks; WSDOT viaduct replacement program deputy administrator Matt Preedy said it's "way too early at this point for us to answer questions [like], is this going to cost more money, or is this going to delay the project"—which hardly inspires confidence.
3. Murray's response to a question about the tunnel itself (what will you do if the tunnel costs more than the state has said it's willing to pay?) won't be reassuring to tunnel opponents, who insist (with plenty of justification) that the city will be on the hook if there are cost overruns.
It's pretty similar to what he said on the campaign trail: "I believe this project can be delivered on time and under budget, or at least on budget. ... There is a concern about language in the legislation that has passed … [but], as I said on the senate floor, this is a state highway. The city has taken on a large responsibility and the state has also taken on a large responsibility, but a state facility should not become a bill for the city."
4. Unlike McGinn's initial team, Murray's top staff and department heads are neither campaign insiders (McGinn famously rewarded many of his young campaign staff with cush city jobs, even if they had no experience in government work) nor loyalists from Olympia (only Jeff Reading, his communications director, Thompson, who worked for Murray in Olympia this year, and housing office director Steve Walker, who served on the Washington State Housing Finance Commission), are Olympia veterans.