Extra Fizz: Politicking, Public Disclosure, and Pre-K
Friday Fizz: Ethics Complaint Dismissed, Public Disclosure Requests Examined, and "Early Education" Redefined
DISMISSING CAMPBELL, CLEARING SAWANT
1. The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission has rejected a complaint by initiative-loving gadfly Elizabeth Campbell against city council member Kshama Sawant alleging that Sawant's support for the 15Now campaign and the Socialist Alternative Party constitute a violation of city laws barring elected officials from using their offices for campaign purposes.
Campbell (who filed her own $15 minimum-wage initiative back in February) argued that the blurry lines between the $15 Now campaign, the Socialist Alternative Party, and Sawant's council office violate city rules that bar elected officials from using public resources to campaign.
However, as we noted at the time, "Sawant is certainly free to promote any political party she wants," and "the issue itself is before the council as a policy matter and her advocacy seems to fit in to the bounds of the discussion."
While the Councilmember's methods may strike some as unconventional, this does not mean they are illegal
Ethics director Wayne Barnett agreed, writing in his dismissal, "The Ethics Code ... does not intrude upon Councilmember Sawant's strategic decisions about how best to accomplish her legislativegoals. The Councilmember has been working to build broad public support for her minimum wage proposal, and has been relying on organizations, namely 15 Now and Socialist Alternative, to mobilize the public to exert pressure on City goverment to enact an ordinance imposing a $15 minimum wage. While the Councilmember's methods may strike some as unconventional, this does not mean they are illegal."
Barnett also dismissed Campbell's complaint that Sawant needed to register as a lobbyist and her allegation that 15 Now and Socialist Alternative had violated the city's Elections Code by failing to register as political committees.
PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST DRAMA
2. In response to the recent revelation (which we previously reported about in Fizz) that the city has spent nearly $1 million settling with litigants or potential litigants in public-disclosure complaints since 2008 (the complaints typically involve lack of timely or full disclosure of requested documents), the city's department of Finance and Administrative Services has set up a task force, made up of representatives of FAS, the city council, and the city attorney's office, to make recommendations to improve the process of responding to public disclosure complaints.
According to a briefing the city council will receive on Monday morning, the city received more than 6,600 public disclosure requests in 2013. The vast majority of those were from individual constituents (53 percent) or attorneys (30 percent), and the vast, vast majority of requests were made to the Seattle Police Department (22,998 between 2008 and 2013, compared to a total of 8.329 to all other departments combined.)
SPD also accounts for 83 percent of the city's public disclosure lawsuit payouts.
Despite its outsized role in the city's PDR lawsuit-related expenses, SPD will not be subject to review by the task force. The city auditor has already been charged with reviewing the police department's public-disclosure procedures, and will complete a $300,000 audit in 2014.
Interestingly, one individual—Eric Thomsen, a Shoreline resident and prolific writer of letters to the editor of local papers and web sites—filed more than 500 public disclosure requests in 2013 alone, or nearly one and a half requests per day.
SOMETHING ELSE WE DIDN'T LIKE (OR MORE ON THE MCCLEARY REPORT)
3. Following up on this morning's Fizz "Likes" and "Dislikes," here's one we left out when we were talking about how we didn't like the legislature's response to the Washington State Supreme Court order for a K-12 funding plan by April 30 (the committee sent a 58-page report to the court this week detailing that they didn't have a plan).
Something else we—or really, credit where credit is due, Jon Gould, deputy director of the Children's Alliance—didn't like about the report was its loosey-goosey use of the term "very young children."
First of all, you'll only find the phrase "very young children" used one time in the whole report, which is bad news to begin with. Everybody knows (and studies confirm), that funding early education, meaning pre-K, is the key to academic success for kids. So, the fact that legislature isn't focusing more attention on pre-K is a shame, although it might have something to do with the fact that former governor Chris Gregoire vetoed the section of the 2009 education reform bill that included "early learning" as part of the new definition of basic education.
For parents in Washington, a ‘very young child’ is a baby—not a third grader.
(We wrote about the veto at the time. Gregoire said she didn't like the definition of "early learning" because it only applied to "at risk" kids, and she thought it should be applied to all children.)
Our second gripe? Realizing that everybody knows early learning is key, the report suspiciously tries to make the most of its single mention of early learning dollars.
Their report states: "Furthermore, by the 2017-18 school year, SHB 2776 required investments in improved instruction for very young children in the form of funding for all-day kindergarten for all Washington children and funding to support reduced class size to 17 students per class in kindergarten through third grade."
Where to begin? How about with the fact that kindergarten through third grade has nothing to do with what the public considers early learning?
As Gould puts it: “The report refers to ‘very young children’ for K-12 funding for 5-8 year-olds. When you read the words ‘very young children,’ what age do you think of? For parents in Washington, a ‘very young child’ is a baby—not a third grader. At the Children’s Alliance, we know that children are born learning. Given the evidence of what works to close the opportunity gap for kids in our state, early learning should be in basic education. Any funding plan for McCleary that is missing early learning is missing the mark."