As I sat through a joint press briefing from mayoral and council member staff yesterday afternoon about the the latest big deal proposal to come out of city hall—a super progressive policy recommendation to protect low-wage, hourly service industry employees from unpredictable and mostly truncated schedules—I was struck by the fact that the old Seattle Process was being replaced by a new one: Getting shit done.
One of the biggest criticisms I've heard of Mayor Ed Murray’s tenure is that he rams proposals through without having an inclusive process. His Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda proposal, for example, was condemned for not involving neighborhood homeowners (to the advantage of developers, critics said.) His recent executive decision to get broader public input was criticized for not involving the neighborhood District Councils. His $15 task force was criticized for having a preordained outcome (a $15 minimum wage.)
There's an element of truth to some of these criticisms. There was only one so-called "neighborhood" person on the 28-member HALA task force; though as we pointed out at the time, many of the people on the HALA task force, including the supposed “fringe activists” as the Seattle Times had it, were single family neighborhood homeowners themselves (they just weren’t representing any formal neighborhood group.) And all of them, of course, lived in neighborhoods. And for the record, the group included a mix of lefty housing affordability advocates and their one-time foes, developers. And ultimately, the criticism is pretty funny since the proposal is an unprecedented mandate that developers pay fees to support affordable housing. And, yes, it’s true the District Councils weren’t consulted before Murray decided to move away from using district councils as the sole point of entry for community folks who want to have input into policy making. No caveat there, though the city did look at data about who attended District Council meetings (older white homeowners) before making the decision to change the model. And, yup, $15 was the preordained goal of the $15 minimum wage task force.
And now there’s the city’s latest (kinda jaw dropping) policy proposal. Known as secured scheduling, the legislative proposal includes mandates for employers to provide work schedules two weeks in advance, compensation for last-minute schedule changes (time and a half for subtracted hours and one-hour extra pay for surprise extra hours), no rule against shift swapping, no “clopenings” without consent and extra compensation, and most significant, a right of first of refusal for current employees to pick up hours before the company hires new part-timers.
Similar to the aforementioned policy overhauls like $15 and HALA, this new proposal had been vetted and debated by stakeholders, council members, city staffers, and the mayor before it now gets cued up to make its way to council for committee meetings and a vote. (No, the District Council decision didn’t need a vote, but I’m hearing while Lisa Herbold has some reservations, the council is all in on finding a more inclusive model than the traditional district councils.)
And here’s what truly stuck me yesterday: The nuts and bolts of the secured scheduling proposal were being presented to reporters by the mayor’s staff alongside staff members from two different council members’ offices, Brianna Thomas from council member Lorena González's office and Alex Clardy from Herbold’s office. So no, while Seattle voters don’t get to play the part of helicopter parents to oversee every aspect of the legislative process anymore, the current legislative process at city hall is actually producing results. And compromise and collaboration are a big part of it. Both workers’ rights groups such as Working Washington and industry players such as Starbucks were brought into the process and the legislation appears set to sail through council. Supposed council conservative Tim Burgess cheered the legislation at Herbold’s committee hearing on it today.
Accusations of a liberal consensus may be apt (I lampooned Seattle’s knee jerk left wing politics just last week), but we live in a deep blue city after all, and Mayor Murray ran on the complaint that while the public seemed to share a liberal agenda, city hall, curiously, seemed unable to get anything done.
I guess I’m still in post-election reflection mode, but my sense from the big housing levy 70 percent win last Tuesday (on the heels of last year’s successful transportation measure, which got nearly 60 percent) is that voters are into city building right now. And so, it seems, are the mayor and council.
It’s certainly legit to identify flaws with their policy choices (though I’m still not clear on what people dislike about diversifying city input), but complaints about process ring hollow now that Seattle has a new process that's working very well.