City Hall

The Mayor Who Cried Wolf

By Josh Feit November 30, 2010

Reading Erica's coverage of the latest standoff between Mayor Mike McGinn and the city council, or more precisely, city council president Richard Conlin, I can't help but be reminded of the last time McGinn's office freaked out and accused Conlin of breaking the rules.

As Erica has reported, McGinn is mad that Conlin is using his own blueprint to help determine the city's legislative agenda in Olympia as opposed to using the mayor's blueprint. Traditionally, the mayor proposes an agenda and the council amends it; this time, the council is starting with its own agenda (albeit one that reflects discussions between the council and the Office of Intergovernmental Relations, the city's lobbying shop. McGinn is crying foul.

McGinn also cried foul when Conlin signed the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Alaskan Way tunnel last September. It's the  the mayor's job, McGinn said, to sign off on projects. McGinn got pretty dramatic about Conlin's signature and told the press the city was experiencing a constitutional crisis.

It turned out, though, that Conlin's signature wasn't such a big deal. (At the time, I wrote that Daffy Duck could have signed the tunnel document, and McGinn's complaints were nothing more than political theater.) Well, we haven't heard much about the mayor's effort to challenge Conlin's supposedly illegal signature lately.

Today, I asked the mayor's spokesman Aaron Pickus about the status of the signature flap, and he told me, "Our position is clear on Council President Conlin's actions."  True: They've clearly backed away from their constitutional crisis rhetoric. Instead, the mayor's office is now honoring Conlin's signature, which kept the city on as a co-lead (equal partner with the state) in the tunnel project, as a way to redefine that co-lead role in a way that's advantageous to the city. (It's a pretty clever play to strengthen McGinn's hand over the tunnel.) As Pickus told me today: "We are working to clarify the co-lead agreement."

I don't know who's right in the current back and forth over the legislative agenda. It looks to me like OIR, which technically works for both the council and the mayor (sorta like having to host dinner at your house for your divorced parents), tried to facilitate an honest back-and-forth on the legislative agenda between the council and the mayor, and now both sides are acting surprised by the process.

But the process is on track regardless. There's an agenda on the table (in this instance, the one that Conlin proposed based on his negotiations, via OIR, with the mayor's office) that is now slated for discussion in the runup to next year's legislative session in Olympia. That discussion will take place over the next week or so in council chambers, and will be forwarded to the mayor for his approval and signature.

So, Conlin's unprecedented move isn't really such a big deal.

Mayor "Constitutional Crisis" McGinn's cries of "Wolf!" are getting less and less credible.
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