Mayor Ed Murray’s executive order to reform the way the city does outreach to, and serves, neighborhoods is generating some heated emails at city hall; Murray signed an executive order two weeks ago that ended the city’s formal relationship with the 13 district neighborhood councils and directed the city to come up with a broader approach that, among other things, doesn’t view communities as only geographic, but also sees ethnicity, economics, and gender as outreach and organizing principles.
Murray’s Department of Neighborhoods director Kathy Nyland, a driving force behind the change (and a former district council leader herself), issued a report saying the district councils were whiter, older, and wealthier than the city at large.
One critical email came from Larry Reid, Nyland’s successor as a co-chair of the Greater Duwamish District Council (and, as the manager of the Fantagraphics Bookstore, the current head of the Georgetown Merchants Association.) Reid emailed council president Bruce Harrell, whose Seattle City Council District Two includes Reid’s Georgetown neighborhood, and city council member Lisa Herbold, the most sympathetic council member to the traditional district council cause. Reid accuses DON of giving out “inaccurate” and perhaps “deliberately falsified” information about the makeup of district councils.
Reid says DON never contacted him about a demographic survey.
Here’s an excerpt from his email (also addressed to Harrell’s outreach staffer Chase Munroe):
Dear Lisa, Bruce, and Chase:
I'm increasingly concerned about the quality of the information you're receiving about the make-up and mission of the recently disbanded District Councils. I served as co-chair of Greater Duwamish District Council (GDDC) in 2013 and 2014. I can assure you at no time during that tenure was I asked to survey and report the ethnicity, age, income, or home owner status of GDDC membership. I heard Mayor Murray cite these supposed facts about District Council demographics at his news conference prior to signing an executive order defunding the Councils. This information is likely anecdotal, incomplete, or deliberately falsified.
Again, the GDDC never conducted any such survey, and neither were we subsequently provided any guidance about increasing diversity. The Greater Duwamish District Council has always been conscientious about embracing diverse representation. In 2014 we held a retreat in South Park and received training on implementing the City's Race & Social Justice toolkit. That same year I relinquished my co-chair position at GDDC to a much younger Latino renter named David Baca—a homeless advocate who also serves as secretary to the Georgetown Merchants Association. Of course we need to be held accountable, but the implication of insensitivity made by the Mayor and Kathy Nyland is appalling.
Equally puzzling are some of Nyland's more preposterous assumptions in her report to Council. Kathy was my predecessor as president of the Georgetown Merchants Association. She later served as chair of the CNC. She has to know much of the information she's trying to convey is inaccurate…
This action is little more than Mayor Murray's latest fit of pique. He was disappointed about the cool reception to some HALA proposals that he negotiated in secret. I hope you don't go along.
President, Georgetown Merchants Association
Reid’s email also explains that the district councils represent broader constituencies than DON says they do. He writes: “District Councils extend far beyond community councils. They include social service organizations, senior centers, youth service centers, business associations, environmental and recreational advocacy groups—you know, people that make up a typical community. Kathy knows this.”
I’m waiting for a full response from DON to Reid’s charges, but Nyland did dispute Reid’s initial point that the district councils are being disbanded. She told Fizz: “We are not disbanding anything. This about leveling the playing field, recognizing barriers, and not treating these DCs as more important (or less important) than others.”
Evidently, DON collected sign in sheets from district council meetings.
Nyland did respond to an email from an angry resident she received about the district council decision.
A July 26 email to her office read:
Dear Ms. Nyland,
Had this been handled by a democratic process instead of mayoral fiat, your claim that this is "not a power grab" would be more persuasive.
There are no barriers to participation. Participation depends solely on an individual's willingness to prioritize the importance of being heard and making the effort to attend the meeting. Why are community meetings sufficient for some neighborhoods/communities, yet not others? That is the question that needs to be addressed.
Thanks for your note and for sharing your thoughts.
In response to your inquiry about why meetings don’t work for some, here are some quick thoughts:
Some people work at night.
Some people don’t have transportation.
Some people don’t speak English.
Some people have other obligations.
Some people have kids and can’t find a sitter (or afford one).
Some people have other meetings.
Some people have conflicts.
Some people aren’t invited.
Some people don’t know about the meetings.
Some people don’t feel welcome.
While meeting work for some, the truth is they do not work for everyone.
We want to broaden the access points and provide more opportunities.
Everyone has a voice and it’s our job to hear them.
We want and need more tools.
That’s what we are taking about and hoping to do.
Thank you again for your note.
Here's our report on a recent impromptu district council convention in West Seattle that was called in response to Murray's executive order.