When a coalition of public housing residents, housing advocates, and union officials managed to get state legislation passed and proposed to expand the Seattle Housing Authority board of directors, some called it a major victory for low-income Seattle residents.
The actual process of making appointments to the board has cooled this enthusiasm. Representatives of several of the original coalition groups are opposing the appointment of Sybil Bailey, a resident of the Denny Terrace residence and Mayor Paul Schell's first nominee for the SHA board. Although Bailey would be the second public-housing resident on the board (as required by the new state law), coalition members wanted a resident of the Seattle Senior Housing Program as the second tenant member. A letter signed by several coalition members also raised questions as to Bailey's independence, citing her participation in Denny Terrace's resident action council. "[Council] members usually see themselves as part of the housing authority, almost as staff members," stated the letter.
Irv Thomas, a member of the SSHP Advocates Group who was interviewed for the slot himself, says the purpose of the state legislation was to expand the range of views on the SHA board. "We feel that Schell fulfilled the letter of the new appointment, but not the spirit of it, and he knows that," notes Thomas.
Bill Block, current SHA board president, says he wasn't aware of objections to Bailey, but praised her work in organizing tenant councils in several SHA buildings. However, coalition members aren't pleased that Block was allowed to join Schell staffers in conducting formal interviews with board nominees Bailey, Thomas, and Yesler Terrace Community Council President Kristen
O'Donnell. The interview committee forwarded comments on the board hopefuls to the mayor, but did not rank the candidates.
The mayor's appointee faces another hurdle: in addition to expanding the SHA board from five to seven members, the new state law requires that all Schell's board appointments must be confirmed by the Seattle City Council. Discussion of Bailey's confirmation is set for the October 14 meeting of the council Housing Committee; Peter Steinbrueck, committee chair, will personally interview Bailey before the meeting.
No matter what the council does, the Schell administration has botched the appointment process. Regardless of Bailey's qualifications or the wishes of the current housing authority hierarchy, it's not the mayor's job to protect the SHA board from dissenting views (no matter who is appointed, SHA insiders still hold a 5-2 board majority). Schell should have acknowledged the legislative victory scored by SHA critics and appointed a coalition-backed candidate. Now, at best, the mayor looks like a sore loser (he originally opposed SHA board expansion, but backed down in the face of City Council complaints about his stand); at worst, he appears hostile to the concerns of low-
Parks horror stories
Making up in sheer unhappiness what they lacked in numbers, a half-dozen neighbors of Seattle parks met last week with council member Nick Licata. Although the discussion revolved around disputes over specific parks—Discovery Park, Jefferson Park, Wallingford Playfield, Queen Anne Bowl—the general theme was to criticize the Parks Department's notoriously poor record of public notification and meaningful dialogue with park neighbors.
The stories were pretty ugly. After renting the Georgetown Playfield to organizers of a community festival and charging them $500 for insurance, the department went ahead and scheduled soccer games there all day, chasing the festival to a tiny corner of the property. During a dispute over the installation of artificial turf on the Queen Anne Bowl field (the department classified the work as "renovation" rather than a capital improvement, in order to duck its own notification requirements), officials claimed neighbors were using scare tactics in speculating about the future installation of lights and bleachers. Now, just a few months later, the department is talking about installing bleachers, and neighbors are furious.
And let's not forget Jefferson Park, the most mistreated relic of the city's Olmsted Park plan. Over the years, the city has given away hunks of the property, built two golf courses and a driving range, and used other pieces for various non-parks uses. Neighbors seeking to relocate the driving range (through the neighborhood planning process) and reclaim a little actual park land in the city's sixth-largest park are outraged at an ongoing $250,000 range improvement project. Writing things down doesn't help much; the city's early 1990s parks comprehensive plan hasn't been formally adopted into the city's official comp plan and planners have violated its provisions in several recent athletic-field ballot measures.
Licata had something to offer the group—a draft ordinance which would require the Parks Department to evaluate its public involvement processes. A nice gesture, but it may take more than another round of meetings and reports to get the Parks Department to pay a little more attention to the folks it supposedly serves.
Wanna buy a tower?
The council recently got a progress report on Mayor Schell's little money-making proposition: selling Key Tower (bake sales are apparently considered passé in City Hall). The city has already put out an offering sheet for prospective purchasers of the barely used office building. By the end of the month, says facilities director Norma Miller, "we should know who's really interested." Preliminary bids should be in by mid-October (giving the council a chance to back out of the deal if that special offer never materializes). Leave the rest of next month for negotiations and the rest of the year for "due deliberation" (whatever that is), and Seattle could be an ex-tower owner by February 2. What, no Sunday open houses?