Best Wonks

Best local court ruling

We may have fun in this town yet! Federal Judge John Coughenour, not known as a civil libertarian, stopped 60-plus years of tyranny in its tracks when he struck down the Liquor Board's added activity law on June 29. This Prohibition-era relic mandated that any restaurant, bar, nightclub, or caf頴hat served liquor had to apply for an additional permit when they wanted to host entertainment of any kind. It led to the most absurd bureaucratic tangles for places like Georgia's Greek Deli in Greenwood, which simply wanted to have a bouzouki player at dinner time. It also allowed City Attorney Mark Sidran to declare war on hip-hop clubs, including Chris Clifford's Jersey's, shutting down one after another. In Dave Osgood, Clifford found an attorney green enough and crazy enough to read the statute and say to himself, "This shit may be 60 years old, but it still stinks!!" Osgood argued the law was unconstitutional, a prior restraint of activities protected by the First Amendment. The judge agreed and the dust is still settling. Coughenour's ruling should open up the gates for more music, dancing, theater, and cultural expression at places which formerly feared the wrath of the Liquor Board. Party on, Garth!!!

Best City Council election race

There are five races for city council this fall, but only one matchup that'll allow us to take the temperature of Seattle's body politic—Charlie Chong vs. Heidi Wills. At press time, it isn't certain Chong and Wills will run against one another, and even if they do, neither is a lock to advance through a crowded September primary to November's general election, although both seem like pretty good bets. What makes this race so peachy keen is the two different sides of Seattle that Wills and Chong represent. Chong is a cranky, 73-year-old populist from West Seattle whose meandering monologues and principled actions have built a wacky coalition of the dispossessed—neighborhood activists, slow growthers, Republicans, and left-wing radicals—in short, anyone bitter about the "limousine liberal" crowd that runs this town. Wills is a young, bright, and energetic Ms. Goody-Two-Shoes Democrat—talking coherent wonk-ese about good government and growth management. So what's it gonna be, Seattle? These are the real choices. Neither one's perfect, but you gotta go one way or the other.

Best City Hall ripoff

This weighty list starts with the political fixing in Mayor Schell's office that helped turn PacMed hospital over to private developers, allowing Wright Runstad Co. to reap millions leasing the taxpayers' property to Amazon.com. And we're still paying for the Rice administration's secret funding of a downtown parking garage for the Nordstrom/Pacific Place redevelopment, a garage built by taxpayers who now must pay to use it, with profits going to wealthy private corporations. But at least in the category of most overlooked rip-off, none can rival the city's giveaway of the taxpayer-owned Freeway Parking Garage to the Washington Convention and Trade Center. After several decades the city's garage was almost paid for—and just about to make money—when the city council handed it over as a "contribution" toward defraying costs of the Convention Center's expansion, now under way. Council member Jan Drago, queen of the city's garage sales, insisted the total contribution (parking revenues as well as a $7.5 million outright cash contribution) amounted to "only" $11 million. She failed to mention the "leased" garage has in essence been deeded over to the center—a multimillion-dollar loss to city taxpayers. But even without adding in that cost factor, council member Nick Lacata (the sole garage-giveaway opponent) belatedly found Drago's claims to be false: The deal directly cost taxpayers $23 million, not $11 million. Nonetheless, the council gave a final OK and—sound familiar?—the public gets to pay twice for a facility it built once.

Best government waste of time and/or money

The Port of Seattle. But you already knew that. Those public servants down by the seashore have made a name for themselves ("Goofballs") in the world of wretched excesses. This year it was for sending staffers to such seminars as "How To Clean Your Messy Desk" and deciding to build a new cruise ship terminal on the site of a new cruise ship terminal that has never been used. There may not be a method to the madness, but there is a pattern: Take the Airport Sting in which the port tried to separate the thieves from the tourists at SeaTac Airport by setting out money-filled wallets and then nabbing anyone who snatched them. Then there was the Third-Degree Shakedown when $500 was taken from a port safe: Port investigators distributed printed "theft questionnaires" to employees posing such questions as "Did you take the money?" and "Were you afraid while filling out this form?" And who can forget when the port spent $36,700 on a memorial to "fallen" port police and firefighters, even though none had fallen. That was almost as stirring as the time the port employed two police chiefs simultaneously: Since they didn't really need two, they paid one to work, the other to stay home. At the port, that added up.

Best train of thought

By "train of thought" we mean, of course, train ideas—specifically, proposals for resolving the dilemma we've gotten into with light rail: too many miles of line to build, too many people and neighborhoods wanting too many features, not enough money in the Sound Transit plan. Mayor Paul Schell spoke good sense when he suggested Sound Transit reconsider bypassing Capitol Hill (which requires an expensive tunnel) and running the line straight up I-5/Eastlake to the U District, which would save a few hundred million for more urgent needs. Meanwhile, Tom Albro of Rail Safe, who operates the Monorail between Seattle Center and Westlake Center, has proposed building a monorail circulator around downtown. Put two good ideas together, and send a monorail loop up Capitol and First hills. It could provide better service—and wouldn't need a tunnel.

Best excuse to avoid both local dailies

Talk about shameless self-promotion, those oft-tossed paper roses: We're used to Fairview Fannie's disconcertingly high self-esteem, but the perpetually embattled P-I seems to have taken a page from the Times' book recently when David Horsey won his cartooning Pulitzer. Look, we're happy for him too, but a month of reverent retrospectives? In other newspapers (including this one) even? We're aware that the stakes are higher than ever for hearts and minds in this two-paper town, but perhaps you two kids are spending a little too much time worrying about how the other half lives. Honorable mention goes to—yes! woo hoo!--the Seattle Weekly, if you can prove that we really are paying those wacky kids at The Stranger to whine about us semi-obsessively. ("Best of Nooksack," anyone? How 'bout "Culture Wars"?)

Best city initiative

Of the many stupid laws which the Seattle City Council has passed, the poster ban has probably pissed off the most diverse group of people: punk rockers, political revolutionaries, and people who have lost their companion animals. Finally somebody has taken ridding us of this horrid legislation into their own hands. Free Speech Seattle, a small group of dedicated souls, has collected around 12,000 signatures to support I-46, or "Repeal the Poster Ban," while you've been sitting on your heinie. Let's face it—phone poles look a lot better with posters on them. We all know free speech only works for those who own printing presses. Everybody else needs a cheap way to get their artistic, political, or personal message out. The city's initiative process is underused. In recent years, a crazy cabbie used the initiative process to get the Monorail taken seriously. If you get something on the ballot, there's no telling what may happen. But Initiative 46 is a long way from on the ballot. Get on it!!! You've got until August 24 to help collect 19,000 valid signatures. Call Free Speech Seattle at 781-7371 (or visit their Web site, http://freespeechseattle.org).

Best City Council meeting

This year, you mean it. You are finally going to get politically active. You are sick of hundred-million-dollar handouts to the Mariners, and you are going to do something about it. So where do you start? Local government. It's hard to fight city hall, but, shit, it seems impossible to fight the federal government, so might as well start with the city council. A word of warning: Government meetings are extremely important, but they are also incredibly tedious. (That's why they pay us reporters the big bucks to go to them.) The best city council meeting, hands down, is the briefings meeting. All nine city council members show up most of the time. The subject matter varies from week to week, but our favorite part is called "Blue Sky." During this segment each council member talks about whatever the hell they want to talk about. You get to study them. They reveal themselves in their choice of topics and their subject matter. Plus you can key in on the petty, behind-the-scenes bickering among them. Politicians seldom let their hair down, but at 9am Monday mornings on the 11th floor of the Municipal Building (810 Third) they get pretty darn close.

Best recent City Council decision

Most of the time our elected officials seem determined to ruin this town by indulging in one giant booster boondoggle after another. Our politicians are so obsessed by being a "world-class" city that they keep handing over the keys to the city coffers to high-priced con men. Sport moguls are a particular vulnerability: First the Sonics, next the Mariners, and then the Seahawks, got unbelievable sweetheart deals and public subsidies for billionaire owners and their millionaire players. When the mother of all events, the Olympics, came calling, we had to figure it was roll-over-and-cough-up-the-dough-again time. Instead, the public actually weighed in furiously, which is surprising enough in a dead political town like this one, and, more shocking, the city council listened. So our vote goes to the vote not to host the Olympics. We can't tell you how many public hearings we've sat through where speaker after speaker trashed the proposed legislation and the damn law was enacted anyway. Some mark this as a fundamental shift in Seattle politics. We see it as a fluke, a convergence of unusual factors—ranging from principled anticorporate welfare beliefs (council member Nick Licata) to deep economic concerns (council member Martha Choe) to sustainability wonkism (council member Richard Conlin)—that are not likely to all line up again soon.

Best police scandal

There's more "worst of" than "best of" in the continuous uproar over alleged crimes and misconduct by Seattle police. But in the midst of it all, a previously undisclosed story surfaced that provided at least a moment of needed comic relief: the strip-searching of cops by cops. The June 1995 all-nude revue involved four officers who were forced to bare their birthday suits after an East Precinct commander accused them of theft—$76.63 taken from an arrest suspect. The money, inventoried and placed in a property locker with the locker key hanging nearby, was missing two hours after the arrest. Officers searched the precinct, police cars, and garbage cans, finding nothing. The four cops then were singled out and their lockers searched, to no avail. They subsequently were marched into a watch commander's office and ordered to disrobe, which they did, top to bottom. Their clothing was also searched—there's no indication a body-cavity exam was performed—but the money was never recovered. The four, however, had the last laugh (and taxpayers the last grimace) after they were each awarded $13,000 for violation of civil and Police Guild rights.

Check out the rest of the critics' picks: geeks, bites, acts, clerks, beats, and spots. Or, go to the 1999 Best of Seattle main page

 
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