Holding a press conference can be a risky proposition. And now, beyond the sobering thought of having nobody show up, activists face the added threat of having critics turn the event into an impromptu panel discussion.
That's what happened to chief Civic Foundation watchdog Brian Livingston and City Council candidate Daniel Norton last week in the lobby of the Municipal Building. Both were members of a citizen task force recommending rules for future city public/private partnerships, but were unhappy over being outvoted on a pair of key provisions. They promptly found themselves outnumbered at their own press conference by a contingent including Mary Jean Ryan, director of the city's Office of Economic Development, Rich Feldman, the King County Labor Council's task force representative, and Sara Levin, a task force staffer now employed as a council aide. It didn't help that the only reporter in attendance was this columnist (who shall be collectively referred to as "the media").
Norton and Livingston are annoyed with the recommendation that a separate review panel be assembled for each public/private partnership proposal, with members appointed by the mayor and council president, not the full council. The result, Livingston claims, will be hand-picked reviewers ready to approve whatever is placed before them. Their task force colleagues, however, were unhappy that after negotiating several compromises with Norton and Livingston during the process, the pair was now denouncing the entire report.
Livingston and Norton say the controversial provisions were added in the last half-hour of the task force's final meeting, giving little time for response. Feldman replies that Livingston simply lost the vote on one issue and is unfairly bashing the process. Ryan further claims that other task force members were willing to hold further discussions, but the two holdouts weren't interested. "Nobody wanted to see the whole work of the task force go down the drain because of one point that we'd barely discussed," she adds.
So much for the theory that task forces bring people together. But the truth is that this was a marriage destined for failure. Livingston and Norton were specifically included as the loyal opposition on a board of folks who think public/private partnerships are just ducky.
Livingston is also fuming over the intervention of Mayor Paul Schell, who called a special meeting with task force members at a time when they actually seemed to be entertaining thoughts of creating a strong standing review panel. "I think the mayor kind of gave the task force a spanking in that meeting," says Livingston. (Note from the media: he's speaking figuratively.)
Anyway, our dynamic activist duo has one thing going for them—council members won't consider themselves bound by the task force's recommendations. Margaret Pageler has already floated the idea of a larger standing panel of experts (perhaps 10 to 15 members), with review panels for individual projects chosen from that group. That's one good idea. Another would be holding your press events more than an elevator ride away from the people you intend to criticize.
Stamper still employed
If Chief Norm Stamper can just avoid those darn television reporters, he should be able to keep his job a while longer. At one of the best-attended press conferences of Mayor Paul Schell's tenure, Stamper absorbed tough shots from just about everyone except his boss and the four-person citizens' panel whose report reviewing police disciplinary procedures brought everyone there in the first place. At one point, all four members agreed (based on the innovative theory that "nobody's perfect") that the chief should stay put.
Even if the powers that be aren't set on replacing Stamper just yet, Seattle's police culture is under fire. The most significant of the panel's 23 recommendations proposes thinning the thicket of privileges Seattle officers now enjoy when under investigation for misconduct. Currently, police investigators can't routinely question the cop under suspicion—and if they do, they must submit written questions in advance. Statements by officers in interviews can't be used in future criminal prosecutions, and cops can use vacation or comp time to serve suspensions. What's more, the case files are exempt from public review and purged after four years. The panel's recommendations look to end this sweetheart deal for rogue cops.
This is hardly news in City Hall, where elected officials have cautiously tried (for the most part, unsuccessfully) to trim these privileges in every new police union contract. Therefore, the major target of the panel's report isn't Stamper, but the Seattle Police Officers Guild. While panel members tried to put a positive spin on the Guild's possible response, don't expect too many happy faces during the next round of police contract negotiations.
Trust me on this
Hey, they're just political promises, but there have been some interesting trends on the campaign trail as the city prepares to fill three open council seats. For instance:
*They love posters. The city's ban on posting flyers on utility poles seems to have picked up a gaggle of campaign-trail supporters. Warning: Wait for the vote before you get out the staple guns—the fines are still in effect.
*Pity poor Mark Sidran. The city attorney has become the campaign trail whipping boy, with every candidate pledging to oppose at least one plank of Darth Sidran's civility platform. We'll see later if all these random principled stands add up to five votes on any one issue.
*Watch out, all you bad cops. These politicos seem set on supporting any and all recommendations of Mayor Schell's citizens panel examining police misconduct.
*Roll on, mighty monorail. There's a lot of support for the current downtown circulator proposal. But, as nobody's come up with a plausible funding plan, don't buy those tickets just yet.