A wing and a dare

Afraid to talk money with the feds before the WTO, City Hall crossed its fingers—and lost.

LIKE ALL GOOD investigators, WTO Accountability Review Committee members are following the money—or in this case, lack of it. Halfway through their probe of planning failures surrounding the riot-torn World Trade Organization ministerial conference in Seattle last year, Seattle City Council reviewers have come upon a meandering money trail littered with broken promises, artful dodges, and self-deceiving officials hell-bent on showcasing Seattle to the world. Among the early discoveries, based on documents and interviews:

* City Hall planners intentionally avoided discussing security cost reimbursements in talks with US officials so as not to jeopardize Seattle's chance to hold the November 31-December 4 conference. Chief city lobbyist Cliff Traisman, familiar with the planning saga from its inception, told reviewers that US State Department official John Diefenderer "laughed and said we'd get nothing" when funding was mentioned. That led to a city memo warning "we don't want to bring this [money] up" in future talks with the department. Traisman said planners felt money was "inflammatory, a sore point" with Diefenderer, who "went ballistic" after Seattle sought reimbursements for APEC meeting costs six years earlier. (As of last week, a congressional committee was said to be considering a $3.8 million WTO reimbursement for the city.)

* The lack of funding and underestimation of the WTO's security threat helped create a domino effect culminating in the unchecked rioting and $12 million in local government costs. With no firm budget and what turned out to be unfulfilled funding promises from the Seattle Host Organization, city officials resignedly mapped out minimal tactical plans and hoped for the best. As former Police Chief Norm Stamper put it to the committee: "My attitude was, there's no guarantee that [outside] money's coming. So what we've got to do is negotiate" with other local agencies for mutual aid assistance. That left the city with a reactive rather than proactive security plan.

* Mayor Paul Schell, allying with business and Port of Seattle leaders, watched costs and policing needs wildly skyrocket as officials belatedly realized how controversial and risky the WTO was becoming. But the city pushed on without solid funding because "we wanted to impress [US officials]," Traisman said. Had there been more public planning and a candid assessment of risks and costs, he observed, "Seattle would not have hosted [the WTO] and 39 other [bid] cities wouldn't have either."

* There was much wishful thinking in a WTO proposal and budgetary estimate drawn up a year earlier by Port of Seattle Commissioner Pat Davis, who led the WTO bid effort (enthusiastically backed by Schell, Governor Gary Locke, and Congressman Jim McDermott). A copy of her December 16, 1998, proposal to the State Department promises the host group "will cover whatever the final costs are," including $1.5 million in security. The city figured that meant the host committee would pay most if not all policing costs. But the "WTO became a [funding] albatross" for the committee, which began independently lobbying the White House for aid, said Traisman, causing "all kinds of tension" between the White House and the host group.

In an interview with review staff director Alec Fisken, former Chief Stamper—the main WTO fall guy—expressed surprise he was not interviewed for a WTO assessment report issued by the mayor's office slamming Stamper and mildly criticizing Schell. Stamper said he still takes "full responsibility" for planning failures but, had the city known the true threat it faced, "would we have [hosted the WTO]? In hindsight, absolutely not."

Visit the Weekly's WTO pages.

 
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