Caught Napping

Sleeping on the job in the home of Starbucks.

A SEA-TAC AIRPORT security screener reports for a 5:30 shift on Sunday morning, Jan. 5. At 6 a.m., the guard is found snoozing—no one knows for how long, perhaps 20 minutes. The security breach means five airport concourses need to be evacuated and all passengers rescreened. Bomb-sniffing dogs are brought in. Twenty incoming flights are put on hold. Passengers and airlines experience delays, worry, headaches, and hassles. It's an expensive screwup that costs the taxpayers more than a Pentagon toilet seat.

The very next day, officials announce the sleeping security guard has been sacked. No debate, no probation, no appeals. Harsh, swift justice is called for to protect the public, right?

Then why not apply it to bigger fish? Seattle is filled with public servants and watchdogs who—despite their morning lattes—are asleep at the switch. We're a comfy home for the unfired, unreprimanded, untouchable, and unashamed. My latest list of nappers includes:

Federal Judge Jerome Farris, who had a portion of Colman Park adjacent to his home shorn of some 120 trees. Not trimmed, but clear-cut. It was an egregious case of vandalism—in my opinion, outright theft—of public property. "Restoration" of the site could cost more than $200,000—not counting the half- century it will take to grow new trees. The judge says it was a mistake—a miscommunication with his English-challenged groundskeeper. If so, he's not alone in making "mistakes" that are magically in his self-interest. Seattle's greenbelts and boulevards are lined with people who think they own the adjacent public property that adds value to their homes. They have built driveways and swimming pools on city parkland, often with utter impunity. They should be criminally prosecuted. Let a jury decide if Farris' view-enhancing logging operation was "malicious mischief" or a mistake.

But wait. That brings us to another sleepyhead, King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng, who instead of sawing trees was apparently sawing Z's over the law books. He says he can't prosecute Judge Farris because what he did wasn't clearly criminal. Clear-cutting park trees not criminal? Quick, someone call City Council member Jim "Upskirt" Compton for advice on how to amend the statutes posthaste.

Speaking of snoozers, there's Channel 9, our fiscally challenged public television station. KCTS-TV has been in a financial crisis so long—through boom times and bad—that it's just accepted that they can rack up year after year of losses without being held accountable. OK, you say, they're a nonprofit, and people don't have to donate to them. (We need merely endure endless hours of begging on the public airwaves and annoying telephone solicitations at home.) But they receive millions of taxpayer dollars each year and still can't offer shows that will keep the viewing public awake, let alone informed. Their local public-affairs programming is virtually nil. They've invested substantially—and I'd wager unwisely—in fancy technology and to produce national "content," such as a series of programs that I firmly believe will one day give us exciting new—and desperately needed—Over North Dakota.

Some blame KCTS head Burnill Clark for the sorry state of a station that is deep in the red, behind in its PBS payments, and taking investor money from an off-shore bank. But to be fair, it's the narcoleptics on the KCTS board who ought to be held responsible. The essence of being a good board member can be summed up in the old saying, "Give, get, or get off," meaning that the board has one real obligation: the financial health of the organization. Perhaps they've been Svengalied by Clark, or anesthetized by Lawrence Welk reruns. Whatever, it's time for the KCTS board to get out of bed.

Joining the KCTS board in the Land of Nod are the Seattle School Board, for keeping Schools super Joseph "Numbers Guy" Olchefske despite budget screwups on his watch that created a budget hole of more than $30 million, and the Seattle City Council, apparently reluctant overseer of City Light and its controversial head, Gary Zarker. I've tiraded previously about Olchefske and Zarker (see Mossback, "Regime Change Begins at Home," Nov. 6, 2002), but the City Council deserves a whack. Reluctantly, they finally have agreed to go through the process of reconfirming Zarker in March—nearly five months after their own consultant's report questioned his record and leadership of the utility. Their duty to put their stamp of approval on the City Light head every four years is in the city charter, yet they haven't done it since Zarker was appointed in 1994. They've acted as if reconfirmation is a major imposition instead of the law.

One last addition to this week's slumber party: The University of Washington for allowing the Medicare and Medicaid billing scandal to blossom into an outrage that screws the taxpayer at both ends (see Rick Anderson's story, p. 18). On one end, our federal tax dollars have been misspent; on the other, our great public hospitals and their (mostly) honest staffs are put under both a microscope and a cloud. Millions in public funds are wasted in time alone. And the miscreants—like poster child Dr. H. Richard Winn—are given more parachute money than D.B. Cooper ever dreamed of. They leave their colleagues and the public holding the bag.

The sandman didn't just fly into Sea-Tac a couple of weeks back. He's living in a Belltown condo and spreading his pixie dust all over town. Evacuate all concourses!

kberger@seattleweekly.com

 
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