It was supposed to be a straightforward photo op. All nine city councilmembers would pat themselves on the back for resolving the city's $72 million shortfall then go help librarians shelve and check out books. And it almost worked out that way... until Jean Godden reminded reporters of an announcement she made last October. To help ends meet, Godden is writing the city a check for the equivalent of 10 days of her salary in solidarity with employees city-wide who are taking unpaid furloughs next year to make the budget balance.
Jan Drago just can't catch a break this year.
Emily Heffter of the Seattle Times asked if anyone else was writing checks.Godden told Heffter she would need to ask the other council members herself. Heffter pointed out that with all the council members there, that's pretty much what she was doing. Someone in the crowd suggested a show of hands.
Godden, attempting to defuse the situation told reporters: "I would not want to put them on the spot."
Heffter pressed a little further until Jan Drago, who has not had a banner year, grabbed the microphone. "Councilmember Richard McIver and I are not," she told the cameras. She added that if reporters wanted to know more, they should ask about it individually. Then she declared the press conference over, "don't you think, Jean?"
Needless to say, getting this year's budget balanced wasn't pretty, and not just because of the potential for awkward press conferences.
The library became a focal point for community activists furious that Mayor Greg Nickels planned to cut $2.8 million from the city libraries by reducing hours and staff. When the council members vote on the budget next Monday, they plan to restore two-thirds of the staff Nickels said he would cut and increase the number of libraries open seven days a week from his proposed six to 12.
The council is getting there in part by cutting money for the new mayor by getting rid of the Office of Policy and Management--home to many of those "strategic advisors" that were widely criticized during the campaign.
But McIver thinks the council is missing the people who need the most help. While the city council isn't cutting any shelters or other human services paid for last year, McIver says now would have been a good time to add to the city's contribution to food banks or housing rather than keeping libraries open. "We've got people who are losing their jobs, losing their homes," he said as the council members scattered to find the staff they would shadow for the next forty-five minutes. "You can't eat books."
In order to keep programs helping individuals and businesses conserve energy running, the council authorized a contested rate hike at City Light. Wastewater rates (what you pay on the water that goes down your sink) will also go up to keep city drainage projects on track.
Higher utility bills aren't exactly something people who just lost their job will be excited about. But at least you can find an open library on Sundays to get out of the rain and work on your resume.