The City Spends $1,075 a Head on a Weekend Conference

Some departing City Hall staffers chill at a Roslyn resort on your dime.

Thanks to a $72 million deficit facing city government, Mayor Greg Nickels has proposed eliminating 310 positions, draining most of the city’s rainy-day fund, and cutting back on library hours. But the city’s still sending eight people to the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s leadership conference at the Suncadia Resort near Roslyn next week, for the bargain price of at least $1,075 a head (the price varies depending on when reservations were made). Ironically, those attendees might not be able to use anything they learn on behalf of the city, since some, if not all, of them will be out of City Hall by the end of this year.

The theme of this year’s conference is green energy and industry, with Congressman Jay Inslee featured as a keynote speaker. When not engaged in panel discussions on sustainable biofuels and wind energy, participants will be shuttled by the Chamber to Roslyn’s historic Brick Tavern, made famous in the television hit Northern Exposure.

Mayoral spokesperson Alex Fryer says that mayoral advisor Viet Shelton is attending on behalf of Nickels’ office to help whoever takes over City Hall on Jan. 1. “[Shelton will] be able to discuss what [the mayor’s office] has been doing [regarding] clean tech and what issues may arrive for the new mayor,” says Fryer.

But Shelton might not be at City Hall next year. Like seven of the eight city employees attending the conference, he serves at the pleasure of the mayor and can be removed or replaced at will. Embattled Department of Transportation Director Grace Crunican is another of those seven—and back in July mayoral candidate Joe Mallahan called for her head. Campaign spokesperson Charla Neuman says Mallahan still plans to replace Crunican if he wins in November. Mallahan’s opponent, Mike McGinn, has been less strident, but told The Seattle Times he didn’t foresee keeping Crunican either.

SDOT spokesperson Rick Sheridan says Crunican’s attendance will still be valuable in that it will give her a chance to gain the perspective of people like Chamber Chair (and Mallahan campaign advisor) Tayloe Washburn on topics like the deep-bore tunnel. “It is an important venue for Grace to interact with key Seattle leaders and at the same time learn about key changes in energy advancement and technology,” Sheridan says.

The eighth attendee, longtime councilmember Jan Drago, is guaranteed to leave City Hall—she’s retiring at the end of this year, but still attending the conference on the city’s thinly stretched dime. (Drago did not respond to a pair of messages left earlier this week.) Of course, she was routed in the August mayoral primary, so if anyone’s earned the chance to drink in the same bar where John Corbett’s lovely butt once sat, it’s Drago.