SEATTLE'S CITY HALL AT WITS' END

By Bob Hegamin                           AN OPINION                  January 29,  2001

The message of two recent Seattle events held that Seattleites had paid too high a price for the quality of City officials they had elected.  In the first, the ineffectual handling of City affairs by the current administration was criticized by Mindy Cameron, the editorial page editor of the Seattle Times (December 24, 2000).  In order to help attract better qualified candidates, she concluded that a previously failed initiative effort to elect City Council members by district be revisited.

The second event is Initiative 54, filed on January 5, 2001 and approved to collect signatures on January 16.  It would celebrate a "Freedom to Peaceably Assemble Day" to commemorate - in a "fun" way - the Seattle street protest of the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in November 1999.  Unfortunately, the initiative includes a "Dunk-the-Mayor" event, which will only open wider the Pandora's box of disrespect for those holding elective office.  Whether one is a political buffoon or a political genius, it would be an insult to the City of Seattle to have the "dunking" event sanctioned by law, let alone to allow it to come into existence.

Underlying both events are two disturbing constructs, each of which panders to special interest groups, emphasizing Seattle's ethical bankruptcy, to wit:

ABDICATION OF AUTHORITY.  The current Mayor and members of the City Council have systematically compromised their authority, deeming their election only as a carte blanche for accommodating their personal agenda;  for allowing use of their authority by supporters and political endorsers;  for treating their responsibility as if it were a game.  Collectively, they have reneged on their oath of office to uphold the Constitution and to "make the hard decisions" as representatives of the people.   The following are just some of their unwarranted activities:

They attempted to prevent any circus, using exotic animals, from performing in Seattle.
They attempted to invite Cuban President Fidel Castro to Seattle during WTO.
They attempted to censor what Americans could see during "Seafair" by trying to prevent the USS Alabama, a nuclear submarine, from taking part in the festivities.
They attempted to censure the Seattle Police Guild, a private organization, for a perceived wrong.

ESTABLISHING PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS.  This administration has promoted the notion that it can establish partnerships universally, that is, by subsidizing projects or events, accepting responsibility for them and in return for its financial involvement take credit for the "achievements."  In a classic example, such was the case of Seattle's downtown Pacific Place Garage giveaway in 1998, when the previous Mayor and City Council made a raid on the City treasury using $73 million in councilmanic bonds to pay for a $50 million facility.

The concept that government and any organization, business or community can be its "partner" is flawed.  It is based on a unique familiarity, such as a parent/child relationship, which breaks down a child's respect for parental authority and just as easily breaks down a public's respect for elected officials.  Seattle's Mayor and Council members have let their actions trivialize the offices they hold, which has opened the way for the likes of Initiative 54 and its trivial adjunct, to surface.  In juxtaposition, Initiative 54 will have the effect of legitimizing the events of WTO by demonizing City officials through the simple act of " dunking" the current and future mayors.

Apparently, Seattle's Mayor and Council members have yet to learn that their job is to govern.  Their poor record in dealing with problems underscores the need to elect candidates to office who have the potential to comprehend more than just the basic elements of an issue. The ridicule which Initiative 54 would heap on Seattle should be proof enough that this Mayor and City Council are no longer respected by many residents, which validates Mindy Cameron's criticism.