The Mayor impugns the District Councils as racist and ineffective, but a 2009 report by the City Auditor puts blame for the system’s shortcomings on the City. The report says:
Seattle’s district council system only partially fulfills the purposes established for it… The citizen-participants’ activities in the district councils and City Neighborhood Council generally fulfill the responsibilities assigned to them… However, we found…significant issues that Seattle City government (City) needs to address:
[T]he City is not performing several responsibilities assigned to it … including maintaining a mailing list of community organizations, assisting in the production of neighborhood newsletters, and maintaining an interdepartmental committee to optimize responsiveness to the concerns of neighborhood organizations. Furthermore, the City does not provide standardized services to district councils, leaving participants unclear about what to expect from the City. [emphasis added]
The Auditor further notes that the City has meddled in the governance structure of the District Councils, and has failed to follow State law that mandates the retention of District Council records.
The Auditor’s criticisms were echoed by the people who attended the hastily-called District Council summit on July 20, hosted by the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council. Many District Council members complained they have been “begging” the Department of Neighborhood for years for language interpreters and translated materials to reach out to underserved communities, but funding has been cut, rather than increased. The number of District Coordinators – City staff who support the District Councils – has also been cut, from 13 to 8.
[For a video and transcript of the Delridge summit, see this report from the West Seattle Blog.]
Jim Diers – who led the creation of the Department of Neighborhoods in the late 1980s – published clear recommendations in a Seattle Times Op-Ed on July 19:
Here’s what could help to build strong, inclusive communities:
Give the 13 district councils the tools they need to be more inclusive. Help with translation and interpreters. Restore cuts to the coordinator positions. Give the councils some real power so others will want to join. Set standards for inclusion and hold district councils accountable.
If the Mayor had wanted to repair the system, he clearly could have done so. If he wanted inclusive and effective citizen input, he could have built on the 30-year foundation of the District Council system. Instead, he maligned and discarded the long-term effort of thousands of volunteers across the city. His proposal to replace the existing system with a vague plan for online access plus a hand-picked commission is ludicrous.
The Mayor’s lip service to “equity” is a smoke-screen for the dismantling of citizen power in this city. Neither the underserved communities the Mayor purports to care about, nor the totality of the citizenry will benefit from his manipulative and dishonest tactics.
Update – July 26: For further refutation of the Mayor’s lies, see this scathing post by Dan Sanchez, Chair of the Central Area District Council.