When I cast my ballot, I was all talk no action. I voted against the gas tax repeal. I still think we’d be better off with less highway building and more mass transit, but I just couldn’t stand the company I’d be in if I voted for it.
I have not. But I’m thinking, perhaps part of the problem in Seattle is the wasted effort between the City Council and the Mayor battling for who’s in control of the city’s staff and departments. What if we had a larger, political legislative council, and a more competent, professional city manager hired to administer the city’s business.
Let’s start with the basics. Seattle has had four separate Charters during its history. The first Charter was approved by an act of the Territorial Legislature on December 2, 1869. The three subsequent Charters were Freeholder Charters passed on October 1, 1890, March 3, 1896, and March 12, 1946. Our current city charter in Seattle is almost 60 years old. So if Seattle politics is feeling a little bit moribund, perhaps the fault lies in our form of government.
According to the City of Seattle’s website “Freeholder Charters are written by citizens elected at special Freeholder elections and then submitted to the electorate for ratification.” The last Freeholders Charter submitted to voters was in 1975 and it was rejected by the electorate. It proposed the election of some Council members by neighborhood districts.
What should a freeholder charter aim to accomplish? Here’s a list of some ideas I’m interested in exploring.
Formalizing neighborhood governance – Our neighborhoods influence our lives in direct ways, but Seattlites have indirect and uneven access to neighborhood governance, and neighborhood political influence is ad-hoc, unequal, and lacking any recognition in Seattle governance.
Electoral reform and de-professionalizing politics – Our City Council is made up of 9 professional, at large council members. They don’t represent your neighborhood – they get their votes and their campaign contributions from across the city. They get paid over $96,000/yr (more than twice the pay of the Austin city council) and have professional staffs. City wide elections are expensive. We’ve seen how corruption from strip-clubs to Paul Allen has worked its way into financing council races. I’d propose we look at replacing elections altogether and instead selecting citizen councils by lot, widening the council from 9 to 20-30 seats, and reduce the number of council meetings by 2/3s. Our council should be the city’s soviet – not a professionalized board of directors.
Transportation – There are 5 transit agencies operating within Seattle and Seattle citizens don’t have authority over any of them. Great cities require urban transportation. Seattle needs a city transit authority to coral Metro, Sound Transit, the Monorail, and the suburban systems that feed into Seattle to make sure our city’s transit needs are met.
Schools – It’s frustrating that Seattle’s schools suffer amid a populace that pays so much lip service to the importance of education and equality. I can’t think of a better example of this than watching the Seattle based Gates Foundation withdraw the grant given to the Seattle School district because of a lack of leadership. Let’s get rid of the Seattle school distirict and the school board and make the citizens and the city responsible for educating the children of Seattle. As Athens was a school to all of Hellas, Seattle should be a school for all the children of the city. Let’s push past the divisions of public and private schooling and forge a solution that guarantees education from preschool through college to any child born in Seattle.
Connect citizens to their city – You shouldn’t feel more attached to your video rental service than you do to your city. Through libraries, schools, community centers, and utility bills there exist the means to bring great resources to the citizens of the city. Through smart investments in information technology, Seattlites could have Wi-fi from south of Shoreline to the borders of Renton, a library service for a new millennium, and a way of getting Seattle taxpayers greater access to the services of the city through a “Seattle card” that would discount parking, entertainment, and utilities for any Seattle resident, while recouping costs for non-citizens.
Those are the ideas in my head. What do you think needs to change? Let’s learn what it would take to re-charter the city.
We were trying to discover why our traffic jumped by about 30% and couldn’t figure it out from looking in our logs – and low and behold this showed up in our inbox:
“Great news… 43Things.com was featured in a nationally televised report!
AOL’s Consumer Advisor Regina Lewis talked about the site in her Online Buzz report, which appeared on various local and national news outlets, including CNN’s Headline News. Please click on this link to see streaming video of the story. Feel free to add the link to your web site.
1. Apparently the best way to start your involvement is to watch TV
2. Next read up on the Mayor's accomplishments and priorities. There is no list of failures.
3. Join a board or commission. All right - some real involvement. Unfortunately, the link is broken.