4 to Explore: A Northeast Neighborhoods Newsletter

1 Issue to Engage

1 Issue to Engage

Fiscally Responsible Strategies to Reduce Homelessness

[For the briefer version of our piece published by the Seattle Times, CLICK HERE.]

Whether you are outraged by our local government’s failure to reduce homelessness while your tax bills increase or your heart breaks when you see the human suffering in our public spaces, we share common ground: we all want the problem solved.

This edition’s “Issue to Engage”: FISCALLY RESPONSIBLE STRATEGIES TO REDUCE HOMELESSNESS.

Lack of progress, as noted in Seattle Weekly’s recent article “One Table Has No Clear Game Plan for Tackling Regional Crisis,” adds to the frustration.

First, let’s continue the compassion that makes our city special.  Truly caring about the people suffering also means we should demand results: homelessness should be reduced so that human suffering is reduced. The good news is that the tools proven to reduce homelessness already exist. Unfortunately, Seattle’s political leaders have so far avoided the tough love needed to take charge and require those tools. Once Mayor Durkan applies the same relentless passion and accountability she used to launch and achieve reforms in our police department and once our Councilmembers help her by focusing all of their efforts on this emergency, they can reduce homelessness. There are fiscally responsible solutions, but they require political will:

  1. Learn from other cities: When we crafted the high-quality Seattle Preschool Program, we visited the cities that had already produced the best outcomes for children. Instead of wasting resources by reinventing the wheel, City Hall must learn from the mistakes and successes of communities that have already reduced homelessness: Atlanta, Columbus, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Salt Lake City, and others.

 

  1. Stick to evidence-based strategies. Other cities have reduced homelessness because they adhered to evidence-based strategies.  Mayor Durkan should enforce Barbara Poppe’s 2016 report (“The Path Forward”). Crafted by the national expert on reducing homelessness, “The Path Forward” should be Seattle’s proverbial playbook to guide all actions. It brilliantly spells out proven strategies such as:
  • Housing First
  • Diversion
  • Coordinated Entry
  • Homeward Bound
  • “By Name Lists”
  • Long-Term Stayers focus
  • Landlord-Liaison
  • Permanent Supportive Housing.  

While Rapid Rehousing is more difficult here than in cheaper cities, it can be tailored to work for moms and their children fleeing domestic violence. These solutions have been highlighted for years by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

  1. Stop funding programs that don’t work. Don’t spend less, but spend wisely — that’s the fiscally responsible thing to do. Re-invest those funds into the evidence-based strategies. City leaders should be commended for finally implementing performance-based contracts to ensure accountability for the nonprofits on the front lines that receive our tax dollars.  Now city leaders must enforce them. The Mayor should use her veto power to prevent the City Council from re-granting funds to organizations that are not achieving results.

 

  1. Use Data to Inform Decisions: Believe it or not, our city government is successfully moving many homeless people into permanent housing. But the number of homeless people on the streets is increasing. The City must continue to use independent surveys to track not only the raw numbers, but also the causes of their homelessness and where they are coming from. Any organizations receiving city funding must use the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) so that policymakers can analyze all available data and track results.

 

  1. Phase Out Encampments: HUD does not recognize encampments as housing and the evidence shows that government-authorized encampments fail to move enough homeless people into housing.

 

  1. Install a “Homelessness Czar.”  Accountability requires a single point of contact with authority to solve the problem.  Create a temporary Deputy Mayor position to head the Human Services Department. This Deputy Mayor would also have the authority to tell all departments (Parks, Transportation, Housing, etc) what to do to house the homeless.  The Mayor would also put this Deputy on the board of the Seattle Housing Authority, Housing Levy Oversight Committee, and any other boards with power over housing resources. Similar efforts in the past failed because the Mayor never gave the person real authority.  The Mayor and her Homeless Czar must hold all departments and service providers accountable for results.

 

  1. Reasonable Rules.  Individuals who refuse multiple offers of shelter/services must not be allowed to camp illegally in our city.  The recent ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals does not change this:  as reported in the Seattle Times, our City Attorney recently confirmed that the ruling still allows for Seattle’s reasonable ordinances limiting where camping can occur. According to the article, “Seattle prohibits people from sitting or lying down on a public sidewalk between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m., mostly downtown and in areas designated as neighborhood commercial zones. Camping is banned in public parks, with a few exceptions.”

 

  1. Build more truly affordable housing now.  Whether or not one favors the controversial H.A.L.A. up-zone scheme brokered by former Mayor Ed Murray, it will take too long to create the promised new affordable housing (and will likely destroy naturally occurring affordable housing). Our city already has substantial capacity to accommodate new housing units under current zoning, so let’s not wait. Sharpen the tools we already have, such as making full use of our city government’s authority to issue bonds and King County’s ability to leverage all hotel tax revenues (instead of subsidizing stadiums) to build more affordable housing quickly.

As the rock band Pearl Jam decides how to spend a portion of the $12 million its fans raised to reduce homelessness and Jeff Bezos decides how to distribute his $2 billion, they can learn from the failings of our local government leaders:  if you really care about solving a problem, invest only in what’s proven to work.

Once the Mayor and City Council get their own house in order by adhering to fiscal responsibility and evidence-based strategies, more of the wealthiest businesses and philanthropists will be compelled to contribute to those solutions. While the city might not need new revenue sources to solve the problem, it will require prioritizing existing resources and using them smartly.

We already have what it takes to reduce homelessness: Mayor Durkan must once again lead the way by relentlessly holding City Hall accountable for results.

More to Explore:

  • For solutions from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, CLICK HERE.
  • For solutions from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, CLICK HERE.
  • To follow the issue of homelessness more closely, read the ongoing “Project Homeless” series in The Seattle Times: CLICK HERE.
  • For the action plan for Seattle by national expert Barbara Poppe, CLICK HERE or HERE.

1 Issue to Engage

Annual Community Survey 2018: We Love Hearing From You!

We Heard Your Voice and the results are HERE. Nearly 400 subscribers in Northeast Seattle completed our 14-question survey about local issues May 8-10, 2018.

As you may recall, we believe public officials should “conduct official surveys and release results to the public,” as we urged in our Crosscut column entitled, “4 Ideas to Make City Hall Listen.” While our annual survey is not “official,” we hope it advances discussions and clarifies important issues impacting our communities in Northeast Seattle. For our COMMUNITY SURVEY RESULTS, CLICK HERE. For a potentially annoying and definitely subjective summary of the survey, keep reading:

MYSTERIOUS Result: After 6 months of her leading our city, residents are still unsure of Mayor Durkan. When asked “Are you happy with the new Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan” an unusually high 50% said “Don’t Know.”

URGENT Result: One of the most pressing issues is City Hall’s proposal to spend $8 million to repave 35th Avenue NE. As if City Hall officials were literally deaf to the people who elected them, the project is poised to proceed even though only 12% support it, according to this survey (see discussion below about the validity of our survey).  In our view, Mayor Durkan should immediately revamp the project by completing only the crosswalk improvements. This would free up some of these tax dollars to address other urgent crosswalk and sidewalk needs throughout Northeast Seattle (65th Street, View Ridge, Lake City, etc) — and throughout the rest of our city. While Mayor Durkan might have been hoping 35th Avenue would be “too local” of an issue to impact her, a trifecta of forces changes the political calculus:  residents are still forming an opinion about her leadership, the media has recently published several reports of SDOT over-spending, and there is major opposition to the project. 35th Ave is poised to become a memorable litmus test for the Mayor in an area of the city that turns out the vote.

LOPSIDED Result: A whopping 88% of respondents said “real estate developers should be required to provide some parking spaces at their new buildings.” This flies in the face of City Council’s recent 8 to 1 vote to loosen the requirement again. (Thank you, Lisa Herbold, for bravely voting against it.)

You might remember the most lopsided result in our previous surveys: 85% of residents agreed that “real estate developers should be required to pay Impact Fees to help defray the costs of building new schools, fire stations, and sidewalks as the city’s population grows” (See HERE and HERE). Because it has been so clear Seattleites would like to see their Mayor and City Council impose Impact Fees, we decided to ask the parking question instead this year.

It’s important to clear up a false premise repeated by some to confuse the public: if the cost to build housing increases, do rents or home prices increase? No. Prices are set by the maximum the market will bear. In other words, developers do not voluntarily charge lower rent or home prices. When the costs to build increase, developers and investors make less “profit” (their return on equity decreases). The genuine concern then becomes, at what point would a developer not build, therefore negatively impacting supply?  Adding Impact Fees and on-site parking back into the costs to build need to be considered cumulatively, just like City Hall considers the cumulative impact of each property tax that they propose on us. (Ha! kidding about the property taxes; City Hall just piles those taxes onto residents.) Seriously, though, most other Puget Sound and west coast cities require both Impact Fees and on-site parking. Talented developers can cope and can leverage the fact that Seattle is still an extraordinarily desirable place to live, thanks to the hard work and spirit of existing residents. This debate will surely continue!

INTRIGUING Result: Among the qualities people want in their local government leaders, “Accountable” and “Fiscally Responsible” scored by far the highest, while scoring the lowest were “Experienced,” “Creative,” and “Environmentalist.”

For the other 10 survey questions, including “Do you support Environmental Initiative 1631?” and “Should Wallingford and The Ave be removed from the proposed upzones?” and “Should the City Council put Mayor Durkan’s Families and Education Levy on the ballot?”, CLICK HERE.

Thanks to the hundreds who completed the survey. We know it takes time and we are deeply grateful — especially for your thoughtful written comments that added context and passion to your choices.

Validity of the Survey (a.k.a. no good deed goes unpunished): 

  • Significant? The good news is that the survey is statistically significant among the universe of our readership (~7,000 subscribers). According to statistical tools, such as calculator.net, creative research systems, and surveymonkey.com, we exceed the magic number to achieve statistically significant results. The 387 respondents produce a 95% confidence level, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 basis points. In other words (subject to the caveats below), we should be 95% confident that between 83% and 93% of the 7,000 subscribers (5 below and 5 above 88%) believe developers should provide off-street parking. In fact, most city-wide polls survey only 400 people.
  • “Self-Selection”? While 100% of our subscribers are above average and good-looking, we acknowledge that they might not reflect every adult resident of Northeast Seattle. Those who continue to subscribe to 4toExplore are “self-selected” in that they probably share my overarching concerns about the direction City Hall has been taking. Certainly my sense of humor is not sufficient to keep them reading. Moreover, this is not a pure “random sample” of our readership because only people with the time or interest completed it. Of course, even sophisticated, live telephone polls have this problem when many respondents interrupted from their dinner of salmon and coffee slam down their phones on the hapless surveyor.
  • Objective? We acknowledge that it’s difficult to craft surveys with pure objectivity. Opinions of the designer (me, in this case) surely seep into how questions are phrased. I tried to avoid loaded questions liked, “Come on, do you really want this stupid project to proceed?” But even deciding which questions to ask is subjective. We believe, however, that it’s better to try to ask reasonable questions and to listen to your responses, than not to ask at all.

The limitations of community surveys reinforces the point we made earlier: City Hall — with its financial means and public mission — should be the one to conduct and publish surveys for everyone’s benefit.  As we said in our previous issue of 4 to Explore, “a sustainable city is where elected officials listen to their constituents.  ‘Listening’ does not mean public hearings and blog posts to state concerns — listening means materially changing / re-crafting government policies and budgets to address the concerns of residents….”

If you were not able to take this most recent survey, share your kind thoughts by e-mailing Alex@4toExplore.org

1 Issue to Engage

A Sustainable City

As the spring weather brings forth sunshine and blossoms, it would be wonderful if City Hall could re-craft some of its more controversial policies to reduce the dramatic discussions dividing our communities. So many discussions are dominated by the “D” word: “Density.” Communities and interest groups battle each other every week over former Mayor Ed Murray’s backroom deal for real estate developer upzones. Our own Councilmember in Northeast Seattle carries the torch for that divisive policy.

If you’re a fan of legendary urban thinker/activist Jane Jacobs, you know that she viewed density (“concentration”) as just one of four necessary elements for vibrant communities (“exuberant diversity”). In her view, the other 3 elements were equally necessary: mixed uses, small blocks, and older buildings.

We also want vibrant communities to endure. Therefore, another overarching goal that transcends density is SUSTAINABILITY.

According to Wikipedia, “There remains no completely agreed upon definition for what a sustainable city should be…Generally, developmental experts agree that a sustainable city should meet the needs of the present without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Think of a balanced diet that sustains us. To endure, you need a balance. Build, baby, build — construction cranes are the carbs. But too many carbohydrates can make you sick. And you can’t live on carbs alone. You need water and protein as the balancing foundation. Water would be core city services like streets, safety, and…water. Protein would be the people. And you don’t displace protein to make room for new protein; you slowly build upon the muscle that you’ve got. This analogy is making me hungry, so I’ll move on.

Seattle’s present course is not sustainable. Presently, there are many needs not being met by city leaders, even with a $5 billion city budget: we need more schools, better bus service, more affordable housing now (not waiting to build the affordable housing several years from now or waiting decades for expensive tiny units to age in place).

To add fuel to the fire, the upzones on steroids that incentivize rapid growth are not coupled concurrently with other services and amenities to sustain our Emerald City’s livability for our children and grandchildren. In other words, City Hall’s jolting land use policies are sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Here are some ideas to re-focus Seattle leaders on Sustainability:

  1. A sustainable city strives to sustain the people who live here already and does not push them out with higher taxes or real estate development upheavals.
  2. A sustainable city builds schools, parks, and transit as it grows. (BTW, public schools should not be considered a mere “amenity”; they are a constitutional necessity for an informed representative democracy.)
  3. A sustainable city gets developers to pay their fair share of the growth through reasonable Impact Fees, like those used by cities across the state and nation.
  4. A sustainable city encourages developers to build affordable housing on site.
  5. A sustainable city focuses on ecology, not ideology.
  6. A sustainable city — one that really cares about the environment — preserves its trees and plants more; it does not turn a blind eye to profiteers ripping them out one-by-one across the city.
  7. A sustainable city protects and provides access to its waterways (For example, focus on preventing raw sewage from being dumped in Puget Sound or Lake Washington instead of grandstanding about issues outside of King County.)
  8. A sustainable city supports its existing assets (from the Port of Seattle and its middle class jobs to the charming houseboats that made the city famous on film).
  9. A sustainable city supports its small, neighborhood businesses (Many upzones hurt small businesses that rent their space because the triple net leases allow landlords to pass all increased real estate taxes to the families that own those funky, adorable businesses. Therefore, City Council should not sneak back the harmful upzone of The Ave in the U District! Save The Ave!)
  10. A sustainable city lives within its means. (Thank you, Mayor Jenny Durkan for recognizing that!)
  11. A sustainable city takes care of the basics first. (Yes, it matters that City officials building more buildings don’t know the capacity and vulnerability of our aging sewer lines.)
  12. A sustainable city prioritizes projects after asking residents to pony up a billion dollars to catch up on transportation infrastructure (Mayor Jenny Durkan should pause SDOT’s ill-conceived 35th Ave NE re-paving project by installing just the crosswalks for now because the entire $8 million re-paving lacks urgency, removes bus stops, and ignores the need to build sidewalks throughout the city where families, seniors, & school kids desperately need them now.)
  13. A sustainable city takes care of its vulnerable (including seniors and children with special needs).
  14. A sustainable city is affordable — by keeping steady the regressive utility bills that burden seniors and families with children — instead of allowing them to skyrocket by forcing ratepayers to subsidize other government ventures.
  15. A sustainable city ensures that profits earned in the city are reinvested in the city (instead of hidden offshore).
  16. A sustainable city employs common sense by replicating best practices from other cities instead of inventing hair-brained schemes on the fly.
  17. A sustainable city analyzes data on recent projects to inform new projects. (Where is the data on the expensive road re-do of Roosevelt Way NE before spending so much to re-pave / re-configure 35th Ave NE?)
  18. A sustainable city does not have leaders who allow their interest groups and campaign donors to demonize neighbors who take time from their busy lives to voice their for concerns.
  19. A sustainable city is where elected officials listen to their constituents — and “listening” does not mean public hearings and blog posts to state concerns — Listening means materially changing / re-crafting government policies and budgets to address the concerns of residents.
  20. Share your ideas at Alex@4toExplore.org

Sustainability is within our ability. And our city’s politicians can achieve true sustainability by living our most important constitutional value of representative democracy — listening to the people who elected you.

1 Issue to Engage

How to Make a Real Difference in City Government

As published recently in The Seattle Weekly.

HOW TO MAKE A REAL DIFFERENCE

As Tim Burgess’s service as an elected official came to an end a few weeks ago, I heard many city officials expressing gratitude for my former boss. They listed his many accomplishments during his brief service as mayor and during his leadership on the Seattle City Council. During the bittersweet farewell event, I believe I was not the only person there reflecting on what it means “to make a real difference” in city government. The answer could be a powerful guide for our new mayor as she enters the New Year.

Today, too many local officials speechify about national issues as if they were running for Congress.  They seem focused on anything other than the core mission of city government. That’s a shame because, as Tim Burgess said at the event honoring his public service, city government is where you are closest to the people. Keeping them safe, providing clean water, keeping the lights on, fixing the roads – a “high calling” of serving your neighbors.

So what makes a real difference?

First, City Hall needs to listen to residents rather than lobbyists. For more on that, you can CLICK HERE to read our piece called “Listen Up, City Hall!”  Then, each proposal needs to meet these tests:

  • The city program or policy must be proven to work based on the evidence. It’s not just throwing money at a problem because an interest group lobbied.
  • The improvement is institutionalized, meaning that it is codified and not easily undone by the next budget cycle.
  • The improvement changes a system or creates a ripple effect, positively impacting other programs.

Here are 4 recent changes that did not last in the headlines but are making a lasting difference:

1. Requiring Results For Homeless Programs.  While city leaders increase funding for homeless programs every year, it was the city staff committed to effectiveness and positive outcomes that made a real difference. This year they convinced city leaders to require results through performance-based contracts. House the homeless or we will reinvest the money in organizations that can. As Burgess said, “Business as usual is no longer an option. The scale of the human crisis that we face requires that we set high standards for accountability.” While some criticized certain homeless strategies receiving funds this year, that’s the beauty of requiring performance:  if a program doesn’t work, reinvest the tax dollars into other best practices.

2. Empowering the Police Chief to appoint her own Assistant Chiefs. Appointing Kathleen O’Toole as Police Chief was the best personnel decision in the last 4 years. But people leave. The more lasting change was codified by Burgess, a former police officer. Burgess recognized that a 35-year old policy preventing Police Chiefs from hiring their own command staff repelled the best candidates and handcuffed any chief’s ability to implement reforms.  So Burgess fixed the law by quietly crafting Ordinance 124415. Whoever becomes our new Police Chief will benefit and so will our city.

3. Demanding Efficiency from Seattle Public Utilities (SPU). For the first time in recent memory a Councilmember (Lisa Herbold) made a city agency reduce costs in order to benefit regular people. She also made those profiting from the city’s growth pay their fair share to connect to utility services, adopting the best practice seen in cities throughout the country.  While the effort fell short because utility rates are still increasing too quickly and the city still makes ratepayers (the people) inappropriately subsidize other government agencies, the Councilmember set a positive precedent for other city officials to find savings within the city’s $5 billion budget.  Freeing up dollars from inefficient or ineffective programs enables us to invest in what works and/or to reduce financial burdens on city residents.

4. Creating the Department of Education and Early Learning (DEEL). Crafting the Seattle Preschool Program, with its commitment to high-quality, was a nationally recognized accomplishment and is improving the lives of low-income children. But it was the creation of a new city department (DEEL) that forged a powerful continuum of learning programs to benefit Seattleites from cradle to college. The creation of DEEL smartly shifted the focus away from just supplementing a family’s income to providing life-long benefits through education. To thrive instead of survive. And the DNA of DEEL is a model for city government: DEEL measures and produces outcomes and sticks to high-quality, evidence-based programs.

Here are 4 more changes city leaders should implement to make a real difference:

  1. Expand the high-quality Seattle Preschool Program to close the achievement Gap.
  2. Charge reasonable Impact Fees (already authorized by State law) to help build public elementary schools and relieve overcrowded classrooms.
  3. Revive grassroots Neighborhood Planning so that residents have a real voice in our growing city.
  4. Reform the retirement system for new city government employees to free up dollars for public safety and homelessness prevention.

City government does not need to be hip or loud or ideological to make a difference; it just needs to work well.

1 Issue to Engage

Listen Up, City Hall!

As published recently in Crosscut.com and in last season’s newsletter.

LISTEN UP, CITY HALL!

Congratulations to the surviving city government candidates — and listen up!

Residents want to know how you will listen to them — rather than to campaign donors and interest groups…

Here are four ways you can empower all of City Hall to listen more:

1. Hold City Council Meetings at Night.
Should city residents be required to use a vacation day to tell City Councilmembers their ideas and concerns? Of course not. So why does City Council conduct its meetings from 9 to 5 when most residents are working or taking their children to and from school? Typically the only people able to attend Council meetings are lobbyists or activists spurred by those lobbyists. The “Busy Majority” of residents cannot attend because they cannot be away from their jobs or families.  City Council: please hold your meetings at night — and provide child care so parents and guardians can attend.

2. Activate a 3-1-1 Call Center Available 24/7.

Do what has worked well for more than a decade in cities from San Francisco to Chicago to New York: enable people to dial an easy-to-remember phone number (3-1-1) to request city services and report concerns — from potholes to policies. The City’s Customer Service Bureau is available ONLY on weekdays and Councilmember office hours for constituents are scant or inconsistent. Few can remember the City’s non-emergency phone number and it provides only minimal services. While the “Find It Fix It” technology works for some, a 3-1-1 Call Center open 24/7 will enable residents without access to fancy iPhones to receive the best customer service. A 3-1-1 Call Center will also make our communities safer by reducing the number of non-emergency calls to 9-1-1 operators. City managers and Councilmembers could use the 3-1-1 software system to track responsiveness and results for their constituents.

3. Free Councilmembers to Spend More Time with Neighbors.

What’s the easiest way to carve out time for Councilmembers? Free them from time-consuming research required to vote on frivolous or unnecessary Resolutions. The Council should immediately amend its own rules [Section V (A)(2)] to allow abstentions on most Resolutions, except those needed for the city budget, legislative work plans, and related Ordinances. Enable the “Work Horses” in City Council to ignore the “Show Horses.”

Here’s why abstentions are so important: Certain City Councilmembers love to spend weeks drafting and lobbying their colleagues to support Resolutions that have nothing to do with city government. But City Council’s own rules require Councilmembers to vote Yes or No. Example: international affairs. Will the United Nations really care what the Seattle City Council thinks about treaties with foreign nations? No. Yet Councilmembers are spending precious hours researching them. Let Councilmembers abstain from these distractions so they can spend more time listening to constituents.  Fewer TED Talks, More Sidewalks!

4. Conduct a Poll Every Year and Share it with the Public:

After all of those community meetings, here’s what City Councilmembers really listen to: polls. Unfortunately, politicians conduct polls only when they are trying to get re-elected – whereas they should have been listening to a wide array of residents during the previous four years. They also hog the polling data for themselves. Worst of all, they are beholden to the campaign contributors who pay the pollsters. So, let’s democratize the data.  Conduct official surveys and release results to the public as cities already do in California,  Missouri, and Canada.

Methodically asking residents across the city what they think can help to prioritize funding, assist journalists, and inform community groups. Surveys would not substitute for deeper debate and discussion with neighborhood groups and vulnerable populations, but gathering information from a well-crafted, professionally conducted phone survey of residents will enhance our public discourse.

Engaging with the residents of Seattle should not be a separate chore or box to check when elected officials need something.  Connecting with constituents is the essence of being an elected official

If you agree, send this website link of our Crosscut column to the City Council:

The link:
http://crosscut.com/2017/09/4-ways-councilmembers-can-actually-listen-to-their-constituents/

E-mail address that reaches all 9 Councilmembers: council@seattle.gov

# # #

1 Issue to Engage

4 Ideas to Make City Hall Listen

As published recently in Crosscut.com

4 IDEAS TO MAKE CITY HALL LISTEN.

Congratulations to the surviving City Council candidates — and listen up! Residents want to know how you will listen to them — rather than to campaign donors and interest groups — if you win.
Here are four ways you can empower the entire City Council to listen more:

1. Hold City Council Meetings at Night.
Should city residents be required to use a vacation day to tell City Councilmembers their ideas and concerns? Of course not. So why does City Council conduct its meetings from 9 to 5 when most residents are working or taking their children to and from school? Typically the only people able to attend Council meetings are lobbyists or activists spurred by those lobbyists. The “Busy Majority” of residents cannot attend because they cannot be away from their jobs or families.  City Council: please hold your meetings at night — and provide child care so parents and guardians can attend.

2. Activate a 3-1-1 Call Center Available 24/7.

Do what has worked well for more than a decade in cities from San Francisco to Chicago to New York: enable people to dial an easy-to-remember phone number (3-1-1) to request city services and report concerns — from potholes to policies. The City’s Customer Service Bureau is available ONLY on weekdays and Councilmember office hours for constituents are scant or inconsistent. Few can remember the City’s non-emergency phone number and it provides only minimal services. While the “Find It Fix It” technology works for some, a 3-1-1 Call Center open 24/7 will enable residents without access to fancy iPhones to receive the best customer service. A 3-1-1 Call Center will also make our communities safer by reducing the number of non-emergency calls to 9-1-1 operators. City managers and Councilmembers could use the 3-1-1 software system to track responsiveness and results for their constituents.

3. Free Councilmembers to Spend More Time with Neighbors.

What’s the easiest way to carve out time for Councilmembers? Free them from time-consuming research required to vote on frivolous or unnecessary Resolutions. The Council should immediately amend its own rules [Section V (A)(2)] to allow abstentions on most Resolutions, except those needed for the city budget, legislative work plans, and related Ordinances. Enable the “Work Horses” in City Council to ignore the “Show Horses.”

Here’s why abstentions are so important: Certain City Councilmembers love to spend weeks drafting and lobbying their colleagues to support Resolutions that have nothing to do with city government. But City Council’s own rules require Councilmembers to vote Yes or No. Example: international affairs. Will the United Nations really care what the Seattle City Council thinks about treaties with foreign nations? No. Yet Councilmembers are spending precious hours researching them. Let Councilmembers abstain from these distractions so they can spend more time listening to constituents.  Fewer TED Talks, More Sidewalks!

4. Conduct a Poll Every Year and Share it with the Public:

After all of those community meetings, here’s what City Councilmembers really listen to: polls. Unfortunately, politicians conduct polls only when they are trying to get re-elected – whereas they should have been listening to a wide array of residents during the previous four years. They also hog the polling data for themselves. Worst of all, they are beholden to the campaign contributors who pay the pollsters. So, let’s democratize the data.  Conduct official surveys and release results to the public as cities already do in California,  Missouri, and Canada.

Methodically asking residents across the city what they think can help to prioritize funding, assist journalists, and inform community groups. Surveys would not substitute for deeper debate and discussion with neighborhood groups and vulnerable populations, but gathering information from a well-crafted, professionally conducted phone survey of residents will enhance our public discourse.

Engaging with the residents of Seattle should not be a separate chore or box to check when elected officials need something.  Connecting with constituents is the essence of being a Councilmember.

If you agree, send this website link of our Crosscut column to the City Council and to the candidates:

The link:
http://crosscut.com/2017/09/4-ways-councilmembers-can-actually-listen-to-their-constituents/

City Councilmember and candidate e-mail addresses:
council@seattle.gov,
electjongrant@gmail.com,
info@teamteresa.org,
info@votepatmurakami.org,
info@electlorenagonzalez.com

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