The last week has shown us how local governments work — or rather, don’t work for the public good.
For months — even years, in some locations — garbage has collected around illegal homeless encampments that have sprung up in lots and crevices around the city. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said the notorious Jungle on the west hillside of Beacon Hill had “worse than Third World conditions.”
One encampment under Interstate 5 in downtown was highlighted by KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz, who said the city was turning into a “garbage dump.” He submitted a photo through the city’s Find It, Fix It app, and within a day, the encampment was cleared out and the garbage was removed.
The city acted quickly because of a request made through the app. But the question remains: Didn’t the city see the large encampment and its resulting garbage as a problem before?
The city is high on producing “world-class” amenities, but it ignored the refuse that was accumulating near a downtown on-ramp to I-5. Even though activists may argue against the clearing out of homeless residents from encampments, that shouldn’t stop city officials from clearing out the garbage that is strewn about.
Instead, Mayor Ed Murray has been busy convening his third hush-hush advisory group — this time on improving schools. Previous ones met on income inequality and affordable housing.
As noted in Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat’s recent column on the group, its meetings are meant to keep the public and the media out so that “uninhibited, candid discussions” can take place among the specially invited community and business leaders, according to former King County Executive Ron Sims.
Besides the fact that city government has no authority over state-funded public schools, what discussion can take place when a selected group of presumably similar-minded people come to the table to make recommendations without any public input or transparency?
Then there’s the example of two patients who escaped from Western State Hospital in Lakewood, Wash. While police searched for the escapees, who were considered possible threats to the public, two other patients went on “unescorted leaves” from the same hospital. One “unescorted” patient is still missing, as of press time, while police have found the others.
The state’s largest psychiatric hospital has been under scrutiny for years for its lax security measures. It faces losing millions in federal funding if it doesn’t improve them by May 3, but those vast deficiencies can’t be remedied that quickly. The government’s oversight evidently hasn’t been determined enough to force the needed changes, thereby putting the public at risk, as the escapees have ably demonstrated.
What’s confounding with these situations is that the public good continues to be secondary. With real oversight and foresight, governments might come closer to making it their only concern.