A fumbling mayor has the City Council scrambling for control to a degree not seen in decades. As much as they may have grumbled about Greg Nickels and our last one-term mayor, Paul Schell, those mayors defined policies and shaped the debate.
Now they see indecision and non-responses. Council President Richard Conlin's remarks at this month's Magnolia - Queen Anne District Council were peppered with comments such as, "We don't know where the mayor stands," and "We haven't heard from the mayor's office on this issue," or "We have asked the mayor but he hasn't responded."
Trouble came early for the mayor when McGinn called for staff cuts in the face of budget deficits. He immediately retreated when staff objected. Then he asked that a levy for seawall replacement be put on the ballot. The council pushed back with Conlin and others saying that that would not happen. It is not a picture of a strong mayor.
In April, all council members, even McGinn toady Mike O'Brien, signed a letter to the mayor berating him for halting the hiring of new police officers, noting that "this decision was made without consulting the council." McGinn blamed the council, saying it created the budget crises. The council wanted to know how the mayor would handle crime in neighborhood business districts and downtown. As Conlin might say, "We haven't heard from the mayor's office on that."
Street crime infects all of downtown and is spreading to neighborhood business districts. Tim Burgess attempted to put the council in control on that issue. His efforts died as several council members folded when homeless industry lobbyists accused them of being mean.
Candidate McGinn tried to sound reasonable on the transportation projects, but Mayor McGinn devotes most of his time to stopping them. McGinn announced that he will ask the council to reconsider its agreements on state Route 99. The council expresses no interest in revisiting that battle.
McGinn boycotted Gov. Gregoire's ceremony to mark agreement on the new 520 project design. She returned the favor, slapping his hand, again, saying years of debate had resulted in decisions and it was time to implement them. The council seems to share her opinion of the mayor's dithering.
Council Transportation Committee Chair Tom Rasmussen will be tackling an element of the mayor's gridlock agenda with hearings on the road diet for Nickerson. Rasmussen's committee meets June 8 and the outcome will be another test as the mayor and council jockey for position.
The bigger contest will be over the budget. In a few weeks the mayor will list mid-year budget reductions. A budget for the coming year will be announced in September. That one requires about $60 million in cuts from the record spending levels of the last few years. Council President Conlin says cuts are inevitable but is looking for some way to raise taxes and likes the idea of creating new taxing districts. At the moment, all say that public safety and human services will take cuts of less than two percent while other departments will be cutting up to 15 percent from previous levels.
A vulnerable mayor creates a climate in which individual council members will want the spotlight. Whether that unites or divides the council is unpredictable. Look for Tim Burgess to lead on public safety. With Parks slated for big cuts, Sally Bagshaw could establish herself as a council leader. Whether the mayor, who already caved on budget cuts, or the council prevail will determine how the city runs for the next few years.[[In-content Ad]]