EDITORIAL | Left in the cold by Amazon's meeting with civic leaders

Last week, a bevy of local political figures met with representatives from Amazon, with the aim of fostering a better relationship between the corporate behemoth and civic leaders.

Among the listed participants were four Seattle City Councilmembers, two members of the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors, two King County Councilmembers, and two Port of Seattle Commissioners, not to mention the various staffers sitting in place of other local leaders that could not attend.

After opening remarks, breakout sessions with titles like, “education and future of work,” “transportation and mobility,” and “providing affordability and opportunity in Seattle,” followed, per the Seattle Times ahead of the event.

That’s about all we know.

We weren’t invited, and neither was the public or any media outlet.

And that doesn’t sit particularly well with us.

There’s no denying the presence that Amazon has in the Puget Sound region, the company’s rapid growth overhauling an entire neighborhood seemingly overnight, not to mention the influx of high-paid workers that have contributed to soaring home prices. And good luck trying to get to and from anywhere near South Lake Union around rush hour, we’ll keep you in our thoughts if you do.

The fact that both the company and our elected leaders are sitting down at the same table is both a welcome development and one long overdue. Few could have imagined Amazon growing from 5,000 to 50,000 employees in the city in a decade’s time, but here we are, and we have to grapple with the consequences.  

But why, exactly, do we not get to hear what was said between the two parties? It raises more questions than what probably would have come out of having the meeting open in the first place.

Instead, we’re left in the cold to wonder if they broached the topics of tax breaks, or overhauling public education, or a myriad of other issues the company may want to address. Maybe they want to rename Seattle, “Amazonia,” as a gesture of goodwill. Maybe they think City Light should have its own version of Prime to fix any issues they may have same-day. We just don’t know.

To be clear, it doesn’t appear that this meeting violated the Open Public Meetings Act — as written at least — with no governing bodies sending enough members to constitute a quorum. You can bet that was intentional.

In our view, it did violate its spirit.

And for the sake of transparency, we hope this was an aberration, and not a sign of things to come.

Otherwise, you can bet the likes of Starbucks and Nordstrom will be asking for their own large-scale meetings behind closed doors. Because the real danger isn’t a single private meeting, but the precedent that it sets.