District Councils raise concern over Mayor's Executive Order
SEATTLE – “No one knew it was happening."
Dan Sanchez sits on a bench in the Central District, and proudly talks about the district council he chairs.
"We do a lot for the community," Sanchez said.
The Central Area District Council includes leaders from local non-profits and organizations, and helps to guide neighborhood policy and grants.
It is one of 13 district councils in the City, but Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said it is an outdated system that lacks diversity.
That's why, last week, he issued an executive order to end city support of the councils, and create a Community Involvement Commission.
"At least six district councils reported no people of color, and only three district councils reported any African American attendees. The world has changed," Murray said. "We have to find out how we reach people who can't go at 7 p.m. to a neighborhood meeting in a community center or church basement."
"The way the announcement was made kind of struck a chord with folks," said councilmember Lisa Herbold on Wednesday. "Geographically based groups cannot be left out of the equation."
Herbold was scheduled to attend a meeting Wednesday night of multiple district council leaders at the Highland Park Improvement Club, and said she has heard from multiple people who are unhappy with the sudden nature of the announcement.
"One constituent wrote to me and used the analogy that when you have a holiday dinner every year and you look around and realize it's the same people every year, you don't disinivite those people. You find a way to invite more people. You make the table bigger," said Herbold.
Herbold also said that the city did also need to improve "the way we engage diverse communities in this city."
Herbold pointed to a 2009 audit of the Department of Neighborhoods, which suggested the Neighborhood and District Councils were important which could establish regulations and consequences with diversity. She says the 2009 audit was never followed up on.
She also said it was unclear if the Council will have any sort of say on the issue, or the makeup of the Community Involvement Commission, given the Executive Order.
Mayor Murray's office did not return emails on that question today.
But Sanchez believes there is much more to the story.
"We approved a grant to restore a mural - right down the street here - depicting African American struggles during civil rights movement and the city rejected it," he said. "His message of diversity was not sincere - because the optics of his own press conference was vastly different than what he was saying," says Sanchez. "The mayor just took control of the grant process from top to bottom - that’s what this is all about."
"He could have stolen the grant process without insulting every single person involved in it."