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The Daily Troll: Pam Roach, set to music. Seattle building up again. More ferry questions.

Seattle government gets so-so grade on transparency. A key legislator wanted to learn more about state ferry costs from an audit.

Going up

Seattle is about to see the construction of what Seattle Times real estate reporter Eric Pryne describes as "the tallest building erected in Seattle in more than 20 years." Developers first unveiled plans for the 43-story Fifth and Columbia Tower, which will be 50 feet taller than even the Space Needle, in 2007. Then the recession thing happened — with its epicenter, at least locally, just blocks away at WaMu's Seattle headquarters. One development principal told Pryne: "We just really like Seattle as a market, today and for the long term.”

A bad grade on transparency

In a report released this morning by progressive group WashPIRG and their national affiliates, Seattle receives just a C-plus for transparency about city spending and finances. But the grade isn't necessarily as bad as it sounds: Only 11 of the 31 cities evaluated nationally scored higher (Chicago and New York were the top two). The report cites Seattle's lack of an easily accessible central transparency website, information about corporate tax breaks and the ability to download overall expenditure details as its biggest weaknesses.

Spending on ferries

A recent auditor's report on state ferry construction costs seemed pretty damning, but a key state legislator is claiming that the audit didn't even get into the details it was intended for — namely why exactly a recent pair of state ferries cost so much more than their East Coast counterparts. Crosscut's John Stang reports:

A state audit of ferry construction costs did not look at what it was supposed to, claimed Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, who frequently birddogs the Washington State Ferries. The report, released Jan. 3 after more than a year of study, concluded that the ferry system's newly built 64-car ferries are among the most expensive ferries of that type to be built in the past 20 years. The final costs in 2011 dollars were $87.3 million for the this state's first 64-car vessel Chetzemoka and $48.5 million for the Massachusetts ferry that was the Chetzemoka's prototype.

The audit report blamed the high costs on difficulties in getting more than one in-state bid for ferry construction, Washington State Ferries design changes during construction, and the lack of appropriate shipyard apprentice programs. Regulations require ferries to be built by Washington shipyards.

Speaking at a Wednesday legislative briefing on the report though, Seaquist said the audit was originally conceived to look at extremely high design costs, at why the first  64-ferry had several operating problems including leaning to the side when loaded with cars, and at  "fuel consumption costs that are through the roof." None of those factors were addressed in the Jan.3 report, Seaquist said.

He said the audit's original purpose was to find out where the state's money specifically went in building the 64-car ferries, which the state auditor's report did not do.

Reforming police reform

An interesting nugget from the Seattle Times this morning: The SPD compliance officer tasked with overseeing Seattle's police reform initiative is resigning for personal reasons. His replacement, Bob Scales, has a history with the issue. Sources expressed conflicting views about whether newly hired coordinator Bob Scales could approach police reform neutrally, after having earlier "sparred with" the federal Department of Justice in the negotiations that led to a settlement mandating reforms.

Reporters Steve Miletich and Mike Carter, our region's journalistic leaders in covering the police problems, did get a statement from the U.S. Attorney's office for the region, indicating that it was reassured by a meeting Tuesday that reform is on track. A city source very committed to the reforms throughout the process (including when Mayor Mike McGinn was trying on a confrontational approach with the feds) expressed complete confidence in Scales: "Bob will do a great job."


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