An appetite for collaboration and concerns about bogging down policy change in the so-called “Seattle Process” were among the issues raised by Mayor-elect Ed Murray’s transition team members during a workgroup session held at Seattle Center on Friday.
It was the first time that the entire 43-person transition team has convened. With members drawn from government, nonprofits, labor unions and the private sector, the team will work with Murray over the next year as he heads toward and begins his time in office. On Friday, the team members divided into five breakout groups and spent almost two hours outlining why they are excited about Murray's upcoming tenure, risks they foresee for the new administration and how they believe they can help the mayor-elect achieve his goals.
Before the breakout sessions began, Murray addressed the group. “My challenge to each of you is to ask this question: How can city government engage our many diverse communities in a way that strengthens our sense of Seattle as one community?” he said. “That’s going to be the challenge of my future administration.”
Five current city department heads won't be around to help overcome that challenge. Shortly after the meeting got underway, the mayor-elect’s office sent out an email announcing the names of department heads who will “not be returning” when he takes office in January. Department of Transportation Director Peter Hahn, City Budget Office Director Beth Goldberg, Director of Intergovernmental Relations Marco Lowe and Personnel Director David Stewart were canned. Also in the departure lounge is Rick Hooper, who will retire as Director of the Office of Housing.
There were no signs of pink slip gloom at the transition team gathering. The breakout groups hummed with conversation as they drew-up their lists in colored magic marker, on easel-sized sheets of white paper. At the end of the workgroup session, team members taped the lists to a wall at the front of the room and took turns presenting their work.
Several common issues arose.
The word “collaboration” appeared near or at the top of four of the five teams’ lists of reasons they are excited about Murray’s administration. The top item on the fifth list was, “Working with a leader who can work well with other elected leaders in the region.”
Phrases on the lists of risks confronting the mayor-elect included: “Paralysis by analysis,” “Getting bogged down by day-to-day issues,” “don’t succumb to the ‘Seattle Process’ perfection is the enemy of the good,” “That we stop at articulating the vision and don’t implement,” and “Don’t let ‘Seattle Process’ impede your ability to make decisions.” Four of the five risk lists also noted either public safety, or searching for a new permanent police chief to replace Seattle’s interim chief, Jim Pugel.
Some group members also expressed their desire to move beyond the Mayor Mike McGinn era. “If you walk five miles into the woods, you got to walk out of the woods,” said Lee Newgent, a team member who is executive secretary of the Seattle Building and Trades Council, a group that represents unions. “We’re going to be walking out of the woods for a while.”
“We are very excited about pragmatism,” said Rachel Smith, a government and community relations officer for Sound Transit, as she presented her group's lists to the team. “Competence in the office is something we’re very excited about.”
On their lists outlining how the transition team members could be most helpful, several groups said the mayor-elect should hold listening group sessions to hear out their concerns. Two groups also said that they wanted to avoid being boxed into their areas of expertise, or “siloed,” and that they wanted to contribute to a cross-section of issues as the transition proceeded.
Riffing on the no-siloing request, Murray got some laughs from the crowd during his closing remarks. “Man, do I understand that,” he said. “When I went down to Olympia, people just saw me as gay, and I can tell you I could not take you shopping and I wouldn’t know how to take you to a gym. So I know what it’s like to be in a silo.” He added that the stereotypes were meant only as a joke.
In his opening comments, the mayor-elect mentioned John F. Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of the president’s assassination. Murray said he was in Sister Mary-Bernadette’s third grade classroom in Holy Rosary elementary school, in West Seattle when he learned of the president’s death. To his working-class parents and Irish-immigrant grandparents, he said, Kennedy represented their integration into the American mainstream.
“For me, and I think for my generation, President Kennedy represented something else, he represented public service as a higher calling.” Murray said. Harking back to the theme of collaboration, he added, “I’m asking you to join me in making public service once again a respected and higher calling.”