Sunday, April 17, 2011



The City Council’s handling of its governing role in the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) is jarringly at odds with the policies and processes that the Councilmembers say they support.  At tomorrow’s Monday, April 18 meeting, the Council should not pass C.B. 117142, the proposed Interlocal Agreement, until the ordinance establishing STBD and this agreement are revised to make STBD fully subject to the City Charter, laws, and regulations, and the City Council rules; and until the City Council by ordinance and by this agreement removes the STBD’s far-reaching powers of eminent domain; property acquisition, holding, and disposal; employment; and contracting.

In creating Seattle’s Transportation Benefit District the City Councilmembers automatically became its governing board, and by state law (RCW and Seattle Ordinance 123397 the Councilmembers are acting “in an ex officio and independent capacity” --   that is, independent of the City charter, laws, regulations, or rules.  In their choices for the text of Ordinance 123397 (passed Sept. 20), the STBD charter and by-laws (adopted Oct. 25 by them at STBD’s first and only meeting), and in the Interlocal Agreement up for approval tomorrow, the City Councilmembers have created for themselves a body with far-reaching powers in which they are free to act in all kinds of unaccountable ways, at wide variance from the accountable procedures that govern them in their day jobs as Seattle City Councilmembers.

The only real direction in Ord. 1123397 to STBD is that it “preserve and maintain transportation infrastructure, improve public safety, implement projects identified in the SDOT planning documents and CIP, invest in bicycle, pedestrian, freight mobility and transit enhancements and provide people with choices to meet their mobility needs.”  Additional ordinances may be passed that add to STBD’s functions, simply if the City Councilmembers “find the action to be in the public interest.”   In pursuing these functions, STBD’s governing board of City Councilmembers is not bound by Seattle’s charter, ordinances, resolutions, regulations, or rules.  And RCW 36.73 denies to Seattle voters the ability to close STBD down by public initiative, an option available to Seattle voters for matters governed by home rule.  STBD may be may closed down only by the City Councilmembers acting by ordinance or as the STBD board members.

It is little understood by the public that under RCW 36.73 the Seattle Transportation Benefit District has vast powers to act without the protections of Seattle’s charter, ordinances, resolutions, regulations, or rules.   Ord. 123397 (which established STBD) allows the City Councilmembers as the STBD board to act “for any purpose allowed by law,” and state law provides to any transportation benefit district such far-reaching powers (beyond control of Seattle’s Charter, ordinances, resolutions, or regulations) as: 

  • to take property by eminent domain
  • to acquire, hold, and dispose of real and personal property
  • to hire and manage employees
  • to contract for construction, consultants, or any other purpose
  • to impose a $20/year vehicle license fee without public vote; and to place addition taxes before the voters
  • to issue bonds
  • to sue and be sued

C.B. 117142 (what the City Councilmembers propose to pass tomorrow as their “interlocal agreement” with themselves as the STBD governing board) restricts none of these powers.  The only hint of a restriction is the meaningless statement that “The STBD has no employees.”  STBD may have no employees right now, but there is nothing in C.B. 117142 that would prevent STBD in the future from hiring employees or exercising any of the powers listed above. 

Like the ill-fated Monorail Authority, the Transportation Benefit District is state-chartered and thus free of protections that have been painstakingly built into the Seattle’s Charter, ordinances, resolutions, regulations, and rules to ensure that its powers are not abused.  Given the minimal and unaccountable language of its authorizing ordinance, charter and by-laws, the STBD is restricted only by state laws, which are weak and which the legislature is free to weaken further.  As a local government, Seattle has home rule and more than a century of protections for citizens’ rights.  In how it has created the STBD outside of the home rule paradigm, the City Council has quite unnecessarily given up the many protections of the Charter, ordinances, resolutions, and regulations:

  • STBD is not subject to any of Seattle’s laws and regulations on competitive bidding, equal employment, human rights, ethics, public records disclosure, civil service, whistleblower protection, percent for the arts, tree protection, and even the Comprehensive Plan.

  • STBD escapes the jurisdiction of all of Seattle’s boards and commissions such as the Civil Service Commission, Public Safety Civil Service Commission, Ethics and Elections Commission, Design Commission, Planning Commission, Human Rights Commission, and Commission for People with Disabilities.    

In acting as the STBD board, the City Councilmembers are not even covered by their own City Council rules.  The by-laws that the City Councilmembers adopted for STBD on Oct. 25 state misleadingly that “the procedures of the City of Seattle City Council will govern the procedures of the Board,” but then belie this statement by following it with this breathtaking loophole:  “Failure to follow procedural rules will not in itself constitute sufficient grounds for invalidating any Board action.”  Rules mean nothing if the City Councilmembers do not require themselves to observe them when they are convened as STBD. 

To make matters worse, the STBD by-laws depart from the City Council rules by stating that “despite any apparent conflict with City Council rules, a TBD Resolution may be introduced and acted upon during the same meeting of the Board.”  Also, unlike the City Council rule for public comment to be allowed at the beginning of every full Council and Council committee meeting, the STBD bylaws ensure this opportunity only when the STBD “considers adoption of its annual plan for service or imposition of any tax, charge, or fee,” with the by-laws saying dismissively that for other STBD meetings and topics, that the Board (that is, the City Councilmembers) “from time to time may, in its sole discretion, permit public comment regarding additional topics.”  And to add insult to injury, the Oct. 25 STBD meeting delayed public comment until after these faulty charter and by-laws had already been adopted.

If there is any dispute as to the legal issues raised above, please join in asking City Attorney Pete Holmes to prepare and release to the public a detailed legal memorandum analyzing them.  During most of Seattle’s history, City Attorneys have issued such public legal memos, and Holmes promised during the campaign that he would start doing so again.   A good start would be for him to issue a detailed public legal opinion on the issues raised above.

By e-mails, voice mail, and/or fax, please urge the City Councilmembers not to pass C.B. 117142 without revising and strengthening Ord. 123397 and the proposed Interlocal Agreement with themselves as STBD boardmembers to make the Seattle Transportation Benefit District fully subject to the City charter, laws, and regulations, and to the City Council rules; and that the City Council by ordinance and a revised Interlocal Agreement remove STBD’s far-reaching powers of eminent domain; property acquisition, holding, and disposal; employment; and contracting.  And please testify at the Monday, April 18, 2 p.m. public comment period, in the second floor Council Chambers of City Hall, 601 Fifth Avenue, just before they vote.  Below are the voice mails and e-mail addresses, or find the Councilmembers on Twitter and Facebook.  It’s best to write to each Councilmember separately, not address all in one message.  The fax number is (206) 684-8587

This e-mail was put together as a public service by Chris Leman, (206)  

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