January 14, 2012 – Behind the Scenes at Seattle City Council

Many of us track the action at City Hall pretty closely.  We engage with Council members at public events and private meetings, write them letters or emails expressing our views, and try to leverage our positions by working with our influential leveraging contacts and influence.  We all know that many of the issues that Council deals with are complex.  And the process to get to the resulting legislation can be at times complicated and protracted.  Yet at other times things fly under the radar despite our best attentiveness.

So given this daily flurry of activity, voices and intricacy, how exactly do only 9 Seattle City Council members get to ‘end of job’.  What happens behind the scenes?  Well, part of the answer is there is a very small army of staff to these council members.  Playing variety of roles, these staffers are at times the face of our elected, perhaps the person doing the research or other legwork, or maybe just keeping their boss on schedule or point.

Aids play various roles, from keeping calendars to working out policy details.  For those wishing to lobby on an issue, sometimes it is better to go directly to the point person because we know that certain aids have expertise in certain areas.  Bill LaBorde who joined Tom Rasmussen’s staff a little over a year ago has a law degree and was Policy Director for Transportation Choices Coalition and served as the Program Director for Environment Washington/WashPIRG before that.  He’s the guy to talk to about transportation and transit.  Lisa Herbold in Nick Licata’s office is expert in affordable housing and landlord/tenant issues. 

But how much influence do these aids have and how do they fairly balance the myriad of views that are found with every issue?  How are ideas about an issue vetted, and how does consensus develop amongst the Councilmembers?  Is there “group think”, and what does a 9-0 vote signify?  (and why does this happen so often?)  Do council members have old fashioned debates even arguments in the hall?

Our speakers this month are Kathy Nyland from Sally Bagshaw’s office and Frank Video from Nick Licata’s office.   Kathy was a business owner and community activist in Georgetown before joining Sally’s staff putting renewed focus on our parks and our neighborhoods.  Frank started working part time, but now is focusing full time on arts and culture issues for the Councilmember known for championing the arts.

by Bill Bradburd 1/13/2012

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