On Public Discourse and Respect
Part of my job as a Councilmember is to attend meetings. Judging by my calendar, I attend anywhere from three to ten public meetings a week. These range from small community talks to large public hearings. The topics range from casual conversations about the latest harvest produced at a p-patch to the many perceived pros and cons of a proposed upzone.
I have been noticing a sad pattern. Perhaps this has always been going on and I am just now noticing, but I don't think so.
I have attended my fair share of meetings when a speaker or two vehemently disagrees and essentially scolds us. That is to be expected and is part of the job. But what I have been witnessing of late is different. The tone is changing among the speakers. Instead of respectfully disagreeing, I frequently hear tones of disrespect, almost approaching degrading.
Looking back over the year, I recall a number of meetings when I left feeling beleaguered. This wasn't a result of conflicting opinions being expressed; it was how these opinions were expressed. Not what was being said but how it was being said.
Public meetings – not always this much fun.
More frequently I am hearing boos and watching people hiss at those who offer a contrary opinion. I have sat in hearings and listened to interruptions and watched various disruptions. I have watched people get intimidated out of testifying and I have seen city staff get verbally beaten up.
This is simply unacceptable to me.
We have these meetings so people can talk with us, and share their thoughts and opinions. It is an opportunity to have a thoughtful conversation. Unfortunately, there have been a number of recent events when constructive comments have turned into a defensive debate, or worse, a simple shouting match.
I have been cautioned against using the word "civility", but I am going to throw caution to the wind and use it now. Civility, to me, means courtesy and politeness. When I attend a meeting, no matter the topic at hand, I listen, and I expect those in attendance to behave in a civil manner. I respect those who take time out of their busy schedules to testify or provide public comment. And I expect everyone to respect those who are speaking and be respectful of those in attendance.
I value outreach and engagement. Meetings and public hearings are ways we reach out to hear from our constituents. But to truly make engagement a useful tool, we need the conversation to remain engaging.
When we hold public hearings, everyone is welcome to attend. We want that. I respect everyone who attends, and talking with people is one of my favorite parts of this job. And I want to encourage constituents to share thoughtful, constructive messages.
I want that. I believe we all want that. I look forward to the next meeting where we can talk, even disagree, and still leave the room feeling respected.
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I was so thankful to spend some time this month with my first grandbaby, Violet, who lives with her mom and dad in Brooklyn, New York.
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Hank Ranks: Genesee Off-Leash Area
Our canine correspondent rates
the City's off-leash dog parks.
Ranking: 4 out of 5 bones
Genesee OLA - 4316 S Genesee St, 98118
Last month, I asked my humans to take me and my little brother Fitz to the Genesee Off-Leash Area near Columbia City. Fitz had just turned five months and was finally old enough to go -- according to code, you have to be at least four months.
How great was the anticipation as we passed through the double-gated entry. Once we got past the second gate, our humans reached down and in just a click, we were free!
I sprinted to the first human I saw and jumped knee-high to greet her. But, when I looked back, Fitz was still with our humans. He didn't quite know what to do without a leash. So, I had to show him the ropes.
Fitz and I walked to the center of the 2.5 acre park. This part is gravel, which makes it nice in the summer and mud-free in the winter. Then we sized up the joint. It was a weekday evening, not too crowded. So we sniffed around a bit, left our marks on a couple of unsuspecting rocks, chased each other and then went to the watering hole for a drink.
Editor's Note: Here is a picture of Hank with his "little" brother Fitz.
Maybe he was talking about egos!
In no time, Fitz got the hang of it. I was so proud of my little bro. Best of all he was tired for the rest of the night!
I'll admit, the Genesee OLA holds a special place in my heart as it's the first one I visited as a pup, almost four years ago (seems like forever). My humans like the park because it is completely fenced and relatively flat so it's easy to keep an eye on us. I like it because the other dogs and their humans tend to be understanding--which makes it a good place to go for first time off-leashers, like Fitz. I give Genesee OLA four bones. If it had a place for me to swim, I'd give it a five. Woof!
A reminder to humans: Please keep us four-legged friends on leash unless you are in a designated off-leash area. It's for our safety -- and that of other humans and critters. Oh, and it's the law. Thanks, Hank.
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Last year, City Council adopted Statement of Legislative Intent (SLI) 83-1-A-1 asking the Superintendent of Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to work with various stakeholders to explore potential new sources of ongoing revenue for parks operations.
After many conversations, both internally and externally, it became before DPR could do this, it needed to update its strategic plan and define its core mission.
Parks started to develop a planning process to develop strategic direction for the future. My hope is to create a living document that will guide the department today as well as tomorrow. It will help shape the department, confirm public priorities and allow DPR to respond to emerging trends without straying from its mission.
DPR's work is primarily focused on the following:
- Are our resources deployed in the most effective manner?
- What is the public view of our park system?
- What are the important services Parks provides that are not offered by any other organization?
This work is underway. Over the Labor Day weekend, DPR conducted a survey citywide to gather information on how our park system is used, the frequency of use, and park users' concerns.
Volunteers in more than 25 parks throughout the city asked participants a series of questions about how often and how they use our parks. Phone interviews and an online survey were also employed, and DPR used the Department of Neighborhood's Public Outreach and Engagement Liaisons to reach out to the underrepresented communities.
Because this work is so important, it is vital to hear from as many people as possible, and from all types of people. DPR has gone to great lengths to capture a wide array of users and conduct a statistically valid survey. We believe this work will pay off in the end.
Parks is correlating the data now, and I expect to see an initial report this month.
This is just the start of this conversation. I expect these conversations to continue well into 2013 and beyond. We will publish dates and times for public involvement. I hope you will be a part of it.
More information about this work is available online here.
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Jefferson Park: A Success Story
The Jefferson Park Jubilee in July was the highlight of 2012 in Parks for me. It celebrated the $28 million Jefferson Park renovation, showing off our city's beautiful new destination park at its very best.
When Seattle Channel asked me where I wanted to shoot my Council Conversations episode, I had no hesitation in answering: Jefferson Park.
I predict Jefferson Park will soon rival Green Lake for use numbers and community love.
Jefferson Park's spectacular re-emergence is a story about the power of neighbors working together.
Jefferson Park had a proud history. The site was originally State School Land that the City of Seattle bought in 1898 for a reservoir and cemetery. The City stockade, park nursery, and greenhouse were at the site. The Park was named in 1908 to honor the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson.
The 18-hole golf course opened for play in 1915, and the original Community Center was constructed in 1929.
Here's what the Jefferson Park Alliance (JPA), the neighborhood group that has done so much for the park in recent years, in question, has to say about what happened to the park:
Developed in the early 1900s, Jefferson Park was a treasure to the neighborhood and well used by the richly diverse local population. Over time, many of the original park spaces were given away to other interests, including the large Veteran's Hospital on its south edge. Two reservoirs, one unused, dominated the western portion of the park. By the 1990s, much of the park was obscured behind barbed-wire fences and low on the priority list for park maintenance and development.
The Jefferson Park Alliance was formed by neighborhood residents and other park users as an advocacy voice for Jefferson Park. Through community advocacy, neighborhood planning and campaigning for the Pro-Parks levy, the JPA helped secure $8 million for the park's reconstruction.
Here's some of the work that was done:
- The overall area of Jefferson Park was expanded, adding the great meadow in the lid over the reservoir and the plaza overlook with spectacular views of downtown. (done in 2011)
- The Jefferson Skatepark was built--with an 11' deep bowl, it is the deepest in town to date, and its complicated hexagonal dish that appears to float in the air. (done in 2012)
- The Jefferson Playfield was converted to a synthetic turf with lighting. (done in 2012)
- 25 cherry trees were planted to commemorate the 1912 gift of 100 cherry trees to the Park from Japan, and to commemorate the park's 100th birthday. (done in 2012)
- The climbable Beacon Mountain was added, as well as picnic shelters with solar roofs to help power the community center and the park's lights. (done in 2012)
Now, gone are the barbed-wire fences, and instead a welcoming green stretch of grass slopes down from extraordinary views of the city, a skatepark that's busy from dawn to dusk (practically), solar-powered shelters and a towering play mountain grace the site.
Last month, Council approved replacing the clubhouse and driving range shelter at Jefferson Park Golf Course on Beacon Hill. After years of planning and coordination, we have completed this part of the process and the project now can go out for bid.
Most recently, Jefferson Park hosted world-class skateboarder Tony Hawk and his Birdhouse Crew on July 26, an event that drew more than 1,000 people on a perfect sunny Seattle day. Working with Jefferson Park Community Center staff, the Hawk contingent began planning in April. When the day came, the event came off without a hitch. (It was then I met Caravan Skate Shop philanthropist Jeremy Hopwood.)
The Jefferson Park Community Center is another success story. A Tier 1 center, which means that it operates 70 hours a week, it could operate more, according to Programs Manager Doreen Deaver. "We're busy all 70 hours. In the mornings our focus is on seniors and preschool programming, in the afternoon we focus on teens, and then evening is family and adult programming. Every hour something different is going on. Jefferson Park is a happening place."
My favorite thing that Doreen said illustrates what a great marriage of parks programming and community building is happening at Jefferson Park. "It's great to watch the kids grow up. They start out in our preschool programs, then into our summer day camps and elementary school programs, then to teen programs and finally, hopefully, coming back to volunteer with the younger kids and give back. It's a lot of fun."
Also, last month the Center underwent electrical upgrades as part of a larger project funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Thanks to the FEMA grant, the center will also:
- Undergo seismic and foundation upgrades.
- Receive a new roof
- Receive an emergency backup generator
The upgrades allow the building to function as a Shelter operations center during times of disaster. The FEMA grant is part of its Hazard Mitigation Program. Parks will keep the center open during construction, and regular programming and activities will continue as scheduled.
Doreen Deaver said that the "FEMA grant is a real vote of confidence. It says that this is a place where we can do this, we're spending a million dollars on the center, we're important in the community."
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People's Academy for Community Engagement
I'm a champion of the Department of Neighborhood's (DoN) People's Academy for Community Engagement (PACE). This pilot program, which is designed to provide leadership training for new community leaders, kicked off its seven-month course on April 26, 2012. Classroom space was donated by Seattle University. (Thank you, Seattle University!)
I asked District Coordinator Ed Pottharst of the South Region Team for a report on how things went, and here's what I learned:
At the lively first session, three facilitators led discussions of "Approaches to Leadership," Jim Diers (community-building consultant/instructor and former DoN director), Kate Joncas (Downtown Seattle Association), and Jesus Rodriguez (Nonprofit Assistance Center and the City's Public Outreach and Engagement Liaison program).
City staff from three departments introduced the group to the "inclusive outreach and public engagement" tools that the City uses to ensure that all of Seattle's communities are heard from.
The 30-person class of emerging leaders comes from all parts of Seattle: 17 of the 30 participants are from under-represented communities or from those neighborhoods that are traditionally less involved in civic processes. One of the goals of PACE is to reach out to these communities and provide them with tools and confidence to make significant new contributions in ways that are meaningful to them.
Five participants also serve as City liaisons to various ethnic communities: a world mapping exercise showed participants trace their parentage/ancestry to Morocco, Argentina, Portugal, Romania and more.
In addition to the structured time with facilitators and staff, participants engaged in plenty of spontaneous interaction in small groups and during the breaks. People eagerly shared their challenges and successes; clearly they enjoyed sharing their experiences and what new techniques they were learning about becoming more effective leaders and organizers.
PACE learning is hands-on: participants are assigned homework, mentoring, and identified and ushered through their own community projects as part of the program.
As DoN Director Bernie Matsuno said in her opening remarks, convening this diverse group of enthusiastic community volunteers –monthly over the course next seven months – was an incredible learning opportunity for all of them, and that's on top of the skills they acquired from the curriculum. I am thrilled to think how the city-wide network of capable new leaders is expanding, right now!
Bernie's words couldn't have been more accurate. On October 25th, these participants gathered in the Montlake Community Center to graduate from training. The room was filled with not only the applicants but their many supporters. Speeches about projects were given, food was enjoyed, and pride was felt.
This "pilot program"was such a success that I made a point of finding money in the 2013-2014 budget so PACE can continue on in the years to come. The city is better because more people are engaged.
For more information about PACE, contact Christa Dumpys, email@example.com, 206-684-4812.
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Help for Caregivers Goes Unused
Last month I participated in a brown bag forum in Council Chambers that focused on caregiver issues. It was held as a special meeting of the Housing, Human Services, Health & Culture committee chaired by my colleague Councilmember Nick Licata.
I was surprised to learn that King County's services for caregivers—available through the King County Caregiver Support Network—are underused.
Here are some of the support services offered for unpaid caregivers:
- Training for specific scenarios, such as caring for someone with Alzheimer's, or for a long-distant parent, or getting yourself support.
- Fact sheets on day-to-day care, such as managing medications, dealing with incontinence, or finding assistive technologies that might help your loved ones.
- Information about support for kinship care, if you're raising a grandchild or child of another relation.
- Referrals for respite care, a service where another trained person or staff at a facility provide planned, short-term care (a few hours to a few days) for your loved one so you have some time away from caregiving.
- Referrals to local resources, such as legal services, financial assistance services, support groups, and specialists in navigating health care systems who can meet your specific needs.
- Crisis counseling for people in immediate emotional distress.
- Services specific for caregivers for those with developmental disabilities.
Most services are free to the caregiver. Respite care is available for a fee.
If you know anyone who might benefit from these services, please, let them know. As I said, the services are underused—ADS-funded services reach about 2,300 caregivers per year—less than 5% of the County's primary caregivers. There is support out there. Please help get the word out.
For me, the forum was quite informative, but it was also very moving. I listened to the stories of the 12 caregivers around the table, including some of my colleagues. It was touching to see some familiar faces in a different light.
As I listened to caregiver after caregiver tell their own stories, I thought of a letter Rosalynn Carter wrote recently, in which she said that caregiving is a universal subject. One of her colleagues said, "There are only four kinds of people in this world:
- Those who have been caregivers;
- Those who currently are caregivers.
- Those who will be caregivers; and
- Those who will need caregivers."
And that's true.
To learn more about these crucial services and the resources available, you can watch the brown bag itself on Seattle Channel.
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Sign up NOW for programs at Belltown Community Center
When Councilmember Richard Conlin advocated for locating a community center in Belltown in 1998, this is the kind of response he heard, "Well, it may be a swell idea, but you'll never site it."
And indeed, as a result of his persistent efforts to get the proposed facility included in the 1999 Community Centers and Seattle Center Levy, voters approved $1.89 million for a Belltown Community Center.
It took another 11 years to find a site, but thanks to our Department of Parks and Recreation it is now very much open to the Belltown neighborhood. The day it opened – another sunny day in Belltown – Councilmember Licata and I joined neighbors inside the newest Community Center located at the southwest corner of 5th Ave and Bell St, 415 Bell Street (formerly Zum Gym) and toasted its success. Its wood floors gleam, the old bricks have been scrubbed, and big windows draw in the light. It feels perfect in Belltown.
The center is about 6000 square feet, and the City is leasing it for the next seven years with an option to renew. The Center includes a 24-hour Seattle Police Department drop-in desk where officers can meet neighbors, catch up on administrative demands, a conference room, and a Little Tot Room for playtime on rainy days.
Programs live now
The following classes are now underway:
- Pre Ballet
- Tumbling Tots
- Me, My Parent, and Sportball
- Multi-sport Sportball
- Parents Night Out
- Noon Zumba
- Funk Aerobics
- Living through Divorce
Courses to come include Holiday Shopping Days, Meditation, perhaps a parent co-op preschool program and more. And maybe in the not too distant future we'll see a public school in the neighborhood too!
The center officially opened to the public at the end of September. So far, class registrations are off to a slow start, so I encourage you to try the center out as soon as you can!
The staff is also very interested in hearing from you about what sort of programs you'd like, and also for ideas from instructors who might like to teach or lead sessions in the space.
If you have ideas or questions, contact Kerrie Stoops, the Center Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her at 206-684-7245.
Kerrie also notes that the center is gladly accepting donations: "We need donations of kitchen supplies (pots, pans, plates, silverware, etc.), paper and plastic food products (napkins, paper plates, plastic cutlery, etc.), office floor mats, and toys (ages 2 – 5) for our playroom."
A long road
For Department of Parks and Recreation and the Belltown neighborhood, the path to getting this community center was a rocky one. Parks' earlier attempts to site a community center in 2000, in collaboration with the Low Income Housing Institute's (LIHI) Belltown View site, were unsuccessful.
Between 2001-2005, Parks conducted public meetings and investigated many locations in the Belltown neighborhood, but just couldn't find spaces that met all the criteria identified by the public.
Things the community identified as important included the following:
- Proximity to Bell Street Park,
- An affordable 10-year lease,
- Accessibility for people with disabilities,
- An exclusive street entrance, and
- Moderate tenant improvement costs.
In 2010, Parks staff investigated 27 more sites in Belltown as possible lease space to accommodate the center.
The site at 5th and Bell meets all these goals and more.
There are two rooms with a 27-person capacity, and one room with a 128-person capacity available for booking.
To reserve a room for a group, contact the Belltown Community Center at 206-684-7245, or stop by during the hours listed on their webpage.
Parks is currently working with potential partners to operate the facility and working on a mechanism by which community members to be involved in future operations and programming decisions related to the center.
Meanwhile, give them a like on Facebook to keep up with what's going on.
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I'm thrilled to welcome Lily Rehrmann to my office. In her own words: "I'm so happy to have joined Team Bagshaw! I began as a Legislative Assistant in August after completing my J.D and M.S. in Government Organization and Leadership at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. I'm delighted to be back in my hometown and to never have to take the bar again! I look forward to working on Parks and Neighborhood issues with Sally, Kathy, and Jan."
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