Seattle’s secret meetings are creating more suspicion than progress

I see the folks down at City Hall are again in the news for meeting in secret.

The latest is when the City Council, at the behest of Mayor Jenny Durkan, suddenly realized that their unanimously passed head tax was in fact pretty much unanimously loathed. So rather than convene to consider what to do in contemplative fashion, they freaked out and formed a cell phone flash mob —  which one critic called “an illegal serial meeting” — in which they privately agreed they would cancel the tax the following day.

The quote above is from the Washington Coalition for Open Government, a local nonprofit group. It’s got its work cut out for it, what with our state Legislature racing to exempt itself from the public records act last session, and Seattle’s latest bypass around the open-meetings act.

But there was another episode that, to me anyway, seems just as concerning. Namely, the closed-door talks that were held over the summer to forge a compromise on the city’s plan to allow denser buildings in more than two dozen Seattle neighborhoods.

Our City Hall reporter, Daniel Beekman, found that officials from both the mayor’s office and City Council met secretly in a formal negotiation with groups that have appealed the “grand bargain,” which is the city’s plan to upzone thousands of lots of land in return for affordable housing payments.

The goal was to hash out a deal on how to move ahead on the stalled density plans. No settlement has been reached. But because all parties signed confidentiality agreements, we have no idea even what was proposed.

Toby Nixon, the president of the Washington Coalition of Open Government, sighed when I told him about it. (Read more…)