Opinion, Politics

At-Large City Council System Broken, Dysfunctional

By Real Rainier Valley Girl

The at-large system of electing council members is a dysfunctional and broken method that favors special-interest groups over the everyday citizens who have comparatively little influence on local government.

The differences between the current council members are negligible in that with a little variation they are essentially the same people, i.e., white-collar professionals (attorneys, policy wonks, bureaucrats) who live in nicer or affluent neighborhoods.

You don’t see working-class employees and tradespeople who live in Beacon Hill, Haller Lake or Delridge because the at-large system of electing council members works against them. Big money from developers, special interests and unions elects our council members.

Is it any surprise that despite dissatisfaction with the dysfunction of local government that Tim Burgess, Sally Clark, Bruce Harrell and Tom Rasmussen faced no serious opposition when they ran for reelection? Special interest monies scared away legitimate candidates and guaranteed the same-old, same-old.

In an at-large system, candidates make appearances at community festivals and events that you might attend. In election by district, candidates come to you by ringing doorbells, wearing down shoe leather, and listening to you on your porches. If they want to stay in office, they have to listen to us and not merely their biggest political contributors.

If you have an issue to address with the council to whom do you contact? The council member who lives closest to you? The one who chairs the committee that you think has jurisdiction over your issue? Would that be Planning, Land Use and Sustainability? Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology? Housing, Human Services, Health and Culture?

Think of the situation involving the infamous “porch” in the Rainier Valley, and how no council member or their employees rendered assistance in cleaning up the area and driving away the undesirables. (I take that back: Council member Sally Bagshaw graciously asked AFTER THE FACT if somebody would contact her staff about the situation.)

If we had an elected representative from our district, we could’ve gone to that individual and demanded action. And if that council member proved unresponsive, we – not the Master Builders Association, Seattle Police Guild or Cascade Bicycle Club – would seek a legitimate challenger to that the politician’s place.

I recognize that the election-by-district system could be subject to cronyism and gridlock. But the current system is broken and needs to be scrapped. Otherwise, a disproportionate amount of energy, services and monies will continue to go to South Lake Union and downtown, and the problems in our neighborhoods will continue to go unaddressed.