Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Members of the City's Music Commission Call the Mayor's Firing of James Keblas Disrespectful, Offensive, Insulting

Posted by on Wed, Feb 19, 2014 at 5:01 PM

THIS IS KATE BECKER She is not the problem; she is wonderful.
  • AM
  • THIS IS NEW DIRECTOR KATE BECKER None of this is her fault, she is wonderful.
It was immediately clear, upon the announcement that Mayor Ed Murray was not keeping Office of Film + Music director James Keblas, that both the film and music industries were royally pissed off about it. This afternoon, the Seattle Music Commission had the opportunity to deliver that message straight to Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim.

Kim attended the commission's meeting today, setting up a Seattle-polite showdown where everyone took turns saying, as kindly and diplomatically as possible, some version of "Hey, tell your boss he totally fucked this up." She promised to relay their feedback directly to Mayor Murray and conceded, "We could have done better with respect to our communications on this transition."

Neither Murray nor Keblas attended today's meeting; Keblas's replacement, the charming and universally beloved Kate Becker, did. Kim said repeatedly that the decision to hire Becker had nothing to do with Keblas's performance, calling it just "a personality fit, a personnel decision" that is perfectly normal for a new administration. "Sometimes when new leadership comes in, you have to find the right team that best fits your style and your administration," she said cheerfully.

This explanation, of course, was deeply unsatisfying, and the commission took the opportunity to let her know. The complaints they aired fell into three main points, some of which could have rippling impacts well into the future—Murray had better be listening.

1) He made this decision with zero input from or interaction with the music commission.
News of Keblas's firing "was given to us with such disrespect," said Megan Jasper, a commission member and VP at Sub Pop. "One of the most respectful things that could've happened was a conversation with the people who would be impacted, and we are representative of that." This group, in political words Murray would be fond of, is an already-convened committee of music community stakeholders—why not sit down with them if you're making a huge leadership change?

Holly Hinton, a commission member who works at Starbucks Entertainment, pointed out that they serve on a volunteer basis on top of their often demanding day jobs, and it's "offensive that all the time and attention and energy" they've spent was summarily ignored by the mayor. "Especially," added Jasper, "when the support of the music community was used as leverage in the campaign. That's one of the most insulting parts of it."

Which brings up the next point:

2) Murray courted the music and nightlife communities during election time, but now that he won, he apparently doesn't need them.

"Anyone running for office—whether council or mayor—comes and courts this community," said commission member Ben London, a musician who also works on media rights at HP. To ask them for support and fundraising, and then not even deign to talk to them about this, he says, "shows a high level of disrespect" and creates an environment where members of the music industry and community won't want to bother working with politicians. If they only get attention when candidates want money and street cred, he warned, "we'll go elsewhere with our philanthropy and our energy."

3) The reasons for firing Keblas—and what the mayor's vision is for the music industry—seem unclear.
"We all understand changes in leadership," said Tom Mara, KEXP's executive director. But the announcement of this transition—and it's weeks old by now, so they've certainly had time to fix it—"provided insufficient understanding, from a strategic perspective. What are we here to fight for? How does this change help us do that?" They can't get a straight answer from Murray.

Hinton says she "reject[s] the 'this is just politics, this is just how it works'" explanation—there are better ways to do this kind of thing. And London said "politics has tarnished" all the work they did to prove to the music community that they're not just some cheesy political commission. "It’s important the mayor understands the significant impact that he's had with this decision [and] the trust-building that's gonna have to happen to get us to want to support him at that level."

Whew. Everyone had a lot to get off their chests, and if Murray hears even half of it, maybe some good will come out of all this drama.

But what about Kate Becker?! Everyone loves her—and she's gracious as shit. She thanked everyone for their candor and honesty and said it was good to get this all aired out. She offered her "love and respect" for Keblas and promised, "I am deeply committed to the work of the music commission."

Well, the commission had some advice for her: "One thing to think about for yourself," joked London, "is you don't want to do too good a job." Everyone laughed, but the message is clear: Even the most celebrated hard work for a politician may well be rewarded with a shove out the door.


Comments (29) RSS

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Max Solomon 1
plain and simple, murray wants his people in there. he's been cleaning out mcginn's appointees top to bottom, and giving his people big salaries.

apparently, that's his prerogative.
Posted by Max Solomon on February 19, 2014 at 5:06 PM · Report this
To be fair, Ed Murray is a fucking puppet and probably has no idea why Keblas was fired.
Posted by DOUG. on February 19, 2014 at 5:44 PM · Report this
To start off saying "we could have done better with communications" is BS. They were just hoping for not too much blowback. I gotta say - courting people's endorsements and taking their money and then not even asking them their opinion? Shady.

Posted by westello on February 19, 2014 at 5:57 PM · Report this
fletc3her 5
Try to remember all this when you wonder why Kate Becker doesn't have any political capital and nobody in the mayor's office will return your calls.
Posted by fletc3her on February 19, 2014 at 6:13 PM · Report this
seandr 6
What the fuck, Ed?

All I'm asking for is a mayor who doesn't immediately make me regret my vote.

Please, demonstrate your responsiveness to the community and fix this.
Posted by seandr on February 19, 2014 at 8:15 PM · Report this
Haha Ed Murray voters
Posted by UberAlles on February 19, 2014 at 8:52 PM · Report this
Remember the part about Murray's misleading and false campaign ads?
Posted by Derek on February 19, 2014 at 9:50 PM · Report this
seatackled 9
What does Dave Meinert say?

It seems like maybe McGinn reappointed him, but he was in that position before McGinn was mayor, so is he really a McGinn appointee?
Posted by seatackled on February 19, 2014 at 10:22 PM · Report this
kk in seattle 10
Pretty much brings to mind the bitching and moaning of my middle school kids when they get a new vice principal that they don't like. (Me: quit being a bunch of fucking whiners. Let the new gal/guy do her/his damn job already.)
Posted by kk in seattle on February 19, 2014 at 11:55 PM · Report this
Why does anyone think they have an entitled right to an executive position which is appointed by the mayor and serves at the pleasure of the mayor?

When a new mayor assumes office, such appointees must assume they will be gone. If the new mayor decides to re-appoint them, then fine, but if he doesn't, then depart gracefully.
Posted by Citizen R on February 20, 2014 at 12:03 AM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 12
The Stranger: not realizing that the voters said no to McGinn in November and now desperate to make Murray out to be the new "GW Bush of Seattle" whenever they can.
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on February 20, 2014 at 3:29 AM · Report this
Theodore Gorath 13
A new mayor appointing his mayoral appointments? The horror.

What a monster.
Posted by Theodore Gorath on February 20, 2014 at 4:54 AM · Report this
Clara T 14
Not so much that he's appointing his own, #13, but that he's culled the most effective. Murray nearly let the fucking brilliant, and well-connected to (think) tanks of brilliant, director of sustainability get away as well. The people's message is that when there is no better option than the already best option then stand pat.
Posted by Clara T on February 20, 2014 at 7:07 AM · Report this
In this case, Murray replaced a great person with a very similar person. Functionally it will not change the direction or effectiveness of the department. It won't make anything better (or worse). But at least Murray pissed off a bunch of voters. In terms of effectiveness it will be a wash. Politically it was a stupid thing to do.
Posted by swilkins on February 20, 2014 at 7:29 AM · Report this
DOUG. 16
@13: Murray's not a monster, just a hypocrite. During the campaign he bitched about McGinn letting good talent go and appointing his own people instead. Et tu, Ed?
Posted by DOUG. on February 20, 2014 at 7:45 AM · Report this
Theodore Gorath 17
@16: At least admit that this is only a big deal because of butthurt McGinn voters, and had McGinn won and done the same thing, no one here would care. In fact, it would probably be celebrated as a move to get more females into government roles.

Because to non-butthurt McGinn voters (or just non-McGinn voters I guess), it is really obvious.
Posted by Theodore Gorath on February 20, 2014 at 8:04 AM · Report this

Apparently, you don't know much about the Office of Film+Music, about Keblas, nor about the very strong relationship he has spent the past 9 years cultivating with these respective communities, otherwise, you would probably modify your wildly speculative statement.

So, this isn't about "butthurt McGinn voters", as I would imagine (at least based on talks I've had with members of the industry), that many of the people voicing their frustration over Keblas' dismissal are in point of fact Murray voters; which is why it feels so insulting, because, if nothing else, it's a damned pecular way of showing "support" for a community he actively courted during the election cycle, and which came out to support him in-turn.

As head of the Film+Music Office James Keblas has been, for nearly a decade, a tireless and highly effective advocate for these industries in Seattle, and by extension the State, which has benefitted greatly from his leadership and initiative.. What has upset many in both of these communities is not THAT he was replaced (most of us are quite cognizant of how political appointments work), but rather HOW: no consultation with stakeholders, not even with the one commission charged with direct oversight of the OoF+M; no temperature-gauging of the community; no transparency in the process; and apparently no clue as to the ensuing shitstorm such an action would engender.

On Tuesday evening some 200 members of the local film community packed into Saint Johns on Capitol Hill (my estimate - it was difficult to get an accurate head-count with people packed in so tightly) with two objectives: 1.) to make it clear we do NOT have an issue with Kate Becker - paeans to her have already been sung, and I would only be repeating what others have said far more eloquently than myself were I to add to the chorus - and that we are ready, able and willing to work with her and the remaining F+M staff to continue to grow the industry and opportunities for filmmakers in Seattle, and; 2.) to raise the political awareness of the community overall, and to organize the substantial creative energy within it as a force to leverage growth and positive change. The first goal was clearly accomplished; the second will take longer to bring to fruition, but steps are being taken, even as I write this.

So, rather than turning into a long, embittered kvetch over some vague "butthurt" as you suggest, this change is being embraced as an opportunity to empower the community, to make it stronger and more effective in the political realm, and to send a clear message to Murray (and any future executive) that while we may be easy to work with, we're going to become damned hard to fight, if a fight is called for.
Posted by COMTE on February 20, 2014 at 9:02 AM · Report this
Elections have consequences. No one doubts the abilities or qualifications of the new appointment. It's an appointed position, not a civil right that Keblas is entitled to.

And yes, Ed is giving his appointments higher salaries than McGinn, but he's appointing fewer staff than McGinn did, so it's a wash. Get over it.
Posted by NotYourStrawMan on February 20, 2014 at 9:12 AM · Report this
seatackled 20

What does "Elections have consequences" actually mean? My sense is that people say that to explain shifts in policies. So, for example, if Murray decided he wanted to appoint someone who would work toward levying "performance" taxes on filmmakers and bands, you could call it a consequence of the election. Simply hiring your cronies isn't about elections having consequences in the same sense.
Posted by seatackled on February 20, 2014 at 10:01 AM · Report this
The qualifications of new appointee is besides the point, only because enough people know her from the music community to be mollified about the outed Keblas, and the film community will work with her. However, if there had been any consultation with the film community, it's likely another candidate may have prevailed. Maybe not. The point is, all of this was done under the cover of night.

For a Mayor who is annoyingly all about "process" and "convening", there was a shocking lack of consideration or consultation with actually "stakeholders." Is this the kind of governing we can come to expect from him? Given the much higher salaries his staff is taking, this isn't the type of amateur politics anyone will suffer for long.

McGinn's actions proved his support for the creative community. Keblas had direct access to the Mayor's office and was able to make things happen. Becker was also part of the McGinn administration, which is a bonus, but it makes you wonder why someone as accomplished as Keblas was switched out for someone similar, but lacking in film industry experience. Sounds like petty politics.

Already looking forward to the next election...
Posted by Yeah You on February 20, 2014 at 10:23 AM · Report this
@17, can you elaborate? To be clear, I don't have a dog in this fight but what does the F+M Office do, or what did Keblas during his tenure that made him a star?
Posted by LiberatusQuirkus on February 20, 2014 at 10:27 AM · Report this
oops, I meant @18
Posted by LiberatusQuirkus on February 20, 2014 at 10:40 AM · Report this
When McSchwinn cleaned house, no one here cared.
Posted by hmmmmm on February 20, 2014 at 11:36 AM · Report this

Aside from being one of the co-founders (along with Kate Becker) of The Vera Project, James' tenure with the City has entailed a number of major accomplishments: coordinating and consolidating the City's film production resources into a "one stop shop", in addition to greatly streamlining the permitting process for both local and out-of-state filmmakers; was one of the prime movers behind the "Seattle: City of Music" initiative and the annual Seattle Music Awards program; spearheaded the creation of the Seattle Music Commission; has worked in close conjunction with Washigton FilmWorks to develop and expand the State Film Incentives program; implemented the monthly Seattle Film Happy Hour industry networking event; developed and implemented the Seattle Content Technology Initiative; worked with industry partners to create the "Commercialize Seattle" outreach initiative; and has been an unflagging advocate for the City's film and music communities, serving on innumerable panels, hosting industry events, giving presentations; in addition to personally mentoring scores of local independent filmmakers through the sometimes labyrinthian maze of government bureaucracy in order to get their projects off the ground. I'm sure there's more, but these are just what I can come up with off the top of my head.

As a direct result of his leadership, Seattle has emerged as one of the top U.S. cities for independent film production, and has garnered an international reputation as a nexus for creative talent. Although I suspect James himself would downplay his significant contributions, the simple fact is that, without him, his drive, his accessibility, and his willingness to listen to the needs of the communities he has so ably represented, I for one firmly believe that few, if any of these would have achieved anywhere near the level of success they enjoy today.
Posted by COMTE on February 20, 2014 at 12:20 PM · Report this
Sorry, meant this as a response to @23...
Posted by COMTE on February 20, 2014 at 12:23 PM · Report this
@26 Thanks, that's helpful
Posted by LiberatusQuirkus on February 20, 2014 at 5:53 PM · Report this
damnit, i meant @25
Posted by LiberatusQuirkus on February 20, 2014 at 5:53 PM · Report this
Because of the unexpected firing of James Keblas as Director of the Seattle Office of Film and Music on Feb. 6th, Seattle film industry members are meeting to discuss our future here in Seattle. We are holding a number of caucuses/discussion groups on Feb. 25th. To join in the discussion and be informed about where we are going and what we are doing please check out:

Seattle Film Industry Caucus:…
Posted by fgbg on February 20, 2014 at 6:05 PM · Report this
Above all, this episode reveals the petty side of Ed Murray. It's disappointing to see it emerge so quickly. He reached down to a relatively obscure city office that was working well, replaced a leader who didn't need replacing and angered the film community for no good reason, while offering nothing but mealy-mouthed explanation.
Let's put aside the niceness and competence of Becker. Keblas is/was equally nice and competent. This is bullshit chiefly because Murray actually felt the need to do this, to make an asshole control-freak move in a teensy setting with no legitimate cause. What would have happened had he retained Keblas? A small city sub-agency would have kept working well. Murray either couldn't or wouldn't see that. The former suggests blindness. The latter implies venality. Both tell us a great deal about him.
Posted by Relling on February 22, 2014 at 10:33 AM · Report this

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