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Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Council Fights Back on Nickels’ Budget End Run

posted by on May 1 at 12:19 PM

Earlier this year, Mayor Greg Nickels spent around $150,000 in city funds for four surveillance cameras in Cal Anderson Park. The sneaky move infuriated many on the city council, which had placed a hold on funding for the cameras (and cameras in three other city parks) until they could get more information from the mayor.

This morning, the council’s budget committee—inflated to seven members by the presence of several pissed-off council members who aren’t normally on the committee—met to talk about how they could keep the mayor from usurping the council’s budget authority in the future.

The council—whose discussion was replete with terms like “prosecutable offense,” “misdemeanor,” and “violation of trust”—was unusually indignant, not only at the mayor’s end run but at the fact that no one from the city’s finance department (which answers to the mayor) could be bothered to show up at the meeting. When committee chair Jean Godden explained Dively’s absence by saying he “wasn’t able to” attend, members pressed her to tell them why. “I don’t know exactly—he just couldn’t attend,” Godden said. Council member Nick Licata responded that, given that the mayor’s move constituted a serious violation of council trust, “it would seem that someone from Finance should be able to show up. … I am in some ways as disturbed by the absence of any appearance of cooperation by the executive as I am with the expenditure of funds contrary to our expectation.”

Indignation aside, most of this morning’s discussion centered around how to tighten the legal impact of budget provisos, which are explicit policy statements by the council setting requirements for money to be spent. In the case of the cameras, the mayor got around a council-imposed restriction by taking money from another area of the budget—funding that was supposed to help pay to cap the reservoir and add new green space and park improvements at Jefferson Park on Beacon Hill.

By siphoning off money from Jefferson Park, Nickels was able to get around the proviso, which only applied to a separate area of the parks budget.

Although the council’s central staff director Ben Noble, who led the council’s discussion, didn’t know the exact consequence of ignoring a budget proviso, he did say the mayor had a lot of flexibility to do what he wanted under the current rules. “There’s trust not only that provisos will be followed but that the intent of the council will be followed.” (I have a call in to the city’s law department to find out what the legal consequences might be.)

Now that that trust has been violated—as council member Richard Conlin said, “We’re in a ‘trust but verify’ mode with the executive and this unfortunately puts us in kind of a disappointing situation”—the council has to decide what action to take to make sure the mayor doesn’t go behind its back again. The options they looked at this morning range from writing an angry letter—which they’re doing—to holding up the entire budget until the mayor agrees to every restriction. Another proposal would keep capital spending from carrying forward every year—so that, for example, a park under construction in 2008 would have to be approved again, along with all its provisos, in 2009. That proposal, which Conlin likened to a “nuclear standoff,” would be “administratively burdensome,” Noble said, “but it would address the problem.” He added: “If the system of trust is going to break down, there may be no other approach.”

Ultimately, besides its (probably satisfying, but ultimately meaningless) angry letter, the council decided to move forward with proposals to write provisos so that they apply more generally (preventing the mayor from simply grabbing money from other funds within a department), and to work with the city attorney to tighten the rules on what the money allocated for specific projects (like the Jefferson Park improvements) can be spent on.

In the meantime, the mayor continues to seek $850,000 to put cameras in three more parks. By all indications, they seem prepared to give it to him.

RSS icon Comments


Finally! We can have Big Brother watching us even more! I think we should all have tracking devices with little video cameras following each of us around all day long! That will keep us safe!

And if you try to dodge the "Follower" your neighbors can turn you in for re-education!

I love America!!!

Posted by Andrew | May 1, 2008 12:34 PM

THe only way I'd be in favor of the cameras in our public parks would be if the realtime feeds and an archive of the feeds were put up on a public website viewable from any IP w/in the city or county. Otherwise, fuck this Big Bro noise.

Posted by NaFun | May 1, 2008 12:43 PM

All your parks are belong to us!

Posted by Mayor McCheese | May 1, 2008 1:09 PM

Really want to be followed? Try England. Look at how many different places the London tube bombers were caught on video:

I recall that Londoners typically are caught on video hundreds of time a day.

Posted by Andrew Taylor | May 1, 2008 1:29 PM

What amazes me about this posting is that this is the perfect example of local government spying on it's citizens and yet there is little outrage on the part of Sloggers. We crap ourselves about a Presidential Election that for the time being is out of our hands until November but something that is classic "1984" we just think nothing of and write if off?

Maybe some people need to rethink their complaints about George Bush flushing the Constitution down the toilet when you ignore your own mayor spying on you without a warrant or even cause.

Posted by What the Fuck??!!??? | May 1, 2008 1:33 PM

Those who would give up liberty for security deserve neither.

Posted by Ben Franklin | May 1, 2008 1:36 PM

what liberty are we surrendering here? i thought this was about the mayor abusing the trust of the council?

Posted by infrequent | May 1, 2008 1:43 PM

I don't give a fuck if the Mayor moved a little bit of funding around. What pisses me off are the cameras in Cal Anderson and soon to be in other parks. Parks are pretty safe as they are. The only reason to have cams is so the cops can have more power in their already incompetent hands.

Posted by NaFun | May 1, 2008 1:52 PM

@7, You are right, it sounds better to ignore the larger issue at stake with cameras going into every park. Let's focus on the relationship between the Mayor and the Council. Why cann't they just have a snugglefest and talk about their feelings more? Why I ask you why?

Posted by Andrew | May 1, 2008 1:55 PM

Shouldn't the Council insist on installing surveillance cameras in the Mayor's office?

Posted by RonK, Seattle | May 1, 2008 2:01 PM

the park is a public place. i guess i feel if i don't mind a cop patrolling it, why would i mind a camera? i don't like the idea of cameras everywhere, but i can't formulate a descent argument as to why this is surrendering a freedom.

Posted by infrequent | May 1, 2008 2:03 PM

@11, and that's how it starts.

Posted by Totalitarianism American Style! | May 1, 2008 2:05 PM

@12 and 11

I agree with 11. The park isn't private property, it belongs to the city. A camera is no more invasive than a cop patrolling the grounds. In fact I think a camera is much less invasive than having some brooding cop looking over your shoulder.

Exactly what freedom do you think the cameras are violating? Anybody has the right to take photos and/or video in a public place whether they be government employee or a private citizen. You can set up your own video camera in the park if you want.

Posted by Ashley | May 1, 2008 2:31 PM

(hey look, i'm a Stranger Writer - I can copypasta large amounts of text and claim it without a source!!!!)

Get it right, Ben:

* Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

o This statement was used as a motto on the title page of An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania. (1759) which was attributed to Franklin in the edition of 1812, but in a letter of September 27, 1760 to David Hume, he states that he published this book and denies that he wrote it, other than a few remarks that were credited to the Pennsylvania Assembly, in which he served. The phrase itself was first used in a letter from that Assembly dated November 11, 1755 to the Governor of Pennsylvania. An article on the origins of this statement here includes a scan that indicates the original typography of the 1759 document, which uses an archaic form of "s": "Thoſe who would give up Essential Liberty to purchaſe a little Temporary Safety, deſerve neither Liberty nor Safety." Researchers now believe that a fellow diplomat by the name of Richard Jackson is the primary author of the book. With the information thus far available the issue of authorship of the statement is not yet definitely resolved, but the evidence indicates it was very likely Franklin, who in the Poor Richard's Almanack of 1738 is known to have written a similar proverb: "Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power."

o Many paraphrased variants derived from this saying have arisen and have usually been incorrectly attributed to Franklin:

"They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

"Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither."

"He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security."

"He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither."

"People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both."

"If we restrict liberty to attain security we will lose them both."

"Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."

"He who gives up freedom for safety deserves neither."

"Those who would trade in their freedom for their protection deserve neither."

Posted by bobcat | May 1, 2008 2:40 PM

Who's gonna edit the editor to make sure these kind of ideas can be communicated in 100 words or less?

Posted by Trevor | May 1, 2008 2:48 PM

Those CRAZY lawyers at the ACLU have issues with cameras too. But what do they know?

Posted by Andrew | May 1, 2008 2:56 PM

i read that, too, andrew. it's very interesting. but none of the arguments are about forfeiting a freedom. they are about abuses of authority, the same arguments that encourage people to stockpile guns and ammunition.

Posted by infrequent | May 1, 2008 3:24 PM

the cameras are there for protection. our protection. if you get murdered in the park, the video tape would be evidence for a trial and/or help the investigation.

these cameras aren't going to be monitored 24 hours. they record to tape/hard disk and are wiped after 7 days unless they're required for an investigation. it is a public park, and there is precedence for this kind of thing: cop cars have dash-cams, and some metro buses have video and audio surveillance.

trite "big brother" aside, this is pretty innocuous. if you can't put a cop in the park, put a camera. seems like a good idea to me.

Posted by some dude | May 1, 2008 3:34 PM

but i think we can all get along on this one. you can dislike nickels for his support of potential abuses of authority, and i can dislike nickels for his current actual abuse of authority.

Posted by infrequent | May 1, 2008 4:29 PM

Those are a lot of expensive broken and smashed cameras.

Nice meteor showers this time of year, huh?

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 1, 2008 4:53 PM

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