The gold-plated Seattle City Council

A bump in Seattle City Council staffing is a part of an “all-of-the-above” approach to fiscal management, writes columnist Jonathan Martin.

Switching to a Seattle City Council elected by districts was supposed to put the council in closer touch with the real wants and needs of the voters.

Nowhere on that list of asks, I’m sure, is a sudden $500,000 bump in the council’s own staffing budget.

But we seem to now be getting an out-of-touch financial decision by the supposedly in-touch council.

Top on almost everyone’s list of head-scratchers is the $6.3 million bailout of the failed Pronto bike share. Owning the little-used fleet of slow, expensive rental bikes also puts Seattle on the hook to cover a $1.4 million annual budget if ads, fees and sponsorships don’t materialize.

Now we can add a gold-plated City Council. On Tuesday, the council gave itself authority to hire nine new legislative aides — adding a fourth position to each council member’s office — and to rent office space outside of City Hall.

Those perks put Seattle in elite company. Like-minded cities with council members elected by district — Boston, Austin, Denver or San Francisco — have no more than three staffers per council member. None pay for district offices. Seattle now allows four staffers per council member, and council members can rent a second office.

Those figures come from a review the Seattle City Council asked for a few years ago. In case any of the new council members missed it, veteran Councilmember Tim Burgess brought up the uncomfortable comparisons before he was the only “no” in the 8-1 vote.

The argument for adding staff is, ironically, that representing a 87,000-person district is more demanding than representing the city as a whole.”

“Is this the highest and best use of these funds? I’m not at all confident that our constituents would answer that question with a yes,” he said diplomatically.


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