Though the Nov. 2 election settled important questions of municipal leadership, our region remains at a crossroads because key jobs across schools, police agencies and transit are vacant.
Elections matter — and filling those jobs is key to making good on campaign promises. Seattle Public Schools and Seattle Police each have gone more than a year without permanent leadership. Interim hires or departing bosses also now oversee Sound Transit, the King County Sheriff’s Office, and Bellevue’s police and schools, among other regional agencies.
In a region with immense needs to improve transportation, educational equity and public safety, the stakes are high on getting these high-profile hires right.
The public must watch each of these appointments carefully. School superintendents, police chiefs and these other positions aren’t on the ballots, but the responsibility to appoint good public stewards to these jobs is. In a 2020 ballot measure, King County voters assigned to the county executive the power to appoint a sheriff. Last month, they then reelected Executive Dow Constantine to a fourth term. The buck for county law enforcement reform now stops on Constantine’s desk.
The decisions made by each of these appointees will reverberate across years, and through thousands of lives. After Sound Transit chief executive officer Peter Rogoff steps down in 2022, his replacement — picked by a board mostly of city and county elected officials — must steer the agency, now facing a $6.5 billion construction shortfall, with minimal further delays for the cities long awaiting their public transit connections.
Mayor and council candidates rarely mention on the campaign trail their qualifications to be hiring managers, but voters must not overlook this aspect of their responsibilities. Seattle Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell focused much of his campaign on promising to make Seattle a safer city for residents, workers and visitors. How well he chooses the next police chief will determine how this aspiration plays out to a city that has loudly demanded bias-free policing and better accountability.
There is no “What do we do now?” mystery facing the local officials who just won office or re-election. The top mission is clear: fill big jobs well and with urgency, so the region’s deep lingering issues can get long-needed attention.