Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s choices of a new police chief and transportation director are critical decisions that will define her term and have lasting effects on the city.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is about to make two defining choices of her term, hiring a new police chief and a transportation director.
These choices are critical to the city’s future and must be made free of pressure from special interests.
They also are chances for Durkan to demonstrate leadership and make lasting changes that will continue beyond her current term.
New leaders at both agencies are needed.
The police department made great strides to improve under a federal mandate, but further improvements are needed, especially with growing public concerns about safety and civility.
Experienced and diverse co-chairs of a committee advising Durkan on the chief search found signs of progress and also several areas where change is needed. Too few officers are assigned to patrol, for instance, contributing to response times that can be “exceedingly long” for some calls.
The department lacks supervisor accountability standards, and community policing seems to be viewed as “a public-relations effort instead of a crime, fear and disorder reduction strategy,” according to the committee co-chairs.
Acting Chief Carmen Best is a fine public servant, and Seattle should be grateful for her good work. But the findings suggest the department is at a point where it might benefit from a newcomer — Best is not among its top three recommended candidates.
Seattle must also give Durkan and her rigorous search process a chance. Durkan is eminently qualified to select a police chief, and her commitment to fair and constitutional policing is unquestionable.
As U.S. Attorney, she investigated the police department, identifying its flaws, then negotiated the consent decree mandating reforms. Multiple mayors also chose her to serve on Seattle police oversight panels.
Durkan’s stance on transportation, meanwhile, is a question mark. Seattle voters chose her over an anti-car zealot, but Durkan’s plans to address enormous traffic challenges remain unclear.
Hiring a transportation director is Durkan’s chance to fix a troubled department that has caused deep divisions across the city.
Seattle desperately needs a transportation director with experience managing large agencies and budgets.
Worse than street conditions is the department’s shocking inability to properly budget for major projects. It wildly underestimated streetcar costs, overspent on bike lanes and is failing to fulfill promises made with the $930 million Move Seattle levy in 2015.
Objectivity is also needed.
Seattle’s transportation planning will be dysfunctional until its leadership acknowledges that driving will remain the predominant mode of travel for people living in and visiting the city in the foreseeable future. Supporting, not fighting, that reality is essential for the city to remain a regional destination for culture and commerce.
Durkan showed encouraging pragmatism by suspending work on the troubled First Avenue streetcar project and pausing plans to eliminate a general-purpose lane on Fourth Avenue, as more downtown gridlock approaches.
However, one of Durkan’s first mayoral decisions was to hire an activist who lobbied to deprioritize automobile use of streets in the key role of deputy mayor.
There is no shortage of ideologues in local and regional transportation governance. What’s sorely needed is a transportation director willing to accommodate all forms of travel.
Durkan should also consider hiring a department head who is open to consolidating services with regional and state transportation agencies.
The people of Seattle and beyond are counting on Durkan to make wise and objective decisions for these critical positions.