Leaders of the agency, which distributes millions of dollars annually to arts and culture projects countywide, said the full impact of the push by the council remains unclear.
King County officials are increasing their oversight of 4Culture, an agency that distributes millions of dollars annually to nonprofit arts-and-culture organizations countywide.
Metropolitan King County Council cemented the change in a 6-3 vote Monday, giving itself new powers as 4Culture faces a funding increase in coming years and new leadership soon.
Supporters call the measure necessary, considering the agency’s handling of millions of taxpayer dollars annually. Critics, including some artists, 4Culture staffers and council members, say it is an example of the council overstepping its power.
The ordinance gives the nine-member council the authority to confirm 4Culture’s pick for executive director, appoint nine out of the agency’s 15 board members, approve or decline the organization’s budget and amend its bylaws.
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The measure also creates a task force to hear from community stakeholders. It does not give the council any hand in granting 4Culture awards.
“These procedural changes simply provide a modest role for elected officials,” said Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, a co-sponsor of the measure, before Monday’s vote.
Via letters and phone calls to council members, as well as public testimonies Monday, opponents call the new rules an attempt by the council to politicize and control the agency, which awards grants to projects in fields ranging from technology to performance art across King County.
Councilmembers Claudia Balducci, Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Joe McDermott voted against the ordinance; Balducci emphasized a need for equitable funding for groups under 4Culture’s umbrella. McDermott, chair of the council, called the law a “hostile takeover” of 4Culture’s board.
“We’re more than disappointed by today’s vote because this is a classic case of a ‘solution in search of a problem,'” they said in a statement. “It’s simply not necessary for the Council to micromanage an organization that has been nationally recognized for the work it has done on behalf of artists throughout the region.”
In a statement after Monday’s vote, 4Culture leadership said it will adjust to the new rules, and that the full impact of the measure remains unclear.
The change comes as 4Culture’s longtime Executive Director Jim Kelly prepares to retire at the end of this month. Also, the organization’s revenue stream will shift from a dwindling endowment of roughly $10 million per year to $13 million annually from hotel-and-motel taxes come 2021.
“When you’re dealing with more than $10 million in taxpayer funding, you have to have some oversight from elected individuals,” Upthegrove said in a phone interview after the hearing.
The ordinance will take effect next week, or sooner, with Executive Dow Constantine’s signature.
“We’re all going to have to commit to make the resulting system work,” Balducci told the council.