Eight of nine Seattle City Council members voted Monday for an ordinance allowing them each to hire an additional aide. Councilmember Tim Burgess opposed it, saying it likely will cost $500,000 per year.
The Seattle City Council gave itself some extra help Monday, voting 8-1 for an ordinance allowing each council member to hire another aide.
Those who supported the ordinance said more aides are needed now that seven council members have been elected to represent individual geographic districts.
That change, approved by Seattle voters in 2013, took effect this year after more than a century of all nine council members being elected citywide.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who represents District 1, said her office has been inundated with neighborhood questions and concerns.
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Under the old system, council members would direct a constituent to the member chairing the relevant committee; the parks-committee chair would field questions related to parks all over the city, for example, Herbold said.
Now district council members are expected to respond to all manner of inquires, she said. They’re holding periodic office hours in community centers, libraries and other locations.
“One might think there would be a reduced workload, but the fact of the matter is the expectations for constituent responses has greatly increased,” Herbold said.
The ordinance approved Monday raises a cap on the number of aides for each council member from three to four, Council President Bruce Harrell said.
The ordinance doesn’t actually allocate the money to pay for the nine additional aides. That will be handled separately as part of the broader budget process.
Only Councilmember Tim Burgess voted against the ordinance, saying it likely will cost taxpayers $500,000 per year.
Council members in similarly sized U.S. cities with district council members have only one to three aides, according to a 2014 report by the City Auditor, Burgess noted, mentioning Austin, Boston, Denver, Jacksonville, Fla., Oakland and San Francisco.
“I certainly understand my colleagues’ desire to have an increased level of service, he said. “But I question whether an additional staff member is needed to do that work.”
Burgess connected a related concern to his role as chair of the budget committee.
“This decision is not made in a financial vacuum. There will be costs associated with this,” he said.
“On an annual basis, we’re talking about half a million dollars. Is this the highest and best use of these funds? I’m not at all convinced our constituents would answer, ‘Yes,’ to that question.”
In addition to council-member aides, the council is supported by more than 20 shared “central staff” policy analysts.
Mayor Ed Murray didn’t immediately comment on the council’s vote.