The first blow to the East District Council happened in July when Mayor Ed Murray made a surprise announcement that the city would begin a process to sever ties with the 13-council system and replace it with a new Community Involvement Commission. A plan is due on September 26th.
The second blow landed Monday night when Seattle neighborhood coordinator and East District Council wrangler Tim Durkan announced he is leaving the Department of Neighborhoods.
With Durkan out of the picture and a City Hall that has been critical of the district councils’ lack of diversity, the group has only one meeting tentatively scheduled for October. Without an influx of energy and focus on a new direction, that meeting could be the group’s last.
“What would you bring to this group that you wouldn’t bring to community council?” district council chair Lindy Wishard wondered aloud during Monday’s meeting at the Capitol Hill Library. “This isn’t where the action is, so what do we do?” said another member.
While some expressed interest in seeing the council continue, it remains unclear what function the body would serve. District council members throughout the city recently met to discuss their future, but representatives from the East District that attended said there was no firm plan on how to move forward.
“My best hope is that the mayor comes up with a plan … where the cumulative knowledge of the district councils isn’t lost,” said East District Council member Andrew Taylor. “My line is ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bottle.’”
The East District Council is comprised of representatives from neighborhood groups, like the Capitol Hill Community Council and First Hill Improvement Association. Representatives form the 13 district councils gather to makeup the City Neighborhood Council.
The system was created in 1987 and currently makes up the City of Seattle-supported components of City Hall’s community process to vet certain proposals and grant applications. The system is part of the fuzzy cloud of “community” Seattle’s leaders refer to when they say they are acting on “community priorities” or tell you the “community has spoken.”
The neighborhood council system mostly busies itself with city grant processes these days. On Monday the group voted on approving a grant for the Melrose Promenade project, even though it was the only project to clear the city’s feasibility hurdle.
The city’s review of the district council system was put in place in part to address concerns that the district councils do not fully represent neighborhoods. As part of the divorce with district council, city resources previously allocated to councils will be re allocated to engaging with neighborhood community groups more broadly. Part of what the Community Involvement Commission will determine over the coming months will be how and where those resources should be redistributed.
A more clearcut driver for change came with the change in how Seattle elects its City Council. The neighborhood district council system is a holdover from the time before Seattle moved to district representation on the City Council. CHS looked at how the neighborhood councils needed to change to mesh with the new District 3 world here in 2015. This overhaul could be the answer.