Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for October, 2011

Seattle parks gun ban shot down again

by Matt Rosenberg October 31st, 2011

A gun ban approved by Seattle for city parks and other city recreation facilities has been rejected again in court, this time by a three-judge state appeals court panel. The court was hearing an appeal of a earlier decision, reported by The Seattle Times in February 2010 when a King County Superior Court judge first disallowed the city’s ban. Today’s ruling authored by Judge Ann Schindler says only the state legislature has the power to authorize whether or not cities can enact a gun ban in parks, and the lawmakers haven’t permitted that yet.

In sum, we hold that RCW 9.41.290 preempts the Firearms Rule. Except as expressly authorized by the legislature, municipalities are prohibited from regulating the possession of firearms at city-owned park facilities open to the public. Whether to amend RCW 9.41.300 to prohibit possession of firearms at city-owned parks and park facilities frequented by children and youth is a question for the legislature to decide.

The city parks gun prohibition, instituted in late 2009 at the urging of outgoing Mayor Greg Nickels after a shooting at the 2008 Folklife festival and other shootings at parks properties, was challenged by gun rights groups including the Second Amendment Foundation in Bellevue, on behalf of gun rights proponents including co-plaintiffs Winnie Chan, a Washington Department of Corrections employee, and West Seattle resident Ray Carter, founder of the Seattle chapter of the gay and lesbian gun rights group Pink Pistols.

In a phone interview this afternoon Carter said he was pleased by the ruling and hoped the City of Seattle would put pragmatism over pursuit of a “philosophical holy grail” by avoiding what he says would be a fruitless appeal to the state Supreme Court. He said he feels strongly about his right to legally bear arms in city parks because “there is no magic barrier” making them a crime-free zone. A private citizen could be threatened with violence and potentially loss of life “in Victor Steinbrueck Park, Pioneer Square, Lincoln Park or walking out of the Rainier Community Center at high noon,” Carter said. Carter, who formerly worked at an electric car dealership, now is employed as a fundraiser for the Second Amendment Foundation.

Kimberly Mills, communications director for Seattle City Attorney Peter Holmes, said Holmes’ office is analyzing the ruling and will be briefing Mayor Mike McGinn and the Parks and Recreation Department before any decision is made on appealing to the state’s high court.

Public Data Ferret’s Public Safety+Courts archive


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UW Dental School should ban free samples, prof urges

by Matt Rosenberg October 28th, 2011

Dental schools including that of the University of Washington should seriously consider banning free drug and product samples due to ethical, medical, consumer and educational considerations, says UW Professor of Dentistry Philippe Hujoel after completing a study just published in The Journal of Dental Education. The study found that a group of UW dental students appeared to suffer compromised medical judgement as a result of being exposed to free samples of a high-priced “sensitizing” toothpaste.

King County hopes to revive mileage-based car insurance

by Matt Rosenberg October 27th, 2011

After a planned “pay as you drive” (PAYD) auto insurance pilot program using on-board devices to track mileage and facilitate rate discounts was announced with fanfare by King County in 2007, it quietly fizzled by mid-2011, as a related contract with Unigard Insurance’s Bellevue office was cancelled. But now the County is hoping to ramp up the experiment once more, perhaps lending impetus to stalled state legislation which would authorize insurers to offer a PAYD option to Washington motorists. With a $1.9 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration still in hand, King County is seeking proposals by November 3 from insurance companies to develop a PAYD product, also known as mileage based auto insurance (MBAI), that would be marketed to drivers as a way to save money, reduce vehicle miles traveled, and in urban regions such as Seattle, cut greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.

KIng County youth court guardians seek to unionize

by Matt Rosenberg October 26th, 2011

A prominent public employee labor union filed a request Monday with the State of Washington’s Public Employment Relations Commision (PERC) to establish itself as the collective bargaining agent for 15 non-supervisory and non-clerical workers of the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program in King County Superior Court, which helps represent allegedly abused children age 11 and under in so-called “dependency” custody cases.

State auditor: Port Townsend’s finances shaky

by Matt Rosenberg October 25th, 2011

A financial audit on the city of Port Townsend released Monday by the office of Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag warns elected officials and city staff that the municipality’s finances are badly eroding.

The city of 8,925 is a distinctive and historic Northwest locale about 40 miles northwest of Seattle, known for its Victorian architecture, vibrant arts community, maritime history and as a haven for vacationers and retirees.

Its annual expenditures from 2006 through 2010 have ranged from $6.4 million to $7.6 million. The audit states: “The city is at risk of not being able to meet its financial obligations,” emphasizing that:

  • The city’s cash balance declined from $258,408 in 2006 to $40,700 on August 31, 2011.
  • In three of the last five full fiscal years (2006-2010) the city has spent more than it has taken in, with deficits of $212,841 in 2006, $64,926 in 2008 and $193,888 in 2009.
  • The city’s long-term debt has grown from $14.4 million in 2006 to $21.1 million in 2010, and in 2010 the city agreed to guarantee $625,000 of the regional fire district’s debt.

The audit states that “the city’s tax revenues and financial position have worsened because of “the downturn in the economy, the temporary loss of ferry services in 2007, closure of the Hood Canal Bridge in 2009 and the ongoing stagnation of the real estate market.”

The city hasn’t cut costs enough, according to the audit. It should draft a formal written comprehensive plan to improve its financial standing and city officials should keep a closer eye on the city’s financial performance while ensuring the plan is followed, and successful.

The city replies in the audit report that its 2012 proposed budget, to be deliberated starting in late October, would cut general fund expenditures $906,000; and reduce utility expenses $800,000 by shifting engineering overhead to a capital account, “thereby stabilizing the rates and financing of the utility.” In addition, the city says a special purpose levy vote in November, if approved by local voters, would fund the city’s debt guarantee for the fire district and “remove any further diversion of income from the general fund.” Together, if adopted, these steps will allow the city to replenish its reserves, meet its obligations and “be on a solid road to recovery” in the next three to five years, the city states.

Public Data Ferret’s Financial Management archive


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MOVE maps digital stories on diet, smoking in King County

by Matt Rosenberg October 24th, 2011

Almost 70 digital stories on healthy diet, obesity prevention and smoking prevention from Seattle and King County residents are mapped online at a new web site called Mapping Our Voices For Equality (MOVE). Featured are digital personal narratives on healthy eating in challenging surroundings, teens learning healthy cooking, finding low-cost exercise opportunities, preventing smoking in shared public spaces, and related topics. The initiative stems from a program developed by the U.S. Centers For Disease Control (CDC).

An easy mapping interface at the site lets users scan the region, then click on locations and view digital stories and videos developed by community members with the assistance of local organizations including Sea Mar, Creative Narrations, Entre Hermanos, Puget SoundOff, International Community Health Services, the REACH Coalition and the government agency Public Health – Seattle and King County. Currently, 69 stories are mapped and more are coming according to organizers. (Stories are found on the map by clicking on large icons and small multi-colored dot clusters which reveal more icons; also, all are indexed at the site’s “stories” page.)

In the Kitchen of FEEST from Mapping Voices on Vimeo.

MOVE arises from a federally-funded campaign called Communities Putting Prevention To Work (CPPW) originated by the CDC which enlists grassroots resources to develop and spread messages counteracting obesity and smoking. Both are major health risks in lower-income neighborhoods. The MOVE site also includes resources for learning, action, and developing new stories.

In a statement, MOVE Project Manager Natasha Freidus said that through the Web site of mapped stories local residents “have become more involved in creating positive changes for their communities while learning new technologies.” Added Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, “MOVE provides a forum for voices from the community as well as a visually interesting way to capture the exciting changes that are happening in King County” around public health awareness and community engagement. The map has a customizable “changes” view that lets users explore the policy changes that have occurred in King County on healthy eating and fighting obesity and smoking as a result of CPPW’s work.

MOVE has scheduled three community forums this autumn to highlight involvement in obesity and smoking prevention awareness and action. Residents will present the MOVE story map and digital stories, along with their policy priorities, to panels of elected officials. The first of the three events is “International District on the MOVE” Friday October 28 at Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific-American Experience, 719 S. King Street, Seattle. It will include neighborhood tours, free entry to the “From Fields to Family” exhibit at 3 p.m. and a community forum at 4 p.m.

Public Data Ferret’s Public Health archive

Editor’s note: Public Data Ferret or its “mother blog” site Social Capital Review periodically cover community group or non-profit news. Contact matt(at)publiceyenorthwest(dot)org.


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University of Washington’s graduation rate slows

by Matt Rosenberg October 21st, 2011

Six-year graduation rates for freshman entering the University of Washington at the main campus in Seattle had been rising for the classes of 2000 through 2003 but slowed last year as the rate for the class of 2004 dropped slightly. Overall, UW is solidly in the middle of the pack in six-year graduation rates among a representative sample, ranking 12th out of 25 peer institutions selected by Washington state’s Higher Education Coordinating Council. The information comes in a report presented at yesterday’s meeting of the UW Board of Regents, and prepared by the U’s Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity.

Auditor’s whistleblower reports: workers misusing state computers

by Matt Rosenberg October 20th, 2011

Five separate whistleblower investigation reports issued this week by Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag find that employees at state agencies misused their workplace computers for personal purposes. According to the reports, they used their state computers to make hundreds upon hundreds of visits to hobby, shopping, wedding, photo, auction, and personal finance sites, and to trade stocks, work for a direct sales business, administer web sites for a dance studio and photography business, do work for a non-profit, administer classes taught at a local parks department, do their taxes, and urge veterans to lobby elected officials. Of the five employees, two resigned as investigations unfolded. Three others are being investigated further by their department supervisors. Employers involved are the departments of Social and Health Services; Personnel; and Labor and Industries; and the Office of Minority and Women Business Enterprises. Each pledges to continue reminding employees of prohibitions against personal use of state computers.