Collaboration in Civic Spheres

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With Tax Vote Looming, King County Looking To Labor Unions To Forgo Planned Salary Hikes

by Matt Rosenberg August 17th, 2010

Facing a $60 million 2011 deficit in its general fund, and with a .2 percent sales tax hike coming before voters in November, King County is trying to get its labor force to forgo cost-of-living (COLA) salary hikes of two to six percent that have been a mainstay in previous collective bargaining agreements. Yesterday, King County Executive Dow Constantine and the leader of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees (WSCCC), Chris Dugovich, announced that union’s King County unit would skip its COLA hike for 2011, saving the county $500,000 to $600,000. As the Seattle Times reports, if all 63 of the county’s 73 employee bargaining units that have expiring COLA provisions were to forgo any COLA hikes in 2011, the county could save $9.4 million, almost one-sixth of the general fund deficit. The general fund is a collection of so-called “discretionary” funds, including law enforcement and criminal justice, which comprises about 12.5 percent of the total county budget; the rest is in so-called “dedicated funds” which are mainly paid for by user fees, special tax levies and other dedicated revenues. (More: King County Budget Basics).

The WSCCC’s King County bargaining unit represents juvenile court supervisors and counselors, custodians and hazardous waste workers. Members will actually vote on August 27 whether to forego their 2011 COLA wage hike.

Seattle Times editorial and opinion column writer Joni Balter in a blog post today, writes:

The trend toward no COLAS is what has to happen in the new – read, lousy – economy.

As the Daily Weekly blog of the Seattle Weekly notes, a big catch in Constantine’s quest would be the 4,000-plus-member Amalgamated Transit Union, representing some 2,800 Metro bus drivers and other Metro personnel. So too are the King County Sheriff’s Police, who as Constantine recently told Burien city officials, are so far resisting his entreaties to consider giving back their negotiated COLA for the upcoming year. The Highline Times reported:

Beware Of Open Government Counterfeits

by Carrie Shaw May 17th, 2010

As momentum builds behind open government initiatives, examples of politicians and bureaucrats playing the public transparency ruse are popping up more and more.

A recent opinion piece in the Washington Post by J.H. Snider highlighted how local government entities tend to be more entrenched in hindering public access to information as a means to protect bureaucratic turf and incestuous business-as-usual practices. Snider knows a bit about pushing from the outside against closed door democracy. As president of iSolon.org, Snider’s mission is to “focus on the most difficult areas of democratic reform─where elected officials have a conflict of interest in bringing about reforms that might reduce their own power.”

Snider sites the problem of “fake transparency,” or the efforts by public officials to “seek democratic legitimacy but not the accountability that comes with open government.”

The examples are numerous: secret meetings on controversial issues, destroying of emails, omitting documentation when posted online, excessive fees for document requests, personal intimidation and harassing phone calls — all firsthand experiences for Snider in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.

There’s no mincing of words with Snider — open government reforms are necessary because politicians want to protect their power and control over money and resources for their own benefit.

It’s the “presumption of guilt” position when it comes to human nature and the corrupting influence of power.

Locally, Washington Coalition for Open Government is taking the lead to guarantee public access and accountability through legislation, legal efforts, and education. President, Toby Nixon and former Seattle Times executive editor, Mike Fancher have led the charge with legal and legislative victories including the Supreme Court of the United States case involving state Referendum 71 and stopping efforts in the state Legislature to limit access to government and the people’s right to know.

Fortunately, technology is making the public crusades of people like Snider, Nixon, and Fancher and organizations like WCOG, iSolon.org or the National Freedom of Information Coalition true agents of change.

Despite the positive exposure and influence these leaders and their organizations are having, they know that the true change agents lie at the grassroots level. Open government initiatives will die the death of a thousand public relations campaigns unless “we the people” remain engaged, informed, and vigilant.

Our civic infrastructure is about people taking the time to connect with the democratic process. Now through June 13, you can be a change agent by exercising your right to participate in a Countywide Community Forum on the topic of Public Trust: Customer Service and Public Engagement.

Bring your voice to a forum.