Emotions run high as Council contemplates 4Culture oversight

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 “Pretty disheartening on a number of levels” and “a circus act” were the ways two different attendees at the King County Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting on March 7 described the proceedings they witnessed. Councilmembers had gathered to debate an array of amendments to proposed Ordinance 2018-0086, the measure that would place additional Council oversights on 4Culture, which is currently an independent cultural development authority.

Two weeks earlier, at a previous Committee of the Whole meeting, members of the public were allowed to offer testimony regarding the Ordinance, and almost all of the 40 citizens who spoke were against allowing Council interference in 4Culture’s long-established funding distribution process.

But this time, the public could only listen – and squirm – as councilmembers debated, undercut and overrode one another in an emotional three-hour-long battle of wills and procedural tactics. At one point, three legal advisors were summoned to the podium to determine the appropriate procedure to follow. At other times, councilmembers used the term “power grab” to describe the way the Council’s actions might look to the audience members, most of whom wore green scarves to identify themselves as members of King County’s cultural community.

While councilmembers up and down the dais repeatedly stressed their interest in working with the community to determine a way forward, Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welle’s proposal to form a task force and seek community input in advance of taking a vote on Ordinance 2018-0086 was defeated. However, the Council later voted to include language that would mandate formation of a task force that specifically would have an equity and social justice lens – after the ordinance would go into effect.

Before the long meeting came to its official end, there was some audible scoffing from the audience, which prompted a rebuke from Council Chair Claudia Balducci. Later, some audience members walked out en masse to convey their displeasure at comments being made by one of the councilmembers.

Ultimately, in a 6-3 vote, the Council passed a striker amendment that had been created after meetings with all councilmembers and 4Culture board leadership over the last seven weeks. The elements of that striker include:

  • Eliminating the Council’s ability to remove the Executive Director (which was in the original proposed ordinance);
  • Clarifying the budget process by:

               • delaying the requirement of the budget review to 2020 to allow the organization adequate time to prepare for the change;

               • providing more specificity in the process for transmitting the budget;

               • including only one year of capital expenditures as part of the budget information submitted instead of six years in advance;

               • automatically transferring funds in the next fiscal year even if the Council does not take action at least 30 days before the end of the year;

  • And creating a process for the 4Culture Board to provide input and recommendations to councilmembers regarding the current makeup of the Board and needs/expertise the Board is seeking in new members when a vacancy occurs.

There were also a few more amendments that were added, including:

  • Creating a task force to evaluate the changes and the governance structure, processes and practices through an equity and social justice lens
  • Adding a policy statement regarding regional planning, outreach and regional investment strategy.

This version of the proposed ordinance, with the elements stated above, is scheduled to be acted on at full Council on Monday, March 19, at 1:30 PM.


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AKCHO was established to encourage cooperation among historical organizations and to promote and encourage the study and preservation of the history and heritage of King County through member organizations, individual members, and the community they serve, and to support such preservation efforts through public awareness and understanding of legislative issues.

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