After hearing residents complain they weren’t sufficiently involved in the Department of Parks and Recreation’s (DPR) development of the initial proposal for a Seattle Park District, I proposed a short term 3-year parks levy in its place. My intention was to continue the previous levy’s level of parks funding while allowing more time to involve residents in designing a park district measure they could support when the levy expired.
When my levy proposal was not supported by the Mayor or by other Councilmembers, I began working with them to improve elements of the Park District measure, such as DPR’s performance and community oversight of the District.
In addressing concerns of inadequate oversight, I worked to strengthen community input by increasing the Seattle Park District Community Oversight Committee from 11 members to 15. The Committee will consist of 4 Parks Board members; 1 citizen member from each of the 7 Council Districts; and 4 members nominated by other City advisory commissions, such as the Women’s Commission, the Immigrant and Refugee Commission, the Commission for People with Disabilities, the Human Rights Commission, Seattle Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Commission, and others. The Oversight Committee’s responsibilities include reviewing DPR’s performance measures.
To improve DPR’s performance, the final measure includes hiring an outside consultant next year to review the department’s business, service, asset management, and financial management practices; to compare them to national best practices; to identify improvements to service quality; to identify performance indicators, measurable benchmarks and aspirational goals; and to conduct periodic public surveys that identify public perceptions of how well DPR is doing.
Now that Seattle’s Park District has been approved by voters, we are preparing legislation to put it in place. To simplify administration, we are designing the operation of the Park District similar to that used for the Seattle Transportation Benefit District. The Transportation Benefit District has been running smoothly since 2010 and, similar to the Park District, it serves as a funding source for a City department managed by Councilmembers who act both as the Benefit District’s oversight board and as legislators adopting the City’s transportation budget.
The City Council, acting as the Park District Board, will soon conduct its first meeting to adopt a charter, bylaws, and interlocal agreement for the Park District. It will also request the City Attorney to provide legal services to the District. As part of its responsibilities under the Interlocal Agreement, the City will recruit and appoint the Community Oversight Committee.
I will pay particular attention to the Community Oversight Committee and to the issue of accountability. Below, are some of the next steps I intend to take.
I will invite prospective Community Oversight members to apply by reaching out to City of Seattle advisory commission chairs, to District Councils, to Neighborhood Associations, to the Park Board, and to other civic organizations.
Collectively, I would like to see commission members have the following experiences or skills: parks management, public financing, landscape architecture, contract management, neighborhood activists, advocates for low-income people, disabled residents, communities of color and immigrants.
I expect the Committee to meet at least quarterly and to assign sub-committees to help accommodate its work load. I also expect there to be an opportunity at each Park District meeting for public comment.
Regarding DPR’s performance, I will work to establish the DPR/Park Board performance team and the consultant’s scope of work; to review DPR’s business, service, and financial management practices; to identify process improvements and cost efficiencies; to identify financial management practices, including financial policies; to identify measurable performance benchmarks and aspirational goals; and to involve DPR employees in developing expectations for annual performance and financial measuring and reporting.
The Park District won’t begin implementing its work plan until next year. In the meantime, the Council is considering things DPR might be able to do right away, such as clean up and open more park bathrooms; enlist foot or bike police to make rounds during peak hours at Cal Anderson Park, Occidental Park, and other high priority parks; start planning for increased community center hours; and place more trash and recycling receptacles in heavily used parks such as Golden Gardens, Gasworks, and West Lake.
Before the August vote, I heard critics urge a ‘no’ vote because voting ‘yes’ would usher in a perpetual tax. However, I don’t see that as a criticism. If we all agree parks should be around forever, it follows that reliable funding for parks be around forever, too. I think the more relevant issue is how the money is being spent. I believe the steps described above will provide greater public accountability than there has been in the past.
I encourage you to keep an eye on the Council’s progress toward organizing our new Park District. Now that King County has certified August’s election results, the City is preparing a Seattle Park District webpage to be linked to the City Council’s webpage. Once that website is up and running, you can subscribe there to Park District meeting agendas.