Week in Review: September 2, 2022 - with Robert Cruickshank

Week in Review: September 2, 2022 - with Robert Cruickshank

Today on the show, host Crystal Fincher is joined by Robert Cruickshank, Chair of Sierra Club Seattle and a long-time professional communications and political strategist. The episode starts with a look at the most eye-catching story out of Seattle this week: Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell’s leaked comments from a meeting with SPD.

In stark contrast to Harrell’s initially stated “One Seattle” approach, Harrell seemingly contradicted many of his prior statements and promises regarding public safety and homelessness, blamed several people and organizations for the lack of progress on his administration’s watch, threatened to defund organizations he felt were critical of him, and said he’s recruiting challengers to City Council members who he felt haven’t supported him. He also stated that he had no part in setting up the King County Regional Homelessness Authority even though Harrell voted to establish it in 2019.

Crystal and Robert discuss how Mayor Harrell’s contradictions and avoidance of personal accountability while blaming others may affect his office’s approach, ability to manage folks in the City who are unsure of their direction, and his credibility with the public.

In an update from last week, the Kent School District’s educators are still striking, and Seattle teachers may be set for a strike of their own. While teachers are fighting for more counseling and mental health resources for students, smaller class sizes, and adequate special education resources, district leaders seem to be emulating the hostile approach that Amazon and Starbucks has taken regarding union relations. The Kent School Board even entertained the uncommon step of suing the union to force them back to work, with surprising anti-union votes from two former local Democratic leaders who previously received union and progressive endorsements: Kent School Board Directors Tim Clark and Awale Farah. That vote failed and the strike and negotiations are continuing.

In some exciting transit news, starting on September 1st, people 18 and under can ride public transit services services for free in King, Pierce, Snohomish and several other counties!

There’s also good news on the health front: new COVID boosters designed to battle the Omicron variant and its sub-variants were approved, and doses should be distributed soon. As public protections against COVID infection (like mask mandates are vaccine requirements) are disappearing while the disease continues to spread, it’s even more crucial to stay up to date on your vaccines.

About the Guest

Robert Cruickshank

Robert Cruickshank is Chair of Sierra Club Seattle and a long-time communications & political strategist.

Find Robert Cruickshank on Twitter/X at @cruickshank.


“Mayor Harrell Passes the Buck and Unloads on Enemies in Leaked Police Precinct Speeches” by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist: https://www.theurbanist.org/2022/08/31/mayor-harrell-passes-the-buck-and-unloads-on-enemies-in-leaked-police-precinct-speeches/

“Seattle mayor does damage control after leaked criticism of homelessness agency, City Council” by Sarah Grace Taylor from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/seattle-mayor-does-damage-control-after-leaked-criticism-of-homeless-agency-city-council/

“The CEO of Seattle Is Hiring for the 2023 City Council” by Hannah Krieg from the Stranger: https://www.thestranger.com/news/2022/09/01/78415478/the-ceo-of-seattle-is-hiring-for-the-2023-city-council

“Pay Is Peripheral as Kent Educators Strike, Demand a Quality Experience for Students” by Ari Robin McKenna from The South Seattle Emerald: https://southseattleemerald.com/2022/08/29/pay-is-peripheral-as-kent-educators-strike-demand-a-quality-experience-for-students/

"Proposed injunction against striking teachers in Kent fails" by Theresa Robinson from KIRO7: https://www.kiro7.com/news/local/negotiations-continue-kent-teachers-strike-district-considers-lawsuit-against-union/TRDM5AJD6VHOBFMX24UCU6WEJU/

"Co-signatory on letter to end waitlists for special ed services" by Katherine A. George, Arzu Forough, and Seattle Special Education PTSA: https://seattlespecialeducationptsa.org/news-%26-advocacy/f/co-signatory-on-letter-to-end-waitlists-for-special-ed-services

“Free Youth Transit Pass starts Sept. 1st” from King County Metro: https://kingcountymetro.blog/2022/08/25/free-youth-transit-pass-starts-sept-1/

“Free transit starts today for most youths across WA” by David Kroman from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/free-transit-starts-today-for-most-youths-across-wa/

“CDC endorses updated COVID boosters; shots to begin soon” by Lauran Neergaard from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/cdc-advisers-weigh-who-needs-updated-covid-booster-and-when/


[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks and Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening and what you can do about it. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. Today, we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with a cohost. Welcome to the program, for the first time today, our co-host, chair of Sierra Club Seattle and long-time communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank. Welcome.

[00:00:54] Robert Cruickshank: Welcome. Thank you, Crystal. Thank you for having me on. I really appreciate this. I've been a big fan of the show for a long time, listen to the episodes, and appreciate the work you're doing and the conversations you have and happy to be a part of it today.

[00:01:05] Crystal Fincher: I really appreciate that. I have known you for, we were just talking about, for about 10 years from working for Mike McGinn, and I was just saying you are one of the smartest political and communications minds in the state. Have been for the entire time I've known you. Just spot-on, always insightful and incisive. So very excited to have you on the show.

[00:01:29] Robert Cruickshank: Thank you, and coming from someone who I think is one of the best political minds in the state, I really appreciate that. So hopefully I can- we can have a good conversation today. Live up to that billing.

[00:01:37] Crystal Fincher: Yes. Hopefully. This has been, certainly, an eventful week where we had some interesting news come out. We'll get to a number of things, but we'll start with perhaps one of the most eye catching headlines of the week. Came about earlier this week. There was leaked audio from a meeting that Bruce Harrell had with the Seattle Police Department and he said a number of things that haven't exactly been consistent with what he has said publicly elsewhere. So just starting off, what did he say and what happened here?

[00:02:16] Robert Cruickshank: So what he did is he went to the roll calls that are happening at each precinct each day. Each watch comes on, each shift of the officers on duty for that precinct come in, they gather in the room, they do a roll call and usually a sergeant or chief will come talk to them, and sometimes the mayor does. Mike McGinn did this when he was mayor in 2012, but when McGinn went there, he went there to govern, he went there because he wanted to talk to them about a spike and homicides and how to deal with that, but how to deal with it in a constitutional way and how to respond to the DOJs investigation, which was happening at the time, and emphasize, "we gotta deal with this crime spike, but we have to do it in ways that are respectful of constitutional rights." He's there to govern. I think Bruce Harrell went there to do politics, and I think he went there to try to bear hug those officers, bear, hug SPOG and try to get them on his side for what I think is a pivot that he's making in his time as mayor. And you saw that in some of the comments that got leaked, how he is basically saying, "we wanna defund the regional homeless authority. We want to end LEAD Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program. We wanna end the consent decree. We're gonna openly embrace sweeps. I'm gonna recruit challengers to the city council." I don't think he intended that to become public right now, but I think those reflect conversations that he's been having within his office on the seventh floor of city hall with people like Tim Burgess and others about where they want to go. And I think Harrell went there, got in front of officers, wanted to pander to them, wanted to make them happy and decided the way to do that was to share some of that internal dialogue that was happening in the office and give them a preview of where that office is about to go.

[00:03:53] Crystal Fincher: Well, and it was so notable because he struck a very different tone when he first came into office, talking about One Seattle, talking about wanting to take a compassionate approach to homelessness, to get people housed, and really focusing on making sure they're the resources to do that. He talked about wanting accountability and really looking at data and following where that is going. And this was just an entirely different tone. When it comes to homelessness, he was talking about, "hey, I have no control over this." What was your thought about what he did talk about homelessness, his stance on the entire thing.

[00:04:39] Robert Cruickshank: He got in there and said, and these are parts of the comments that have gotten the most attention is, "you don't have a right to sleep on the sidewalk or in a park." I think a lot of Seattleites probably agree with that, but they come at it from very different perspectives. I think there are a lot of Seattleites who see someone sleeping at a tent in a park and feel compassion and empathy, and think "this is not right. We need to help this person. We need to get them into a house." And I think Harrell tried to straddle the line between that view and a more hardline view, which is like, "how dare those people make that decision to get in my way, to befoul my community. We need to jail them. We sweep them. We need harsh treatment." I don't think that's where most Seattleites are, but that's where a significant portion of Harrell's base is. Harrell tried to straddle that divide in the election last year and did so well enough to get elected. I think what you're seeing now is maybe what either he really thinks, what he wanted the officers to hear, or setting up for next year's elections in the city council, where he wants to go, which is a much more hard edged approach towards homelessness.

[00:05:42] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. And that's the thing. This really sets up a situation where you have no idea what Bruce Harrell thinks and what Bruce Harrell believes, because he's saying different things to different groups and audiences at different times. And so if you are someone who wants progress made, who's just, "look, what are you gonna do? Where does this stand?" Moving forward, how do you even believe what he says to you?

[00:06:08] Robert Cruickshank: I don't know how you do. I think that's a real challenge he has now. Obviously he didn't intend for these comments to become public, but they are. And at a previous press conference this week at Rainier Park, where he was trying to announce park investments, he tried to address some of them, walk a few things back, but not really deny any of the rest of it. I think he is signaling he wants to go in a more combative place with the city council on crime. But what I think the real story here is is Bruce himself. This is really a story about what's going on in the mayor's office and how he's interacting with the public. When he and his top team are being inconsistent when they're talking to members of the community, that's a problem for the mayor. It also becomes a problem for the city. Because you have to be able to believe that your chief executive is being consistent, that you know what they're going to do, you know why they're doing things. Harrell seems to be zooming all over the map right now. I do think he is intending on some sort of pivot and he's being nudged there by people like Tim Burgess. But Harrell himself is- he wants- whoever is in the room with him, he wants that person to believe that Harrell's with them, no matter what they believe. You can't do that as mayor. Eventually you have to tell some people, "I appreciate your voice, but I don't agree with you, and here's why, and here's what we're going to do." You're going to be an effective mayor. And I think Harrell is about to learn, especially with how this got out there and the reaction, he can't just go try to please everybody all the time. He has to take a stand.

[00:07:39] Crystal Fincher: He has to take a stand. I think you raised an excellent point: as a chief executive, sometimes people see the mayor as a political position, and really they are the chief executive of the city. They are managing all the departments. The police department, the police chief, reports to him. He is their boss. He's the city's boss. He's having meetings with his direct reports. And I do know, I have heard from folks that do work for him, that what he said to SPD is inconsistent with what they've heard from him before. So this is not only a problem with the public, but with the people who he's expecting to carry out his vision, who are now saying one, "that's not what he told me," and two, "what am I gonna do? Am I being undercut here? I thought I was working for something in a way that I believed and carrying out this mission. Now I have no idea what the mission is. And he's gonna come back and try and explain and what do I do with that?" That's a challenge for the people who you are expecting to implement these policies. And that is so important. I think another thing that goes unnoticed, just the management and implementation of the policy that sets forth. The council operates on funding and kind of a high level policy area. That is where their sphere of responsibility is. The mayor has to implement and manage what's going on. He takes the dollars that are allocated and actually does something with it. And they're trying to figure out, "we thought something was happening and not?" And this is raising questions. Is this why there has been inaction? Is this why some things have been slow to roll out or haven't happened in the way that he said it was gonna happen? Did he just not believe in that all along? And that's a big thing. I think one of the other things that really pops out is looking at what he said. He seems to be- he's nine months into his term now. He's not brand new. He laid out a timeline for a number of different things said, "Hey, we're gonna take the first quarter, gather data, do a bunch of things, and then we're gonna hit the ground running." People are waiting, still, for him to hit the ground running, to announce a number of things. And now it seems like he's coming up with excuses for why he hasn't taken action on a number of different things. And we are seeing, even with this homelessness, the King County Regional Homeless Authority, and he said, he's quoted in there saying, "I didn't set this stuff up. Hey they criticize what I'm doing, but I have no control here and just thought I didn't set this stuff up." He literally voted to establish the King County Regional [Homeless] Authority in 2019. If there's one thing he actually affirmatively did on the record with a vote, it has set this stuff up, and now he doesn't seem like he wants to deal with it. So what do you see, just in terms of, it's time for him to act, it's time for him to be accountable for what he said he was gonna do, the buck should stop with him, but it doesn't seem like he's in the mood for it too?

[00:10:51] Robert Cruickshank: He has a lot of people around him in city hall, in the business community, in the newspapers' editorial boards, who are very happy to have him solve this dilemma by blaming the city council. And there's, an election a year out and Hannah Krieg had a great story about maybe Harrell starting to try to recruit people. When you don't wanna be held accountable, you can blame somebody else, and as we saw in 2021, "blame the city council" is a pretty easy place for this centrist democratic establishment to go. And I think Harrell's being pushed in that direction. I think his own political instincts wanna push him in that direction because he saw how well it worked in 2021. But it's different to be a candidate than it is to be the actual mayor. When you're the mayor, everyone knows you are the person in charge. You are the one making the decisions. You are the chief executive, and I don't think he's going to succeed in getting away with putting this all in the city council. Especially when his inconsistencies are raising significant questions about his own management style, about his own record, his own ability to deliver on his promises, and his ability to get things done.

[00:12:02] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. He talked about wishing he had the resources to spend on his plan. This was his plan. This is his plan. This is where he voted to send the resources to. The irony is that, in voting to set up the King County Regional Homeless Authority and in allocating the money for that, he actually ended up tying the council's hands on what they could do and what they can implement because the money is allocated over here and setting it up. And whether that's good or bad, it's really interesting. And also interesting because this is one of the things he and Lorena Gonzalez disagreed about, actually. This is an area where, Lorena said, "Hey, there could be some downsides to this. We are forking over all this money. We may not have as much control as we want." And all of this was said then. He attacked her for her stance on the campaign trail and now he is parroting what she said, and basically saying, "Hey, I wish I would've done it exactly the way she said." It just seems like another thing where you stood up and you took this vote, you attacked other people for not taking this vote. You said their concerns were invalid and here we are. And it sounds like we're hearing from someone else. What happens in a city when it's chief executive, when the mayor, is not willing to be accountable for their decisions and actions?

[00:13:34] Robert Cruickshank: A lot of important things don't get done or get done poorly and problems don't get addressed. And I think you're starting to see wider discussion about a potential spike in crime in Seattle. That shouldn't be a surprise. It's happening across the country. The pandemic was pretty disruptive to a lot of folks and I think a spike in crime is something that is not surprising to come after that. You do need a strong response from the city to deal with that and deal with that in ways that are constitutional rather than falling back on old, tough-on-crime policies. And what you're seeing from Harrell is no real answer to that either. He'd rather go back and have a discussion about homelessness, because I think that's where he feels politically comfortable, because it worked for him in 2021 here in 2022, going into 23. If other issues start to rise to the top of public concern in Seattle, he's gonna have to show he's on top of it, he can get things done, cause if he doesn't, people will see that quickly. They'll see that the city, isn't getting things done, that problems aren't being addressed. They're gonna lay them at his feet and that's where they should lay them. The city council, as you said, they make policy, they can allocate money, but they have no control over the day-to-day operations. That rests solely with Bruce Harrell. And it's his name on the ballot. He's the one accountable. And he's gonna have to decide, does he wanna get these things solved or does he wanna pass the buck?

[00:14:52] Crystal Fincher: I hope there's a change in course, because right now the buck seems to be passed in every direction. And one thing that was noticeable to me is that not only is it passing the buck, but there's a personal element in this it appears. When he is talking about Lisa Daugaard and LEAD, which is ironic because LEAD is actually a program that has been praised by prosecutors, it's been praised by police leadership, it's been praised by everyone from left to right. It has demonstrated success. There's, data there behind it. And so he brings up this criticism of it, which is inconsistent that from what we've heard from a number of entities before, but ends with, "why am I gonna fund them if they criticize me?" And so is it actually the criticism that's bothering him? And he talks about that even with Mark Dones at the King County Regional [Homeless] Authority, where he's saying, "hey this guy's trying to, destroy me or something." There are these personal issues there that are causing him to try and seek to blame, to lash out, but that seems like it might actually be resulting in defunding a number of these programs. Because he has defunded community programs, alternative response programs, where there, there is data. There's data from the University of Washington, from their own stats, to show that they were wildly successful. Far outperforming what had previously happened with a policing-only approach. It really starts to make you wonder what is the basis of these decisions? He said he was starting out with data, but doesn't seem to be playing out that way.

[00:16:43] Robert Cruickshank: No, it doesn't. It seems that its decisions are increasingly made based on Harrell's efforts to avoid accountability and to get back at, or maybe quiet, some critics. And that's never a good place to be. You don't get good policy that way. A good mayor, an effective mayor, is one who can take criticism. Who's not phased by it. Who knows what they wanna do and can either explain why the critic is wrong or hear it and pivot as needed and own it. Sometimes a critic has a good point. You can embrace that and, run on doing a better job, but Harrell seems more interested in passing the buck and trying to either silence his critics and, if they won't, go away quietly, then turn and attack. I don't think that bodes well for good governance.

[00:17:29] Crystal Fincher: I don't think it bodes well for good governance. It's certainly a concern within the city. So where do we go now with where we're at with- where does Harrell go? Where does the city go? What should we be looking for?

[00:17:40] Robert Cruickshank: I think this is going to be a pivotal month for Bruce anyway, because his first budget is due at the end of the month. And there are- the budget office has been warning that revenues are not quite keeping pace with what was expected. Costs are going up. Inflation's still an issue. He's gonna have some tough decisions to make about how to balance that city budget. And, I think if he comes out with an austerity approach where he wants to cut more public services, he's gonna have a big problem on his hands. If he decides he doesn't wanna do that, doesn't want to take the political hit of making unpopular cuts, and he's gonna have to find money somewhere else, raise revenue somewhere, and that may alienate some of his base. So he's got a pretty big challenge ahead of him. And, I don't know how he's gonna manage that, especially given the comments we saw this week and how he's managing other problems he's got. He seems to be trying to evade them or shift blame, but it's his budget. He owns it. And that proposal's his, and it'll be interesting to see what he does with it.

[00:18:37] Crystal Fincher: It'll be interesting to see what he does with it. It'll be interesting to see if it's balanced. That's one thing that Durkan had a challenge doing was even delivering a balanced budget to the council. So hopefully we see that from him. I think it, it will also be interesting to see the kinds of things that he's proposing there because one of the interesting things in that meeting was that even police officers- or the reporting resulting from that meeting- police officers talking to Jason Rantz, who initially reported the story, who reiterated that the retention bonuses really didn't make a difference, aren't going to make a difference, and they were focusing more on the contract. And so we had vigorous debates in the city about, whether that was the best place to spend money, to make the city a safer place. Should we be investing in other programs that might have a more immediate payoff or that have demonstrated that they do increase public safety or, buy resources that, that increase public safety? And I think he thought that was gonna be a really popular thing with him. And so touted that, sold it, pushed it through, despite what people were saying, and then came out, they're saying, "that didn't make a difference. We're really focused on something else." And then leaked to the story to the paper. I think he also probably should do some evaluating on, are his allies, actually his allies that he's considering number one, number two, maybe the approach of trying to please people via budget items is not actually really fruitful. This one seems like it came back to bite him and so no one is happy with what he did, and an action that looks like he tried to really deliver a deal for the police, maybe he thought it'd buy him goodwill and negotiations. I don't know, but I think everybody doesn't know and is trying to figure this out. And then as he moves forward, what are we gonna see with these, with the SPOG contract negotiation that's happening right now? What are we going to see? Are we going to see a reflection of the comments in here where a lot of the things he talked about on the campaign trail that, he would be looking for from a new contract, just don't appear and then pressuring others to, to pass that and ratify that? I don't know. But seeing what his budget says is gonna be enlightening. All of this will be enlightening.

[00:21:05] Robert Cruickshank: I agree. And I think he's paid it himself into a corner on the SPOG contract. He went there and talked to the rank and file and made a bunch of promises and made it sound like he's on their side. The rest of the city doesn't see it that way. What everyone thinks of defunding the police, I don't think there's much support in the city for a SPOG contract that is favorable to what SPOG wants. So he's got, he set himself up for a really difficult situation ahead with that contract. He's gonna have to make somebody unhappy and I don't see a willingness from him to do that.

[00:21:40] Crystal Fincher: We will continue to keep our eye on this. We will see if he does come out with plans, announces something definitive, takes more action, and delivers on what he said he was gonna do, and keep folks updated as we continue to move on here. There is a number of other things that have- there are a number of things that happened this week. One of the big elements is that there are teacher strikes happening, teacher strikes potentially happening. Starting with the city of Kent, who is currently on strike: just starting out, what is the issue here? What is happening with the Kent School District strike?

[00:22:20] Robert Cruickshank: I think it's important to distinguish this strike from some other strikes that have happened recently in Seattle, in western Washington, and around the country, where you saw in recent years teachers striking for better pay. That is part of what's going on here in Kent and Kent teachers need to be paid better, and they are very clear about that. And coming outta the pandemic with teacher shortages and inflation, making sure your teachers are paid well is important. But there's a new element here that seems to be a attitude of the district that is fundamentally hostile to even having to bargain with the teachers at All that is hostile to the union. And we're starting to see this even here in Seattle with the way the district here in Seattle is negotiating with its teachers. Both Seattle and Kent are dragging it out. This is the eighth day, I believe, today, of the Kent strike and there's not real negotiations happening. It's not the fault of the teachers. They want to negotiate. The two sides are meeting, but the district isn't putting really many new proposals on the table. They're not moving. They're not acting like it's a priority to get this done. The Kent school district instead seems to be trying to wait out the teachers, to break the teachers, to get them to cave, to get them to concede at the expense of the students who've already had disruption from the pandemic. Now, students and their families are siding with teachers. That's what the public does. The public gets it. They understand what the teachers are fighting for. They understand, ultimately, the teachers are fighting for the right conditions to teach the students well. And so parents understand that the teachers are their allies. But there is a new hard-edged hostility coming from the district in Kent, as well as Seattle, that I think we haven't really seen before, that I think is pretty alarming, an alarming development. It's as if these district leaders in Kent and Seattle are taking their labor management strategy from Jeff Bezos and Howard Schultz rather than trying to approach this more collaboratively, which is, I think, what the public wants.

[00:24:21] Crystal Fincher: And it's so interesting here. And one thing I wanna note is that, one, teachers absolutely deserve better pay. They're doing so much more. And even now, post pandemic, are managing more than was ever intended, more than they thought, with larger workloads than they've had before. But this strike in Kent and in Seattle, and in a number of these districts that are talking about this, is about so much more than pay. What we are seeing coming out of this is, we hear about staffing shortages, teacher shortages, and what that is resulting in is humongous classrooms and under-resourced and understaffed programs in classrooms. And so what Kent teachers are talking about is, "hey, more than ever, especially post pandemic, we need the adequate supports for these students in place or else we are basically abandoning them when we know their needs are bigger than they've ever been." And, we talk about stories, we hear stories all the time about how these past couple of years throughout the pandemic have been particularly challenging for kids. How just the stress of everything that's happening is impacting them: the change in school and dynamic and the continuing changes are just a lot to navigate and more kids need assistance and help with sorting through things, with mental health resources, coping and managing through all of this. So mental health supports, counseling resources, health resources, are as important as they have ever been in our lifetime. And the pre-pandemic recommended level of school counselors support is one for every 250 students. Kent, right now, wanted to go into the, this school year at a level of one per 500 students. There's no way you can manage that. There's no way you can maintain that. We should be talking about how we need to half the 250, how we should provide more support because we know they need it. And we heard people who were clamoring to open up the schools, talking about how important kids' mental health was. So this is something that has been universally recognized and agreed upon, and the district made a meager offer for an increase in pay. Seemed like they tried to negotiate that through the media, really. Part of what they released. But the teachers are saying, "this is about so much more than pay and we need better resources, special education, resources, and classrooms." Now more kids require special education resources than they have before. And those programs are so short staffed. Those class sizes have grown. We know class size has a direct impact on the education that kids receive and how they perform, laying the groundwork for their future. And so really, literally these teachers are striking for the conditions that these kids are gonna be learning in. They're striking for the things that have a direct correlation on the type of education received, which has a direct correlation on how they go on to live their life, what quality of life they end up having, what they end up doing. And so this, as in a conversation, like this, isn't theoretical, these are real kids, real futures, in these classrooms. And the decisions that are made will impact these kids for the rest of their lives. And so these teachers striking for this is really important. And to your point, that's why parents are standing by them.

[00:28:12] Robert Cruickshank: I think that's exactly right. And parents get that. Parents understand that the teacher is the lifeline for these students, especially coming out of the pandemic. And they've seen what the teachers have had to go through in the last year, year-plus. Remote learning was not great for anybody, but then the year back in the classroom had a lot of challenges too. I think a lot of district leaders had a get back to work mentality towards the teachers and the students: "We're just gonna pick back up where we left off act like nothing happened. And proceed ahead." You can't do that. Not after the disruption of a pandemic, the social disruption and the personal disruption. Lots of students losing family members, or seeing family members get sick, or worrying, are they going to get sick? Job loss, people moving homes and communities and jobs. So it was dislocating in any number of ways, and instead these district leaders just assumed we are going to pretend none of that really happened and we're just gonna pick up as before, and you can't do that. And parents get that and teachers get that. And so I think that's why you see teachers in Kent and Seattle in particular. Pushing really hard on this because they have district leadership that doesn't care district leadership that seems to be treating teachers the way Starbucks treats its baristas or the way Amazon treats its warehouse workers, which is, "we're not gonna pay you that we're gonna overwork you. If you complain about it, we're going to ignore it. Form a union, we're gonna resist it. Just do what we tell you and don't push back." And that's bad enough in a Starbucks or an Amazon warehouse. It's really bad in a school where teachers are the ones on the front lines, they're professionals, they see what is happening with their kids. They want the support and resources necessary to help. They want those counselors. They want those family support workers. They want those special education staff like here in Seattle, the district is basically saying, "no, we don't really need to give you a minimum staffing ratio. We're going to include special education kids in your class," - which is good, that should happen - "we're gonna make the teacher in the classroom do all the work and give them no support." Which is a recipe for disaster. And you see that Kent as well, attitude that the district has, which is very dismissive towards the needs that students are bringing to the classroom. And it is about pay in part, but it's about so much more. It's about basic respect and about, are we actually going to deal with the issues that these students are bringing to the classroom? Are we going to pretend none of it happened and just sweep it under the rug? People are resisting that and they're right to.

[00:30:41] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And just hearing from people on the ground in Kent, there is a lot of support for the teachers here. One former city councilmember, Dennis Higgins, has been very vocal throughout this process. Interesting following the point of- they do seem to be following the lead of Amazon and Starbucks and their really intense, sometimes illegal union busting, union hostility tactics. He was just talking the other day at Kent Elementary, which sits in between a Starbucks and a Taco Time. You're just saying, "hey, couple of notes, Taco Time was kind to our strikers with access to bathrooms. Starbucks, on the other hand, locked their bathrooms. In fact, locked down the whole store and went drive-thru only. Just, just, incredible. These are educators who, one patronize that Starbucks, mostly, and have just worked so hard for the kids there. And there was another note that he said, that the Kent School District really isn't odds for other districts. The negotiators have been notoriously hostile, and there's been a lot to talk about the negotiators being inexperienced, different than prior negotiators. That's definitely having an impact on those. But Kent, tried to talk about just the teacher pay, is ignoring the classroom size conversation and the special education conversations. But they really need to do a lot of introspection because he brings up that the Kent district is out of line with our neighboring districts, districts with similar demographics and economic challenges. We're losing staff to those districts. We're falling behind those districts on other metrics. This isn't a "we're in a unique position, and that's why we're having this hardship." We're in the same position as these other districts and the decisions that are being made are causing this thing to fall apart. And it's not just feedback from the union. Administrators, who are not covered by this teacher's union, have reported just really difficult and hostile relations with the administration and a lot of administrators have left in the past year to neighboring districts. So you would think, you can try and blame it all on the union, but it just doesn't match with reality, and that everyone is giving you feedback that this is not working, that this is hostile. This even went up to the district school board level, where in Kent, they came close to suing the union to stop the strike, which is a really huge step that districts rarely have ever seeked to take. The school board, took up a vote on Monday night that failed on a 2-2 basis. Normally there are five people on the school board, but one is, there's currently, was currently, a vacancy there. So one thing that, that was particularly disappointing, and showing this kind of weird alignment, and you wonder who is communicating and who is intervening in the district externally, is: the two yes votes for suing the union, were from a former chair of the 33rd district Democrats, Tim Clark. Who, you look at democratic values, you look at what all of our elected leaders are saying, what rank and file legislative district folks are saying. Democrats are united behind teachers. But you have these rogue elements. Tim Clark, who was there, who voiced that he wanted to get the process moving. The way to do that is to negotiate good faith. And then Awale Farah, which was particularly disappointing because he was just recently elected this last cycle with a lot of progressive endorsements, and came in with the expectation that he would be an advocate for kids and teachers, and ended up supporting this. And just so disappointing that they would wanna move forward with not negotiating in good faith. Not addressing some of these concerns that are coming from all elements of the community, not just the union, but to sue to strike that. Fortunately two of the other Councilmembers, Joe Bento and Leslie K. Hamada, said this would be premature, extreme, a hostile action that would inflame and hurt this process, let's negotiate in good faith and continue to do that. So I'm glad that they stood up and did that, but wow. Alarming.

[00:35:29] Robert Cruickshank: It is very alarming, and you right to call out Awale who got a lot of progressive support in 2021 and has turned around and then done something that is very similar to what Amazon did. After the warehouse workers in Staten Island won their vote, Amazon immediately tried to sue to prevent that from being recognized. They try to go to court and get injunctions against strikers. This is, classic union busting tactics that Kent was trying to engage in. Seattle School Board tried that in 2015. We'll see if the school board here in Seattle attempts that if a strike does happen next week. But I think you're right to call out the leadership. This is a leadership problem. Districts around the region have been able to negotiate their contracts this year in difficult conditions, but they got it done. They got it done earlier in the summer, but Kent didn't Seattle didn't. That suggests to me a leadership problem. Not just the superintendent level, though it is there, but with the board itself. And I think you can see here in Seattle an utterly dysfunctional board that appears to be completely missing in action on this. Board members like Lisa Rivera Smith, Leslie Harris, who got elected explicitly on promises to reform the district and prevent disrespect to teachers, are now just- you're not hearing from them about this. Where is the leadership that is needed to intervene? Where are the board members who are saying to the superintendent, "this is unacceptable. We have to get this done." You're not seeing that. Their voices aren't being raised. And here in Seattle, we have four school board seats up for reelection next year in 2023. That's a majority of the board. Are you gonna see a clean sweep and four new faces? You might well. I think people are, parents are, getting really frustrated, not just with the possibility of a strike, but with a dismissiveness that this district here in Seattle, and similar Kent, the dismissiveness of these districts towards the teachers towards parent needs. And they recognize that's dismissiveness of student needs as well. There's a letter that came out yesterday from the Seattle Special Education PTSA co-signed by some of the lawyers who now are able to make a living suing the district for failing to provide special education services. What they were doing is calling out the Seattle district for having secret wait lists to get special education services. Parents report that it's incredibly difficult to get the district to recognize legitimate special education needs, to get them served. Then you combine that with a district that is putting proposals on the table that will make it very difficult for teachers to meet the needs of students in their classes of special education needs. And it's really clear that we have district leadership, board and superintendent, that are just not getting the job done and taking a unnecessarily, an unpopular, approach towards the teachers. People want teachers to be respected. They want them to have the resources they need to succeed. And yet you have this district leadership in Kent and Seattle that's outta touch with that. And that's a huge problem.

[00:38:28] Crystal Fincher: It's a huge problem. And to your point, there are, these are, not the only negotiations up this year. They were not the only ones. Most other districts negotiated in faith, in good faith, and came to an agreement. In fact, there, there have been people who were part of those negotiations for other districts who have called out the Kent School District in particular, saying, "you guys are out of line here and you're outta step. We did it successfully over here. We're happy to advise but you're headed in the wrong direction and you're out of line with what similar districts in the area are doing. Seems like you're trying to negotiate in public and you're sending out misleading statements." One person who did negotiate for a neighboring district was like, "you announced this, and it actually is not- you were talking about our contract and comparing your contract to ours and it's not an accurate comparison. You're leaving out a bunch of this other stuff. And sure, if you threw that in, maybe we'd have a conversation, but that's not the case. So at least be accurate in what you're saying. And please get to the bargaining table and do that." But also called out these other districts. You have parties on both sides who were experienced negotiators, who wanted to come to a solution, and what seems to be the universal agreement in Kent, and even acknowledged by the vote in the district that came up, is that is not the case in Kent. They are coming to the table with an anti-union sentiment and trying to figure out how to force that through, and it's resulted in a strike that's impacting all of the kids and parents and families in this district. And so lots of people, the knee jerk reaction is to look to the teachers. The teachers have been at the bargaining table in the same way that other teachers have that have successfully negotiated contracts and started the school year on time. The district and their negotiators are the ones who have pushed this to the point where now there's a strike. And the strike is, you have to address these class size issues. Both in Kent and in Seattle looking at class sizes, that could be as large as 40 students over 30 students. Which is just, by any metric, by all data, not good for kids.

[00:40:50] Robert Cruickshank: I heard from a parent yesterday who was really concerned, and rightly so, that their third grader is going to be in a class with 34 students. Like this is just unaccept. And some of this comes down to the state legislature, which needs to step up and do its paramount duty and fund our public schools and make sure that class sizes are low. But when there's also teacher shortage, we have to be able to recruit those teachers and retain those teachers. And that involves respecting them with good pay, but also respecting their professional judgment. Respecting them by negotiating a contract in good faith. Respecting them by giving them the resources and support and staff assistance that they need. And, the big difference between Kent School District, seattle School District, on the one hand and a corporation like Amazon and Starbucks on the other, is these are publicly run districts accountable to the people. And it's gonna take the people of Kent and the people of Seattle stepping up and stepping in and saying, "this is unacceptable" and telling their school board members and the superintendent, "you've gotta get this done." Negotiate in good faith. Resolve this now. If you approach it, good faith, it'll get done pretty quickly, and I think the teachers acknowledge that.

[00:41:56] Crystal Fincher: I agree. So as we move forward with both Kent and Seattle, what should we be looking for? And how should parents be working through this?

[00:42:06] Robert Cruickshank: I think parents need to lean on their school board members. It's a school board that is elected by the public, is accountable to the public. They're the ones who have authority over the superintendent. Lean on them and have them step in, not by filing suit against the teachers, have them step in by making it crystal clear to the superintendent you have to get these negotiations done. Bargain in good faith, or else your job's on the line. That's the ultimate power that the boards have, and they need to start exercising that power because the longer these drag on, it's not just a superintendent or a district negotiating team that's implicated in the failure, it's a school board itself that needs to step up and solve this. And parents need to make it crystal clear to the board members where they stand. That they side with teachers and want these contracts done.

[00:42:52] Crystal Fincher: Very good advice. There are a couple of other news items that we will close with today. First of all, hey! Free youth transit is a thing here in King County. What was the news that we received?

[00:43:05] Robert Cruickshank: It's super exciting news. The legislature in the spring finished its transportation package. And as part of that, they provided funding to transit districts and transit agencies to make transit free for anyone [18 and under]. And the transit agencies themselves had to go implement that. So King County Metro has done that. Takes effect as of yesterday. Kids can go out there and ride the buses for free, and that's just fantastic. We need to get more kids on the buses, to get more people on the buses. I hope it's a step towards ultimately making transit free for everybody. During the pandemic, fares were suspended and I think that was a good thing to help keep the systems going and help keep people getting to and from work. I think starting with kids is a great idea. Whether it's to or from school or tou rom a community center or to or from even a community destination, the zoo or whatever it may be. Transit is essential to achieving our climate goals, right? Our number one source of carbon emissions in Washington state is transportation. So we need to build up transit and transit policy. Transit ridership is essential to meeting our climate goals. And so this is a really good step in that direction. I'm glad the legislature did it and I'm glad King County Metro and other agencies have moved swiftly to implement it.

[00:44:25] Crystal Fincher: I'm really glad. And so here in, in King County it's pretty wide-ranging. So riders 18 and under can ride transit systems, King County, Metro buses, water taxis, access paratransit, Sound Transit buses, and link light rail, the street car, and even Pierce Transit, Everett Transit, kitsap, and Snoqualmie Valley Transit. Just really big for youth 18 and under. To your point, I'm also with you. Transit being free is a win in everybody's book, especially for youth though. This time, last year at the beginning of the school year, we were in the middle of news items of, one, unsure with school openings with COVID, but when they did kids needed a special Orca card. If they didn't have an Orca card, there were reports of some even getting tickets on the way to school, even though, the authorities knew that this was supposed to be covered and having to jump through hoops and do all of that. So it just simplifies the process, reduces some of those contacts that aren't helpful, contacts that aren't helpful for anyone, and really allows youth to, to, get around unimpeded without the pressure of needing a car. And especially within the city, where that's much easier to do, than in some other areas, this is a positive thing. So I'm excited this happened. I'm excited that King County was ready to kick this off, because there were already leaders who were moving in this direction and trying to make that a reality. So that is very good news. On another front we have a new COVID shot. What is the deal?

[00:46:20] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, so the new COVID booster is a up-to-date version, but it's more than just a new version. It's a significantly improved version from a lot of the research that has been going on into the effectiveness of these vaccines, which have been out now for a little over a year. This booster is significantly improved in terms of its ability to tackle the different variants of COVID. It's something that is available to a lot of different people. It's recommended to a lot of people go out and get it. We have 80 something percent rate here in Washington state of vaccination among adults, which is good. But that drops when you get under the age of 18. Something like 30% of kids, age five to 11 have their vaccine, and it gets even lower once you get below age five. So we need to get this fantastic new version of the booster into people's arms. The problem is that there's no funding to do it. Congress is deadlocked on this. Democrats didn't include it in their recent inflation bill. Republicans have blocked it. There's talk about maybe using reconciliation to try to do some pandemic funding and get more of these shots in people's arms. You've really gotta step that up. If you leave it just to the private sector and just to people having to go out and find the vaccine themselves, and then wondering how they're gonna take time off of work to get it, how they're gonna pay for it, the effectiveness is gonna be a lot less. Many fewer people are going to get it, get the vaccine, than would otherwise be able to get it if it were paid for and freely distributed. And COVID is still with us. I think two and a half years later people think, oh, the pandemic's a thing in the past. No, it is still very much happening. I talked to a friend yesterday who's recovering from COVID. I still know people who just tested positive a couple days before. I'm still taking tests, and still wearing masks when I go into a grocery store. It hasn't gone away. And the state and federal governments need to step up and make sure that this great new vaccine booster is able to get distributed to people. You're not gonna do it if you just . Leave it up to the private sector or up to individuals to have to do it themselves.

[00:48:26] Crystal Fincher: COVID is still with us. My neighbor's dad recently died of COVID, I've known so many people lost to COVID. And it's so interesting where it seems to be so far removed from other people, but I personally don't have many friends who haven't lost a close family member to COVID. It is still with us. It is still going and very much a concern for people. Good news that this new updated vaccine is out. As we saw, even the existing vaccine, although it had waiting effectiveness against infection, it still definitely provided protection against severe illness and death. This takes it even a step up further. This is taking into account the Omicron variant and its sub-variants and provides protection against those, increased immunity. And so the recommendation - one of the things I looked up is, okay, so how long after the last booster, if someone did recently get a booster, because there was the last round for people over 50 - the guidance I saw was if it has been at least two months since that, it's recommended that those folks get another booster and for everybody moving forward, looking at getting these updated boosters instead of the older, not updated boosters for people 12 and older. So it's definitely an improvement, especially since the protections for COVID, against infection, are disappearing. Even as we start school again and people return to work without vaccine mandates, without, testing, anything like that. Doing all you can, unfortunately, to protect yourself is where we're left. So this is an important tool in the toolkit to make sure you're doing that. And of course, masking is still an option. All of that is still there. And people are doing that frequently, and taking all the precautions necessary. But definitely make a point to do that. They said that they could be rolling out as soon as next week. Keep an eye out for that, make your appointments, get that updated booster, because it definitely makes a difference.

[00:50:45] Robert Cruickshank: It sure does. And I went and got my eight year old, his booster earlier this summer. I'm looking forward to getting one of my own. I hope people go out and do it because like we said, this pandemic is not over, but the way you start bringing it down and putting an end to it is by getting these boosters.

[00:51:00] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely, and I will definitely be getting this booster too. So thank you so much with that. That is our show for today, Friday, September 2nd, 2022. Thank you for listening to Hacks and Wonks today. The producer of Hacks and Wonks is Lisl Stadler. Our assistant producer is Shannon Cheng and our post-production assistant is Bryce Cannatelli. Our wonderful host today is chair of Sierra Club Seattle and longtime communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank. You can find Robert on Twitter at @cruikshank. That's C R U I C K S H A N K. Follow our show on our new Twitter account at @HacksWonks. You can follow me on Twitter at @finchfrii and you can follow Hacks and Wonks anywhere you get your podcasts. Just type Hacks & Wonks into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, please leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks and Wonks. You can always get full transcripts of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in. Talk to you next time.