Deputy Mayor Gene Fisher on Moving Forward in Midst of City’s Crisis of Leadership
by Greg Wright
SeaTac Deputy Mayor Gene Fisher has figured prominently in recent controversy at Regular Council Meetings.
On September 13, Council candidate Othman Heibe accused Fisher of violations of RCW because of an anonymous e-mail sent to two sitting Council members—a charge Heibe publicly withdrew at the October 11 Council meeting.
On September 27, Fisher’s wife Aileen claimed responsibility for that e-mail. She also complained about a pattern of perceived harassment and intimidation from other SeaTac citizens, and read at length from e-mails obtained by former Council member Mike Siefkes through a Freedom of Information Act request—e-mails which have spawned a PDC complaint from community activist Earl Gipson against Council member Mia Gregerson and SeaTac Human Services Manager Colleen Brandt-Schluter.
On October 11, Fisher alleged that citizens are afraid to attend and speak out at Council Members because of the toxic state of City politics. Tension between Fisher, Gregerson, and other Council members remains obvious.
In light of the current crisis of leadership in SeaTac, I earlier reported on talks with Mayor Terry Anderson and City Manager Todd Cutts. I also submitted the following questions to Council Member Fisher, who elected to respond via e-mail.
With the exception of former Mayor Ralph Shape’s seat on the Council, which is up for grabs, we could see the same faces in City Hall following the election this year—and if Proposition 1 goes down once more, that would mean, on the face of it, little change in the makeup of City politics. If that turns out to be the case, what do you see as the greatest hope for positive change in the way that the City conducts its business—both with the public, and between Council members?
Ralph Shape is the only person I ever had a problem working with. He disagreed with 99% of everything I said, and no one knows why. Since he will no longer be on the Council, this dissension will be eliminated. My goal is to have a new Council that will use a revenue-based budget; the citizens would call that “living within your means.” I have voted against nine out of ten budgets because we used reserves or capital improvement funds to balance the budgets. I belong to the Coalition of Open Government, and I want to direct our city toward more open and transparent government with greater citizen involvement.
Obviously, a good deal of recent controversy has swirled around you and your wife. How do you plan to turn that to a positive force for the people of SeaTac?
My wife said in public what many citizens have been thinking or secretly saying for a long time. Her original email referenced the County overrunning our city with refugees with inadequate support. Her public comments were to point out the extremes to protect the system. The controversy has already had a positive force on the people of SeaTac. Many are now aware of the alleged violations of several RCWs by a council member, using staff, Human Services, and non-profit organizations to change the outcome of the last election. Citizen awareness is key to changing the politics of SeaTac, especially if the same faces are on the council and the same four votes continue to ignore the best interests of all of the citizens, focusing instead on their selected chosen groups.
A seemingly dysfunctional Council adds a great deal of momentum for the push for a change of form of government. How would you see the office of an elected mayor changing the dynamics of how the council and staff work together?
There will be stronger leadership. The mayor would not only keep the Council more informed, but would include them in decisions that affect the public because the Mayor has to answer directly to the citizens. The benefit is the Council would have a great advantage of getting their views and concepts accepted by neighboring cities because a Mayor would have the political ability and capital to deal directly with other elected officials. No City Manager has that power and other mayors realize it. Unless the City Manager is sanctioned by Council in a public meeting he has no political power, so the greatest advantage of an elected Mayor is political capital to deal directly on behalf of the Council with other elected officials on regional and airport issues.
Is there anything else you’d like the people of SeaTac to know about your plans for moving SeaTac forward?
My goals are raising property values, supporting our schools and creating a retail area in our city where citizens and tourists alike can dine and shop, which in turn will attract families to build SeaTac into a thriving residential community rather than a parking lot for air travelers.