Council Member Gregerson on Moving Forward in Midst of City’s Crisis of Leadership
by Greg Wright
SeaTac Council Member Mia Gregerson has been the focus of ongoing controversy within City politics since early 2010, when a private and insulting e-mail was accidentally sent to SeaTac resident Leonard Luna.
Then at the September 27 Regular Council Meeting, Deputy Mayor Gene Fisher’s wife Aileen 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. The complaint concerns potential violation of state law, by Gregerson and SeaTac Human Services Manager Colleen Brandt-Schluter, regarding the use of public property and funds to influence the outcome of elections.
Tension between Gregerson, Fisher, and other Council members during Regular Council Meetings remains high.
I have earlier reported on talks with Mayor Terry Anderson and City Manager Todd Cutts about the situation, in addition to Monday’s interview with Deputy Mayor Fisher.
Over the weekend, I also submitted the following questions to Gregerson, who elected to reply to me in person. The following is a transcript of the discussion we had at a SeaTac coffee shop. The line of questioning is similar to that I followed with Fisher.
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?
Thank you for that question. The first thing that comes to mind for me is that we already work pretty well together. I think that sometimes the Council meetings are a very unnatural setting. A lot of the work that we do is behind the scenes, via phone calls or meetings at the Committee level. And I think that, in general, we get along really well. We have retreats a couple times a year, and we’re really learning—I think we’ve been working together for at least two years, and will be going on four years, with this particular body other than the new persons on the Council. So I really do think we work pretty well together. It will be nice to have a little bit of breathing room with regard to the City Proposition 1. As the vote comes closer on Proposition 1, it tightens everything up. Everybody’s conversation gets a little more jaded; we get a little more polarized. People tend to talk about things that may set the conversation up for why the City isn’t performing its duties or doing well at being efficient. So I’d like to think that there’s a lot of positive things regardless of who runs or who gets elected—because we are elected by the people of SeaTac to represent them. Our job is to get along with each other and find where we can work together.
You did just have another of those retreats just recently, correct?
Anything particularly positive come out of that retreat?
You know, at the retreat we have a facilitator who’s been coming in for about a year, and what he does is help us to understand our communication styles. I think that’s been a lot of help, because I like to imagine the City Council as seven different religions coming together to come up with one message, or come together in a consensus format. That means we have a lot of different filters and expertise, and come from different backgrounds—and how do we find one another, and communicate in a way that’s respectful? So that’s been a great bonding activity I believe—to understand individual communication styles. The other thing that happened at the retreat is that we are going through processes to build goals—and those goals help us build direction for working with City staff, which I believe we didn’t have a very strong system for until we started going through this goal-setting process. And I think it’s a great opportunity for Council members to be heard, both individually and then to say something as a group.
So a follow-up question, then. It sounds like you believe that while there’s been a lot of controversy about what happened in 2009 and early 2010, you don’t feel like the climate is the same now as the one that produced the circumstances surrounding the controversy at that time.
Well, I was warned that this was going to happen if I decided to run again. So I just try to continue to do the best work I know how to do, to reach out to the community. I’ve done a lot of great work—so I’m actually very busy. And although there is a lot of controversy that’s being recorded, it’s old information. And for the Council members involved, I still have to work with them; I still have to be the chair of the Land Use and Parks Committee; I’m still expected to understand the issues and go forward with other plans. So there’s a lot of work to be done, although the controversy goes on outside of that.
Is there a personal area that you’re working on for improvement as a public servant?
I’m always working on being a better public servant, personally. I’m always working on being a better person. I’ve learned a lot from this, and if anything I think that there are a lot of community members who are starting to see the true colors of some of the individuals who want to continue and keep this going—and put SeaTac in a position where people from the outside see it as such a negative place to be. I want SeaTac to be a place where we can live and work and raise our families. As you know, we’ve lived and worked in this community a long time, and I have a lot of things I’d like to see happen to keep our community that way.
At the October 11 Regular Council Meeting during discussion of Agenda Bill 3373 [regarding the establishment of a “Community Building Committee”], one of the things you said was that “in January you guys can change everything.” At the time, that struck me as a sign that you were seeing yourself on the way out. But now it doesn’t sound to me like that at all. Now it sounds like you very much see yourself as part of the effort moving forward.
Yes. I just wanted to make it very clear that nothing we talk about doing today can’t be undone. So there’s no reason to wait on something that’s a very important issue to our community—and that’s to bring forward a Committee that will allow our community to come forward and have a voice in a safe environment. So in January, once we know who has been elected and who will be on the Council, if that Council body wants to bring this topic back up and do something different, then that’s fine. I offered Deputy Mayor Fisher the opportunity to be the author of this Agenda Bill so that he could feel like he had more control over it—so it wouldn’t look like it was a campaign strategy, and I would be fine with that. You asked me earlier what I’m trying to do better to develop myself as a public servant—and that is I’m taking leadership training. And one thing about a being a leader is not necessarily to “lead” but to facilitate. So this particular Agenda Bill is not about me—it’s about facilitation.
[Editor's note—At last night’s Council Meeting, Agenda Bill 3373 was tabled for this calendar year and scheduled for re-presentation at the January 10, 2012 Council Meeting.]
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?
It’s unforeseen. I’ve never been in an environment where there’s a “strong mayor.” I do work with a lot of cities that have a strong-mayor form of government; but I think this is something that we’ll just have to dive into after it happens. I’m sorry I’m not more articulate about it. I don’t know!
Is there anything else you’d like the people of SeaTac to know about your plans for moving SeaTac forward?
There’s just a lot of wonderful work to be done in this town. We have a beautiful community of people, and I think we have some opportunity to work with the schools and the school district to really enhance our school system. I know that we’re on the brink of completing funding on a CPW grant, and I think that’s a really positive change.
I’ve knocked on almost 2000 doors in the last six months—and what I see over and over again is the streets, and the situation with transportation and being safe on the streets. So I think that’s very important. Also access to healthy foods. I’m excited to really start talking about that, and making that accessible.
The other thing is that the City of SeaTac Council members are elected at large; so we don’t each have little neighborhoods that have been identified. Sometimes I’ll go into a cul-de-sac and people will say, “You know, I just don’t think anybody cares about this street. I don’t think they care about us.” So one of the things that I’m really excited about trying to bring to the City Council is to find out if we can create little mini neighborhoods and have Council members adopt and rotate through them so that nothing’s political—but then every area of our community is being overseen, and we’re learning more about the ins and outs of the needs of that community. I think that’s a really exciting kind of opportunity.
And another thing is the formation of the Highline Healthy Communities Coalition. I am one of the founding members of that, and in January we’re having a summit to really formalize that. Highline area cities are coming together with the school district as the spine; and what we do is look at the community holistically, and how we can improve the community. Eventually, what I dream about is a levy that is not just the school district—where they come in and ask for a resolution at the end of the day—but a levy that’s community-wide, and has been part of a community approach that’s addressing, “What do we want to go to levy about? What kind of improvements do we want to see?” And of course the schools will be a part of that, but I think there will be a lot of other things that come out of that conversation.
So I think that there’s a lot of great work to be done in the near future.