JASON RANTZ

Rantz: Sawant faces ethics complaint for allowing Socialists to fire staffer

Jan 14, 2019, 6:02 AM | Updated: 10:19 am
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Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant. (AP file photo)
(AP file photo)

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant faces an ethics complaint for reportedly ceding staffing decisions to an outside, members-only group, the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH has confirmed.

According to an exclusive report by SCC Insight, Sawant has let Socialist Alternative — a members-only organization — make staffing decisions for her office. That she votes based on a small group of activists, not necessarily in line with the views of her constituency, is abhorrent but not shocking. Her decision to give control over hiring and firing to an outside organization, however, is legally and ethically questionable.

Wayne Barnett, executive director of Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, confirmed he has received a complaint about the staffing allegations in SCC Insight, but is yet unable to provide the details, pending a review of the city’s legal office.

“I review the complaint and decide whether there is reasonable cause to believe that there has been a violation of the Ethics Code,” Barnett explained of the process to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “If I determine that there is reasonable cause, I begin an enforcement proceeding. If I determine there is not, I dismiss the complaint.”

According to SCC Insight, Socialist Alternative was given “decision-making authority over ‘the running and staffing’ of Sawant’s office.” In December 2017, the group opted to fire Socialist Alternative member Whitney James Kahn. She blamed the firing on political retaliation from within the group, according to the report. In Seattle, political ideology is protected from discrimination. The City of Seattle offers protections to workers from retaliation that Socialist Alternative does not.

In a lengthy statement, the details of the termination were outlined and co-signed by a number of local and national Socialist Alternative members who were “expelled” from the organization. The statement reads, in part:

In an unprecedented act of political retaliation, the EC [Executive Committee] fired a full-timer who they perceived to be critical of the leadership and supportive of the Minority, right when the debate was being brought outside of the EC for the first time. Such a bureaucratic approach is deeply damaging to SA’s ability to have free and open internal discussion when its elected leadership bodies are made up roughly half of full-timers.

When another full-timer in the city council office raised criticisms of this at a meeting of the Seattle City Committee (a body she was an elected member of), she was also met with fierce political retaliation and forced to resign as a full-timer. Since then four other full-timers who were part of the Minority have had their work made impossible by a spiteful EC. In total, six Minority comrades were either fired or driven out of their positions as full-timers.

Defending herself against the SCC Insight claims, Sawant says the group “is made up of ordinary people fighting for workers and oppressed communities.” Only, they’re not so ordinary. The people who reportedly make these decisions for her pay membership dues. That, actually, means many in the “oppressed communities” are not a part of the decisions; indeed, there are only around 200 members of the local branch of Socialist Alternative and, presumably, they don’t all live in Sawant’s district.

“The allegations of ethics violations are similarly utterly baseless,” Sawant says. “The real issue the political establishment has is that my accountability is to working people and social movements, instead of to the corporate agenda.”

Unfortunately, she’s more accountable to dues-paying members of a fringe group, not the people who live in her district.

If Barrett believes an ethics violation has occurred, Sawant “would have 21 days to appeal my dismissal to the full Ethics and Elections Commission.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show, at his new time, weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Rantz: Sawant faces ethics complaint for allowing Socialists to fire staffer