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Fred Podesta
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Dori: Bureaucratic saga at City Hall like unfunny script of ‘The Office’

Seattle City Hall. (File photo)

Some of the things going on behind the scenes at City Hall are as bizarre as a TV sitcom — but unfortunately, they’re our reality here in Seattle.

Crosscut reporter David Kroman has an exclusive story about two staffers who alleged mistreatment at the hands of Mayor Jenny Durkan.

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This all is such a classic example of the dysfunction of bureaucracy. The whole thing sounds like a script of “The Office” that wasn’t funny enough to get on-air. It’s about the liberal buzzwords tossed around, about people being triggered, and about the weeks of meetings between so many city employees that it took to resolve what should have been a simple issue.

The two former staffers alleged that Durkan mistreated them at work. One employee said that Durkan grabbed her face; the other called City Hall under Durkan “toxic.”

As I describe how many layers of bureaucracy are involved in this, imagine what this is costing us, the taxpayers.

In July of last year, during a city staff member’s birthday party at the office, Durkan apparently got into a debate with an employee about how to commemorate the anniversary of the death of citizen activist Donnie Chin, who was murdered in 2015. According to the article, Durkan wanted to create a flier. Just think about this. I understand wanting to commemorate the anniversary of this man’s death. But these are the kind of conversations our government officials have. Some people wanted to have a community gathering. And Jenny Durkan suggests a flier. That in and of itself sounds so bureaucratic.

The two got into a heated argument, talking over each other. As per the account of witnesses, Durkan stepped toward the employee, waving her hands and saying, “You’re not listening to me.” The employee alleged that Durkan then grabbed her face and turned her head. Durkan and her chief of staff said this didn’t happen. What everyone agrees upon is that the incident lasted only a couple of seconds, and that Durkan apologized right after it took place.

In a normal world, even if Durkan touched the woman’s face, which would certainly be inappropriate, as long as she apologized, it’s over. I’ve had a few conversations like that at work over the years. Things get heated, then you apologize, and everyone moves on. That’s how this incident at City Hall was resolved, right?

Nah — this is government work.

The altercation was apparently “triggering” for the employee. She went complaining to the mayor’s executive assistants. Then the director of external relations got involved. Director of external relations? How many nonsense jobs are we paying for at City Hall?

The employee also talked to the deputy mayor. The employee is a survivor of domestic violence and she called the incident with Durkan “triggering.” She said that she could no longer work with the mayor because Durkan’s voice was “a trigger.” How many times can she use the word “trigger?” No one had even heard of that word 10 years ago and now it has become such a buzzword.

She wanted her own office and wanted to transfer to another position in the mayor’s cabinet, such as the director of the Office of Economic Development — a position, by the way, that would not allow her to escape talking to the mayor. So my question is, is all of this legit? Was she just using the “trigger” as an excuse to get a better job in the mayor’s cabinet?

There were a bunch more meetings over the next few days with HR and an office administrator and an attorney. Remember, this is over a two-second interaction.

Here’s what they finally decided to do.

After all of these meetings, they decided that in exchange for not filing a complaint, the employee could stay on the city’s payroll for six months while looking for a new job. She no longer had to meet with the mayor as her job used to require. So it sounds to me like she was able to stay at home, hunt for a new job, and collect a salary from us for six months. She apparently worked remotely on “special assignment duties,” but I’d like to file a PDR and find out what was accomplished by those “special assignment duties.”

You’ve got a two-second moment that I’m sure most of us have had in the workplace. I’ve never touched anyone in anger, but we’re not sure if Durkan did either. The fact that this employee wanted to work in Durkan’s cabinet, the fact that she got six paid months to job-hunt in exchange for not filing a complaint — it sure seems fishy.

Something like this should be resolved in about one minute. It’s over and done with. We don’t give people six paid months off and we don’t bring in 22 different staffers from so many layers of bureaucracy. People wonder why I’m so cynical about the size of government, and why I’m so critical about the fact that City Hall has 12,000 employees, nearly half of whom are making six figures. Government is supposed to work for us, to improve our lives, and instead it’s become this bio-dome, where its only purpose is to create six-figure jobs for political cronies and funnel our money to political donors.

You wonder why we’ve got the worst property crime of any city, why we’ve got drug vagrants making our streets dangerous, why the homelessness crisis gets worse the more we spend? It’s because of nonsense like this at the very top.

I’ve told you a million times, the first thing I would do if I were in charge — and I wouldn’t be, because I would never get into the world of politics — is get rid of a third of the employees at City Hall, 4,000 people. Remember during the snowstorm, how the ones with “non-critical jobs” were told to stay home? Yeah, I’d let people with “non-critical jobs” stay home 365 days a year. Think of what a cesspool that is. I’d drain the swamp — the dysfunctional mess described in this Crosscut story.

Out of the 8,000 that are left, if they don’t have jobs where they interact face-to-face with the public, if they’re entering data or pushing paper, then they’d work a swing or graveyard shift. We saw during Viadoom how much of a difference it made when people worked different shifts from the standard 9 to 5. We’ll start getting our roads cleared that way, fix our traffic problem at no cost.

I’d rule this city with an iron fist. I’d fix traffic. I’d fix the bureaucracy.

Maybe I do need to run.

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