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No one seems to know what Seattle’s $195,000 traffic czar actually does

Seattle Councilmember Mike O'Brien grilling SDOT on Friday. (Seattle Channel)

Seattle City Council met Friday to go over the city’s budget, including a testy exchange with SDOT regarding the pricey $195,000 salary of “Citywide Mobility Operations Coordinator” Mike Worden.

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In January, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced she would be creating a position for the retired Air Force general, to act as a liaison to regional transit agencies. At the time, there were concerns about Worden’s lack of experience in transportation.

“He has little transportation experience — his expertise is in aviation, intelligence and business strategies,” KIRO Radio traffic reporter Chris Sullivan said in January. “I’m not sure if General Worden’s background translates into managing cars, buses, signal timing, light rail, freight, and bike lanes.”

Over eight months later, it would appear as though those concerns have escalated, to the extent to which few people outside of SDOT seem to understand what exactly taxpayers have been getting in exchange for Worden’s $195,000 salary.

“The salary is worthy of a high profile position, and as chair of the transportation department, it’s been extremely low profile,” Councilmember Mike O’Brien said, addressing SDOT on Friday. “It doesn’t mean that work’s not happening, but I am not aware of any of the work. It’d be really helpful for me to understand what is actually being done.”

In the past, SDOT told KTTH’s Jason Rantz that Worden has been “focused on implementing citywide process improvements to better address traffic incidents,” as well as riding “buses, light rail, or the sounder to talk to transit drivers and riders.”

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“Sometimes Mike goes to traffic pinch points or other points of observation to watch traffic, incident responses, traffic clearing, traffic officers, etc.,” SDOT said in an early-September news release.

Digging even deeper was C is for Crank’s Erica Barnett, who acquired pages from Worden’s schedule back in August, a large number of which were left blank. Other sizable chunks totaling 285 total hours simply stated that he had been “out and about.”

“[I’m] just questioning the value of this position, because I haven’t received any value,” said O’Brien on Friday.

“I think there’s a lot of interest in this,” agreed Councilmember Sally Bagshaw. 

“We want to know and have a sense of confidence that we’re getting what we’re paying for,” added Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez.

SDOT offered to set up a private briefing with interested council members to go over Worden’s role in more detail, but offered little in the way of new insight for the time being.

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