On the Mayor’s Mind - Citizen Engagement

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Shoreline Mayor Shari Winstead
By Shoreline Mayor Shari Winstead

Sometimes it’s really interesting to me how much my “day job” and being on City Council are alike. At my “day job” I am a special project and event manager at a large corporate law firm in Seattle. Basically, I handle large projects that involve communication with employees, and community building employee events for about 500 people.

One of the projects I’ve been managing is the firm’s Wellness Program. We are now in our 4th year of incentivizing employees to submit to a biometric screening (blood test), spend 20-30 minutes answering questions about how they feel, and making them complete “challenges,” taking an action that is good for you - anything from getting a massage to eating breakfast on a regular basis. If you work for any type of organization that pays for employee’s medical insurance, you probably know about wellness program. While I am poking a bit of fun at this program, if you know me it will come as no surprise that I brought the program to the firm. I had participated in a wellness program when I was working for King County, and I loved it. It’s exactly the type of program that I embrace and excel in, because it involves my two favorite things, health and community.

I have to admit that when I wrote a proposal to the firm detailing how a wellness program would be good for our population (99% of whom sit at a desk and 45% of whom bill by the minute), I didn’t really expect it to be taken seriously. However that program resonated with our benefits managers who were seeing the trend of ever increasing health claims and costs. There was a true financial case to be made for a wellness program. Long story short, a wellness program was born, 4 years ago.  

I felt honored to be asked to be part of the implementation team, and it was even better to see many people as willing participants, to see folks who started making small changes in their lifestyle, and even better - to see our health premiums increase by single digit - the smallest increase in at least 10 years. Our wellness program was working!  Or was it a combination of other environmental factors? - Or even luck?

I know, you are wondering when I’m going to get to the part about my day job being strikingly similar to being a Councilmember. Hang with me, I’m almost there!

Implementation meant first to educate people about what we were doing. We knew it would take a strong and consistent effort and message to get people on board and participating, even though there were only three things to do. We took the time to explain the program, why it was moving forward, and how it would affect people - we even incentivized participation by giving a reduction in the cost of medical premiums for those who completed the three actions. And then we sent postcards, placed posters all over (even the restrooms!), we put articles in the newsletter, sent out targeted e-mails, reminding people of the deadline and encouraging them to participate. I don’t know why, over the last four years, it still surprises me when two weeks before the deadline, 30% of the people wait until they receive the “final email’ that says 9in all upper case letters0 - DEADLINE ON 8/31 TO SAVE MONEY ON HEALTH INSURANCE!  my phone rings off the hook and my in-box overflows with e-mails from people asking: “What wellness program? We have a wellness program?” “When is the deadline? What do I need to do?” It’s pretty frustrating, of course, since so much time has gone in to the communication program, but I consider it an opportunity to practice patience and kindness.

So last week I was talking with a colleague at the firm, explaining about the situation at work, how we had done so much to inform people, when I realized I was also, ironically enough, explaining the Council’s recent rezone action and the public’s reaction. After literally 4 years of council discussions (all done in public and recorded), public meetings, small committee meetings, meetings where a staff member would walk the area with interested citizens, articles in Currents and a postcard to the area surrounding the rezone area that said CHANGE IS COMING!, and large boards actually on the corridor with the information. And still, there are people who insist we did not do enough public outreach, people who claim they never knew about the process. It’s hard to understand when you know you have done so much - because it was critically important to the Council that people were informed. We practically begged for people to be engaged in the process. Just like the Wellness Program.

I don’t know if the phenomena of “skimming”, rather than comprehensively reading is because of technology, or because everyone is so busy, overloaded, over scheduled or just always going too fast. My conclusion is that it’s worth it to slow down and pay a little more attention to the things we think we don’t have time for - like mail from the City. Maybe read the entire Currents instead of just the front and back cover, or actually read what the postcard says instead of tossing it in the recycle with a mere glance. If you go too fast, you’ll miss the important stuff. I write these words not just to encourage others, but as a reminder to myself. I have learned so much by being the one writing the communication plan and hoping that people read what we spend so much time trying to get perfect. I have learned that taking the extra few seconds to make the right decision on immediately deleting or recycling is a worthy way to spend my time. Because I truly do want to be informed - don’t we all?


Anonymous,  August 23, 2015 at 12:06 AM  

Or how about you send a city staffer to talk personally with every homeowner in the rezone areas? You guys sure have enough city staffers to talk with Futurewise and Forterra!

Richard from Ridgecrest

Anonymous,  August 23, 2015 at 12:08 AM  

To set the record straight, the BILLBOARD, FLYERS, CURRENTS ARTICLES, etc., were all MISLEADING as to the size, scope,heights, densities, and atrocious development codes. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. It wasn't until SAN broke the news about 7+ stories last September that the City began to (begrudgingly) publish their true plans. All responsible parties at City Hall have NO ONE to blame except for themselves for the fall out that ensured shortly after. Shameful.

Dan Jacoby,  August 23, 2015 at 7:36 AM  

While it is understandable to compare the two situations, because superficially they appear to be similar, there was also a significant underlying problem with the "outreach" done by the city regarding the rezoning. It stank!

"Change is coming" doesn't mean anything real. Of course change is coming; change is always coming. If you actually read the pamphlets and flyers that the city printed you'd see that the language was designed, whether deliberately or subconsciously, to deter people from getting involved, not to spur people into action.

I have no idea what actual outreach Mayor Winstead did at her day job, so I can't compare it. But I do know what outreach the city did, and it is obvious that the outreach had the effect of keeping people away until a group of local citizens did their own — effective — outreach.

John Behrens,  August 23, 2015 at 12:01 PM  

The mayor is a victim of her own propaganda machine. Telling every one what they need over and over again is not the same as listening to the community and gathering their advice on how to create a plan that protects the needs of the citizens. No one, including the mayor or any of the city staff, had any idea what was going to be approved after midnight on March 16th. It was approved, and became law without informing the citizens of this decision or what it meant.
Telling a condemned man his execution date can hardly be seen as involving him in a decision process about his future.

Tom Jamieson August 23, 2015 at 1:21 PM  

Jacoby is right. Concerned citizens in the community got the word out. Admittedly, it was late in the game, but there was nothing to be gained by their waiting. They were late because the game was rigged. And Jacoby's final point is most important. The community activists were effective. Had the City been effective, these opponents to the radical rezone would have been there sooner. They would have been there for the kickoff instead of the 2 minute warning.

A growing number of voters in this community are catching on. Many have already discovered the 185th Rezone is not an isolated episode, but part of a series of information failures and perhaps misinformation successes that includes the Aurora Corridor Project, the 2010 Levy Lid Lift measure, Point Wells, the 2012 Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) Acquisition, the new high schools bond measure (including the plan to demolish the old Ronald School),the Shoreline School District Surface Water Management (SWM) billing fiasco and fee waiver the Aurora Square Community Renewal Area (CRA), the Ronald Wastewater District Assumption, the Ronald Commons zero-setback--and those are just the big ones.

Mayor Winstead knows well the lack of community involvement in this City's policymaking. She as much as excused it in a City Council meeting on September 24, 2012:

"As we all know, we very often only hear from people who are dissatisfied as far as what we get for public comment and emails to the Council. We don't hear from people who are busy raising their kids, going to work every day--Their garbage gets picked up, and their water runs, and they catch a bus and go to work, and everything's fine...Not everyone has time to watch Council meetings, and to attend Council meetings, and to be part of their local government, and I think its great to have families out there raising kids."

Then there are the infamous City Council Dinner Meetings, the ones they hold in the back room, off-camera, off-mic. Sure, they are open to the public, though I bet many do not know that. For years, they had a sign posted outside the corridor to the room, which read "Authorized Personnel Only." The mayor has obsereved these meetings are useful for sensitive discussions away from the public eye. In a dinner meeting on August 28, 2013, then-Councilmember Winstead said "What I don't want to do is embarrass anyone in front of the public on camera." This was in reference to evaluating the qualifications of Debbie Tarry as interim City Manager.

The nature of government is coercion. They know it and we know it. That is as it should be. But given that nature, it is not so difficult to get the attention and engagement of the denizens of a city if you really want to. All you have to do is reveal the threat, and there is always a threat. Defend it all you like, but reveal it.

Rebekah Hamon August 24, 2015 at 6:53 AM  

Regardless, Mayor Winstead, you are likely going to lose your job. But it is pleasant for a change to hear you address the issues at hand instead of the weather in your article.

Anonymous,  August 24, 2015 at 8:00 PM  

Thank you Mayor Winstead for your hard work. We appreciate you for doing the thankless job of managing a small city. You only see people protesting the rezoning. But there are a lot of us, just not as vocal, who welcome growth, density & economic vitality of Shoreline. Please rezone my neighborhood (Parkwood) & don't listen to the NIMBYs. Sorry for hijacking your message of engagement but I just wanted to say thank you!

Anonymous,  August 24, 2015 at 11:47 PM  

Dear "Parkwood" above, please sign your name to your praise. Because it sounds a lot like the only praise the council has been getting, nameless and repeating the council's talking points.
Cindy Hughes
Echo Lake, Shoreline

Anonymous,  August 25, 2015 at 2:06 PM  

Cindy! Why does it matter what my name is? I am David and live in north Parkwood on Meredian. I am sorry if I sound like the council. But I have never understood the position of the anti-growth crowd. Do they not like economic development or density? How do you think more businesses are going to come to Shoreline if the number of people living here do not increase? Do you have any other solution than "not in my neighborhood"? The city makes a lot of money from gambling and car dealership, both of which do nothing for quality of life. Wouldn't it be great to have businesses where you and I can visit every day? I would rather see Shoreline be like Ravenna than another depressing suburb like Mountlake Terrace.

Cindy Highes August 26, 2015 at 11:15 AM  

David, we are not against growth. We are against rapid and unfettered growth. I understand right immediately near the station area, but the city council is pushing for too much too soon. It will not be Ravenna, it will be Ballard with all the sun-blocking giant mixed use residential boxes.

Expecting single family homeowners, who bough homes in these legacy single family neighborhoods to absorb all the growth is also unfair. I thought it telling when all of the proposed 185th rezone maps were changed to include the mayor's own home, it was always just barely outside of all of the maps.

Do you own a home inside the rezone area? Or are you just another person hoping to walk to another Starbucks but not have to personally deal with any of the growth. Many of my friends inside the rezone area did not hear about this until the last minute before the vote earlier this year.

Cindy Hughes
Echo Lake, Shoreline

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