Mayor’s last-minute ousting of Bike Advisory Board Chair was an awful way to treat a volunteer

Casey Gifford speaks to a crowd gathered for the Bike to Work Day 2018 rally at City Hall.

Just hours before the November meeting of the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board, Co-Chair Casey Gifford received a call from the Mayor’s Office informing her she was headed to her last meeting on the volunteer board.

The decision stunned Board members and surprised Gifford because this has never happened before, at least in recent memory. And it certainly has not happened to the Chair of the Board with no time to plan for a leadership transition. There are so many new members on the Board that only Amanda Barnett has completed a full term, Erica Barnett reports.

“I wanted to step down as chair, but I didn’t feel it was the right time with how many new people we had,” Gifford told Seattle Bike Blog.

Typically, if a Board member wants to stay on for a second term, they can. Members are limited to two two-year terms, which prevents the Board from becoming stagnant and creates space for new leaders and new voices. This system works, which is why the statement the Mayor’s Office sent Seattle Bike Blog doesn’t add up:

It’s the Mayor’s priority to continue to bring in new voices on her boards and commissions. We’re grateful for Casey Gifford’s service and look forward to welcoming a new chair in the coming weeks. The Bike Advisory Chair will be a critical role as we advance the Mayor’s commitment to multimodal transportation in the City of Seattle.

In just two years, had proven herself to be a very valuable and dedicated leader. That’s why it’s so surprising not only that the Mayor’s Office would choose not keep her on for another term, but that they would dismiss her so abruptly.

Perhaps this is a good time to remind everyone that the Bike Board is a volunteer gig that has no actual decision-making power. The city won’t even put in the effort to record their meetings for the Seattle Channel website, so the only records are the meeting minutes and any letters they choose to write. It requires a lot of time and energy, especially for the Chair, and the personal gains are minimal beyond fulfilling a basic desire to help make the city better for biking. I guess it could also look good on a résumé.

Half the members are appointed by the Mayor and half are appointed by the Council. They are tasked with “advis[ing] the City Council, the Mayor, and all departments and offices of the City on matters related to bicycling, and the impact which actions by the City may have upon bicycling; and shall have the opportunity to contribute to all aspects of the City’s planning processes insofar as they may relate to bicycling,” according to the 1977 resolution that created it (PDF). Basically, they can ask questions and write letters. They can be effective in influencing decisions if city leaders choose to listen, but they don’t have any direct authority.

In Gifford’s place, Erica Barnett reports that the Mayor has appointed Selina Urena. Urena formerly worked in development at Bike Works and now works at Transportation Choices Coalition. This gripe has nothing to do with Urena, who should be a great addition to the Board.

My concern about Gifford’s ousting is that it is such an insult to someone who has volunteered so much to the city. She didn’t deserve to be treated this way by the Mayor of our city. This also sends a terrible message to other community members which might be interested in volunteering their time to help Seattle. There are plenty of other community organizations that will appreciate the gift of your time.

I am also concerned that at a time when the Mayor cannot even manage to hire an SDOT Director or even attempt to accomplish the Department’s voter-approved work, she is instead micro-managing the leadership of a powerless volunteer advisory board.

Seattle Bike Blog thanks Casey for her work on the Board. Your ousting is the city’s loss. Barnett reports that Councilmember Mike O’Brien is considering appointing Gifford, which would be great for the Board. But I wouldn’t blame her if she said, “No thank you.”

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8 Responses to Mayor’s last-minute ousting of Bike Advisory Board Chair was an awful way to treat a volunteer

  1. Joseph Singer says:

    Why should this come as a surprise? Mayor Durkin has demonstrated her non-interest in transportation issues including her complete lack of interest in furthering bicycle infrastructure. Her contribution: saying that Lime scooters are dangerous! If we had another election next November for mayor I think I might be inclined to vote for anyone but Durkin.

  2. Southeasterner says:

    “This gripe has nothing to do with Urena, who should be a great addition to the Board.”

    Umm it should. Urena does fundraising, they are clueless on capital projects delivery which is exactly what this city lacks and what is critical to advancing MOVE Seattle.

    Casey, who represents King County and cyclists, was the only person left who had a clue on how to deliver infrastructure investments and the only one who called out SDOT on their complete incompetence to deliver MOVE Seattle.

    This sounds like a the beginnings of a major turf battle between Seattle and King County over influence on infrastructure planning and implementation. Dow vs. Durkan will not be pretty and hopefully Dow counters with some blows to Durkan and her complete incompetence and reckless behavior on all things related to transportation.

    [Edited to correct pronouns]

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      The Board quite specifically does not require expertise to be a member. Every community member is qualified so long as they want to help make Seattle better for biking. Urena has years of experience working within Bike Works and now TCC, which is far more transportation advocacy experience than most applicants. And again, none is required.

      • Southeasterner says:

        I don’t disagree that Urena is a great “addition” but they should not be replacing Casey who brings a completely different skill set and agency perspective that is desperately needed on the board.

        From their site –

        “SBAB relies on its membership’s diversity of experience, knowledge, and background to advise the City to make cycling safer and more accessible in Seattle”

        Appointing a bunch of “yes men” to the board who are lock step with the mayors office is not the way to do it.

        Urena would have gotten through in the normal application process.

        Casey, if you are reading this please accept O’Brien’s offer!

  3. JB says:

    The more I see Durkan in action, the more appalled I become. But she is also a reflection of the city that chose her. I hate to say it, but if you want nice bike infrastructure, move to Portland, Amsterdam, Copenhagen. Seattle – I just don’t think we have it in us. Maybe in ten or twenty years, but not now.

  4. Don Brubeck says:

    Dismissing Casey looks like retribution for the failure of SBAB to roll over and play dead in the face of the Executive’s “reset” of the Move Seattle Levy. Casey Gifford provided outstanding leadership of SBAB. I’m not worried for Casey or for the other dedicated volunteers on SBAB. Casey will outlast Mayor Durkan in this arena, with great work to come. More concerned about the short-sighted, mis-guided transportation direction at City Hall.

    It would take only a modest addition of funds to keep the Levy’s bike projects on track. Instead of complying with the Executive’s request to suggest cuts. Under Casey Gifford and Amanda Barnett’s leadership, SBAB asked the City to fill the gap. We analyzed the progress on the Bicycle Master Plan, and showed SDOT that even if all of the Levy projects were done on schedule (which is not happening), the BMP bike network would not be built out by its deadline of 2035 at the current rate of implementation. So, instead of suggesting cuts, SBAB asked SDOT to develop strategies to fulfill their mandate. Not the answer they wanted to hear.

    Here are some of SBAB’s comments and questions to SDOT, Mayor and Council, from SBAB meeting minutes:
    Move Seattle Levy Update
    – SBAB shouldn’t be tasked with picking which projects to remove, rather SDOT should
    strategize how to resolve challenges currently faced.
    – What are SDOT’s strategies to implement the Bicycle Master Plan and programs by
    2035?
    – Are we on track during the period of this levy to implement a proportional share of the
    BMP?
    – What are SDOT’s strategies for coping with recessionary periods in coming years?
    – SDOT should request additional funding sources in annual budget cycles and from grants
    and partnering sources.
    – Requested SDOT provide costs of recent projects to inform our recommendations
    If there is, say, a $32M shortfall over 7 yrs. – could be handled by small adjustments
    across multiple projects and from added funding. Not a large sum for City capital
    projects.
    – SBAB recommends to fill the gap & generate new solutions to remain on track with BMP

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  6. Charles R says:

    The Mayor is a complete waste of space.

    Mentally incapable of making decisions if someone, anyone, might have a different opinion. She gets an A for issuing Trump related press releases, but too bad that those do nothing for people that live in Seattle.

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