On Tuesday morning the City Council’s Transportation and Seattle Public Utilities Committee will consider the nomination of a new member to the Bicycle Advisory Board. The appointment comes months after the board undertook a formal search and interview process to select three new members: two of those members went through Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office in 2021, were appointed in December and are now serving on the board. The third nominee submitted by the board was discarded by Councilmember Alex Pedersen’s office with a different candidate appearing at this week’s committee meeting, one who did not interview for the position through the board’s process at all.
Board co-chair Sarah Udelhofen writes in a statement what happened from the perspective of the bike board:
The Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board has worked to create a board member recruitment process that is approachable to the general public and reaches far and wide in the community. As Co-Chair of SBAB, I dedicated over 17 hours to the recruitment, interview, and selection process to fill 3 vacancies this past fall. Our goal is to use a fair and equitable process to bring diverse biking experiences to the board. After sending our recommendation to City Council in September 2021, we followed up multiple times on the status of the recommendation. In mid-January, we learned from Councilmember Pedersen’s office that Council is proceeding with a different candidate, from whom we did not receive an application. I am disappointed at the lack of communication we received from Councilmember Pedersen’s office regarding the recruitment process and I look forward to working more closely with City Council to develop an equitable selection process for future rounds.
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The current nominee, Douglas Midgen, is described in the city council appointment packet as a “long-distance cyclist who commutes around the City by bike, which is some small amount of training for the 5,000+ kilometer transcontinental races he has been riding since 2010.” At the February bike board meeting, members did not raise concerns about Mr. Migden’s nomination itself but rather the broader process surrounding it.
Playing games with appointments to the different modal advisory boards is nothing new. In 2018, co-chair Casey Gifford was notified hours before a board meeting that her term would not be renewed. Transportation committee chair at the time, Councilmember Mike O’Brien, called the dismissal “kind of unprofessional“. Gifford was replaced by an appointee who was aligned with Transportation Choices Coalition, whose political arm endorsed Durkan in the 2017 election, contributing to speculation that the motivation behind the change was overtly political.
In early 2021, Transit Advisory Board member Bryce Kolton was informed that his appointment to that body wouldn’t be renewed despite the fact that he had served fewer than two years on the board and was interested in continuing. Kolton had been one of the transit board’s most outspoken members, and had connected Pedersen’s decision with remarks that he had made at a public meeting regarding the city’s decision to cancel planned bike infrastructure on 35th Ave NE.
All of the appointees to Seattle’s modal boards are volunteers, and the effectiveness of their advocacy in their individual spheres has waxed and waned over the years. Attempting to steer the direction and makeup of the boards is certainly a prerogative of the mayor and City Council, but it’s not always a good look. In this case, Councilmember Pedersen’s office appeared to jettison a process intended to ensure representation on the bike board remains broad and that volunteers asked to donate their time to serve the city are treated fairly.
Councilmember Alex Pedersen’s office did not respond to request for comment on the matter.