Councilmember Godden left office on January 1, 2016.
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Generosity of spirit in tough times

No one needs to be told that “Times are Tough.” The  refrain is on everyone’s lips. We hear it a dozen times a day. And, when it comes to city finance, no one needs to be told that Seattle’s cupboard is virtually bare.

Governments are hurting badly.

Seattle, it must be pointed out, has not so far felt the worst of the recession. Yes, we’ve had to reduce expenses and, yes,  we’ve been left with a much smaller Rainy Day fund ($10 million instead of the $30 million banked in better years.)  For the second year in a row, the city is bracing for a round of midyear cuts. We’re also facing the prospect of severe belt tightening for the 2011-12 biennial budget.

The thin gruel that we were eating is getting much thinner.

So what do we do in tough times? We turn to the citizens to ask about their priorities. What do people consider the basics: the indispensible core services. What can a city can do for you that you can’t obtain elsewhere? Is it public safety? Police? Fire fighting? Is it help for the homeless, the hungry? Is it health clinics for the uninsured? Is it libraries, parks, transportation?

On Wednesday night, an estimated 400 citizens – a standing room only crowd – packed the New Holly Gathering Hall in Southeast Seattle  to tell the mayor and City Councilmembers what matters to them in tough times. More than 85 of those attending signed up to speak. And speak they did.

They shared their passion for parks  programs, they voiced their concern for social services, they deplored the prospect of shortened library hours and they worried about health services, public safety and human trafficking. One couple lobbied convincingly for more city help and attention to South Park, a city neighborhood which will be severely impacted by King County’s closure of the failing South Park Bridge June 30.

But the most often and passionately repeated concern was for parks programs. If there is one place that the city touches the most diverse groups of citizens, it’s with its parks and libraries.  Who might be adversely affected? “Seattleites from seven to 80 years old,” was the motto of one supporter of the city’s pools.

The mayor and the five councilmembers who attended got an earful. There was humor, there was pathos, there were cute kids and handmade drawings to pass around. Fathers spoke with pride about their youngsters, trained in “rowing for kids,” who later earned college scholarships; they told personal stories about children who learned to play basketball at community centers and became college stars. Moms pleaded to continue the Seattle Parks specialized programs for the developmentally disabled and they urged the city to keep facilities available for para athletes who must rely exclusively on parks facilities.

Several teens showed up to speak as a group for their neighborhood community centers. One spoke with such panache and salesmanship that you could hear the whispered comment: “There goes a budding politician!”

Queen Anne resident Shannon Gooding went to the microphone, shepherding five adorable youngsters, clad in colorful swim suits. She said she’d originally planned to ask the city not to close down her neighborhood pool. But she added, “Having been here for an hour, I’m also here to support homeless shelters. Please put that before the pool. I support the pools, but shelters are more important.”

Gooding’s generosity of spirit was a common theme for the evening.  The audience applauded for speakers who advocated for causes other than their own. Some speakers echoed the theme that “we must work together. We must work creatively.” Others said, “Those who can pay will be willing to pay more so that those who can’t afford to pay anything for programs can be helped.”

It was a good evening , an informative one.  But for those who must consider the gloomy state of fiscal affairs, it was a heart-tearing exercise.  How do you rank these priorities when there’s not enough money to go around?

The Mayor and City Council will be holding a second public hearing on the city budget at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 4, in the North Seattle Community college cafeteria.  Citizens, young and old, are welcome to come and share their thoughts.