I greatly appreciate the ability of arts and culture programs to strengthen and enhance our communities. Like many people, some of my most joyous and educational experiences include sharing the arts with family and friends. These kinds of experiences enrich our lives, cause us to consider our common values, and knit us together as a society in the face of so many forces that pull us apart. They also provide economic opportunities for many people, and our county as a whole. For these reasons, I have repeatedly voted to support public funding of arts, culture, heritage and historical preservation.
Many people have written to me with concerns about recently-proposed legislation at the County Council that would change the way 4Culture, our King County arts program, is governed. This proposal has been co-sponsored by six of my colleagues on the County Council. I am not a sponsor of this legislation and I want to explain why.
Although it appears that some aspects of the proposal could be benign or beneficial, other aspects could undermine the independence and effectiveness of 4Culture, to the detriment of our historical support for the arts, culture, heritage and historic preservation. To be clear, one thing the legislation does NOT do is disband 4Culture.
4Culture operates as an independent “cultural development authority” under the direction of an appointed board of directors. Its primary function is to administer grants in its four program areas – arts, heritage, historic preservation and public art – which it does with a $10 million annual budget.
The proposed legislation would make four major changes:
- Give the County Council the ability to confirm and fire the 4Culture Executive Director;
- Authorize each Councilmember to appoint one member of the board from his or her district (nine in total) and the County Executive to appoint 5 additional board members – all 14 subject to confirmation by the Council;
- Require Council approval of the 4Culture annual budget; and
- Allow the Council to amend the 4Culture bylaws (or operating procedures) – currently the Council can amend the 4Culture charter and the bylaws are required to conform to the charter.
I agree with those who have written to me about the value and great work of 4Culture as an independent agency. As a non-voting member of the 4Culture Board, I have seen up close the effort and expertise 4Culture staff, Board members and volunteers bring to support so many people and programs throughout King County. Of course, I support making sure we have adequate levels of transparency and oversight over the public funds that go into our 4Culture programs, just as for any expenditure of public funds. But I do not support changes to the governing structure of 4Culture that would compromise its work or limit its independence.
One of the biggest benefits of having an independent cultural development authority is that grants are awarded through a collaborative decision-making process driven by people who have experience and expertise in the arts, culture, heritage and historic preservation. I am deeply concerned with any proposal that would tend to drive arts funding to be less like an objective, professional process and more like an exercise in political earmarking.
For these reasons, I don’t support the proposal to allow the Council to fire the 4Culture Executive Director. I think it is obvious that if you can fire a person, that person is not independent- that person reports to you. I want to know more about exactly how Council approval of the 4Culture budget would work. For the Council to provide oversight at a high level would provide useful transparency. If Councilmembers are approving specific grants, then we have gone too far. And, I want to make sure that while we have appropriate countywide representation on the 4Culture board, we also maintain an effective balance of expertise and skills on the board. I will be looking to maintain 4Culture’s effectiveness and independence as we attempt to address Councilmembers’ concerns with transparency and oversight.
What happens next
The first Council discussion on this proposed legislation will be on February 21st in the Committee of the Whole (COW). All are welcome to attend and there will be an opportunity for public comment. Please be aware that public comment will be limited to no more than one hour to ensure that the Councilmembers have time to discuss the legislation. As a result, there may not be time for everyone who wishes to speak. If you feel strongly about this topic, I encourage you to send your comments in writing to your Councilmember to make sure your position is known.
I’ve been impressed and moved by the strong outpouring of support for 4Culture and for the types of programs they support. My commitment is to continue working toward the right balance of accountability over public funds and maintaining 4Culture’s independence that best ensures the continuing health and success of our County arts program.
- The Committee of the Whole meeting is scheduled for 9:30 – 11:30 on February 21st. There will be a public comment signup sheet available one half hour before the meeting starts.
- Chambers are located on the 10th floor of the King County Courthouse, 516 Third Avenue, Seattle 98104.
- You can watch the meeting live on KCTV or online.
- The committee agenda will be available here on or before February 16th. Scroll down to find the meeting.
- You can find the proposed legislation here. Search for 2018-0086 in 2018 as an ordinance.
- Find your Councilmember here.