Credit: Bruce Engelhardt

Mayor Jenny Durkan retained Anne Fennessy, of public affairs firm Cocker Fennessy, to represent the City of Seattle in planning for the final alignment of ST3’s West Seattle and Ballard Link segments. Durkan’s office also told STB that the search for a new, permanent SDOT director is “underway,” started “earlier this fall,” and that the hire should be announced soon.

Durkan spokesperson Chelsea Kellogg says that the search is similarly to the recruitment of new City Light CEO Debra Smith, who was hired in April:

“National search conducted, employee review panel interviews candidates, senior leadership from other departments interview candidates. The Search Committee then reviews candidates resumes and interviews the candidates which has already taken place. The next step is interviews with the Mayor, which are happening this month.”

As Erica Barnett reported, Fennessy has a long relationship with Sound Transit, and will have a broad portfolio:

In addition to serving as Sound Transit’s sole point of contact at the city, Fennessy’s role will include coordinating technical input on everything from  “land use/zoning, traffic/parking [and] parks/open space” to “utility, roadway/traffic, drainage, structural/building, fire/life safety, construction staging, property acquisition/right-of-way vacation,” according to the agreement.

The designated representative is also charged with assembling and overseeing the city’s project development team, a task that was also supposed to be complete, according to the agreement, by January of this year. [Sound Transit] did not know whether the city had put together a project team.

Cocker Fennessy also worked on the controversial streetcar audit, and the mayor’s audit of SDOT earlier in the year. (Disclosure: I briefly worked as a contractor for Cocker Fennessy.)

Fennessy’s SDOT work presumably aligned with interim SDOT Director Goran Sparmann’s organizational restructuring:

“Former Director Goran oversaw an SDOT reorganization in May to address some structural issues,” Kellogg says, “and led a review to make a recommendation to the Mayor on the leadership SDOT needs to deliver on its projects, both the major investments and the basics.”

I wrote yesterday that Mayor Jenny Durkan’s plans for transit and transportation were opaque, and the city’s transportation leadership was in limbo, with long delays in hiring. That’s still true, but the news about these hirings means that, soon, the City will have transportation leaders in place.

30 Replies to “Mayor’s office nearing SDOT director hire, appoints ST3 point person”

  1. You just called a PR consultant (non competitively selected but friends with Jenny!) a transportation leader.

    It’s a shame there’s no one from the transit planning space that we could hire to help with transit planning….

    1. They’re relating to their counterparts in another agency. That requires people skills. Maybe it was always going to be that way. She’s “coordinating technical input” from the engineers, who are the ones who will make technical judgments. It depends on what exactly her authority and values are, but she probably won’t be vetoing technical findings left and right for an ideological agenda. That’s not what PR people do, any more than marketers push an agenda contrary to their client’s goals. The potential downside is, if things are going badly, PR people sometimes focus on spinning the message and suppressing bad news. That’s like what SDOT did under Murray. But even non-PR people and electeds do that sometimes.

      1. Mike, before I make any judgment, I really need to know about her knowledge, in detail, of everything technical about the work. Will get workers to coordinate and communicate a lot better than average PR announcement as to why the there is now an eel flopping around in the control cab of the TBM.


    2. That was in reply to Norm below. I agree that Seattle needs more technical planners and to listen to them more, rather than allowing unknowledgeable and reactionary neighborhood groups to override them. The city government is supposed to implement their vision of what the city as a whole needs, as disclosed in the mayor’s and councilmembers’ campaign promises. Not back down because some status-quo activists are focusing on their narrow interests. That harms everybody else. In the case of 35th Ave NE, it harms those who want to transit/bike/walk in the neighborhood efficiently and have destinations closer to them as Seattle used to be, and would-be residents who could live there.

  2. And the rich get richer…

    This is nothing more than cash getting thrown at one of Durkan’s friends. Oligarchies wasting our money on themselves.

  3. I wonder if Manafort helped get her elected?

    Since day one I’ve been pushing for a recall, now maybe the votes there.

    1. The only thing that will wean Americans from large cars is more expensive fuel – a price that reflects the environmental impacts of harvesting and burning oil, not just the cost to do so.

      1. With larger electric cars coming into the fold this argument will further be tested. I’m always amazed at the number of Teslas I find in NE Seattle neighborhoods.

      2. les, the issues in France clearly go much deeper than a few cents fuel tax increase. Just like the American Revolution was deeper than just the stamp tax and the Boston tea party.

      3. Just the fact that Washington state voters resoundingly rejected I-631 tells me that raising gas taxes is not the answer. The wealthy will always pay higher gas prices to preserve their luxuries.
        Many other folk will pay higher gas prices out of necessity; these are the ones that will riot.

        For me, I have the luxury to switch to a bus and/or use a smaller car. But this isn’t an option for everybody and can seriously crimp a life style or pocket book

      4. I think what’ll cure Americans of their complete reliance on automobiles is when there’s absolutely no place where they can move. All the way to the horizon in every direction. Don’t think that a giant gleaming triangle will appear to announce Doom or Deliverance Day,

        More like 180 reverse direction of post WWII preference. The more people can afford for residence, they’ll more they’ll move to places where transit offers them all the benefits for which car travel used to. Anything like that happening around here?

        Reason I keep urging us to build Transit Oriented Development that incorporate actual transit into its design. Also that we have to find a way of clearing away the sprawl that increasing number of people won’t live in by choice anymore- real task of the century.

        Maybe use 2008 sequel to legislate that this time no mortgage banker will be bailed out of jail until they demolish every house they foreclose, trace which tarp the family is living under, and give (not rent) them a permanent living place walking distance from streetcars.

        Along a line with stations near everything they used to do ’til the tow truck could no longer get in to retrieve their car twice a day.


    2. If they do end up keeping parking and eliminating the bike lane, my recommendation to SDOT was to meter any on street parking they are retaining on 35th AV NE since that is their preferred method of maintaining parking availability in order to access retail businesses.

      1. The new alternative on the table neither retains more parking OR keeps the bike lane. Lose/Lose.

  4. I wish State Senator Marko Lillias (sp?!?) or Jennifer Gregerson or Shefali Ragnathan was on the short list for SDOT Director. I don’t want to see any stars of Sound Transit staff go over to SDOT. But that’s me.

  5. I’m bothered that it’s taken this long to get close to hiring a director — and we still don’t have a name. I’ve even heard that neither Durkan nor Moon wanted to keep Kubly, so there was an awareness to find someone even before his departure. It’s been too long!

    I’m not bothered that a PR firm is hired as liaison. The Mayor needs someone that is personally trusted who can manage the many stakeholders involved — and provide a reality check on their narrowly-focused positions. I hope that this means that riders can have a better place at the table (as opposed to sidelined as much as we are today). It can’t be any worse than today; I hope it means that a laser-focused person can shift ST’s dismissive attitude towards rider interests; the Mayor has so many things on her plate that she can’t focus on all of them.

    1. I agree with all of your points.

      I hope that the candidates will be revealed soon, so that the public can comment. It seems crazy that they have gone this far yet nothing is public.

  6. A well functioning system with good transfer and ridership experience = Happy transit users = good PR.

    Lots of extra money spent = bad PR.

    How Ms. Fennessy balances these two factors against the political agendas of the stakeholders and other organizations will determine the success or failure of this project.

    I’m hoping for the best…

    1. It depends on who’s evaluating the PR and by what criteria. The general public is sympathetic to escalator failures because escalators are supposed to work. But where riders see inconvenient transfers, the rest of the public goes “Meh.” And when riders curse the excessive walking distance to a station entrance, the public often agrees with the opponents that it was better to preserve parking spaces, because they’re comparing somebody’s need to park there with their need to park in other places.

  7. Why the hell isn’t anyone covering Fennessy’s noncompetetive contracts mentioning that her husband is a deputy mayor?!

    1. Because it is a Blue town in Blue state. Bob Ferguson has better things to do like sue the Trump administration.

      1. More precisely, it’s a Red state run by politicians elected by 4 blue counties in western Washington.

      2. Canteell just carried 12 counties. Inslee carried 7.

        Of course, just three counties contain more than half of the state’s population. It’s that “one man one vote” principle (and not “one county one vote”) that defines democracy.

      3. It still boggles my mind that people actually try to make that argument. Do we no longer teach civics?

        The state is blue blue blue. There hasn’t been a Republican governor elected in WA since 1980 (the one-term John Spellman) – the longest streak in the nation. Of course that’s in this weird world where everybody gets a vote that is equal to any other person’s vote, not where land mass or numbers of counties with less than 10,000 people get more votes than those with more than 100,000 somehow.

      1. Replying to myself to clarify: Erica reported on it at the time of another, much smaller contract.

        I guess if you can get 34,000 cookies out of the jar on the first attempt with no one making a fuss, why not 720,000 over some years?

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