Thursday, May 8, 2008

Maybe He's Not So Bad After All?

Wes sent me the link to the Seattle Channel video of testimony before Tim Burgess' City Council committee on public safety and human services. It made me realize a few things. I said in yesterday's post that our being there had approximately the impact of "an errant nerf ball." That gives both us and Tim Burgess too little credit. The seventeen minutes of RCOP testimony (Burgess made sure that everyone who came to speak was heard, and extended the testimony period by ten minutes) is incredibly moving, expressing heartfelt pain, bewilderment at the City's disconnect from the realities of the street, and utter outrage with the illegitimacy of the protocols. Our motley crew that afternoon did the homeless proud.

Coming as it does, sandwiched between the not-so-friendly face of fascism and the cold embrace of technocratic planning (favorite part: Council staff describing the Strategic Investment Plan as a "discussion of how we get from the principles to the goals to strategies to programs to outcomes and then eventually to contractors and contract dollars."), the testimony offers a moving center to a stark contrast in perspectives.

I met with Burgess around a month ago and spent more than an hour getting to know him and sharing key concerns with the protocols. I felt we really connected, and that his concern with public safety was balanced by compassion and fairness. In an email describing our meeting – which I refrained from blogging about – to key activists, I described Burgess as "definitely someone we can work with."

A few weeks later, the deeply flawed protocols were released and Burgess told the press he was "fine" with them, and dismissed the concerns of homeless people and advocates as "easy." In a meeting with Patricia McInturff before the protocols' release, he raised none of the points he'd said were of concern. A phone call a week later, while polite and gracious, gave no ground. He was content to let the Mayor's office define oversight rather than create a more aggressive Council role. I was disgusted.

But here, Burgess seems genuinely moved and disturbed by what he's hearing. Later, even though the subject is off topic, he brings up the Council oversight role with Acting Human Services Director Alan Painter, and seems keen on perhaps more definition here. Once bitten, twice shy, but perhaps there's room to hope.


Diane Nilan said...

Hey Tim,

Geez, you folks sure sound like you're having fun up there.

What do you think of what's happening in Toronto? Here's the link:

Tim Burgess said...

Thanks for the good words, Tim. I appreciate it. There's no denying this is a very complicated issue, but I am engaged and watching carefully.

I did blog about our meeting last month. It's here:

onefalsestep said...

It probably doesn't mean anything but the City Council meetings of the day are usually shown on Channel 21 that night. I never saw us that night and I was watching pretty regularly. Also, does anyone think it's strange that the CC committee that deals wtih homelessness is the same one that deals with things like drugs and education and not the committee that addresses affordable housing. Just a thought.