Seattle-area Urban League hires city problem-solver as CEO
Pamela Banks, the newly selected CEO for the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, is currently a program manager for the city's Department of Neighborhoods and in 30 years as a city employee has worked under five mayors.
Seattle Times staff reporter
After a national search, the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle found its new CEO locally, hiring longtime city employee Pamela Banks to rebuild the civil-rights group.
Now a program manager for the city's Department of Neighborhoods, Banks was outreach director for former Mayor Greg Nickels. She also was his community "problem solver" during light-rail construction in South Seattle, which disrupted hundreds of small businesses.
In a statement, the League touted Banks' community roots, penchant for getting programs funded and reputation for working with diverse constituencies.
"She's got a great history in the community. She has a lot of great ideas and enthusiasm," said Walle Ralkowski, board chairman of the Urban League.
Banks (formerly Pamela Green) said she's looking forward to restoring the league's health and relevance. "I really feel this is my path. I was meant to be here," she said Tuesday.
Financially strapped, the Urban League sold its three-story, 101-year-old headquarters at East Yesler Way and 14th Avenue for $2.7 million in January, with the proceeds mostly going to pay off debts. The league will remain in the building as a tenant for at least three years.
The league was hurt by a drop in government funding and fallout from last year's Seattle Public Schools scandal, in which state auditors found the schools might have wasted money — including in a contract with the Urban League — in trying to help minority firms get school-construction work. The league's staff shrank from 40 employees to 10, as contracting and education programs were shut down. Its former CEO James Kelly and then acting CEO Tony Benjamin resigned. Only the league's housing program remains in operation.
Ralkowski said he expects Banks to secure funding to establish new education, employment and health services.
A local search committee, which included former NAACP President Lacy Steele, City Councilmember Bruce Harrell and KCTS-TV's Enrique Cerna, selected Banks from a pool of three finalists, all local. A panel from the National Urban League agreed she was the best candidate.
Banks will start in June. Her salary will be $72,000 — almost $25,000 less than she made at the city last year. But she said the position is such a good fit for her — both in timing and responsibility — that the pay cut is worth it.
During her 30 years at the city, Banks worked under five mayors. She was the Department of Neighborhoods' district coordinator in Southeast Seattle for six years. She has also served on the board of the Rainier Valley Chamber of Commerce and was a founding member of the Garfield High School Foundation. She considers Earl Richardson, head of the nonprofit SouthEast Effective Development, a mentor.
Banks, 52, lives in the Central District, less than a mile from Urban League headquarters. To be more relevant, she says, the league needs to reach out to cities in South King County, where many African-American families have moved. In her first 90 days on the job, she expects to focus on fundraising, rebuilding the board of directors, and program development.
She says she wants to use her relationships in government, business and the community to "bring credibility back to the league."
"Pamela has a very good innate knowledge of the community, so she'll be able to deal with the league's different constituencies," said former Mayor Norm Rice. "I think she has a big challenge in restoring confidence. But I think she's quite capable of doing that."
City Council President Sally Clark worked alongside Banks in the Department of Neighborhoods. Clark praised Banks' organizing skills above all: "To hire someone of Pamela's caliber and energy shows a renewed commitment by the Urban League to its importance in the city."
Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or firstname.lastname@example.org