Key backer of mayor wins $98,000, no-bid city contract
Times Watchdog: Seattle Mayor Ed Murray told the city planning department to hire consultant and former Seattle City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck, who had given Murray a key endorsement in last year’s mayoral race.
Seattle Times political reporter
Former Seattle City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck landed a $98,000 consulting contract with the city after Mayor Ed Murray’s office told the city planning department to hire his former political rival-turned-ally.
Steinbrueck, who handed Murray a key political endorsement in last year’s mayoral race after placing third in the primary, received the no-bid contract with the city Department of Planning and Development (DPD) in March.
The contract calls for Steinbrueck to help DPD assess “how Seattle neighborhoods have become more sustainable in the past 20 years” since adoption of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, its growth-planning blueprint.
For his contract, which includes a final public report due at the end of August, Steinbrueck’s firm, Steinbrueck Urban Strategies, is to be paid $89,100, with a contingency of $8,900 — for a total of up to $98,000.
Murray brushed aside any suggestion the contract might be political payback, noting he’d hired people — including interim Police Chief Harry Bailey — who had worked for and endorsed his rival, then-Mayor Mike McGinn, last year.
Murray said he’d wanted to hire Steinbrueck as a full-time employee but ran into budget constraints. He said Steinbrueck will help him revamp the way the city does planning — making “very disconnected” departments work together better so that decisions on bike lanes and building permits are not made in separate silos.
“We are going to do some pretty deep dives. Peter is doing the groundwork for me on that,” Murray said.
Steinbrueck described his work as “a report card, basically, on how well the city has been doing and how it can improve” in meeting its growth and environmental goals. He said he’s hired a couple aides for the data-heavy project, which will be incorporated into Seattle’s next round of changes to the Comprehensive Plan, a massive planning document guiding city growth policy.
His contract calls for developing “a working definition of sustainability,” examination of data from up to a dozen neighborhoods on goals such as recycling and tree-canopy cover, and analysis of how neighborhoods tried to achieve “more sustainable communities.”
Steinbrueck, an architect, developed a reputation as an urban planning and neighborhood expert during his 10 years on the City Council. After leaving the council in 2007, Steinbrueck accepted a design fellowship at Harvard University.
There had been speculation that Murray would try to tap Steinbrueck for a cabinet position in his administration. But it didn’t happen, and Steinbrueck had returned to his work as a consultant specializing in urban planning issues.
Tom Hauger, manager of comprehensive planning for DPD, said the mayor’s office approached the department earlier this year to find a way to bring Steinbrueck on board.
“The mayor got to know Peter last year when they were both out on the campaign trail,” Hauger said. “And so when he got into office the mayor thought it would be a good idea to take advantage of Peter’s special knowledge.”
The mayor’s staff asked DPD to “find a scope of work that matched with Peter’s expertise,” Hauger said.
Asked whether DPD was in favor of the Steinbrueck project, Hauger said, “It was another work item on our crowded work program, but it was not something we objected to.”
Hauger said Steinbrueck’s charge — to measure whether Seattle’s growth and zoning plans have been successful — “is something we’ve struggled with for a long time.”
City departments are allowed to award consultant contracts of $280,000 or less without competitive bidding, as long as the consultant has been cleared as a part of a city roster of approved consultants.
Steinbrueck’s firm was added to that roster on Dec. 20, according to Nancy Locke, director of Seattle’s contracting department.
Steinbrueck’s past consulting clients have included the Port of Seattle, which hired him to lobby against the proposed basketball and hockey arena in the Sodo neighborhood. He also lobbied for some South Lake Union retirement-home residents against zoning changes recommended by the McGinn administration.
His current work should guide Seattle planners by providing better ways to evaluate whether city policies have been effective, Steinbrueck said. “This is a planning city with high aspirations. But how well are we doing and what’s measured matters,” he said.
Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner