It’s not about the policy.

…It’s about getting the work done.

—Joe Scorcio.

As tortured as those two sentences sounded (at least to my ear), I think I knew  what the former City Manager of SeaTac meant at today’s Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting.

There are many, many flaws in the StART process, but I have to agree with the guy: a little progress is better than no progress. So I applaud his ‘glass half full’ attitude. In fact, despite my typically dour expresion, I always root for the optimists in the room.

My beef with the optimists in the room; any room when it comes to Sea-Tac Airport, can be expressed in one word: sincerity. I always mean what I say. But if you learn nothing else about Sea-Tac politics (because the airport is nothing but politics), Dear Reader, learn this: It’s tough to know who means what they say.

I think Mr. Scorcio, and I hope that I’m not putting words in his mouth, was saying that he felt that if the community residents led the committee it wouldn’t get bogged down in the ‘politics’ that seems to always divide the cities when they try to work together on other issues such as SCORE. And having watched some of those meetings I tend to agree. It is amazing how petty our local pols can be. I think that the residents, who have more of a singular shared interest, should be able to work together more harmoniously. When it comes to the airport, we residents basically want the same things.

The devil, of course, is in the details. The StART doesn’t engage directly with ‘power’, which, of course is what residents wanted. Duuuh. We all want to be able to engage directly with decision makers at the Port, the FAA and the airlines and make some change happen, goddamnit! 😀 And in typical Faustian fashion, the Port created a system with yet another layer of frustrating bureaucracy. I watch fellow residents suffer through these meetings and I have a moment of Schadenfreude: ‘Glad that ain’t me!’ And then I add that to my list of items for Saturday Confession.

Coincidentally, I had dinner last night with a college administrator and we were talking about the fact that a majority of kids who enter the community college system these days do not read at a ‘college level’. So for all community colleges, theirreading programs are of strategic importance. The StART is kinda like that. It’s a bunch of people who are concerned about the airport, but who are learning on the job. They come to the meetings needing remedial education–even though the last airport expansion was only ten years ago. Basically all the airport communities (including the city governments) lost all their institutional knowledge and to a large extent have to be re-trained before they can be productive in effectively fighting for their rights. I find this maddening.

What I’m trying to say is that the StART is, right now,  something of a hodge podge. So currently, it is achieving only modest results. It may do better over time if the more engaged people don’t have a collective stroke in frustration.

The real worry is this: The StART is, right now, being used by politicians, not just the Port Of Seattle, but also every frickin’ city councilor in the area (and soon candidates for city council) to show their ‘airport bona fides’. And that scares the living shit out of me. Every politician gets to say, “I support the StART!” even though they may not really be contributing. Even though they may be a total airport moron. Even though their positions on airport issues may not be what you or I even want!  All they have to say is “I support the StART!” And they’re golden. Because the public will have no idea what’s what or who’s who.

Getting back to that remedial reading thing: aside from worrying about politicians being insincere, at some point, you want to be able to expect everyone who joins the StART to be up to speed. Because the StART will go on perpetually, right? You don’t want to have to go through ‘Airport 101’ with every new member. By 2020, you’ll just want to expect that everyone in the area will know the basics about how the airport works.

The thing is, you have to decide whether to be ‘encouraging’ and say, “we’re all learning, how wonderful!” or do you have the attitude “What is wrong with you guys? You’ve been asleep at the switch for a decade!” Guess which side of the fence I live on?

Anyhoo, Joe may have been speaking in a logic that only Yogi Berra could fully appreciate but he’s basically correct. It is about getting the work done. And to make that happen, we have to keep petty politics out of it.

Like everyone, I want to see material progress because hey, who trusts the Port, right? But I’m not so concerned about big wins right now as I am in creating a good work process. Because we’re going to be at this for as long as planes are going to be flying. And to do that we need to establish a baseline of expected airport fluency. Every person who runs for office or wants to be on a city airport committee or a regional body like the StART will have to already know the basics so that they can hit the ground running. We waste waaaaaaaaay too much time re-learning stuff that previous generations have already investigated. And that’s one big reason we repeatedly have gotten rolled by the Port.

Never again.

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