There are several options for contacting your representatives on the Seattle City Council. Here’s a handy guide.
First: figure out who your representatives are. If you live in Seattle, then there are three Council members who represent you: one elected by your district, and two who have city-wide positions. The King County Elections site has a map of the seven City Council districts, so you can find yours. Or you can use the city’s district finder tool. And here’s a list of the Council member for each district as well as the two city-wide Council members.
You have multiple options for how to reach them:
Call their offices. This is probably the best and most effective route.
Lisa Herbold: 206-684-8803
Bruce Harrell: 206-684-8804
Kshama Sawant: 206-684-8016
Rob Johnson: 206-684-8808
Debora Juarez: 206-684-8805
Mike O’Brien: 206-684-8800
Sally Bagshaw: 206-684-8801
Kirsten Harris-Talley: 206-684-8806
Lorena Gonzalez: 206-684-8802
If you call during normal business hours, your call will be answered by one the Council member’s staff. Politely state your name, your reason for calling, and the outcome you’d like to see: giving feedback on a pending piece of legislation, getting help resolving an issue with the city government, scheduling a meeting with your Council member, or whatever else is on your mind. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, and they want to help you. They keep records of who calls and for what reason, so if you are giving feedback on pending legislation, they will log what you tell them. You can also ask to talk to the legislative assistant in the office who assists the Council member on that particular topic so that you can have a more in-depth conversation. Don’t be surprised if they ask to call you back; they spend an extraordinary amount of time in meetings and the right person to take your call might not be immediately available. Make sure you get the name of the person you talk with, so you can call them back if your issue doesn’t get resolved.
Send email. All nine Council members have official email addresses, and responsibility for handling those emails is shared between the Council members and their staff. Just with calling their office, an email with feedback on legislation is logged into their record system so they can tally the for/against numbers.
Lisa Herbold: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bruce Harrell: email@example.com
Kshama Sawant: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rob Johnson: email@example.com
Debora Juarez: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike O’Brien: email@example.com
Sally Bagshaw: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kirsten Harris-Talley: email@example.com
Lorena Gonzalez: firstname.lastname@example.org
Quite frankly, email is not as effective a mechanism for contacting the Council members as calling their office by telephone. Some members’ offices are good at timely email responses; others are black holes, and still others vary depending upon their current workload. If you just want to register a “for” or “against” message, email is fine, but if you want to have a substantive conversation, call. You can also try emailing their staff directly; the Council members’ web sites list the areas of responsibility for their staff.
Send a written letter. Sure, kick it old-school and send a written letter to your Council member. It will be slower to get there and they will likely mail a response to you, but it works too. Their mailing address (this works for all nine Council members):
PO Box 34025
Seattle, WA 98124-4025
Go to their “office hours.” Most of the district-based Council members try to hold office hours out in their district from time to time. Council members Johnson and Juarez have even set up bricks-and-mortar district offices which are staffed part time, and which the Council members try to spend regular time in to meet with constituents. Council members Herbold and O’Brien prefer to schedule rotating office hours at various locations across their sprawling districts; those get announced on their blogs and in their email newsletters, or you can call their offices and ask their staff where and when the next one is.
Go to a neighborhood event. All nine Council members regularly attend “town hall” events in their district and around Seattle, particularly when the topic relates to their own legislative agenda. Council members’ attendance at these events is usually pre-announced through their email newsletters, and on neighborhood blogs.
Schedule a meeting. You can schedule a sit-down meeting with your Council member, either at their office in City Hall, their district office (if the have one), or their district “office hours.” You can do this by calling or emailing their office (see above). Also, some Council members have an online form for requesting a meeting. The Council members’ schedules are heavily booked in advance, so there might be a wait before you can get in; be flexible if you can. If it’s an urgent matter, call the Council member’s office and let them know that it’s urgent.
Speak at Council meetings. Nearly every Council meeting includes a public comment section, where anyone can sign up to speak. The calendar of upcoming meetings is here. If you plan to speak at a Council meeting, here are some things that you need to know:
- The sign-up sheet is placed at the front of the room, fifteen minutes before the start of the meeting. You will be called on in the order that you and others signed up.
- In most cases, you will have two minutes to speak. If a large number of people sign up, sometimes that is cut to one minute to allow more people to speak. There is a countdown clock at the front of the room that is visible to you when you speak, and when it runs out the microphone is turned off.
- Officially the entire public comment period is limited to 20 minutes, but it is often extended if many people have signed up. However, the Council does eventually need to conduct business so they can’t let public comment run all day. Don’t be surprised or offended if they decide to close it and move on with the agenda at some point; it’s not personal. If you want to speak on a controversial issue where you expect there will be a large number of speakers, get there early so you can be toward the front of the list.
- Have your remarks prepared in advance, and make sure they fit in the allotted time. Concisely state your main point up front, then explain it, so that you don’t run out of time before you can get your main message across.
- Be polite, don’t curse, and don’t personally attack Council members. If you are disruptive or offensive they will cut off your microphone, possibly remove you from Council chambers, and potentially ban you from returning for a period of time.
- Public comment isn’t a numbers game; the Council members know that the number of people who show up at a meeting to speak doesn’t necessarily correspond to the number of Seattle residents who agree with any particular commenter(s). They are more interested in hearing a range of views than in counting people for or against an issue. To that end, don’t repeat what other people have said; tell the Council members the things they haven’t yet heard.
- Usually public comment is at the beginning of a meeting, and especially if a vote is to be taken. Occasionally if a meeting is informational only and no vote is scheduled, public comment will be at the end in the hope that the presentation and discussion will inform public commenters as well.
Try to catch Council members after a meeting. This is tricky and unreliable, but sometimes a Council member may have a few minutes to speak immediately after a meeting. If you come up to the front of the room and politely ask the Council member, they will often take the time right then. Now, not all Council members attend all meetings, so this can be hit and miss. And if the meeting runs over you likely won’t be successful in snagging them for a quick talk. Have your contact information written down in advance so you can hand it to the Council member; that lets them give it to a staff person who can follow up with you if necessary (and that is a very reliable way to get results). Side note: there are security people standing at the front of the room during and after the meeting, so if you plan to go up front to talk to a Council member, tell the security guard that is what you’re doing, and don’t act disruptively or aggressively. They are generally friendly folks and will leave you to do your thing as long as you behave yourself.