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It’s Here: The End of the Seattle Urban League As We Know It

July 12, 2011
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Just a few weeks after yet another State audit found yet another questionable contract between Seattle Schools and the Seattle Urban League, the UL has announced it’s selling the 14th and Yesler building they’ve called home for more than 30 years, a move many have anticipated for months.

From the Seattle Times:

“We don’t need a large building for the stuff we have,” said Wayne Porter, chairman of the league’s transitional board of directors. The board is implementing a “recovery plan to stabilize” the organization, Porter said, and selling the building is “one of many” strategies under consideration.

If the league got its asking price, it might have enough to “pay off all debts, buy a new building, put some money in the bank, and be ready to hire a new executive director,” said Paul Chiles, the league’s broker and a former board member.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out how absolutely knee smacking hilarious it is the former UL Board Chair/member is now the UL’s broker and could stand to earn a plump commission of around $150k, depending on the final sale price, for his efforts.  Ok sure, he resigned from the board what- two months ago? I guess that means technically he’s in the clear on this.

At the same time, the UL has a serious public image problem- there’s no trust.  With at least the appearance of impropriety as of late, you’d think they’d be a bit more intentional about giving the appearance of walking the straight and narrow to the satisfaction of the public. There’s no shortage of brokers here. They could have picked someone else. Makes you wonder why they didn’t. Perhaps Chiles is waving his commission…?

Then again, you get the sense the UL feels its demise came through no volition of its own, that they were the victims of bad press.  But…if the press didn’t have so much to work with, it wouldn’t be newsworthy. *sigh*

Moving on.

Who knows when the building will sell; could be right away, could be months or even years (I tend to lean towards “it’s gonna be a while”).

The process of restoring the UL, if even a possibility, is a long-not-short-term process.  They aren’t going to just flip the building, pay their bills, buy a new location and move on like nothing ever happened.

You get the sense they’re going to have to be someone elses tenant for a while. They’re going to have to reduce to practically nothing, perhaps with just 1 or 2 departments; housing would definitely be one.

Seattle- and even King County- is pretty damn small when it comes to this sector- and those contracting for services.

The City isn’t going to give the UL any money for anything any time soon. Same for Seattle Schools, even though they were dumb enough to award the UL a contract after the first audit bruhaha; they’ve since yanked it.  It’s work with local small, women and minority owned businesses is over, unless perhaps they secure federal dollars.  This leaves housing, which will also survive off federal dollars. Programs like First Time Home Owners, maybe.

Eventually, they’ll need to find a new leader who can transcend the muck and mire and regain the public trust, knowing it will have to function at a higher level of accountability oh, pretty much forever.  They’ll need to show a direct correlation between every dollar coming in, and tangible outcomes. They won’t just be able to say “mentoring programs help underprivileged youth, fund out mentoring program”- they’ll have to prove their specific mentoring program gets results.

With financial support from the National UL, the Seattle branch has managed to avoid complete collapse, but that support won’t last forever. They need to generate money to push forward, or it really will be the end- hence the abrupt effort to sell.

Now we find out if they can pull it off.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Bill B permalink
    July 12, 2011 12:16 pm

    Prediction: Seattle Housing Authority will snap up that property in a New York minute in order to facilitate their move of all the poor folks at Yesler Terrace off the hill (where they plan to put over 4000 units of market rate and above housing, a million sq ft of office, and 100K sq ft of retail) and push them into high density housing in the valley between 12tha and 14th (where they already own most of that block).

    Sadly the UL may now be an unwitting participant in this great migration and swindle…

  2. KM206 permalink
    July 12, 2011 1:49 pm

    I can’t speak to the majority of the UL’s operations in Seattle, however last fall I had the opportunity to be involved in one of the UL CDCC’s programs. I can honestly that say after 17 years in the construction industry and attending seminars sponsored by the AGC of Washington, the ABC, and other local industry organizations, I was most impressed with the seminar I attended through the CDCC. I had issues with other presentations related to the seminar (specifically the now infamous “contractor database”, which appeared operational, yet to knowledgeable it was clearly incomplete. During the database presentation, I wrote down two pages of questions and comments from an end-user’s point of view. I gave it this to the CDCC, assuming that their goal was to provide a tool useful to both contractors and owner/clients, but they never commented or contacted me about my comments. hmmm…) Anyway, it is a shame that this particular program had to end. It provided invaluable information and advice to small contractors, and it was free of charge to the few that were accepted into the program. According to the CDCC, the program was funded by local large contractors, etc. Now this valuable tool is lost. How unfortunate.

  3. zara permalink
    July 12, 2011 10:57 pm

    I’m new here but old to public school advocacy and I just wanted to find a venue in which I feel it’s safe to say how queasy I am about the outcome of this whole UL scandal. I’m a public school mother and wicked-devoted public school advocate. I worked my a** off trying to pass Initiative 1098 – the one that would have imposed an income tax on the wealthiest residents of our state and raised nearly $1.2 billion/year for public education – and was just baffled by the number of concerned, involved parents who hadn’t even heard of it – like days before the election even. At the same time, these nice moms and dads were brainstorming about how to raise $150 for new balls for the gym. Seriously.

    So I cried when I saw the first Potter-gate headlines. I knew it was a nail in the coffin of the poor Seattle public schools – and WA schools in general. Who now could claim we should get more money when we are so obviously corrupt, incompetent, spendthrift, bloated, blind? But, here’s what’s so sad: the Seattle public school community, a.k.a. the parent chattering class – we know who they are – were UP IN ARMS about the $1.8 million misspent in this affair, but WHERE WERE THEY when we were trying to win $1.2 BILLION for our kids???? It’s just another miserable example of the human brain’s ability to wrap it’s mind around small sums, but be unable to sustain anger about theft on a massive scale (Wall Street, etc).

    Well, all I really wanted to say is that, however troubled the UL was – and it clearly has had some serious problems (but is it alone in that?) – I can’t help feeling sick to my stomach that the end result of all this “public school advocacy” is to have brought down the Seattle Urban League. I know a lot of my comrades feel pretty good about that. I sure don’t. Our local oligarchs are probably having a good laugh watching yet another episode of “Hungry Plebes Tear Each Other Apart While We Pop a Chateau Margaux.”

    I’m white – or whatever.

  4. Charlie Mas permalink
    July 24, 2011 10:01 am

    zara is completely correct. Public school advocates should have just kept their damn fool mouths shut about the way that the Board’s failure to oversee and the superintendent’s failure to manage allowed a couple of people to piss away $1.8 million of public funds. They should just keep quiet about the cronyism and waste because it reflects poorly on the District and discourages people from sending the District more tax money.

    People should have done what School Board member Peter Maier did when he learned about the scandal: nothing. Or, better still, people should have done what the other School Board members did, and remain intentionally ignorant of it.

    We’re just never going to see any progress for Seattle Public Schools until folks learn to adopt zara’s “See no evil, speak no evil” policy. After all, what’s a couple million dollars when we’re going for the big prize? Then we won’t have to worry about trying to raise $150 ever again.

  5. hector permalink
    August 11, 2011 7:08 pm

    What a noose you lay Charlie Mas. ~
    Politicians often foul things up – & bigger district boundaries bring problems. A hard as it seems, I think local is the best way to do things with national/state taxes to be levied on unproductive activities such as the markets – tax every house sale, tax every car sale, tax every stock trade or whatever name the fast money gives its latest game.
    These markets are the gambling tables of the rich and society suffers since it chooses to ignore them.

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