Final Analysis: Head Scratchers of 2016
They’re not the biggest stories of the year. But they do make one wonder.
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If you travel along Pike Street between Seventh and Ninth avenues in downtown Seattle, you’ve seen them. The boulders.
That’s right. Big, honkin’ rocks embedded in freshly poured concrete. They’re there to make the pedestrian experience on the sidewalks in front of the Washington State Convention Center more “user friendly,” says Convention Center CEO Jeffrey Blosser.
Not making this up.
The rocks, I’m relieved to report, are “locally sourced,” because we wouldn’t want foreign rocks outside our convention center. The rocks will be joined by large coniferous trees and other native plants “to evoke a walk in the woods.” Yup. Conventioneers can step away from a stultifying breakout session and perch atop a domestically harvested boulder to watch somebody’s dog make a deposit in an evocative setting of Northwest foliage.
The preciousness of such a moment can’t be overstated, which is why the Pike Street Boulderscape occupies the top spot in my Head Scratchers of the Year review.
These stories didn’t necessarily make it to the top of the 6 o’clock news, but they still bear reporting. Take Seattle University’s decision to fight the unionization of its adjunct faculty members. [Full disclosure: I’m an adjunct faculty member at Seattle U.] In October, the president of the university decided he would fight, on religious grounds, to keep the part-time profs from unionizing.
It’s a head scratcher because Seattle University is a Jesuit institution, and Jesuits are all about servant leadership, social justice, fair wages and the rights of workers. For centuries, Catholic teaching has held that collective bargaining is a vital tool in the pursuit of social justice.
I have a degree from one Jesuit university and I teach at another, and neither one has ever asked about my religious beliefs. Rather, I’ve always been encouraged to be myself and to embrace a love of learning and the pursuit of heroic leadership. Yet Seattle University President Stephen Sundborg, a Jesuit priest, says he fears that government intrusion via the National Labor Relations Board could impede Seattle U’s Catholic mission. (It is oddly ironic that the words “catholic” and “university” are essentially synonymous, both trumpeting the concept of broadly based, all-embracing, comprehensive endeavors.)
Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, believed social justice — achieved through charity, benevolence and mercy — lay at the heart of Ignatian ethics. And since nontenured adjunct faculty members at Seattle U make up more than 50 percent of the teaching staff, wouldn’t it make sense for the university to welcome an effort that affords this group a path to higher wages and richer benefits?
And so I scratch my head.
The final Head Scratcher Award goes to Bill Bryant, who ran for governor of Washington by hilariously promising to fix Seattle’s traffic problems. Bryant was defeated by incumbent Governor Jay Inslee in the polls, so we'll probably never get to see Mr. Bryant’s brilliant fix.
What a pity. During the campaign, Bryant aired a TV commercial that showed him sitting in a car in a traffic jam and lamenting our famous gridlock. The commercial wins style points because Bryant has a pizza delivered to his car while he’s sitting in traffic. Nice touch. But then the candidate says, “I drive in this. I get it. And as your next governor, I’ll fix it.”
By virtue of its challenging geography, Seattle has no more room for expressways. And we’re decades late in warming to the idea of a comprehensive regional transit system. For Bryant to declare in Trumpian style that he can fix our traffic mess is the height of chutzpah.
Do we look that stupid? I mean, just because we put rocks on our sidewalks is no reason to think we’re gullible idiots.
John Levesque is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.