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Originally published November 11, 2010 at 4:03 PM | Page modified November 12, 2010 at 9:12 AM

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Guest columnist

The voters have spoken: We need creative solutions to local problems

Did the recent election results signify a call for smaller government and fewer services? Former Muni League Chairman Bradley Meacham has a different take. He writes that voters want government to creatively solve basic problems at the local level, where it does the most good.

Special to The Times

IN the wake of last week's election, I've heard people across Seattle asking: What were Americans thinking? Pundits say the results were a call for smaller government and fewer services. Gov. Chris Gregoire even responded by pledging an "all cuts" budget.

But voters aren't stupid. They want government to creatively solve problems and deliver results especially at the local level, where it's most tangible.

The vast majority of my neighbors in Southeast Seattle are concerned about the basics. Most don't have time to regularly attend community meetings because they're fully occupied working long hours and taking care of their families. They elect representatives to make sensible decisions about complex issues for them.

What comes to mind first is creating jobs and opportunity. Even during the boom times leading up to the 2008 crash, the population of the city of Seattle was growing and the number of jobs was falling — a combination that eventually will mean more taxes on individuals to support city services.

To avoid that result, we need to make it easier to do business here. It shouldn't take years to get a building permit through approvals and opening a new business should be straightforward.

At a Downtown Seattle Association event earlier this year, Mayor Mike McGinn told the city's business leaders they need to share the economic pie. In fact, for the sake of everyone in the city, we need a plan to create a bigger pie, not simply divvy up what we already have.

A robust private sector is necessary to ensure support for the less fortunate. Competition is fierce from peers, ranging from Denver to Melbourne, so we need a strong partnership with places like Bellevue and Tacoma so we all benefit.

Meanwhile, Seattle needs to prepare for the economic growth that will eventually return. This means finding ways to comfortably accommodate more people, especially in so-called urban villages like Ballard, West Seattle Junction and Columbia City. Welcoming more residents into the city is the only way to handle the region's increasing population without exacerbating sprawl.

This requires improved transit between urban villages by reallocating resources to provide frequent, reliable service along trunk routes. We need to encourage more and better development in the city by providing basic amenities like sidewalks in all urban villages and more efficient streets.

Focusing development will help ensure that major investments in light rail and other infrastructure pay off. Such prioritization would be important even if there weren't a budget crisis. It's imperative now.

Another area demanding cost-benefit analysis is the deep-bore tunnel through downtown. No one should suggest tearing down the Alaskan Way Viaduct and replacing it with nothing. Yet a combination of additional transit, improved streets and reconfiguration of Interstate 5 would open up the waterfront and improve mobility more quickly and for billions less than a new tunnel.

Why not tear down the viaduct for safety reasons, improve transit and streets and then see if a tunnel megaproject is truly necessary?

Overall, government needs to deliver better returns on taxpayer investment. Would King County's sales-tax measure have failed last week if voters thought the county needed it? Government must change perceptions by delivering professionalism and treating citizens like valued customers. Calls should be answered promptly and quality workmanship should be a given.

In my neighborhood, the city has been building a turn lane for five months and a newly completed curb shows that the workers didn't care about the final product. Improving performance and rewarding those who take pride in their work will build respect among citizens and help our community prosper. That's what voters want.

Brad Meacham is a senior manager at T-Mobile USA and immediate past chairman of the Municipal League of King County. He lives in Columbia City.


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