Current and former board members of the Seattle Indian Services Commission have sparred for years over finances and how to repair the commission’s two buildings.
Mayor Mike McGinn took over the ailing commission in October, ousting four of its board members and installing the city’s director of finance and administration, Fred Podesta, as chair of the commission’s board. Now, those parties are arguing over who is authorized to represent the organization.
One longtime board member is leading the charge against the takeover. In October, Andrina Abada filed a lawsuit against the city for the takeover, claiming that the Seattle City Council and McGinn did not have the authority to oust four of the board members. The city is attempting to change leadership in order to wrest control of the commission’s properties, she said.
Not every longtime board member agrees. To clarify their stance, three remaining members passed a resolution distancing themselves from the lawsuit.
Longstanding problems with the commission contributed to a string of bad reports from the Washington State Auditor.
According to a 2011 audit, the Seattle Indian Center, which operates on the commission’s property, was behind on its rent; a former commission administrator had used the organization’s funds to pay off personal debts; and the buildings were poorly maintained and in need of repairs the commission could not afford. The commission owns the Leschi and Pearl Warren buildings in the International District, which house health services, a shelter, a food bank and child care to serve the American Indian and Alaska Native community.
Because the city is a guarantor on $6.7 million in bonds the commission owes on the two properties, the Seattle City Council took action. The commission has little cash on hand and is not collecting enough rent from the Seattle Indian Center, so it risks defaulting.
McGinn removed board members from the Seattle Indian Health Board and the Seattle Indian Center to avoid a situation where board members who are setting the rents for the property owned by the commission are at the same time representing the organizations who are paying those rents.
The mayor’s new board met for the first time Nov. 7 in a small room in City Hall. Podesta and board member Augustine McCaffery were the only members present. Iris Friday and Randy Lewis attended via speaker phone. Andrina Abada has said she would not attend meetings Podesta schedules because she does not recognize his authority.
Fewer than 30 others attended. Most were tenants of SHARE shelters and tent cities. SHARE operates one shelter at the Seattle Indian Center and asked the city to retain the program as well as the food bank and child care center.
Podesta said the purpose of the meeting was to maintain the two buildings and get the commission moving toward financial stability. In addition to rejecting Abada’s lawsuit, the board passed a resolution allowing the city to assess the value and condition of the two buildings.