Skip to main content
King County logo

King County Executive Dow Constantine
April 2, 2018

2018 State of the County address from King County Executive on Vimeo.

I’m King County Executive Dow Constantine. 

I had the opportunity to meet with elected and community leaders a few hours ago in Burien, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary a few weeks ago.

I grew up just up the road in West Seattle and have represented Burien throughout my entire time in public office, first, as a state legislator in the 34th District, then as a County Councilmember, and for the last nine years as your King County Executive.

When I was three going on four, my dad taught at Highline Community College.

He would drive me down Ambaum in the mornings and drop me at the little preschool in a church basement just up the way here on 152nd.

There I experienced one of the earliest leadership moments of my life - taking my turn holding the little flag they kept propped in a Mason jar and leading the class in the Pledge of Allegiance.

A lot has changed in Burien and King County in the ensuing, you know, 30 years or so.

But we gather this morning at a time of remarkably rapid – really unprecedented – change.

From the depths of the Great Recession, our corner of the country rebounded like no other.

That - along with our mountains, our forests, and our progressive values - has brought people here at a rate unprecedented since the Gold Rush.

In just the last six years, King County’s population has grown at twice the historical pace.

And it shows no signs of slowing.

Here is a statistic for you: In 2012, $2 billion of new construction took place in King County.

Five years later, that skyrocketed to nearly $10 billion – an all-time record.

And there are more residential permits in the pipeline so far this year than last.

This place is changing.

We are changing.

Through migration and annexation – and yes, locals settling down and having families of their own – Burien has grown as well.

The city that was originally home to about 28,000 people when it incorporated a quarter century ago now has a population of 51,000.

Where all this change takes us – how our community will evolve – is almost impossible to predict.

But here, in Burien, we see the direction that we want to go.

We take inspiration from your journey.

It began with something that sounded so simple: last year, the City Council passed Immigration Status Ordinance 651, reaffirming that Burien is a welcoming community, and that no one would be asked about immigration status when receiving city services.

We all know what happened next.

Burien - this quiet city along the Sound – became the center of a storm.

And when the clouds finally parted, Burien became a symbol of the change we want to see.

Burien affirmed that in this time of uncertainty and impermanence, change can be good.

When we welcome new people, and embrace new ideas: change opens up new opportunities.

When we find ways to accommodate growth without sacrificing what makes this place so special: change challenges us to build stronger communities.

When regional government innovates, improves the quality of life of our residents, and ensures every person has the opportunity to fulfill their potential: change can lift us to new heights.

At this, the outset of my third term as your County Executive, we are not only embracing change.

We are leading it.

Let me begin with a major restructuring of county government.

This summer, I will transmit legislation to create a new Department of Local Services to improve how we serve the quarter million people who live in unincorporated King County.

This new department will provide unincorporated areas with a focused point of accountability that has not existed before – a conduit to elevate ideas, needs, and concerns directly to me and my Cabinet.

To make building and construction more predictable and consistent with local values, the new department will include Permitting and Environmental Review.

To make sure we are targeting resources and coordinating work on our chronically underfunded roads and bridges, the new department will include Roads Services, which is currently part of the Department of Transportation.

To understand local needs, and to make sure King County supports youth events, summer festivals, and all the things that make for strong neighborhoods, the Department of Local Services will include our current Community Services Area program.

What it means for people who live throughout rural King County and places like Vashon Island, Redmond Ridge, East Federal Way, Fairwood, East Renton, West Hill and White Center is this: you will always know whom to call.

You will get a speedy reply.

You will get results.

I want to thank Senior Deputy Executive Fred Jarrett for leading this work, and I want to acknowledge the support of Councilmember Reagan Dunn who passionately advocates on behalf of the residents of southeast King County, and of Councilmember Kathy Lambert, who always makes sure the voice of rural areas is heard loud and clear.

Next, I will transmit legislation to make Metro transit its own department, and elevate Metro’s general manager to the status of department director.

Rob Gannon will be held directly accountable for implementing my vision for transit that is safe, reliable, and efficient.

Every weekday, Metro carries more than a half-million riders.

Three thousand operators behind the wheel of more than 1,500 buses, plus Link light rail, RapidRide, and Community shuttles – including right here in Burien – as well as van pools.

Access service for those who are disabled.

After deep and painful cuts to transit service following the Great Recession, we have increased Metro service by 15 percent since 2014 – seven consecutive rounds of service expansions – with one more on the way in September.

Together with Sound Transit, we provided 155 million rides last year – again leading the nation in ridership growth.

Just 25 percent of downtown Seattle commuters now drive alone – the lowest it has ever been.

I know Rob shares my belief that transit is more than just a good way to get around.

It is essential to providing access to jobs, education and all this region has to offer.

Transit levels the playing field, and helps people build for themselves a better life.

There’s more.

Within Metro, we will explore and deploy new ways to move people by forming partnerships -- partnerships between governments and business and labor.

I will start by convening a Mobility Roundtable by summer, and moving ahead with new ideas now.

One of the first will be a pilot with a mobility service to offer on-demand shuttles to overcrowded park-and-rides and transit centers.

We were awarded a federal grant to develop a program with ride-share companies to help people get to major bus stops.

I want to thank Councilmember Claudia Balducci for her commitment to making sure Metro meets the needs of our growing county.

The people of this region deserve the best transit system in the nation, and I aim to provide exactly that.

I have spent considerable time, and much thought, on how to further reduce the number of youth in detention while also eliminating racial and ethnic disparities.

How to keep families strong. How to keep communities safe.

Not even a week ago, just a short distance from here, two young lives were cut short.

We mourn, as we always do, when children die of violence.

Violence begets violence.

Trauma creates trauma.

We must break the cycle.

Since 2002, we have reduced the average daily population of young people in the juvenile system at the Youth Services Center from 212 to fewer than fifty – in fact, 39 as of this past Friday – the lowest in the nation for a jurisdiction the size of King County.

Youth are brought by one of the more than dozen police agencies throughout King County.

About a quarter are presented at booking by the Seattle Police Department.

Many are diverted to alternatives or sent home.

Most of the rest are out of detention in three to five days.

Even though these young people are at the Youth Services Center for such a short time, any length of time in detention can be traumatic.

We must do better for them, to help  their families heal, to help those victimized by crime heal, to look upstream and reduce the trauma and inequities that will inevitably lead other youth into trouble.

I set a goal of Zero Youth Detention and asked Deputy Executive Rhonda Berry to lead its implementation.

Zero Youth Detention serves as a guidepost for transformational change.

It forces us to ask in every situation: what can we do to give this kid the best chance at redemption and a better life?

What could we have done differently?

And what can we do for other young people so that they may never be in a similar situation?

Today, as part of that effort,

I am announcing a major reform in how we approach juvenile services.

A cross-government team chaired by Public Health Director Patty Hayes and Superior Court Chief Administrative Officer Paul Sherfey determined that a public health approach is appropriate for all children, youth and families – whether they are formally involved in the justice system or not.

They said youth and families should be supported before, and if necessary during and after they are involved in the justice system.

They called for all systems serving youth and families – schools, courts, human services, housing – to share accountability for providing support and connections.

Solutions reside in community, and only through authentic partnerships can we achieve better outcomes.

I emphatically agree, and I have an announcement: to further that vision, all of our work within the Juvenile Division of the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention will be placed in the care of Public Health.

Dominique Davis, co-founder and chief executive of Community Passageways, said it best.

He noted that when a young person is placed in detention, there is, in his words, “an impact on the communities’ health, one that is felt for countless generations to come.”

Dom went on to say that it “would be profound if, for once, the system and community had a partnership to change the criminal justice legacy, rather than the system responding belatedly.”

To Dom - and all those on this journey to zero youth detention – I want to affirm that we are committed to this change, and to creating the legacy we all want to leave for youth today, and for generations to come.

“Everyone can have a success story.”

Those words are from a young woman who met Dom after she faced assault and theft charges, and chose to participate in Community Passageways instead of serving time in detention.

She was all of sixteen.

Jahila Moody finished the program but fell back with the same old crowd.

It was Dom who called every day, made sure she got to school and to work, and helped her find the strength to change.

How’s this for a schedule: At work at Starbucks at three-thirty in the morning, off by ten-thirty, online classes from eleven to three-thirty, and then a few hours for her passion: dance.

Jahila graduated from high school on-time.

She now works for the University of Washington on juvenile justice issues and is part of our Juvenile Justice Equity Steering Committee Youth Advisory Group.

Let’s hear it again: “Everyone can have a success story.”

I want to recognize Jahila and Dominique and all those who pour their hearts and souls into making a better life for young people…;

In the last legislative session, we convinced lawmakers to change state law so that county prosecutors can divert more kids to alternatives to adjudication and detention.

This is another opportunity for us to help communities build more capacity to help reduce detention, reduce recidivism, and reduce disproportionality.

And here’s an update: last year, I announced the creation of a place where young people could go to take a breath, to push the pause button, get out of an unhealthy situation.

This space would serve as another off-ramp for young people who may be on the trajectory to further conflict and involvement with the criminal justice system.

It is now open in Auburn with room for 8 kids.

The 24-hour on-call team of social workers and problem-solvers is now taking phone calls from law enforcement and families in crisis.

We are making a difference in the lives of young people.

We have been able to dramatically reduce the number of kids booked for crimes, and the number in detention, and we are now able to make the transition to Public Health because of the leadership of Judge Inveen and Judge Saint Clair and others; of Sheriff Johanknecht, Prosecutor Satterberg, Defense Director Youngcourt, Detention Director Hayes, Juvenile Division Director Jones, and of Councilmembers including Larry Gossett, whose commitment to justice and civil rights inspires us all.

We will do everything in our power to make sure young people who have been hurt, have the chance to heal – and those who may have stumbled are able to catch their step, regain their balance, and find their stride.

There is probably no type of law enforcement incident that – rightly – engenders stronger public interest than an officer-involved death.

We ask officers to take great risks, and to accept great responsibility.

So when someone dies as a result of police action, the public and law enforcement need to know what happened.

The King County Charter requires an investigation into the causes and circumstances of any death involving a member of law enforcement in the performance of their duties.

King County Code gives me as the Executive responsibility for the inquest process.

Last year, I convened 13 inquests -- sadly the most since I took office in 2009.

For the last 40 years, inquests have been held before a six-member District Court jury who listens to testimony and then determines significant factual issues.

Open to the public, it is a process that tries to determine the basic facts about what happened - but families have often come away frustrated, with more questions than answers.

They wonder whether the Prosecutor’s Office could truly be a neutral facilitator in the proceedings, while at the same time weighing whether to criminally charge officers.

Families ask why police officers are afforded lawyers, but they are forced to hire their own legal representation.

We take these questions seriously, so in January I ordered a hold on all inquests, and at the same time, District Court judges decided they would no longer preside over the proceedings.

It was, after all, always an Executive Branch duty, and I thank the judges for their decades of service.

For all these reasons, it is time for a change.

Helping us determine what a new system may look like is a Review Committee I convened of seven community leaders: Jeffrey Beaver, Fae Brooks, Sam Palca, Rick Williams, Judge Dean Lum, and DeVitta Briscoe.

For the last few months, they have met with stakeholders and held public focus groups.

They have listened, they have learned.

And as they said they would, committee members have delivered to me a set of recommendations.

The report will be available on my website, and we want to hear people’s thoughts and comments.

We will answer questions like: what is the role of the jury?

Should prosecutors run the proceeding?

Should inquests take place in a court setting or another venue?

Finally, we need to examine whether and how passage just last month of use-of-force reforms affects our inquest process.

I look forward to the community’s response before issuing a new Executive Order.

One thing we know will be different.

Thanks to the work of Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, any family wanting representation will be afforded an attorney through our Department of Public Defense.

This was the very first idea I asked the Review Committee to consider, and I am grateful the Council took it up and passed it so quickly.

I believe inquests are essential to learn the facts about deaths involving law enforcement.

Inquests hold a unique place in our legal landscape, and do not and should not infringe upon other potential actions such as internal police reviews, independent public oversight, civil litigation or criminal charges.

No other jurisdiction in the nation does what we do.

We must build on that history of transparency, on those decades of experience.

Families need to know the facts.

Law enforcement needs to know the facts.

The community needs to know the facts.

I will craft a new directive on inquests that provides the greatest opportunity to understand what happened in these tragic circumstances, and help ensure future inquests – and the incidents that make them necessary – are as rare as we can possibly make them.

When we consider change, we know that – for too many of us – change means rising rents, and paychecks that don’t cover the bills.

For too many people, change can mean moving from a home, to a friend’s couch, to a car, to the streets.

Fighting homelessness is the single biggest challenge facing our region today.

And while we are very good at helping people exit homelessness, the growing numbers of people who lose housing every year overwhelms our ability to respond.

We need a better approach.

We need to focus on the root causes of homelessness.

We need better coordination across the region – every city sharing resources and ideas.

That is the promise of One Table.

Along with Mayor Durkan of Seattle and Mayor Backus of Auburn – who are with us today – I convened One Table to develop a community-driven response to homelessness.

There is much to consider:

  • Since 2011, the number of units available to those in the lowest income ranges has shrunk, while the number of high-end units has sharply increased.
  • If you graph the number of homeless people in the point-in-time count and the average King County rent for a studio apartment, every year you see them move absolutely in tandem - up, and up, and up.

But it’s not just housing costs. Despite the obvious need, Washington spends below the national average on behavioral health services.

One Table was formed to write a new narrative.

The people creating strategies have extensive experience with housing and homelessness issues, or have even experienced homelessness themselves.

Later this month, One Table will announce a series of action steps on affordable housing, access to behavioral health care, criminal justice and child welfare reforms, and jobs and wages.

We’re not waiting.

We’re employing the One Table approach right now, joining with the Block Project and Humble Design to provide small houses and furnishings – 
even a loaned truck courtesy of U-Haul – to help families leaving homelessness, to make sure they are successful in their new homes.

One of the first programs of our Best Starts for Kids initiative took on youth and family homelessness, and the results underscore that we can tackle this crisis.

We designed a simple program to prevent young people and families from experiencing homelessness; an approach dramatically less expensive than shelter, and more importantly, one that prevents people from suffering the fear and uncertainty that homelessness inflicts.

Case managers start with a simple question: “What do you need today to keep your family housed?”

We customize our intervention – whether it’s catching up on past-due rent, or helping find a better-paying job, or helping with transportation.

The initial results are in – and I am pleased to announce that, thanks to this effort, more than 4,000 people who were facing homelessness are instead living in the safety of their own home, including 2,400 young people and children.

So, here is a simple intervention that works.

It is not solving every problem.

But it is helping thousands of people remain self-sufficient.

I will seek to expand this program so that we can replicate its success for more people across our region.

We have an obligation to our older residents as well.

People over 65 are the fastest growing demographic in King County, and we are seeing more seniors who need help with housing and other services.

Last year, voters passed the Veterans, Seniors and Human Services levy – and I want to particularly thank Councilmember Pete Von Reichbauer who was so instrumental in the creation of the original veterans and human services levy.

By adding seniors, we can offer help to make sure older residents are able to stay in their homes and stay connected to their community.

I want to thank Chair Joe McDermott for his leadership on homelessness issues as well as serving on One Table along with councilmembers Kohl-Welles and Dembowski.

So, skeptics – you are on notice.

Cynics – beware.

We have solutions that work.

We can prove it.

We have the data.

By uniting governments and providers, businesses and philanthropies, we can take these solutions to scale all across this region.

To be sure, this is a crisis, but we have proven time and again - think Forward Thrust, think Sound Transit 3 - that if we come together in common purpose, there is nothing we cannot accomplish, and the same goes for making sure every person has the security of a safe place to call home.

Doing all these things, and all the other functions of government, of course, takes resources.

Public resources.

Yes, taxes.

Here, too, we need to do better.

We need change.

I have been talking a lot about taxes lately.

I spoke to Sound Cities earlier this year about this topic, and I appreciate the leadership of Mayor Walen and ask for her indulgence, as she and her fellow mayors have heard this part of the speech.

We’ve known for a long time now that this state has the least fair tax system in the nation, but the easiest thing for a politician to do is kick the can down the road.

Talking about taxes isn’t easy. Doing something about them seems pretty much impossible.

But if this region and this state are truly to fulfil our tremendous potential, we need action.

Our region’s economy is the strongest it has ever been.

More wealth has been generated than in any other time in history.

This is a great thing, and something we are focused on sustaining for decades to come.

And yet – as Budget Chair Dave Upthegrove knows all too well – amid all this unprecedented growth and success, governments – local governments, the state government – cannot raise the revenues to provide the most basic services and infrastructure.

To pave the roads.

To educate the children.

Why? Not because we, collectively, cannot afford it.

Our economy generates plenty of capacity to do all that is needed without breaking a sweat.

The problem is this: How much you are asked to pay has less and less to do with how well you are doing in this economy.

It’s not fair.

And with growing income inequality – as more and more of our collective income goes to those at the highest levels – this system becomes even less fair.

Our economy is your shiny, modern remodeled house, and our tax system is the 90 year old knob-and-tube wiring your contractor forgot to replace: it is not up to code.

You need to upgrade if you want to run your clothes dryer and your hair dryer at the same time, or you’re going to blow a fuse.

The combination of legislative inaction and rapid economic change have created a tax system that has not kept up with the times.

Result: we – as a state – are not able to accomplish the things now we were able to accomplish a generation ago.

We need a fair tax system that provides the resources to:

  • to make sure every kid gets a good education and a good job and is able to do better than their parents,
  • to build the transit and roads and all the infrastructure to meet the needs of a growing economy,
  • to ensure every person has the security of adequate health care.

My vision: a tax system that is fair, simple, stable, encourages job creation and meets the needs of the public.

Here’s the thing: the Legislature chose to solve the statewide school funding shortfall by handing the bill to King County property owners - homeowners in particular.

King County is the biggest county, King County is the most prosperous county, and it is to be expected - and it is, of course, absolutely right - that we help out those parts of the state that aren’t experiencing the kind of economic growth that we are seeing here.

But we need to do it in a way that is fair.

As a former legislator, I am pretty hard on the Legislature, but I do want to acknowledge that they responded when we put forth a measure to provide local property tax relief to seniors, veterans and those with disabilities.

That will help, but the entire system is irrational and convoluted.

Here’s an example: As I mentioned, I live in West Seattle, about a block from my folks and the house in which I was raised.

It’s a modest house owned by two long-retired public school teachers.

They get their pension they get their Social Security.

And the Legislature just handed them a big property tax increase on this little house.

Under the Legislature’s formula, in 2019, most parts of the state will actually see property taxes go down.

Their school districts are going to get subsided by the people of King County, including those who are retired and living on a fixed income, or struggling to stay in their home.

That is clearly not fair.

We have to figure out how to right the system.

On average, property taxes in King County will go up 17 percent this year, most of it because of McCleary.

That is prompting a lot of conversations about property taxes, and taxes in general.

So let’s use this moment to open the conversation, to re-examine what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, and to usher in a new era.

Our current tax system is not beyond our ability to change.

Somebody made it up.

And we can re-make it.

I look forward to working with Assessor Wilson and leaders across the region to rethink the basics of our tax system, and come up with something that meets both the needs of the 21st century, and the definition of what is fair.

Finally, as we consider all the changes we have experienced and those yet to come, I want to submit that some things should never change.

Some things are so precious that we must watch over them, ensure that they remain special so that future generations can enjoy them, and be inspired by them.

We live in a remarkable place, a place of forests and mountains and rivers so close they are a backdrop to our everyday moments, and a welcome retreat from our hectic lives.

I have proposed a countywide initiative to finish the job of protecting our natural beauty forever.

The Land Conservation Initiative sets forth the goal of preserving - within a single generation – the most valuable and threatened land throughout King County – forests, farms, natural areas, wildlife habitat, and urban green space.

Over the last two years, King County and its cities have mapped, priced, and prioritized 65,000 acres of land that we must protect.

Places like the former Weyerhaeuser campus, with its forests and salmon bearing stream.

Like the Vashon-Maury Island shoreline – critical habitat for fish and wildlife, including our endangered Orcas – and here I want to recognize and thank outgoing Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson who stood up to a gravel mine and protected so much of this precious ecosystem.

We have identified ways to marshal public and private resources to do most of the job.

In the coming weeks I will be laying out the details of next steps, including some innovative ideas on financing, to allow us to move more quickly, while there’s still time.

Councilmember Rod Dembowski – I know this is close to your heart, and I thank you for your focus and commitment.

For those who work so hard to preserve what makes this region so great, join with me in this effort.

Let us save our most vulnerable lands for ourselves, and for our children.

You know, when you think about conservation, you can’t help but think about our national situation.

We live at a time when the president – in sharp contrast to so many of his predecessors of both parties – the president has made a point of scaling back protections of our nation’s most sacred places.

It is disorienting and alarming, and sadly in line with all that’s happened in the last fourteen months.

The next two years will no doubt be some of the most turbulent in American history.

No one, the president included, really thought he was going to win.

We will see if America continues down the path he is tweeting out, or chooses a different course.

The promise of this nation, that “all are created equal” – that everyone, no matter their race or religion, no matter their social status – everyone deserves the full and equal opportunity to succeed, that promise remains unfulfilled.

This president casts doubt onto whether that even remains our collective ideal.

Here, in King County, my goal is that all people have the opportunity to thrive, to realize their potential, to contribute to the life this community, and of this nation.

That is entirely consistent with the hopes if not all the actions of America’s brilliant but flawed founders, and of those flawed, imperfect people since who have put their shoulder to the task of building this still imperfect union.

On those mornings when I take my daughter to school – she now 3 going on 4, I begin my day reminded of why I do this job: because for her – for all our kids – we have the awesome responsibility of continuing the work that will never be finished, and leaving them a world that is better than today.

This morning, here in Burien and across this region, we can come together to make a stronger, more equitable community.

A place of shared prosperity that values every person.

We will be the change we want to see.

We will show the nation – and the world – that we can create a regional government as innovative, compassionate, and forward-looking as the people who call this place home.

Thank you.

King County Executive
Dow Constantine
Dow constantine portrait

Read the Executive's biography