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‘Polite corruption?’ Mayor’s secret arena panel raises questions

SEATTLE — An advisory panel conveyed by Mayor Ed Murray has secret meeting dates, no publicly announced agendas, and no explanation why it has to stay in the shadows.

They’ve already been meeting, but no one will say what’s happening behind closed doors.

That panel will be giving a serious recommendation to Murray on hundreds of millions of dollars in new development at KeyArena.

“I think that there is a polite corruption in Seattle politics,” said City Council candidate Jon Grant.

It’s a strong indictment for a club he wants to join this election season.

“When we`re talking about radically restructuring how this city works, how this city is livable, how this city is affordable, the public needs to be a part of that conversation,” he said.

In February, Murray announced the panel, with Sonics legend Lenny Wilkens, chef and restaurant owner Ethan Stowell, along with labor leaders and Queen Anne business representatives all on board.

A source said they have already had one presentation with the Seattle Partners arena group, but no one will reveal when it happened and what was learned.

Seattle Partners is the same group asking for $250 million in city bonds -- a contentious topic. The panel will be bending Murray's ear, and whatever they learn and support could sway his decision.

Grant knows the mayor's pattern well, because he's been on one of these secret panels.

“There`s no light that`s shown on that process,” he said.

Grant was on the Housing Authority and Livability group that also met in secret.

He said it was packed with special interests and the secrecy played a role in scaling back demands for more affordable housing.

After we shared our findings, he said he fears a repeat with the arena.

“So we never got to see those decisions getting made. The public never got to see that deliberation because they were done behind closed doors,” Grant said.

Only a few arena panel members returned the call or email directly. Some were willing to meet until they checked with the city and backed out, citing some "protocol" about the panel.

The mayor's office declined multiple offers to help explain the need for silence.

The city’s development office said there will be public comment at an open house on May 11 at KEXP, along with council meetings and online messages.