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Originally published Thursday, January 3, 2008 at 12:00 AM


Joni Balter / Seattle Times editorial columnist

Welcome to Richard's World

Quick, name the president of the Seattle City Council. All right. Even the famously well-read, well-educated Seattleite may not be able...

Quick, name the president of the Seattle City Council.

All right. Even the famously well-read, well-educated Seattleite may not be able to easily rattle off Nick Licata as the leader of that band. But while council president is not a familiar name, a president can make a difference in the way he speaks on behalf of the council.

The next president is expected to be Councilmember Richard Conlin. He may have bigger aspirations — mayor, for example. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Conlin brings some good ideas, along with some that are just, well, a bit daft. Face to face, Conlin can be a very thoughtful person. But he sometimes does things that make more-mainstream citizens say, "Oh wow, really. What's that about?"

In about 10 days, Seattleites will be entering Richard's World, a place where pygmy goats become an exalted part of urban life.

In September, Conlin led the charge on "a small step for sustainability," legalizing miniature goats. His proposal, which extolled the goats for their "friendliness, faithfulness and hardy constitution," permits pygmy goats as licensed pets.


Conlin said goats have sustainability benefits for residents who culture their own milk and cheese, not to mention that goat hair is a renewable source of fiber.

I have nothing against goats, particularly in a full-flavored stew, but what does this law do beyond make Conlin feel good? Imagine the busy Seattleite coming home from her job at Microsoft, then trudging out in the rain for a little goat milking. What's next, take a chicken to work day?

Under the land-use code, farm animals cannot be kept in the city on lots smaller than 20,000 square feet. The new law classifies minigoats as small animals, not farm animals, and requires they be licensed like dogs and cats.

In Richard's World, Seattleites in spring 2009 will begin paying for recycling of kitchen waste. Conlin led the way on this plan, which amounts to a full-meal deal for another popular local animal, the raccoon, or worse, the rat.

I am assured containers issued to single-family homes for table scraps will be sealed tight enough so no critter will be able to pry them open. Tell that, please, to the raccoon who stole a hibachi grill from my deck and dragged it 40 feet across the lawn.

Conlin means well. He has been environmentally concerned for a long time. He is serious about reducing dependence on landfills, which is where kitchen-waste recycling comes in. I would be more amenable if payment for recycling were voluntary at first, but the payment is mandatory right off the bat.

Conlin is an avid bus rider, though often doctrinaire about it.

He led the way in keeping a garbage transfer station out of the neighborhood everybody loves to pick on. Georgetown has been dumped on far too long.

But then there is that eccentric side of Conlin; he can be thin-skinned as well. He sometimes gets peeved if you mention early career blunders such as the resolution to keep Trident submarines out of Seafair. Such actions would be funnier if he weren't so earnest about them.

The current president, Licata, has done a good job keeping the council on task, which is what a council president does in addition to filling in when the mayor is absent. The council doesn't seem as all-around goofy or wannabe Berkeley as it once did.

But last year's vote on replacing the viaduct was an embarrassment. Mayor Greg Nickels, under pressure from the governor to stage a public vote, pushed the idea of putting two options, a tunnel and a new elevated roadway, in two separate up-or-down votes. One lever was too risky for those hell-bent on predetermining the outcome in favor of a tunnel.

Licata, to his credit, leveled with voters, telling them the vote was chock full of phony choices. That was the right thing to do.

Conlin was one of the most outspoken council members against the failed Seattle monorail, which helped him get re-elected a few years ago. He has also done a good job on emergency preparedness.

Conlin is pondering a run for mayor and may attempt a who-is-greener-than-whom contest against Nickels. Look also for recently departed Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck to run and, maybe, former City Attorney Mark Sidran.

The new council should benefit from having two new members, Bruce Harrell and Tim Burgess, who are both business-oriented and levelheaded.

Conlin can push his own career ahead by thinking before he acts and by keeping his inner granola cruncher in check.

Joni Balter's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is">; for a podcast Q&A with the author, go to Opinion at

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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