Rats, Needles, or Just Propaganda?

By Ian Finkenbinder

Months after the eviction of Occupy Seattle from Seattle Central, faculty, students, and writers for the New City Collegian have been diligently following up on claims asserted by the administration regarding Occupy’s stay at the Capitol Hill campus. Readers may remember the administration’s allegations of filthy, vermin-infested conditions and vandalized bathrooms during the round-the-clock protest’s presence.

Despite support from students, several claims were made by administration regarding vandalism in school restrooms and overtime pay for security guards. Overall, the cost of having Occupy on the grounds was estimated by the school President, Dr. Kilpatrick, of being approximately $20,000 a week, which would add up to a whopping $100,000 bill at the end of Occupy’s five-week stay:

“‘It has cost Seattle Central $10,000 to $20,000 just for the additional costs already,’ Kilpatrick said. ‘Every dollar they are putting towards subsidizing this program… is another class that we cannot offer for students who need it.’

“Much of the added expense is ensuring that the campus property is protected. Security has been increased to keep watch of the school at all hours of the day.

“‘With Occupy here, the college has had to implement 24-hour security so there is someone around all the time to protect the property,’ Kilpatrick said. ‘[Before the protests], there [were] three shifts of security and they [were] done around midnight.’

Looking to corroborate these allegations, the New City Collegian sought comment from Judy Kitzman, originally quoted in the Seattle P.I. piece that began what some have called a propaganda smear on the part of the school district.

When asked about the conditions which brought about the allegations of rats, needles, and trash, Ms. Kitzman provided a health department report stemming from an inspection done in November, during Occupy’s stay. This reporter accompanied inspectors during that walkthrough, and the report matches the findings as communicated by the inspectors.

A key distinction, however, between the administration’s accounts and the health department’s is that rats were present on campus during Occupy’s stay. Upon perusing the documents, it becomes apparent that there were no rats present. The concerns raised by the department indicates that there were no methods of vermin prevention, but no actual vermin were reported. In fact, the report notes that the allegations of needles and rats were merely that; a “complaint filed.”

During their walk-through, the health inspectors communicated a need for camp organizers to have methods of safely disposing syringes, but did not take note in their report of actual needles present.

The administration also claimed that vandalism was taking place on campus in the bathrooms. While there were no substantive reports on Occupiers using and vandalizing restrooms in the main SCCC building, the administration cited concerns regarding the bathrooms as yet another reason to evict Occupy Seattle. No bathroom closures were announced at that time, however months later on March 8th, after Occupy had left, concerns about homeless individuals using the bathrooms surfaced and bathroom closures were announced to deal with the issue:

“As you walk through Central you will start to notice posting/signage at both the Men’s and Ladies Restrooms on all floor of the Main Campus.

“This action is being taken due to the increase in homeless people found sleeping in the stalls, alcohol bottles found stuffed in the toilet commodes and a perceived increase in drug use (sharps (needles) found either in garbage can or on the floor) the North and South Restrooms on the First Floor will be locked at 6 pm every night, with the North and South Restrooms on Second Floor through the Fifth being secured by 8 pm Monday through Thursday and 6 pm on Friday..

“The Safety/Security Department will unlock the restrooms each morning the College is open during our normal building unlock.”

While vermin and drug use on campus appears to be de jure for Seattle Central, casting doubt that Occupy Seattle was the source of such problems, the outstanding matter of the $20,000 a week really captured the imagination of the public. When asked for a breakdown of those costs, however, Ms. Kitzman was silent to inquiries on the topic.

However, one faculty member, Laurel Holliday, a psychology instructor at South Seattle Community College, was able to get a breakdown of costs for Occupy Seattle’s stay. Included in that documentation was a memo detailing the security costs, to include overtime, of Occupy Seattle’s five-week occupation: $8,166.67. This leaves an astounding $91,833.33 unaccounted for.

Holliday dug deeper, and she found little to corroborate the shocking claim made by the administration:

“I requested invoices for all additional expenses that could be attributed to having Occupy on campus, and then I requested all invoices for the same period the previous year.  I haven’t done spreadsheets, but there were very few additional expenses, and these were  related to waste collection, and extra grounds maintenance contract work by a company called CleanScapes.  Notably, there was a bedbug sniffing canine and his human who were paid to inspect Occupy, but they turned up nothing.”

Seattle Community Colleges District, under the helm of Chancellor Jill Wakefield, recently attempted to impose strict rules on the ability of students and community members to protest on-campus. Continuing inquiries on this, and the matter of possible propaganda campaigns against activist groups, will be forthcoming.

Comments:

  1. Laurel Holliday says:

    What a thorough report, Ian! Looks like you held onto important bits of info about Occupy Seatte as you encountered them, and now you’re able to include them in a well-documented article. Looking forward to the next installment!

  2. Carol Isaac says:

    You have my heart. Thank you for your work. I was a facilitator of the GA there, and a former Public Health Microbiologist in California. A read of the health department’s letter was very suspicious. It is wonderful to hear all of this follow-up. I am glad someone is letting the campus know that no rodent droppings were found on the grounds. We knew that when the inspector did his rounds and told us. There is more to learn. Keep the pressure on. : )

  3. luckychrm says:

    Thank you so much for printing this follow-up information. Even though I know it is not true, the “dirty-hippy” anti-Occupy stereotype feels paralyzing every time I encounter it. Articles like this help bolster my confidence in my own ability to protest social injustice legally and without causing harm to others.

  4. bunky herrera says:

    Shouldn’t the Seattle Times be aware of this *error*? I cannot stand it when people purposely lie to advance their own agenda, i.e. getting rid of the occupiers.

  5. […] Seattle Central lies about $100,000 plus tab for Occupy encampment and the presence of rats and […]

  6. Amy LaZerte says:

    CleanScapes isn’t a landscaping company, it’s a waste removal company. http://www.cleanscapes.com/

  7. artfelt12 says:

    It’s nice to have the South Plaza back. Happy Spring!

    Ian: it would be interesting for the NCC to publish the health dept reports so folks can read for themselves the complete reports/findings.