I sat down to speak with Charles Schaefer via Zoom on Sunday, June 18, 2023, to discuss his removal from the Planning Commission by Burien City Council vote last Thursday.

Schaefer, who said he’d expected to have more free time since the decision, has been swamped in the last few days with people wanting to talk with him. 

Regarding the decision, Schaefer said he was disappointed but not exactly surprised. He felt it was a “show trial,” as each member of the council already had their minds made up beforehand. He didn’t feel it was conducted fairly; as an example, he was supposed to be able to call on witnesses but when he tried to do so he was not allowed. Council stated that he should have let them know in advance that he would be calling on the two witnesses.

During the hearing, Schaefer said the main thing that stood out to him was when Deputy Mayor Kevin Schilling questioned him (see video below). Schaefer felt each time he started to answer, Deputy Mayor Schilling broke in and told him he wasn’t finished with the question, growing more and more heated as he elaborated on his questioning. Finally Schaefer was allowed to give his answer, and Schilling did not find it satisfactory. 

Deputy Mayor Schilling’s questioning essentially asked why Schaefer repeatedly directed the homeless to city-owned property, where they would not be able to stay, rather than to county property or even treatment centers. Schaefer told me he would be open to supporting the homeless going to any public property, but most public property in Burien is owned by the city, not the county. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: We have replaced a previous video with an unedited one that shows the raw, 1-minute, 55-second questioning interchange with Schilling that Schaefer referenced above.

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He is also open to helping the homeless go into treatment. He said getting homeless into treatment takes years of building trust and relationships though, and you can’t rush the process.

His main disappointment is that the city still hasn’t helped the people who are living homeless. City staff, according to Schaefer, are fantastic – with the exception of the city manager. Schaefer has been frustrated with the inaction of the city council, specifically with the fact that they have not taken the million dollars recently offered by the county for creating a sanctioned homeless camp. He said he is no more frustrated now than he was before their decision to remove him from his position.

Schaefer said he is absolutely still interested in being involved in volunteer work in the city, and in fact will come back to the Planning Commission if reinstated. The 11 other commission members who resigned in protest after Thursday’s decision, may also come back to their posts if Schaefer is reinstated. Schaefer said he was not aware of the planned protest before the hearing, and didn’t encourage it, but he said he didn’t object when asked if they should do it.

Burien has a lot of great, skilled and dedicated volunteers, and Schaefer predicts that his removal for action taken in his private life will discourage future volunteers. During the hearing, he was accused of “harming the city’s reputation” but feels that council action, and inaction, has done more to harm the city’s reputation than anything he could do.

Schaefer continues to do work with the homeless in Burien. Currently he is helping to deliver needed supplies to homeless people, which are paid for by a GoFundMe account. He also mentioned that he is part of a group organizing a new encampment location on private property. The paperwork hasn’t been finalized yet, so he is not revealing the location, but did say that it will be fenced, monitored, and case workers will be welcome.

In the end, he feels a little disappointed about his removal from the volunteer position, but added:

“I stand by what I did; I sleep very well at night. Your position on a commission means nothing if you let council intimidate you into not doing what you think is right.”

Mellow DeTray is a Seattle native who has spent the last 16 years raising her family in Burien. She has volunteered at many local establishments over the years, including the Burien Library, Burien Actors...

9 replies on “Here’s our exit interview with former Burien Planning Commission Chair Charles Schaefer”

  1. In not finding him guilty of inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office, the council failed to follow the law used to remove Schaefer. All the council did was a simple motion to remove him without any findings or actual evidence.

  2. I’m very disappointed in the Burien City Councilmembers who voted for remove Mr. Schaefer.

  3. Will we ever get a decent City Council again. I am disappointed in Schilling. I have worked with Charles at Transform Community Center and don’t car for some of his decissions, but at least he did something. What is the city doing but flapping their jaws. We are doing all that we can at Transform in services, but we can’t be bad mouthing, we need to come up with some answers that work, show us that you care. Is this the picture of Burien that you want the world to see???? You may not agree, but I think we need manditory recovery treatment. They will thank us later when they are well again. You have a college education, so use it!!!!

  4. Stephanie Mora continues to spread false information in regards to Schaefer. In a recent interview she stated that he told members of the encampment that they should refuse services. Why does the city council continue to let her speak such nonsense???? She also regularly states that every one of the homeless in the community has been offered services, when I have talked to them personally and know that they absolutely have not been offered an immediate solution to get them off the streets. This city has its priorities completely backwards and condemns the wrong actions from the wrong council members. Very, very sad.

  5. The difference is off drugs as well as off the streets. From what I understand, they needed to try treatment. Burien is not obligated or financially able to support drug/alcohol addicts. For the correct information, contact the city to get the names of the service organizations that were there every day trying to get folks into treatment. Asking the addicts is not always reliable information.

  6. I do not agree Colleen, first folks with addiction lie, well known part of the syndrome, so I would not take what they say as 100% accurate. Every city that has applied all carrot no stick policy has failed. Seattle, Sanfran, Portland and on and on. Overrun with homeless the downtown core has collapsed. This is undeniable. prove me wrong.

    I have a small business in downtown, Mr. Schafer and his friends talk about the homeless drug addicts, but never about us poor smucks who own a small business downtown.

    Can we count on Mr. Schafer and those who think like him, to clean the excrement off our sidewalks? Will you help us with methed out individuals screaming at us with every obscenity in the book? Will you compensate us for the theft and vandalism? Will you pay for the loss of business? Will you compensate us and our employees? When we collapse?

    I thought not, no you will retreat to your safe neighborhood, and pat yourselves on the back. While we collapse

  7. If you were true do-gooders; you would be on the main streets with buckets and mops cleaning up human waste. You would be out picking up litter. You would be spending a lot of money at suffering local businesses. Lastly, you would be proactive as far as keeping residents safe. Talk is cheap.

  8. While I can understand the frustration, especially as a business owner, it’s important for you all to understand that there is no quick fix for homelessness. There is no solution that will get a homeless person off the street and into rehab over night. There are a multitude of reasons for that.

    1. Shelters are temporary. There is no shelter that is meant to be a permanent home for those experiencing homelessness. They will be back on your doorstep because they have nowhere else to go.

    2. Talk to anyone working in rehabilitation. It’s not that easy to get into. You can’t just roll up to a facility and check in. That’s a fairytale.

    3. Most addicts are paranoid and have trust issues, justified or not. It can take years to build that trust to get someone on the path to bettering themselves. Charles understood that, and the volunteers from the church understand that. These people ARE out there doing the work, but you have all decided they aren’t because you’re not yet seeing results. And every time this city forces the homeless to move, they lose more trust, and those working with them now have even more added to their plate.

    I don’t live in your city. I live in Seattle, where I’m surrounded by the homeless. I do my part. I clean up my neighborhood and I build relationships with my homeless neighbors. And I come to your city to do my part when I can because I have a family member living on your streets. I have been working tirelessly to help him, and I am slowly but surely going to do it.

    I would love if those of you who are frustrated could find some patience. I know in my neighborhood, building relationships with the homeless has caused them to respect me and the spaces I occupy. They do not vandalize my job, they do not steal from me or my place of work, and they will leave if I ask them to when they are having bad episodes. People act like animals when they are treated like animals. Empathy is not enabling, and respect breeds respect. This situation will not go away with policy changes or forced rehab/incarceration; it will take an entire community of housed and unhoused people coming together. If you don’t like that, move.

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