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.
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.”