On Wednesday, Seattle Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell announced the latest round of hires joining his administration’s cabinet as he prepares to enter office next week and continues to build out his executive department and cabinet.
“Over the past several months, I have heard – in transition meetings and on the street, with city leaders and with everyday neighbors – calls for a representative and responsive City government. My executive team and cabinet are being built with that priority front of mind,” said Harrell. “I’m excited by the team of leaders we’ve convened to effectively move Seattle forward. In my administration, you’ll see our staff truly engage with the community – visible and accessible to all, empowered to take action, and committed to seeking the solutions that drive positive change.”
Drawing on the input and stated priorities of community leaders, Harrell has hired Kendee Yamaguchi to serve as deputy mayor of external affairs. Yamaguchi, a former City employee who currently serves as executive director for Snohomish County, will be tasked with fostering strong and collaborative relationships between the City of Seattle and community groups, non-profit organizations, and local businesses.
Yamaguchi will help support the City’s COVID response, direct the mayor-elect’s external relations team, and coordinate mayoral priorities around cultural initiatives and events, including in the arts, film, music, sports, job creation and nightlife sectors.
Harrell will appoint Gael Tarleton as interim director of the Office of Intergovernmental Relations. Tarleton will bring her experience as a former state legislator and port commissioner to facilitate collaboration across all levels of government, advocate for federal and state investments, and ensure the City of Seattle is a trusted and engaged partner in regional efforts.
“Gael Tarleton’s proven leadership will be a huge asset for Seattle,” said Harrell. “Her unique ability to build and sustain productive relationships will greatly enhance Seattle’s ability to increase its resources and develop favorable legislative policy.”
Also joining the Harrell Administration will be Matt Chan, who will serve as special advisor for public engagement, advising the mayor on the City’s strategic use of digital technology to enhance public engagement, strengthen transparency, and address the digital divide. Chan brings over 45 years of award-winning success in the television industry and has served on the KCTS Board of Directors. His work landed him a spot as one of the few people of color on the Hollywood Reporter’s ‘Top 50 Reality Power Producers’ list.
“I am pleased when people like Matt Chan answer the call of public service to help Seattle reach a new level of meaningful public engagement where all voices are heard,” said Harrell. “This is a critical part of our vision.”
Harrell will also appoint Derrick Wheeler-Smith, currently King County’s director of Zero Youth Detention, to serve as interim director of the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR). Wheeler-Smith will focus on implementing the mayor-elect’s equity and justice priorities, including the Race and Social Justice Initiative, expanding housing and workforce opportunities, and delivering youth support and mentorship.
Current SOCR Director Mariko Lockhart will rejoin the Seattle Department of Education and Early Learning (DEEL) as a deputy director, where she and Director Dwane Chappelle will continue to drive major equity initiatives and deliver high-quality support to Seattle students. Harrell added, “The combination of Ms. Lockhart’s previous leadership in education coupled with Mr. Wheeler-Smith’s leadership in equity work will produce outstanding results in our major equity initiatives with education and mentorship being primary components.”
Harrell also announced the hiring of Jennifer Samuels as chief of staff and Jeremy Racca as legal counsel. Samuels will be responsible for overseeing the workings of the Mayor’s Office – from directing office staff to addressing constituent needs and improving office efficiencies. Racca will provide analysis and support on policy and legal issues facing the City, as well as interface with the City Attorney’s Office and City departments.
Finally, executing on his campaign pledge to elevate the pressing issue of gun violence to the top of his administration, Harrell is announcing the hire of DeVitta Briscoe, who will serve as gun violence prevention liaison. Briscoe is a respected community leader and strategist who will focus on community-driven solutions to address and prevent gun violence, coordinating with local nonprofits, the Regional Peacekeeper Collective, law enforcement, and impacted community members.
“There are few people and few leaders more committed to gun violence prevention than Ms. Briscoe,” said Harrell.
Deputy Mayor of External Relations Kendee Yamaguchi
Kendee Yamaguchi brings to the City of Seattle more than two decades of service at all levels of government, having held leadership roles in the White House and Washington State’s Department of Commerce, Office of the Attorney General and Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs. In the private sector, she worked both as an attorney and television executive for a leading international cable network. Most recently, as Executive Director for Snohomish County, she led the early COVID-19 economic response strategy where the first case occurred in the United States. She earned a bachelor’s degree from American University and law degree from Seattle University. Yamaguchi has served on the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, Washington State Bar Association Professionalism Committee, and local and national boards.
Interim Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Relations Gael Tarleton
Gael Tarleton represented Washington’s 36th legislative district in Olympia for eight years before retiring last year, including posts as House Finance Committee Chairwoman and House Majority Floor Leader. Previously, Tarleton was elected twice to the Port of Seattle Commission. Before elected office, Tarleton spent a career in the national security field: strategic adviser at the University of Washington; Vice President for international business at a Fortune 300 science and technology company; and senior defense intelligence analyst at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. Tarleton holds an M.A. in Government and National Security and B.S. in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. She and her husband, Bob, have lived in Ballard for nearly 30 years.
Special Advisor for Public Engagement Matt Chan
Matt Chan has spent 45 years in the television industry, winning awards and driving storytelling success by focusing on audience. Chan has worked in every facet of the industry, from operating television stations to running national television series. His creative work led the Hollywood Reporter to include him as one of the very few people of color on their “Top 50 Reality Power Producers” list. His focus on refining the science and art of storytelling has come in the form of personal projects, teaching at the University of Washington’s Communication Leadership program, and consulting on network television programs. His passion is to give back to the community, training and educating new generations of citizen journalists and storytellers for the new world of media.
Interim Director of the Seattle Office for Civil Rights Derrick Wheeler-Smith
Derrick Wheeler-Smith currently serves as the Director of Zero Youth Detention for King County Public Health, overseeing the implementation of the Zero Youth Detention Road Map and the development of a regional public safety plan to address gun violence. He played an integral role in mapping initial steps for King County’s declaration of Racism as a Public Health Crisis and was a co-organizer of the “We Want to Live” march in South Seattle, bringing together thousands of community voices in response to the murder of George Floyd. Wheeler-Smith began work as a youth outreach worker and coach at Franklin High School, has served as a teacher and counselor at Seattle Urban Academy, architect of the Federal Way School District’s first Racial Equity Policy, and National Director of Youth Engagement for World Vision. Wheeler-Smith believes the work of anti-racism is the work of becoming a better human toward your fellow humans, and recognizes marrying his wife Stephenie as his life’s greatest decision and the raising of his children as its most important work.
Chief of Staff Jennifer Samuels
Jennifer Samuels brings a diverse background in government and law office management. Previously serving in Mayor-elect Harrell’s office during his tenure at the Seattle City Council from 2008 through 2019, Samuels’ primary responsibilities included managing the Council President’s committee work, full council briefings, human resources, constituent services, and community priorities. Samuels also served at the Washington State Supreme Court as lead judicial aide to State Supreme Court Justice Robert F. Utter. In Olympia, Samuels served as a liaison between the judicial, legislative and executive branches.
Legal Counsel Jeremy Racca
Jeremy Racca served as a legislative aide for then Councilmember Harrell for seven years, where he staffed civil rights and public safety matters, and is particularly proud to have worked on ‘Ban the Box’ legislation, police accountability policies, and digital privacy protections. Racca joins the administration from the global law firm Clyde and Co. in New York City. His practice focused on domestic and international litigation and arbitrations involving insurance, energy, trade and commodities, infrastructure, and transportation. Racca also volunteers for organizations that provide support to people with Crohn’s Disease.
Gun Violence Prevention Liaison DeVitta Briscoe
Drawing on her own experience as a survivor, as well as a mother who lost her son Donald McCaney to gun violence in 2010 and as a sister who lost her brother Che Taylor to police violence, DeVitta Briscoe has worked toward intervention and frontline support for youth of color to reduce gun violence, ensure police accountability, and empower grieving families. Briscoe launched the Black Women’s Coalition to End Violence to address root causes of urban gun violence and center Black women’s leadership, and is trained to facilitate Restorative Justice-based healing circles, and the Alive & Free™ violence prevention methodology. Briscoe is a graduate of Evergreen State College.