August 2020

Tying Up Some Loose Ends Now that the Budget Process is Over

Let’s catch up on recent news, shall we?

First off, the OPA, OIG, and CPC released their recommendations on the use of less lethal weapons on Friday, in response to the Council’s legislation passed earlier this summer banning all of these weapons outright. It is important to understand that each body released its own recommendations, and that these recommendations don’t always agree with one another. Kevin Scholfield does an excellent rundown of these three different recommendations. All three groups agree that at least some less lethal weapons should be authorized for non-crowd control uses, for example, for hostage situations, and all three call for revisions to the crowd control and use-of-force policies of the SPD.

It’s possible the City Council will try to pass a different bill about less lethal weapons in September taking these recommendations more into account. It also seems likely Judge Robart won’t allow the consent decree to end until the SPD shows it has succeeded in instituting new crowd control and use-of-force policies. In the meantime, the DOJ must decide by August 27 whether to ask for a preliminary injunction against the original ordinance on less lethal weapons passed this summer.

In addition, CM Lisa Herbold announced this morning that the City Council has retained independent counsel apart from the City Attorney’s office to represent its interests related to this ordinance. This resolves a conflict of interest since the City Attorney was previously arguing both against this ordinance on behalf of the SPD and for this ordinance on behalf of the Council.

Today at the City Council meeting, the MiChance Dunlap-Gittens ordinance requiring that minors receive counsel before being questioned by police officers passed unanimously. The Council also passed a resolution expressing their support for The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 (H.R. 7120), a national bill that was passed in the House but has become stalled in the Senate that addresses qualified immunity for police officers, among other things.

Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now held a virtual press conference on Friday. You can watch or read my tweets about it.

Meanwhile, Mayor Durkan has appealed the decision to allow the recall effort to move forward.

The City Council breaks for summer recess for two weeks beginning next week on August 24. They reconvene for a full Council meeting on Tuesday, September 8, the day after Labor Day. The 2021 budget process will begin a few weeks later and will extend into November; the new budget must be adopted by December 2 at the very latest.

In the meantime, I have a few pieces I hope to work on, including one taking a closer look at the CAHOOTS model of 911 response system, a possibility about which I think the community will be taking a great interest this fall.

Tying Up Some Loose Ends Now that the Budget Process is Over Read More »

The final pieces of the SPD-related legislation passed today.

Police Chief Best Announced Her Retirement

Chief Carmen Best was the first black woman to lead the SPD. Her last day will be September 2, and Mayor Durkan has appointed Deputy Chief Diaz to serve as interim chief, with no plans to search for a new chief until next year at the earliest. Chief Best said at the press conference announcing her retirement that she’d made the decision to retire because she couldn’t bring herself to make any layoffs and because of the lack of respect for officers. She also felt targeted personally by the Council and therefore felt it would be better to get fresh eyes on the problem.

Here’s a balanced summary of various reactions to this news. There have been debates over whether it was about the money; the Council had discussed reducing Best’s salary and ultimately reduced it from $294k to $275k, although Best herself says it wasn’t about the money. Some people feel the Council drove Chief Best out. I have a lot of compassion for Chief Best, who I think was in an impossible position, and for the people who are suffering because of this situation.

I do think it’s important to be clear that the City Council is bound by bureaucracy to not engage in discussion with department heads (of which Best is one) during budget season. That being said, while preparing the 2020 revised budget, they did consult with other members of the command staff at the SPD more than once; I know that to be true because I watched them do it. One can argue that this is a bad policy that should be changed; I have no opinion on this because I don’t know the reasoning behind the policy. But the Council was in fact just abiding by rules agreed upon by everyone beforehand. For Mayor Durkan to repeatedly slam them for following these rules seems like a misrepresentation of the facts.

Today’s Special Meeting:

Twitter avatar for @amysundberg

Amy Sundberg @amysundberg
The special meeting of the City Council has begun!

This afternoon’s special Council meeting was full of political posturing and hedging as the Council discussed the COVID relief bill that was vetoed by the Mayor. The division between the Executive and the City Council is particularly rancorous right now, and the slamming the Council has been taking in the press this week hasn’t helped. From all the rhetoric, it sounds like the Council was trying to find a compromise and make a deal with the Mayor regarding this legislation, but that the Mayor refused to come to any compromise unless the Council first sustained her veto. CMs Pedersen and Lewis were willing to do this, but the other council members were not. (CM Juarez was absent today.) Therefore the Council was able to override the veto, although only by a 2/3 majority. The lack of a 3/4 majority meant the parts of the bill related to appropriations were no longer valid. However, the Council then passed, with a 7-1 vote, an amended version of the bill that reduced its appropriations from $83m to $57m, reflecting the additional revenue shortfall for 2020 that had been reported on Monday.

Also passed was a bill appropriating $3m from the COVID relief bill to be used for community research and a participatory budget process related to public safety, a bill requiring precincts to be disaggregated in SPD budget reports, and a bill authorizing the interfund loan that will be financing much of the investments into community organizations working on public safety. With these passages, I believe the Council’s public safety package is complete…depending on whether the Mayor chooses to veto once again.

The Public Safety and Policing Resolution Passed Monday

The revised text to this resolution is now available, and as it lays out the Council’s promises and future work program related to public safety, I think it’s important to go over the details.

  1. The Council states their intent to create a civilian-led Office of Community Safety & Violence Prevention by the fourth quarter of 2021.
  2. By the end of November 2020, they will move the following units away from the SPD and into other departments: 911 communications functions; the Office of Emergency Managment; Harbor Patrol; and Parking Enforcement.
  3. By the end of November 2020 they will have also provided sufficient appropriations for a community-led research and participatory budgeting effort and funded new appropriations through phased reductions to the SPD’s budget
  4. They suggest to the Chief how to prioritize 911 calls during this transition, as well as requesting a work plan related to addressing biased policing in the SPD.
  5. They ask that for SPD cuts, the Chief consider out-of-order layoffs based on sustained complaint history and that the Chief establish a police misconduct registry for all SPD officers that is accessible to the public.
  6. They ask the SPD for a report by 10/15/20 on how patrols would function after proposed layoffs, covering general redeployment and response times by precinct.
  7. The Council promises not to support any budget amendments that increase the SPD budget to offset overtime expenditures above funds budgeted in 2020 or 2021.

Their proposed timeline is as follows:

Aug-Nov 2020: The Council and Mayor consider: reducing SPD budget, funding a community-led research process; removing specified functions from SPD; working to identify police practices with disproportionate impact on BIPOC communities

Aug 2020-Jul 2021: Community-led organizations should: conduct research; have a participatory budgeting process; recommend structure and functions for the new department; present recommendations

April 2021-July 2021: The Council, Mayor, and City Attorney should: develop draft legislation for public review; identify necessary city charter amendments; develop ballot language for charter amendments if necessary and submit it to King County Elections for a November 2021 vote

Sept 2021-Nov 2021 (during the 2022 budget process): The Council and Mayor should: introduce, consider, and act on proposed legislation creating the new department of public safety and making associated budget changes.

The last Council Briefing and City Council meeting before the summer recess are this coming Monday.

The final pieces of the SPD-related legislation passed today. Read More »

The revised budget passed!

First things first, the big vote of the day: the revised 2020 budget passed today with a vote of 7-1. CM Sawant voted against the bill and CM Juarez wasn’t in attendance.

Resolution 31962 was also passed, stating the Council’s intent to organize a new Department of Public Safety and laying out a road map and timeline of their future actions in this regard. Unfortunately Legistar doesn’t yet have a copy of this resolution available for our perusal, so I’ll take a more in-depth look at it later this week. Another resolution passed affirming the rights of members of the press, legal observers, and medical personnel covering the protests against police brutality.

With these votes the Council chose to take a middle road that is a bit more progressive than that advocated by Mayor Durkan, while disappointing both those advocating for an immediate 50% defund of the SPD and those who want more police. In particular, they ensured community organizations and the community research process have funding to begin their work right away, which is a big win. The Council has clearly stated their intentions to continue the process of defunding and creating a new vision of public safety during the fall budget process and beyond.

How this revised budget will play out remains to be seen, given the previously discussed obstacles of SPOG negotiations and consent decree requirements, as well as Mayor Durkan’s and Chief Best’s resistance. I agree with Council President Gonzalez, who stated that this process will get harder before it gets easier. We will have to watch to see if the Council’s commitment to change wavers in the face of so many obstacles. But this summer budget process was a first step in a positive direction.

Additional amendments on the passed budget bill discussed today:

Twitter avatar for @amysundberg

Amy Sundberg @amysundberg
Council briefing in a few minutes here. Big day of meetings today!

There was a long conversation about the amendment reducing the salaries of the command staff at the SPD. The amendment that passed reduces Chief Best’s salary to $275k instead of the lowest pay band as the previous amendment passed stated, but maintains the other salary cuts.

CM Sawant’s Amendment 52 version 3, the one prohibiting SPD from spending money supporting the prosecution of protesters in the George Floyd protests, didn’t receive a second to be voted upon so it’s now dead.

Amendment 56 pertains to CM Strauss’s reporting provisos, which Central Staff determined didn’t work as passed, so this is an alternate bill trying to get those reports. CM Pedersen added 56a, which asks for an additional report on how budget reductions will impact police deployment and response times. CP Gonzalez stated concern about how this amendment is worded as a leading question and that its resulting reports might become politicized, but it did pass 5/0 with Strauss, Gonzalez, and Sawant abstaining.

Amendment 57, creating two new civilian positions in the 911 call center to replace the two remaining sworn officers working there, passed 5/1 with two abstentions.

Amendment 58 imposes a proviso for funding on community service officers to make sure this funding is retained this year. It passed 8/0.

Twitter avatar for @amysundberg

Amy Sundberg @amysundberg
New thread for the Full Council meeting. Public comment will last 60-75 minutes, I’m guessing till around 4pm.

Amendments 59 and 60 were walked on in full council, provisos to HSD regarding the $4m and $10m marked for community investment, in response to some legal issues with the original amendments. They passed unanimously 8/0.

Other News of Note:

The August update of the budget forecast was released today, and it is worse than anticipated. Seattle’s economic recovery is no longer predicted to follow a fast V-shape, and Seattle’s revenues for 2020 will fall short an additional $26m. Recovery is not nw expected until 2023 and 2024.

The judge signed an updated injunction in the case brought against the City of Seattle by the ACLU/BLM-King County. The evidentiary hearing that was scheduled to take place later this month has been canceled as a result. This new injunction states the following:

  1. SPD can’t use chemical irritants or projectiles to re-route a protest unless necessary to prevent an imminent act of harm or as a response to a specific act of violence or property destruction.
  1. The SPD must provide a warning of usage of these and provide enough time, space, and opportunity for people to leave.
  2. The SPD may not target journalists, legal observers, or medics.
  3. The SPD may not indiscriminately deploy chemical agents or projectiles into a crowd.
  4. Declaring a protest to be a riot or unlawful assembly does not preclude the SPD from following this injunction’s requirements.

SPOG issued a demand to the city of Seattle to bargain today over out of order layoffs based on officer history of complaints.

Further legislation related to the SPD will be voted on this Wednesday afternoon at a special Council meeting, where they will also vote on the vetoed COVID Relief Bill. I’ll be back to discuss the results of this meeting.

The revised budget passed! Read More »

The SPD-related budget amendments that passed today

All right, let’s get right to discussing today’s budget meeting. Here’s the link to the revised agenda, which includes links to documentation, and the relevant thread:

First, a list of new legislation discussed today that will be added to the introduction and referral calendar on Monday and receive a final vote at a later date.

  1. Legislation related to Amendment 26, disaggregating SPD precincts from Patrol Operations BSL. This re-establishes budget levels for each of the five precincts, giving the Council more granular financial data. This should have no trouble passing.
  2. Legislation related to Amendment 53 to transfer 911 Services from SPD to FAS. The main issue with this is that if the service is moved, it will need to be re-certified as a first responder. More research is needed on how long that would take, so it will be discussed again on Monday. Meanwhile CM Strauss is planning to introduce a different amendment, discussed further below, on Monday to provide another option.
  3. Legislation related to Amendment 32, adding $3m to the legislative department for community research, coming from the COVID relief bill. There are two pieces of legislation required to do this for technical reasons. This should also have no trouble.
  4. A draft interfund loan bill from the construction and inspections fund, to be repaid in 2021 with interest, for the, along with $13.1m portion. Nobody had objections about this either.

Next, a list of the amendments that passed today, with details on each.

  1. Amendment 33: adds $4m to HSD for SCS for scaling up gun-violence intervention and prevention, passed 9-0
  2. Amendment 34: invests $10m to scale up community organizations doing public safety work, passed 9-0
  3. Amendment 35: cuts $36k from SPD from implicit bias training (in the time of Covid some of these dollars aren’t necessary because of travel etc.), passed 9-0
  4. Amendment 37: cuts $800k from SPD’s recruitment and retention, passed 9-0
  5. The consent package: a package of 12 amendments (once 16 was removed for further discussion further down this list): 17-25 entailing provisos for reductions of different police department units; 46 requiring the Mayor’s office or SPD to submit a report on which police departments could be civilianized; 47 requiring fiscal reporting to the Council from the SPD every two weeks etc; and 49 cutting $50k from jail contracting services and moving it to be used to develop a new 911 response system in relationship with community, passed 9-0
  6. Amendment 45: add $80k to the New Deal Oversight Board by cutting $80k from the SPD’s patrol functions, passed 8-0 with CM Strauss abstaining
  7. Amendment 48a: reducing the 2020 pay (from Sept-Dec) of the 13 SPD command staff who aren’t unionized by a small amount, resulting in a potential $500k savings, passed 6-3 (Pedersen, Juarez, and Lewis voted no)
  8. Amendment 55: a proviso requiring the SPD to provide a monthly report with payment information of all employees paid more than $150k, increasing transparency, particularly about overtime, passed 9-0.
  9. Amendment 31: a proviso laying off all the sworn officers in the Navigation Team, passed 9-0
  10. Amendment 40: all the additional funding ($2.9m) for the Navigation Team cut (except for that in the Parks department used to pick up garbage) and used to pay for existing non-profits to do homelessness outreach and engagement. Vigorous debate on this one because businesses in the North Seattle districts are scared to not have a Navigation Team anymore. CM Herbold agreed the Navigation Team was a failed experiment. Passed 5/4 (Pedersen, Juarez, Lewis, and Strauss voted no)
  11. Amendment 16: proviso stating the Council’s intent to reduce the police force by 32 FTEs. CM Pedersen mentioned he’s received 35,000 emails about police accountability from Seattle residents and wanted to explain to his constituents why he’s supporting this. Passed 9/0.
  12. Amendment 27 (part of a different bill but still part of this conversation): transfers victim advocates and the victim support team from SPD to HSD, passed 9-0.

Now a list of amendments that are still to be discussed, either on Monday or another time.

  1. CM Strauss’s proviso removing sworn officers from overseeing the 911 dispatch so it can stay in SPD until they have a final decision about where to move it, along with information on receiving first responder certification relevant to today’s legislation to move the dispatch.
  2. Amendment 52: proviso prohibiting SPD from spending funds to prosecute individuals for participating in Justice for George Floyd protests. There was a long conversation on this one, along with confusion about how to read it. They’ll work on it some more, then revisit it on Monday.
  3. Some technical amendments to make sure everything works together correctly
  4. ??? There could be a few additional amendments based on ongoing conversations.
  5. Also still needing to be discussed is CM Lewis’s resolution stating the Council’s intent to create a public safety department and providing a time frame for their future work on reimagining public safety.

As you can tell from above, the City Council was widely in agreement on most of the amendments before them. The only two amendments that received real pushback and still passed were the ones regarding lowering SPD command staff pay for the rest of the year and defunding the civilian HSD side of the Navigation Team. Sawant’s amendments implementing a greater immediate defund of the SPD failed to pass, with no other council member voting in favor.

The goal is to finish discussing, voting on amendments, and cleaning everything up on the morning of Monday August 10th, followed by moving this budget bill out of committee. Then the Council will vote on the complete budget bill (excepting the new legislation in the first list above) in Full Council in the afternoon. I believe this full bill needs to be passed by a 3/4 vote since it increases appropriations, which would then be automatically veto-proof assuming nobody changed their mind. I do think it has a good chance of passing; overall the Council seems committed to working together on this effort.

The budget meeting on Monday will immediately follow the Council briefing, so should start around 10am, and there will be an opportunity for public comment both at 10am (signups at 8am) and 2pm (signups at noon) at the full Council meeting. There will be a special meeting on Wednesday August 12 (I think at 2pm) to discuss the vetoed COVID relief act and possibly vote on the new legislation from the first list above.

There’s a lot of hard work in front of us, but today was another step forward.

The SPD-related budget amendments that passed today Read More »

The decisions being made in Seattle over the next week are potentially groundbreaking.

All right, let’s dive right into today’s City Council briefing and budget meetings.

We started out with a presentation about an upcoming bill prohibiting the questioning of juveniles by police unless legal counsel is present. This bill sounds solid and important; a similar bill was passed in San Francisco last year, and it sounds like it’s gone very well there. The San Francisco DA speaks highly of it. Hopefully this bill can be voted upon in the next few weeks.

CM Morales was the only council member who commented on the incidents of the weekend, in which the Every Day March went to try to visit Police Chief Best at one of her homes in Snohomish. (Apparently she also has an apartment in Ballard?) Chief Best’s neighbors were armed and chased away the protesters, preventing them from practicing their first amendment rights, and Chief Best wrote to the Council asking them to call for an end to such protester tactics. (Apparently she hasn’t been keeping up with the news since the Council did distance themselves from these tactics last week.) CM Morales says that while they’ve condemned certain tactics, we also have an obligation to understand where the protesters are coming from, and she took exception to the police chief’s response celebrating the protesters meeting with a response from armed neighbors.

Onto the remainder of the amendments!

The Council discussed the last 15 amendments today. Amongst them was CM Sawant’s package of amendments, ten in all (although she withdrew one), that defund the police department by 50% for the rest of this year. Because of labor issues and especially SPOG’s particular level of power, her amendments calling for quick police layoffs are unlikely to be supported by the other CMs. That leaves three of CM Sawant’s amendments that have a chance of passing. Amendment 48 caps SPD combined pay and overtime to $150,000, and CMs seemed amenable to this if certain exceptions were put into place (for example, for the Police Chief), as it has the potential to forcibly reduce overtime. Amendment 52 is a proviso not allowing SPD budget money to be spent to support the prosecution of individuals participating in George Floyd protests except as required by court order, which CM Sawant said was possibly the most important amendment in her package and which other CMs seemed favorable towards given the language is first changed slightly. Amendment 53 immediately moves the 911 call center from the SPD to the FAS, thereby removing SPD’s financial control over 911 response.

Other amendments discussed:

Two amendments were presented that overlap with previously discussed amendments from Friday providing funding to research a new 911 response system and a participatory budgeting process that they’ll probably incorporate together in some fashion.

CM Strauss introduced two amendments (46 and 47) that would require the mayor to submit a report and plan on which SPD departments can be civilianized and would require greater fiscal transparency of the SPD, including fiscal reports every two weeks, reporting of expenses related to defending claims against the SPD (including tracking if there’s any pattern of legal claims against officers), and disclosing all weapon and equipment expenditures. This would also allow them to flag excessive overtime spending. These amendments were both very popular with the CMs.

And finally, CM Morales submitted amendment 40 to defund the Navigation Team and use the money to expand and maintain homelessness outreach and engagement. This one is now co-sponsored by four CMs, and I’m not sure if it will pass, although it definitely has a chance.

What does this all mean?

There are two competing plans being presented here. The one that we went over on Friday from four CMs (Morales, Herbold, Gonzalez, and Mosqueda) potentially defunds the SPD by around 41% in 2021 (although this would have to be hammered out in the 2021 budget process this fall) while not defunding by much this year, supplementing some small SPD cuts with the remainder of the rainy day fund and some of the COVID relief package money to fund community investment in 2020. You can view the blueprint of potential 2021 cuts for this plan, which I think of as the compromise plan. CM Sawant’s plan defunds the SPD by 50% for the rest of this year and reinvests that money into community but potentially runs into labor difficulties that she insists are surmountable. Whether they are or not, she hasn’t garnered support from the other CMs for her plan, making it unlikely to pass in spite of widespread community support for the idea of immediate 50% cuts.

The next budget meeting is on Wednesday, August 5 at 10am (this is a change in schedule), where the CMs will discuss these amendments further and then potentially vote on them. This meeting on Wednesday is probably the most important one in terms of what will be discussed and decided, so now is the time to get in touch with your CMs. The final vote on the amended 2020 budget is scheduled for Monday, August 10. You can sign up for public comment at both of these meetings; signups begin at 8am on Wednesday and at noon on Monday.

My best guess (although I could be wrong) is that some version of the compromise plan will pass on Wednesday, and then the revised 2020 budget and the resolution about the new department of public safety will both pass on Monday. A lot of the details of the amendments are still up in the air, to be hammered out between now and Wednesday, and there is also the question of whether the budget will pass by a veto-proof majority, which would require at least six CMs in support. (Given the Mayor just vetoed the COVID relief bill on Friday night and her general resistance to the Council’s plans regarding the SPD, it’s a real possibility she will also veto this revised 2020 budget.)

The main sticking point on supporting this version of the budget with the compromise SPD amendment plan seems to be the reluctance to spend down the rainy day fund to $0 this year, given the likely revenue shortfalls the city will be facing in 2021 and possibly beyond. (It’s worth noting there is only $12m left in the fund right now, which is a fairly small amount in the grand scheme of a city’s overall budget.) Unfortunately, this money is needed to invest in the community organizations now to give them time to ramp up before shrinking the SPD further in 2021. There is a solid block of support for spending the rainy day fund from CMs Gonzalez, Morales, Herbold, and Mosqueda, who have some confidence they’ll be able to replace the money next year with further SPD cuts, and CM Sawant will likely support their plan as being better than nothing. CM Lewis has reservations, and I still don’t know how CM Strauss feels about it. CM Juarez and Pedersen are less likely to support this expenditure.

Finally, a reminder about a technical aspect of all this, namely, that the Council authorizes spending but can’t force the Mayor to spend. However, there is a way to perhaps get around this by placing provisos on money the Mayor does want to spend and tying it to money she might not otherwise want to spend. How’s that for some fancy bureaucratic juggling?

Twitter avatar for @michaeljmaddux

Michael Maddux (↙️↙️↙️) @michaeljmaddux
This is an important part of the conversation. Many @SeattleCouncil Central Staff ACTIVELY oppose provisos. However, a proviso on something the mayor wants is the only way to ensure families and small biz are helped. Keep that in mind when you call, write, and testify.
Twitter avatar for @SCC_Insight

SCC Insight @SCC_Insight

However, all the Council can do is authorize the spending; they can’t directly force the Mayor to actually spend it. Though they sort-of can indirectly; they can put a proviso on money that Durkan wants to spend that locks it up until she spends the money she doesn’t want to.

I know this is all complicated, so thanks for bearing with me. The Wednesday meetings will be very interesting indeed!

The decisions being made in Seattle over the next week are potentially groundbreaking. Read More »