September 2020

The Mayor released her proposed 2021 budget today.

Budget season has officially begun!

First, here’s the thread on this morning’s Council Briefing.

The rest of this week’s schedule is as follows:

Wednesday 9/30:

9:30am-12pm Overview of the Budget process

2-4:30pm Overview of

Sustainability & Environment, Economic Development

5:30-7:30pm District 1 Town Hall with CM Herbold, discussing public safety and the West Seattle Bridge

6:30pm Rainier Beach Action Coalition Town Hall with CM Morales, State Senator Saldaña, and King County CM Zahilay

Thursday 10/1:

9:30am-1pm Overview of the SPD Budget

2pm-5pm: Overview of Public Safety and the Municipal Courts

Friday 10/2:

9:30am-1pm Overview of Homelessness Response and Office of Housing

2-5:30pm Overview of Transportation and Parks

There will be a half hour of public comment every morning this week at 9:30am if you’d like to share your thoughts about the proposed budget (more on budget details below). There is also a District 4 town hall coming up with CM Pedersen next week on Thursday 10/8 6-7:30pm.

Mayor’s Proposed 2021 Budget

The Mayor released a pre-recorded message on her budget, complete with cheesy music and multiple backdrops, which was heavy on discussing her past successes and light on details.

Twitter avatar for @amysundberg

Amy Sundberg @amysundberg
Mayor Durkan is speaking about systemic racism and saying we’re living through one of the most consequential times of our lives. Needs growing while revenues shrink.

But let’s dig into the actual budget, shall we? You can find the budget executive summary here and the SPD Department Overview here. The Budget Office will be presenting on the details of the budget over the next few days, but I can give you a little preview now, and then we can revisit at the end of the week with more details and signals from the CMs as to how they’re receiving the proposal.

Overview of proposed 2021 SPD and Public Safety Budget

  1. Calls for 1400 sworn officers instead of the 1422 in 2020’s budget (Note: this seems to completely overlook the provisos in the revised 2020 budget calling for the layoff of 100 sworn officers. In addition, it seems to ignore the attrition already experienced in 2020 alone, which could mean hiring new officers to reach this level. Expect more details about this later this week.)
  2. Parking Enforcement and 120 employees moved to SDOT
  3. Office of Emergency Management becomes independent
  4. 911 Communications Center becomes independent stand-alone unit and is renamed the Seattle Emergency Communications Center.
  5. Victim Advocacy Team transferred to HSD (comprising of 11 FTES and a $1.25m budget)
  6. Expands capacity of the OPA and OIG, specifically by adding a civilian investigator supervisor to OPA and funding a study about coordination of resources between the OPA, OIG, and CPC.
  7. Seattle Municipal Court (SMC) reorganizes probation services by reducing in-person day reporting and moving to collaborative Community Court model.
  8. SMC reduces traditional post-sentence supervision to focus on higher-risk charges. (#7-8 reduce SMC budget by $1.4m & cuts probation staff by 13 positions, a 25% staffing cut, while adding $100k for a non-profit case manager to make referrals to community-based agencies supporting clients to achieve self-sufficiency outside the court system.)
  9. The City and County are working on an agreement to redirect some resources now spent on jail operations toward community-based supports, which would reduce jail use.

The 2021 proposed SPD budget (~$360m) represents a 12% cut compared to the 2020 SPD budget (~$409m). However, once the simple transfers of units (and their budgets) outside SPD ($38m) are factored in, the proposed cut is ~2.7%, or around $11m.

The Mayor’s $100m to BIPOC communities controversy:

Since the summer, the Mayor has been promising $100m invested in BIPOC communities in 2021 (although this may have started out as a promise of investment into Black communities). Although she has been cagey about where she’d get this money during the revenue shortfall caused by COVID-19, PubliCola broke the news that this money would be taken from the already allocated Jumpstart payroll tax passed this summer:

“Under the council’s plan, payroll tax revenues would be used in the short term to fund rent relief, non-congregate shelter beds, immigrant and refugee relief programs, grocery vouchers, and direct assistance to child care centers and other small businesses. In the long term, the tax is supposed to provide $214 million a year for low-income and affordable housing, equitable development, small business support, and Green New Deal projects.”

Many of these projects were advocated for and will directly impact BIPOC communities. Mayor Durkan’s actions in this regard will once again cause BIPOC communities to scramble and fight against each other to get much-needed funding. In addition, Mayor Durkan is putting together an appointed task force to allocate this $100m, even though community has been asking for a robust participatory budgeting process. As a result, more than one respected community member has refused to serve on the task force, including Sean Goode, who wrote an op-ed about the problems inherent in this plan.

What about defunding by 50%?

The Mayor’s proposal doesn’t come anywhere close to meeting King County Equity Now’s demands for defunding the police department by 50%. Even accounting for the $38m needed to fund units transferred outside SPD, a 50% defund would provide community with around $166.5m in funds to re-invest every year. While not even shrinking the police department as much as would be accounted for by normal levels of attrition, Mayor Durkan is proposing giving 60% as much funding, which won’t be determined by participatory budgeting, won’t be for only public safety-related needs, and will be taken away from other already allocated purposes that the community needs and has advocated for.

In conclusion, King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle are not going to be happy about this proposed budget. Neither are some CMs. We’ll have to wait and see how the conversation progresses over the next several weeks. The budget season is scheduled to run until November 23.

The Mayor released her proposed 2021 budget today. Read More »

The Council overturned all three vetoes!

After listening to ninety minutes of public comment and spending ninety minutes making speeches, the Council voted today to overturn the Mayor’s veto of the revised 2020 budget.

Thanks to all of you who made your voice heard in support of this issue, and an especial thanks to the protesters who risked their safety to achieve this goal. Today we can celebrate a real win.

For those interested in details, there were three bills the Mayor vetoed, the main budget bill and then two bills providing funding for community investment. The main budget bill had its veto overturned by 7-2 with CMs Pedersen and Juarez voting against. The other two vetos were overturned by unanimous votes.

The 2021 budget process begins next Tuesday the 29th when the Mayor presents her proposed budget. The next two months are going to be very important, and you can see a draft of the budget calendar here. I’ll be doing my best to keep you informed throughout the process. But for now, we can take a few days to rest, celebrate, and rejuvenate.

The Council overturned all three vetoes! Read More »

The meeting to discuss the Mayor’s veto is tomorrow, and it’s not looking good.

Let’s jump right into what we learned at the Council Briefing today, shall we?

There will be a special Council Meeting tomorrow, Tuesday September 22, at 3pm to discuss the Mayor’s veto on the 2020 revised budget bills. There will be an opportunity for you to make a public comment at the meeting; signups will be at 1pm and the public comment period will be at 3pm.

Various remarks from CMs during their meeting today signaled that they think they may have lost their veto-proof majority. Because the bills in question involve appropriations, two of the three would require a 3/4 vote to overturn the Mayor’s veto, meaning 7 out of 9 votes. In spite of CM Sawant’s repeated demands that CMs state their positions publicly today instead of blindsiding their constituents tomorrow, none of the CMs opposed to overturning the veto were willing to publicly state their positions. However, we can certainly make a good guess: CMs Pedersen and Juarez, and probably CM Lewis, who has stated more than once how important it is to make a “deal” with the Mayor. CM Strauss might also be in question.

I put “deal” in quotations above because what they’re currently discussing is…not much of a compromise at all. The Council has put together an alternate bill that they can discuss should they fail to overturn the veto. This bill was constructed specifically to be something the Mayor will not veto, therefore representing the outlines of the “deal” being struck. This bill is still being revised, but you can see the current version and its summary & fiscal note.

To summarize aspects of this new bill that were discussed this morning: In terms of community investments, there will be $1m for research and a participatory budgeting process (and possibly $2m allocated for 2021, but that will have to be in the new 2021 budget) and $2.5m allocated for community organizations scaling up to address public safety needs. Compare this to the vetoed legislation, that provided $3m for research and participatory budgeting, $4m for gun violence prevention (something Seattle is experiencing an uptick in right now), and $10m for community organizations scaling up. $3.5m is the compromise vs. $17m previously allocated, and it’s worth noting that even the $17m was a huge compromise from the initial ask by community.

All of the provisos regarding police officer layoffs (the 100 positions) have been completely dropped. The Navigation Team will remain, the “compromise” here being that the 2 FTEs for sworn officers currently unfilled will remain unstaffed, which, given the current hiring freeze, is fairly meaningless. They are also eliminating 5 civilian positions from HSD from the Nav Team, through which they are funding $500,000 for behavioral and mental health services for the rest of 2020. There is potential for more funding for this in 2021 because of these staff cuts. However, this $500,000 is prioritized for use by the Navigation Team as opposed to community partners, and there is also no language prioritizing shelter access for community service providers. In addition, there is a commitment for $3m to be spent on non-congregate shelters this year. (Even though there has been other financial allocations for this that the Mayor has refused to honor, apparently she has agreed to actually follow through this time). CM Lewis says there will be additional announcements made about the Navigation Team in 2021 to reduce its role to be more supervisory.

So, in a nutshell, there will be no layoffs in the police department, there will be $3.5m invested in community instead of $17m, and the Navigation Team will continue its dysfunctional operations largely unchanged while community partners working with the homeless population will not receive any additional funding or even tools like being able to give referrals to shelters more easily.

I don’t think I need to tell you that $2.5m will be wholly inadequate to build the capacity community organizations need to take on important roles in community safety, but since the intention is obviously not to downsize the police department in any meaningful way or allow community organizations to step in and take on some of those functions, I guess it’s a moot point. Section 20 of the proposed bill does state: “By establishing this Section, the Council expresses its policy intent for the Seattle Police Department (SPD) to reduce the overall size of the City’s sworn police force,” but this intent can be met simply by transferring some departments out of SPD and doesn’t actually require any downsizing whatsoever in the number of sworn officers employed.

Let me say this plainly: this is not actually a compromise. This is the Mayor getting exactly what she wants. And because the Seattle Times and all the major news networks back her, she gets to drive the public narrative, giving her a lot of power.

In conclusion, today is the day to email and CALL your CMs. If your CM is Andrew Lewis or Dan Strauss, this is even more important. Ask them to overturn the veto. If you already did this last week, do it again. If you can bring yourself to offer public testimony at the meeting tomorrow, do that. The vote tomorrow will determine city policy going forward, and it will define the 2021 budget session.

I’ll report back tomorrow and let you know what happened.

The meeting to discuss the Mayor’s veto is tomorrow, and it’s not looking good. Read More »

OPA releases findings for first few cases from summer protests

The whole city is talking about the first set of findings on the Seattle summer protest cases the OPA released this morning. The two most high-profile cases of the five summaries released were the incident of the child being pepper-sprayed, which was found to be unsustained, and the incident of the officer putting a knee on a protester’s neck, which was partially sustained. More details can be found here and here. Kevin Schofield also interviewed OPA Director Myerberg on these findings yesterday.

The CPC have made a statement talking about the inadequate policies of the SPD and saying “It is also important to understand these disciplinary decisions are being made under the flawed disciplinary system created by the current police contracts.” Philip Weiss, who has been doing excellent work this summer reviewing OPA summaries on Twitter, gives his analysis of the OPA summaries in two Twitter threads:

Twitter avatar for @kingrat

Philip Weiss @kingrat
OPA cases have been released. And the first one I’m reading on the kid being pepper sprayed is making me fucking mad at @SeattleOPA .
Twitter avatar for @kingrat

Philip Weiss @kingrat
I think OPA is wrong on the policy too: 8.100 “Officers shall conduct a threat assessment so as not to precipitate an unnecessary […] use of force by placing themselves *OR OTHERS* in undue jeopardy.” Emphasis on OR OTHERS by me.
Twitter avatar for @kingrat

Philip Weiss @kingrat

The analysis is that because there was no policy of trying to not hurt bystanders, this was just fine. “there was no section of the policy that caused directed pepper spraying to be improper simply because it inadvertently affected another individual in the immediate vicinity.”

We also have an excellent investigative journalism piece in the South Seattle Emerald about the quest for police accountability from a journalist who permanently lost her hearing in one ear during a protest this summer. This piece painfully chronicles the bureaucratic twists and turns involved in the accountability process, illustrating some of the flaws in the current SPD accountability system. The injured journalist wouldn’t have gotten as far as she has in the process without hiring a lawyer, and even so, it is by no means certain she will receive any accounting whatsoever for the actions of the police officer who threw a flash bang at her while she was resting away from the protest.

In other news about accountability, Black Lives Matter Seattle King County filed a request with the OIG yesterday to investigate SPD’s potentially unlawful actions against protesters earlier this year.

Meanwhile, The Urbanist published a closer look at the history of the consent decree and recently resigned Monitor Merrick Bobb, which quotes former Mayor Mike McGinn at some length, laying out reasons the consent decree has failed and going into more depth of the influence SPOG has had on Seattle city politics over the last several years. Obviously there is a political battle being played out here, and hearing the other side of the argument is educational.

Finally, we have a a couple articles on reform on the county and state levels. While my focus here in this newsletter is primarily on Seattle, it’s important to remember that changes at every level of government can have impact. The King County 2021-2022 budget proposal is being introduced next week by Executive Dow Constantine, and this new plan “includ[es] alternatives to jail, community-based public safety alternatives, and divestments from the current criminal legal system.”  He also envisions a $1.9m decrease in spending on the county jail. He presents this budget to the King County Council on September 22. Andrew Grant Houston did a Twitter thread of Omari Salisbury’s interview with Nikkita Oliver about her reaction to this budget announcement And the Washington State Department of Corrections has drafted a strategy calling for a reduction of 30% of the state’s prison population over the next year.

I’ve heard the City Council might not be discussing the veto of the revised 2020 budget on Monday after all, possibly postponing that discussion until later in the week. CP Gonzalez previously stated the last day they can act is September 24, so we’ll see how things play out. This news seems to suggest a deal has yet to be reached between the Mayor and the Council.

Hope you have a good weekend!

OPA releases findings for first few cases from summer protests Read More »

An Interview with the Mayor

Not quite as much happening this week, but there are still a few things to note.

King County Equity Now is currently asking anyone who is a resident of King County to take a survey about their research program regarding public safety. It’s a quick five minutes to fill it out.

The City Council Briefing didn’t involve discussion about public safety this week.

The Council should be discussing the vetoed 2020 revised budget next Monday the 21st. The next Public Safety & Human Resources committee meeting will be on Tuesday the 22nd. The Mayor’s proposed 2021 budget is expected on Tuesday, September 29.

What can we expect next week in regards to that veto? The Council has two options at this point: to reach a deal with the Mayor that still results in a balanced budget or to overturn the veto. Here’s an interview with Council President Gonzalez in which she speaks of her hope of reaching a compromise. It’s hard to say exactly what the details of any deal between the Council and the Mayor might be, although I don’t see the Mayor budging on the Navigation Team or indeed, on any officer layoffs whatsoever beyond what they might achieve by attrition. If you would like the Council to overturn the veto or if you have ideas about what concessions would make a deal more acceptable (prioritizing community investment, for example), now is the time to write to your CMs to share your views. What happens next week will set the tone for the ensuing conversation about the 2021 budget.

Today Crosscut held an interview with Mayor Durkan, led by journalist David Kroman.

I much preferred this format to the usual press conferences and was pleased by the caliber of questions asked. In terms of “re-imagining policing,” a buzz phrase from the summer, Mayor Durkan appears to have two main goals: a change to crowd control policies (which are also being called into question by the OPA/OIG/CPC trifecta and the demands of the consent decree) and a revamp of the 911 response system to include the possibility of response by people other than armed police officers. It seems like she doesn’t necessarily expect to fully achieve either within the next year but hopes to make progress in these two directions.

Aside from that, as per usual she prefers to focus on her commitment of $100m to Black and Brown communities in 2021, and she said we should expect to see that commitment fulfilled in her proposed 2021 budget. While I’m pleased about the allocation of these resources, it is worrisome that while she repeatedly states systemic racism is a problem in policing and criminal justice, and that this needs to be dismantled, she is unwilling to speak of how to achieve greater police accountability within the SPD.

It is worth noting that new research shows no evidence implicit bias trainingmental health training, the use of body cameras, or community representation in policing are effective in reducing police violence. (H/t to Campaign Zero for compiling the research.) It would be encouraging to see more discussion of other options by our elected officials, including a strong commitment to negotiating a police union contract that enables greater accountability, an acknowledgement of the flaws and loopholes currently exigent in the current community oversight system (OIG/OPA/CPC); more discussion of ways to effectively demilitarize the SPD; and more acknowledgment of the racism inherent in broken-windows and community policing. Meanwhile Mayor Durkan also isn’t speaking about any ways to ameliorate mass incarceration, even while acknowledging its harmful impacts on Black and Brown communities.

Obviously there is a lot of work to do, and it can’t all be addressed overnight, but these points do have direct bearing on the current conversation in Seattle about public safety and do need to be kept in mind even when they are skillfully talked around.

In related news, it sounds like Mayor Durkan’s main hope for filling the city budget shortfall from the pandemic in the next few years is for Biden to win the presidency and increase federal aid. Otherwise our city services might take a real beating. She is also more on board with regional solutions to increasing revenues and dealing with problems such as homelessness and transit, as opposed to Seattle-specific ones.

Next week should be an interesting one! In the meantime, stay safe and let’s hope some of this smoke clears by the weekend.

An Interview with the Mayor Read More »

The City Council met for the first time after their summer recess.

I hope everyone had a pleasant long weekend! I know I appreciated having a little time off from Seattle City Council meetings, and hopefully we’re now all refreshed and ready to launch into the next few months of important meetings.

To catch us up, Mayor Durkan vetoed three bills relating to the 2020 revised budget on Friday, August 28. The Council has thirty days from that date to respond. The mayor’s particular objections to the legislation in question included all of the money earmarked for community investment in public safety (including $3m for research, $4m for gun violence prevention, and $10m to begin scaling up community orgs); the defunding of the Navigation team; the reduction of 100 police officers by the end of the year; and the decrease in pay for the command staff.

New Police Chief Diaz unveiled a plan to redeploy 100 police officers to patrol by the middle of September. He hopes this change will result in faster response times to 911 calls, better engagement with community, and less overtime expenditure. It’s possible this change could also result in increased retirements from older officers who don’t wish to return to patrol positions, but that has yet to be seen.

This morning the City Council came back from summer recess and held their usual Council Briefing.

Council President Gonzalez said that her office has been in communication with the Mayor’s office over the break trying to find a compromise regarding the revised 2020 budget, but that so far, such a compromise hasn’t been reached. She anticipates that the soonest the Council will take action is on September 21st, which is slightly less than two weeks from now. The last day they can act is September 24th. The Council will need to begin work on the new 2021 budget around the end of September as well.

The big question is what compromise the Council might be able to reach with the Mayor. Most of the CMs seem inclined to make a deal if at all possible. The City Council passes the budget but cannot force the Mayor to make expenditures, so everything will work much more smoothly if everyone is on the same page. It does sound like the investments in community organizations, research, and gun violence prevention are still a priority for at least some CMs, which is reassuring as these investments are important for being able to move forward with moving resources upstream and scaling up key organizations.

There will be a a Public Safety & Human Services committee meeting this Friday at 9:30am. CM Herbold is hoping there will a presentation on the Puget Sound Emergency Alert project. The CPC, OIG, and OPA will also be presenting on their reports about the use of crowd control weapons, about which you can refresh your memories here. CM Herbold also talked about the issues with SPD overtime, which apparently have been a problem for some years. The city auditor made some recommendations on how to fix this problem back in 2016, but there are still several recommendations pending, including a new IT system that Chief Diaz says is now projected to be completed in the first quarter of 2021.

The Seattle federal police monitor has resigned, and Dr. Antonio Oftelie has been appointed in his stead. You can read some of his thoughts about public safety and police reform here and here.

As always, thanks for reading!

The City Council met for the first time after their summer recess. Read More »