February 2021

Seattle’s Participatory Budgeting Process Moving Forward

Lots of news to discuss at the end of a busy week!

First off, the Black Brilliance Project presented their final report at the City Council committee meeting this morning. You can view the slide deck here.

CM Morales made a point to emphasize the City of Seattle has been doing participatory budgeting since 2015, albeit on a smaller scale, and that as a result, they have systems already in place to deal with both online and off-line systems for voting etc. The two highest priority focuses to guide the participatory budgeting process were housing & physical space and mental health, and the need for a big push for digital equity was also discussed.

A steering committee will create the rules for the participatory budgeting process. This body will consist of 7 people who meet various criteria that strongly emphasizes lived experience (you can see details of these criteria in the slide deck). The process of choosing the committee will be as follows: first job descriptions will be created and shared, then from the pool of most qualified applicants several will be randomly selected to serve on a jury. This jury will then choose the actual members of the steering committee from the remaining pool of most qualified applicants. There will also be several workgroups working on the PB process.

A potential timeline for the participatory budgeting process has been released. As you can see below, they are hoping the community can vote on proposals this summer, with implementation of the proposals later this year. This is contrary to some commentators’ predictions that participatory budgeting wouldn’t be able to be completed this year.

As you may remember, the City Council has been deeply interested in crisis response systems such as CAHOOTS in Eugene and STAR in Denver. When asked about the potential for a similar system to be funded through the PBP, Shaun Glaze said that community had expressed more interest in many small investments in crisis response and wellness management as opposed to a larger program run by city workers. They mentioned people might still not trust a CAHOOTS-style program that is run by the City.

The next step for the City Council is to lift the proviso on the funds allocated for the PBP, which CM Morales said she’d like to try to do at her next committee meeting on March 16. Right now in the PBP, we are currently in the design phase, and the next step will be brainstorming ideas, which they are hoping to start in March.

In election news, Brianna Thomas is running for CP González’s vacated seat on the City Council. Mike McQuaid is running against CM Mosqueda for City Council, and it has recently been reported that he was charged with assault and harassment over a landscape dispute in 2015. This doesn’t seem to demonstrate the kind of cool head and anger management skills we might hope for in a city council member.

The CPC voted this week to approve a list of recommendations for Seattle’s upcoming contract negotiations with SPOG, in spite of community urging them to collect more community feedback during a community conversation earlier in February:

“The commission generally agreed on the transparency proposals, which included a recommendation to require the city to make public the membership of its negotiating team, its bargaining priorities, and any concessions it makes during negotiations. Commissioners also broadly supported a recommendation that negotiators try to remove the parts of the SPOG contract that allow the agreement to supersede city law; Officer Mark Mullens, the only SPD officer on the commission, was the only member to oppose that proposal.”

The CPC decided against recommending to completely civilianize the OPA’s staff, worried that the police department would then be more likely to hide things from that department. They also chose not to advocate for a section in the bargaining allowing SPD to lay off officers “in a safe and effective manner,” allowing for out-of-order layoffs, citing a concern that this could cause mismanagement.

The new Police Monitor for the City of Seattle’s consent decree, Antonio Oftelie, had an op-ed in the Seattle Times this week. In it he echoes Judge Robart’s warning from earlier this month, basically coming out against defunding the police department, although he is not against finding additional funding for community-driven alternative approaches:

Through the consent decree, the city made a set of binding promises about how SPD will promote public safety. Compliance with the decree requires that the city provide resources necessary to carry out those promises. Stripping away funding from SPD without meaningfully standing up the alternative community resources and social programs necessary to provide for community well-being risks undermining the progress that Seattle has made over the past eight years.

In state legislature news, the Pathways to Recovery Act, also known as the Treatment and Recovery Act, is officially dead. The bill could be picked back up in 2022, although given its status as a “bigger bill” it would be more difficult to pass it during the short session of 2022. Advocates are also considering turning it into a ballot measure in 2022. A similar ballot measure passed in Oregon in 2020.

In related news, yesterday the Washington Supreme Court struck down the state’s drug felony possession law because unlike similar laws in other states, the law didn’t require prosecutors to prove someone knowingly possessed drugs. This ruling could have wide-sweeping implications. The Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys have instructed their members to immediately drop any pending cases for simple drug possession and to obtain orders vacating the convictions of anyone serving time for simple drug possession. State legislators are likely to take up this matter before the end of the legislative session this spring, introducing new legislation, so we’ll see what happens there.

Finally, SB 5051, a bill about decertification of police officers, has passed the Senate and moved onto the House. You can read more details about it at the Seattle Times and at People Power Washington.

Thanks for sticking with me, and have a wonderful weekend!

Seattle’s Participatory Budgeting Process Moving Forward Read More »

State Bills to Support and preliminary SPD budget discussions

First off, a few bills you can advocate for on the state level if you have time:

  • SB 5226, the bill decriminalizing driving without a license, is currently in the Rules Committee. You can send a short (two sentence) email to the Vice Chair Karen Keiser at karen.keiser@leg.wa.gov to ask her to pull this bill. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can email all the members of the Rules committee to make the same ask. Sample script: “My name is <your name> and I am writing to you as a concerned citizen to let you know that I support SB 5226 and want to see the bill scheduled and passed out of the Rules Committee. Pick one reason why you care about this bill and include it here in 1-2 brief sentences [i.e. Debt-based license suspension disproportionately affects poor, rural, and drivers of color while simultaneously failing to make our roads safer and costing Washington tax payers an exorbitant amount. It is time that Washington take a stand and stop the criminalization of poverty.].”
  • HB 1310, the bill determining appropriate use of force by officers, is currently in the Rules Committee. You can send a short (two sentence) email to Chair Laurie Jinkins at laurie.jinkins@leg.wa.gov asking her to pull this bill. You can also email all the members of the House Rules Committee to make the same ask. Sample script: “Chair Jinkins, please pull HB 1310. These days the use of deadly force seems to be the first response by police officers, rather than the last resort. If we’re to even have a chance to redefine public safety, ensure all communities have trust in law enforcement, and decrease/eliminate police killings of unarmed citizens, 1310 needs to be pulled to the floor for a vote. Thanks for reading my comments.”
  • (Both of these scripts are provided by hard-working volunteers who are making a giant effort to stay on top of these bills as they progress through the legislature.)

Today at the Seattle Public Safety and Human Resources committee meeting, the legislation to remove $5.4m from SPD’s 2021 budget to reflect their overspend from last year was finally discussed, and is scheduled for further discussion at upcoming meetings. SPD will attend the next meeting to present on uses they have for this money.

The final numbers for SPD officers who left in 2020 are in: 186 officers separated during the course of the year. This is much higher than usual and should result in a salary savings of about $7.7m for 2021. However, the SPD is asking to retain the $5.4m being discussed in order to pay for separation pay for 2021, new civilian hires such as CSOs and violence prevention experts, and technology upgrades. CM Herbold is also interested in addressing the issue of evidence storage, possibly with these dollars.

If we’re simply talking about separation pay, the math doesn’t currently quite line up with the SPD’s request, since the difference between the amount the Council is considering cutting ($5.4m) and the amount estimated to be saved due to 2020 attrition ($7.7m) is $2.3m, which is more than enough to cover the $1.1-1.8m in separation pay SPD says they will need. But we’ll learn more of the details of their proposal in two weeks’ time. Meanwhile, you can read the memo about today’s presentation here.

The Community Economic Development Committee will be meeting this Friday 2/26 at 9:30am. During this meeting the Black Brilliance Project will be presenting their final report on their research. CM Morales has said her office will meet with the Executive’s office this week to begin discussion about implementation of participatory budgeting and to begin creating a spending plan. The Council will also need to pass an ordinance to lift the proviso and release the participatory budgeting funds, and she hopes to be able to move that forward at her committee’s March meeting. So it seems we might be getting at least some preliminary answers to questions about how the participatory budgeting process will move forward in the next month or so.

That’s all for now. Hope you’re having a wonderful week!

State Bills to Support and preliminary SPD budget discussions Read More »

State bill updates and actions

There are lot of state legislature updates to talk about today because the cut-off for bills to be voted out of committee was this past Monday, February 15. And another deadline is fast approaching: next Monday, February 22 is when bills must be passed out of fiscal committee.

At the last minute, the Pathways to Recovery Act (SHB 1499) was passed out of its committee, but it hasn’t yet been scheduled for its hearing or executive session in Appropriations, which needs to happen by Monday. HB 1310 (De-escalation/use of force policy) has a public hearing scheduled in Appropriations on February 18, but still needs an executive session before Monday. To support these bills, you can email Timm Ormsby, the chair of the appropriations committee, tell him you support SHB 1499 and HB 1310, and ask him to give these bills a Hearing and Executive Session before February 22nd. You can also send a similar email to any of your representatives who are also on the Appropriations Committee. A list of Appropriations Committee members follows (** signifies co-sponsorship of SHB 1499 and ++ signifies co-sponsorship of HB 1310):

When writing to your representatives and the chair, you might consider focusing on points related to state budgetary considerations, since this is a fiscal committee. A few possible talking points for SHB 1499:

SHB 1499 will—

  • Reduce public health and safety costs associated with untreated substance use disorder;
  • Stabilize individuals cycling through our jails and emergency rooms; and
  • Increase the cost-effectiveness of treatment by enhancing front-end outreach and back-end recovery support services.

Other bill news:

  • SB 5134 on collective bargaining has officially died. There’s a possibility it could be revived next year or that parts of it could be added to other bills that are still moving.
  • SB 5226 on driving with license suspended in the third degree has passed to the Rules Committee.
  • HB 1054 about police tactics is on its second reading at the rules committee.
  • SB 5051 on decertification has passed through Ways & Means and is in the rules committee.
  • HB 1202 on civil liability/qualified immunity is scheduled for an executive session in Appropriations on February 18.
  • HB 1078 (voter restoration for those convicted of a felony) has been passed on to a second reading by the Rules Committee.
  • SB 5066 about the duty of a police officer to intervene has been placed on a second reading by the Rules Committee.

I didn’t attend the Seattle Council Briefing this week, as I was attending a Zoom wedding, but luckily I’m not the only person paying attention to these things. Of particular note, CM Morales said her committee, the Community Economic Development Committee, will be hearing the Black Brilliance Project’s final report at their next meeting on Friday, February 26.

The SPD’s changes to their use of force and crowd control policies have been submitted to the US District Court for review in line with the consent decree. Concurrently, the Public Safety Committee’s draft bill on less lethal weapons has been passed onto the Department of Justice and the Police Monitor for review.

Thanks for reading and staying involved!

State bill updates and actions Read More »

Support the Pathways to Recovery Act

First up, we have a few bills in the Washington State legislature that could use your support.

The Pathways to Recovery Act, HB 1499, will be receiving a hearing this Friday, February 12 at 10am. This bill addresses the current public health crisis of substance abuse disorders, changing the law so they are treated as a health issue instead of a crime, providing pre-treatment outreach, treatment, and recovery support services for suffering individuals. This bill could make a huge difference in so many people’s lives, and I urge you to consider supporting it. You can find scripts to help you craft your comments here.

SB 5134, which I’ve spoken about before, the bill that removes police accountability for serious misconduct from the collective bargaining process (among other things), could also use your support. This bill was always a heavy lift, and it hasn’t yet been scheduled for executive session, as we fast approach the deadline for bills to be voted out of committee. Efforts are being made to truncate the bill in order to reach a compromise, and more labor organizations are coming on board, but time is running out.

To support this bill, you can email the chair of the Labor, Commerce, and Tribal Relations Committee, Senator Karen Keiser at karen.keiser@leg.wa.gov. Your email should be brief (two sentences or less), telling her you support SB 5134 and asking her to schedule it for an executive session.

Next up is yesterday’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting.

The discussion about changing the 2021 SPD budget to reflect SPD’s overspend in 2020 was once more postponed, but as previously stated, it did sound like CM Herbold is now waffling over this measure of accountability. The committee did get a chance to discuss the less lethal weapons draft bill, and voted to recommend it as amended (CM Herbold’s amendment to allow the use of tear gas and legally define “violent public disturbance” passed 4-1) to be sent for review by the DoJ and the monitor. All CMs on the committee voted to recommend the draft except for CM Sawant.

However, the votes in favor were all obviously with nose held in the interest of expediency. The City of Seattle currently has no active law on the books that governs the use of less lethal weapons by the police in any way, and the CMs wish to codify the protections provided by the Court’s recent injunction on such weapons. It sounds like the City’s lawyers counseled that this weaker bill was the only one that would have a chance of passing through the consent decree process and actually making it into law. Most of the CMs stated they didn’t think tear gas should be used in Seattle’s streets and that its use was not consistent with Seattle’s values.

This draft bill will now be passed along to the Department of Justice and the new Police Monitor, who will also shortly be receiving the SPD’s changes to use-of-force and crowd control policies. They will be charged with reconciling the two. It is worth noting that in this instance, the consent decree appears to be standing in the way of more comprehensive reform. However, for better or worse, we’re stuck with it for at least another couple of years.

Finally, the Black Brilliance Project, who have been doing research for the past several months on community health and safety and laying the foundation for the participatory budgeting process, announced their separation from King County Equity Now in an open letter. How the project will proceed from here remains unclear: the Black Brilliance Project says they are wrapping up the research project now and will be ready to present the final report to the City Council on February 26, as originally planned. KCEN says they are initiating a second phase of the research and expect any final report to be delayed, by how long they don’t know. Of course, any delay of the research report will also delay the participatory budgeting process itself. Complicating the matter is the involvement of fiscal sponsor Freedom Project, as well as any potential cooperation and coordination between the Mayor’s public safety task force and the participatory budgeting process.

Also unclear is who has the ultimate say in how this conflict will be resolved, although it is likely the City Council will be getting involved. A lot of pressure has been placed on this research project, and there is certainly danger of this latest development distracting from the actual work of the research and participatory budgeting process itself. It is important to remember the participatory budgeting process was never planned to be housed within King County Equity Now or the Black Brilliance Project, but is intended to be its own independent process.

I hope you stay warm and toasty as we might see some snow here in Seattle in the next few days!

Support the Pathways to Recovery Act Read More »

An important Seattle Public Safety Committee meeting tomorrow

Lots of news to cover today!

First of all, we have this morning’s Seattle Council Briefing.

CM Herbold’s report this morning was rather bracing. She spoke about the agenda for tomorrow morning’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee meeting. Included will be the continuation of the discussion about the less lethal weapons draft bill that she’s hoping they can vote to send to the DoJ and Police Monitor to review, as well as a discussion about legislation to reduce the SPD’s 2021 budget by $5.2m to hold them accountable for that level of overspending in 2020. Both of these deserve more discussion.

Kevin at SC Insight does a good job summarizing where we are right now with the less lethal weapons draft bill. Tomorrow the committee will be discussing an amendment to weaken the ban on SPD using tear gas, so now would be a good time to email your CMs to support the complete tear gas ban and/or to testify during public comment tomorrow (2/9) at 9:30am (sign-ups at 7:30am). Amendments both strengthening and weakening the private right of action (the ability of individuals to sue and hold the SPD accountable for misuse of these weapons) will also be discussed.

The CMs agreed to reduce SPD’s 2021 budget by the amount of their overspending in 2020 late last year and seemed generally in agreement about taking this measure to hold the SPD accountable for a long pattern of overtime overspending. However, today CM Herbold signaled that she was waffling on this course of action, mentioning that the SPD has other funding needs; for example, the SPD needs funds to fulfill public disclosure requests, meet minimum requirements for evidence storage, and to hire civilians for CSOs (community service officers) and the CPC. So there might be a bit of a fight over whether this $5.2m should be left in the SPD’s budget after all to cover these expenses or whether it should be removed and potentially allocated into the pool of money for participatory budgeting. It doesn’t look like there’s a committee vote scheduled for tomorrow on this issue, as CM Herbold said representatives from the SPD will be attending a future meeting to discuss further.

CM Herbold also defended the Council’s actions last year after Judge Robart roundly criticized them during last week’s consent decree hearing. During the hearing the new Police Monitor submitted a new work plan for 2021, about which the Judge appears generally favorable. It will be considered for approval on February 19. In the meantime, Judge Robart said that in this time of flux (the pandemic, the upcoming election with the mayor and two Council seats up for grabs, SPD having an interim police chief, and the upcoming SPOG negotiations) it is going to be hard to continue making progress with police reform. He is particularly upset that the Council acted in various ways in the summer (vocally supporting a 50% defund, for example) that contravened the consent decree.

Meanwhile CM Lewis mentioned that STAR out of Denver, a low acuity response program similar to CAHOOTS in Eugene, just released a six month report and has been quite successful thus far. Out of 748 incidents responded to by the program, none ended up needing police involvement.

In election news, Council President González announced she will be running for Mayor this year, creating a wide-open race for her Council seat. So far the most well-known candidate for that Council seat is Sara Nelson, co-founder of Fremont Brewing. Her top issues involve the hospitality industry (big surprise), economic recovery, and restoring public trust in local government. Ouch. You can read more about her here:

Even though the Seattle council seats are officially non-partisan, most members indicate party leanings. On her official website, Nelson — a lifelong democrat — characterizes herself as a “moderate pragmatist,” and many of her positions seem to be to the right of several current city council members (she said she opposed the recent tax on big businesses, for instance, as well as cutting Seattle’s police budget by 50 percent).

The CPC appointed a permanent director last week, Brandy Grant, who had already been serving as interim director. She was the only one of the three candidates who didn’t have a background as a police officer.

The CPC is also hosting a community conversation on the Seattle Police Contracts this Thursday, February 11 at 4pm. The description of the event is as follows:

A chance for the community members to discuss what they want out of police contract negotiations and how we achieve complete police accountability. This event is hosted by the Community Police Commission. City leaders and staff involved in the negotiations will also be there to listen and speak on specific issues.

Finally, some excellent investigative reporting dropped at the South Seattle Emerald today, an article about SPD officials asking King County Jail officials to override COVID-19 restrictions and book protesters facing nonviolent misdemeanor charges.

Expect an update later this week on tomorrow’s Public Safety committee meeting, along with a possible update on the Pathways to Recovery Act decriminalizing drug use and addiction, which may have a hearing in the state legislature on Friday morning.

An important Seattle Public Safety Committee meeting tomorrow Read More »

The Black Brilliance Project preliminary report is out.

This week in the state legislature: SB 5226, the bill concerning the suspension of licenses for traffic violations, has its committee hearing this week on February 4 at 10:30am. Current law tends to criminalize poverty: license suspension for failure to pay a minor traffic violation can lead to a spiral of compounding fines and even jail time and saddles poor drivers with a criminal record that adversely affects employment. This bill would end debt-based license suspension.

At this week’s Seattle Council Briefing, we had our now-standard briefing on the state legislative session and a presentation from the Black Brilliance Project and Central Staff about the Preliminary Research Report.

But first, President González brought up the serious equity concerns around the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. She is preparing a resolution on this issue to hopefully be voted upon next Monday, as well as a series of panels to facilitate problem solving around this issue. She’s also looking into emergency legislation that will improve communication with the community about vaccine availability and access.

In terms of state legislature updates relating to public safety, last week was a big week for firearm safety. 1267 and 1310 are up for executive session this week. The decertification bill was scheduled in the Ways and Means committee Monday afternoon in the Senate, along with the duty to intervene bill. (Not reported at the meeting, but SB5055 will also be in executive session the morning of Wednesday, February 3.)

If you want to read more about the Black Brilliance preliminary research report, you can see the Central Staff presentation slides, the Central Staff memo, and you can read the over one thousand page report itself. Don’t be discouraged, though, as the main body of the report is only around 85 pages, with the rest consisting of various appendices.

Presenting for the Black Brilliance Research project, Shaun Glaze highlighted the need for a comprehensive and multi-pronged approach, saying we’re only as safe and healthy as our most vulnerable. They discussed the following findings for increasing safety and health in Seattle:

  • Housing and Space: the need for more Black land ownership, spaces for specific communities and specific interventions, including thinking of communities left out of existing systems (for example, single mothers and those experiencing domestic violence)
  • Mental Health: the need for comprehensive wellness programs, especially Black-specific ones, and the need to radically shift how the systems function (for example, how many people without credentials can provide specific supports). Thinking about how to create hyper-local responses.
  • Youth: the need for expanding living wage jobs and access to child care. Addressing root causes of harms. Education around healthy relationships and mentorship.
  • Crisis and Wellness: the need to divest from harmful systems while providing hyper-local, culturally responsive, linguistically sensitive care.
  • Economic Development: the need for expanding digital literacy and hiring community members as consultants to do this work.

Legislation to lift the proviso on the participatory budgeting funds should be introduced to the Council sometime in March. The final research report is due February 19 and will be presented on February 26th at CM Morales’s committee meeting. In related news, Shaun Glaze also said their understanding is that the mayor’s task force may allocate some or all of their budget towards participatory budgeting, which would avoid pitting communities against each other and could be a great step forward in uniting various public safety initiatives.

Coming up next week is another Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting on Tuesday 2/9 at 9:30am. At that meeting I expect a continuation of the discussion about the potential less lethal weapon ordinance, as well as discussing the legislation to reduce the SPD’s 2021 budget to address their overspend of their 2020 budget. If you’d like to learn more about the less lethal weapon ordinance, Kevin Schofield did a deep dive and included a copy of the revised base bill that was under discussion last week.

Happy February!

The Black Brilliance Project preliminary report is out. Read More »