March 2021

Mike McGinn has thoughts to share on the upcoming police contract, mayoral election, and reform roadblocks

Today really feels like spring!

First up, I want to recommend an excellent interview on Crystal Fincher’s podcast Hacks and Wonks with former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. It is worth listening to the whole thing or reading the transcription, but interesting topics covered include:

  • When the police union contract is being negotiated, if the parties cannot reach agreement then the process is brought to arbitration. In arbitration, the arbitrator is supposed to look at peer cities to determine the appropriate result. But if Seattle wants to be at the cutting edge of accountability reform, for example, then being held to other cities’ standards is a severe constraint upon what is possible. The main way out of this bind seems to be legislation at the state level that takes discipline and accountability provisions out of the providence of bargaining (like dead bill SB5134 was trying to do).
  • What the police contract DOES allow the City to do is reduce the total number of police officers because that is a budget question. However, Judge Robart saying the City cannot reduce the number of officers and remain in compliance with the consent decree largely ties the City’s hands in this way as well.
  • City Attorney Pete Holmes, who is up for election again this November, is in a unique position as an independently elected city attorney. McGinn: “Pete is now in a position to unilaterally decide what is or is not the City’s position on litigation – that’s what his position was. So it’s weird, you know? ‘Cause he represents himself as – his client is the public. Well, how does he know what the public wants? And so therefore he finds himself without a client, essentially, ’cause he can just divine it from within his own head.” Examples of some questionable decisions made in the last year by our city attorney are discussed.
  • The power about how to reform and whether reform is working now largely rests with the Judge, the City Attorney, the Mayor, the US Attorney for the Western District of Washington, the SPOG President, etc.: all older, white people. Meanwhile, BIPOC people have largely been silenced in this matter. Because “important people” told us police reform was on track, most people believed them when in fact the last year has shown us the system is still definitively broken: McGinn: “And I guess, you know, if we’re looking at the next mayor, it’s going to be who’s going to have the guts to just say, Look, this process – the process we were in, was broken and we’ve got to try to figure out how to fix it. And the contract’s an important piece of it, but it’s a lot deeper than that.”
  • McGinn discusses the mayoral election landscape in Seattle: Everyone’s a Democrat, and two candidates usually come out of the primary (in August), one endorsed by the Seattle Times and the Chamber of Commerce, one endorsed by the Stranger. Labor/unions are in the middle, with some falling on each side. A candidate needs to choose which of the two lanes they are going for while trying to fall somewhere in the middle. His assessment right now? Bruce Harrell and Jessyn Farrell are going for the right lane, and Lorena González, Andrew Grant Houston, and Colleen Echohawk are going for the left lane. He goes into a lot more detail in the interview. He also mentions Jessyn Farrell, while she might be aiming for the right lane, would still be a more progressive mayor than Mayor Durkan.

The Mayor’s office has released two recommendations for the participatory budgeting process here in Seattle. One hews fairly closely to the Black Brilliance Project’s recommendations by hiring an outside administrator who would hire the 25-person steering committee. This option would take 11-18 months and would use $7.475m in overhead to administer the process. The other option would be mostly run by the Department of Neighbors, involving the hiring of a 15-person steering committee, and would take 9-14 months and use $2.630m in overhead to administer the process. The letter also raises various logistical and legal issues that need to be settled in order for the Council to release the proviso on the $30m and get the process started. You can read the recommendation letter here. Kevin Schofield has written a detailed breakdown of the letter and points that need to be addressed.

Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Equitable Taskforce looks to be aiming to make its draft recommendations on investments for its $30m by mid-April. The minutes of its latest meeting are available to view online.


In state legislative news, EHB 1090 was voted out of the Senate this week and is being sent to the Governor for his signature. This bill bans private, for-profit prison companies that contract with local, state, and federal agencies such as ICE. One effect, should the bill be signed and survive legal challenges, would be that the ICE detention center in Tacoma would shut down in 2025 once its current contract expires.

State legislators are still grappling with how to address the Washington State Supreme Court ruling decriminalizing drug possession. There are several rival bills currently being considered, including HB 1558 and SB 5475, both introduced by Republicans, and SB 5476, introduced by a Democrat. HB 1558 and SB 5476 are both discussed further here, but there is clearly still work to be done to get the votes necessary to pass anything at all.

And that’s what I have for you today! As always, thanks for reading.

 

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Many opportunities for action and volunteering

Happy Monday!

First up, E2SHB1310, the bill on de-escalation and strengthening I-940, has a hearing in the State Senate Ways & Means committee tomorrow, 3/30 at 1:30pm.

ESSB5226, the bill ending debt-based license suspension, is scheduled for an executive session in the House Transportation Committee on Wednesday, 3/31 at 1:30pm. This bill needs an additional amendment added in order to close a loophole that would make this legislation not work as it was originally intended. In order to speak for this bill, you will need to email members of the House Transportation Committee. More information including email addresses and a script should be available at this site soon, or you can email me (respond to this newsletter email) and I can send you something directly.

In other state legislative news, the Senate and House Democrats released their 2021-2023 budget proposals, and both proposals include the state capital gains tax (SB 5096), which is a strong sign the Democrats expect it to pass and be signed into law.


If you are looking for a flexible volunteer opportunity, Campaign Zero and #Nixthe6 is looking for volunteers to do internet research and update spreadsheets. They are creating the first nationwide database of police organizations and their associated union contracts and can use all the help they can get. Short training sessions (~45 minutes) are being conducted later this week, and if you’re interested, you can email reecie.campaignzero@gmail.com.


Meanwhile, in King County, the family of Tommy Le, who was killed by a deputy in Burien in 2017, settled their civil suit against King County and the deputy. While they say the settlement shows a “degree of culpability” on both King County’s and the deputy’s part, an internal email from the KCSO Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht shows otherwise. You can read all about it because of Carolyn Bick’s excellent reporting in the South Seattle Emerald. If you’d like to protest this behavior, you can write to your King County Councilmember asking them to demand the Sheriff’s resignation. You can find out who your Councilmember is here.


More news as it happens, and thank you for reading!

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Seattle Public Safety Committee narrowly agrees to move forward with substitute bill cutting less from the SPD budget

Happy Spring! Let’s get right to it.

If you want to catch up with this week’s Council Briefing, you can take a look at the Twitter thread.

This morning the Public Safety and Human Resources Department met to discuss the possible cut of $5.4m to SPD’s 2021 budget.

CM Herbold proposed a substitute bill. The actual salary savings from SPD they are discussing has increased from $5.4m to $7.7m, and the new substitute would keep $4.85m of these funds within the SPD and redirect $2.83m to other departments. The SPD says they want to spend their part of this money on separation pay, technology improvements, a few public disclosure positions, and several civilian positions including four CSOs. Of the amount transferred outside SPD, $2m would be allocated to participatory budgeting and the rest would be used for better evidence storage, another public disclosure position in IT, and five additional mental health responders for the SPD crisis unit hired through HSD.

The substitute bill does not put a proviso on how the SPD is required to use the $4.85m, which Greg Doss of Central Staff says will allow them flexibility to deal with arising issues. Instead it places a new proviso that would release this money in monthly increments dependent on the SPD giving the Council a monthly staffing report. CM Herbold signaled her intent here is to increase SPD budget accountability in spite of not taking away the $5.4m to reckon with their overspend of last year.

The Monitor for the consent decree sent a list of questions to the SPD regarding these funds and this bill, and CM Herbold doesn’t want to pass the bill out of committee before that oversight takes place. Instead she suggested the committee vote on replacing the original bill with the substitute to signal their intent. The committee voted to adopt the substitute with a narrow margin, 3-2. CM Herbold, CM Lewis, and CP González were in favor, and CM Morales and CM Sawant were opposed.

This new bill will still need to be voted out of committee to be voted upon by the full Council, and the committee vote will need to be held after the Court has been advised on these changes by the Monitor. The next Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting isn’t until Tuesday, April 13.

During his remarks CM Lewis also signaled an interest in the Council identifying separate funding to stand up a low acuity crisis response system like CAHOOTS in Eugene, OR and STAR in Denver, CO. He mentioned how cost effective systems like this have proven to be compared to hiring more police officers. He wants the Council to spend more time emphasizing there are great alternatives out there for public health and public safety challenges.

And that’s what I have for you so far this week!

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Two Calls to Action and Two Possible Timelines for Upcoming SPOG Negotiations

Happy rainy Thursday! First up, a few opportunities for action.

In WA state: ESSB5226, which would end debt-based license suspension, has a hearing in the House on Monday. Because it needs an amendment to truly end debt-based license suspension, submitting written testimony or testifying live are highly recommended, but you can also sign in to note your support. Sample scripts for comments are available for your use here, but you’ll need to scroll down until you reach the ESSB5226 section on that page.

In Seattle: The Seattle Public Safety and Human Resources committee meets on Tuesday 3/23 at 9:30am to discuss whether they will cut $5.4m from the SPD’s 2021 budget. The Seattle City Council agreed unanimously to cut this money last December (via Resolution 31962) to effectively pay for the SPD’s overspending in 2020 using SPD’s 2021 budget. But now the CMs are wavering on this commitment.

Where would this $5.4m go? The CMs decided last year it would go to participatory budgeting. The reality is, participatory budgeting is expensive, and Seattle’s process could use the extra funds to pay the people serving on its steering committee and various workgroups. These are people who are often not paid a commiserate amount for their time and labor, instead being expected to work for free or a pittance. The goal is to pay them a reasonable fee for their work,while maintaining as much money as possible to allocate to different public safety projects.

You can contact your CMs to encourage them to stand firm on their commitment from last year to hold the SPD accountable for its spending. All the information you’ll need to email, call, or give public comment is available here.


In election news, we have two new mayoral candidates in Seattle.

Bruce Harrell served for many years on the Seattle City Council as well as serving as interim Mayor for less than a week back in 2017. He failed to call for then-Mayor Ed Murray to step down on serial child rape allegations and in fact defended him for months, unlike the majority of his colleagues in public service, which doesn’t exactly build confidence in his ability to lead an entire city.

Jessyn Farrell served in the WA state legislature for four years and previously ran for Mayor in 2017, coming in fourth place in the primary. She seems to have a similar stance on public safety to current Mayor Jenny Durkan and is positioning herself as a kind of outsider.


There have been conflicting reports of when the City of Seattle’s contract negotiations with SPOG are likely to begin. At the CPC meeting yesterday morning, the Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said the next round of bargaining will probably start sometime next year after this year’s elections. He went on to say that sometime in early January we’re going to inaugurate a brand new mayor, and the city will be negotiating a new contract and just starting to set parameters for that new contract.

However, the Mayor’s office does not agree with this assessment. They say that once the LPRC has set the parameters of negotiations, the City will begin bargaining with SPOG, and that they expect this to occur “well before November.”

In practice, this means we have two different possible timelines the SPOG negotiations might take. Holmes’s assessment is based on historical precedent, but there is additional urgency this year that might add pressure to speed up the timeline of the negotiations.


Finally, Washington State is making national news for the progressive decisions coming out of its Supreme Court. This article explains the recent decisions wiping the state’s existing drug possession law off the books entirely and forbidding mandatory sentencing of life without parole to offenders under age 21, both of which have sweeping ramifications to the criminal justice system here in Washington State. It’s worth a read to greater understand how much influence the courts, and specifically judge appointments, wield in which laws are allowed and how they are enforced.

Thank you for reading, and I’m wishing you all a Happy (belated) St. Patrick’s Day and a Happy Nowruz!

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A slow Monday but there’s still a bill for you to support.

I have a short update for you all today, starting with a state bill that could use your support. HB1310, the bill on de-escalation and police accountability, has its public hearing in the Senate tomorrow, March 16 at 10:30am.


If you’re interested in what happened at this morning’s Seattle Council Briefing, you can read my live tweets.

Nothing much was discussed in the Public Safety space. Here are some news tidbits:

  • The big news is that the federal American Recovery Act plan will offer $239m to Seattle in aid.
  • CM Morales will not be discussing the legislation to lift the proviso on the participatory budgeting funds ($30m) at her committee meeting this week after all.
  • The Public Safety and Human Resources committee meeting next Tuesday, March 23 at 9:30am is when the legislation to cut the $5.4m from the SPD’s budget to allocate instead to the PBP might come to a vote. We might well see some amendments on that legislation, or the CMs might decide to leave that money within the SPD, so again, this week is a good time to email or call your CMs to discuss this. You might also consider making public comment at the meeting next week.
  • The Bring Business Home legislation passed in Full Council this afternoon, which will ease zoning restrictions for small home-based businesses for the next year. The sole vote against was CM Pedersen.
  • State Senator Joe Nguyen is considering running against Dow Constantine for King County Executive. Senator Nguyen is generally favorable towards police reform so this could be an interesting development on the County level.

We’ll see if this slow start presages a slow week (my novel revisions certainly hope so!). In the meantime, I hope you all had a wonderful Pi Day yesterday; I know I’ll be eating pie for the foreseeable future, a happy state of affairs indeed.

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SPD swings back at #DefendtheDefund; and more state bills to support!

We have a lot to cover today, so let’s dive right in, shall we?


First up, state legislature news.

HB1054, a Tactics Bill for Limiting Deadly Force, has a public hearing tomorrow, March 11th, and you can weigh in!

SB5051, the decertification bill to increase police accountability, also has a public hearing tomorrow.

  • You can sign in to register your support. (This takes less than a minute.)
  • You can submit written comments in support of the bill.
  • You can sign up to testify live at the hearing tomorrow.

    You can read my livetweets of this week’s Seattle Council Briefing. Of particular note, CM Herbold said the consent decree monitor and the DoJ have reviewed the less lethal weapon draft bill passed out of the Public Safety committee, and they have questions. She will meet with them sometime this week along with counsel and CP González.

    At this week’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting, the committee discussed HSD’s spending plan for awarding the $12m in community safety capacity building and voted to lift the proviso on these funds. This legislation will move forward to a full Council vote next Monday. The RFP applications are now available and are due April 9 by noon; the resulting contracts will be in effect from 7/1/21-12/31/22.

    The SPD also presented at this meeting, declaring they are in a staffing crisis and that the instability of the 2021 budget is causing general instability in the department. This is SPD’s attempt to retain the $5.4m the Council has been talking about cutting from this year’s SPD budget, an issue you might remember from the #DefundtheDefend hashtag.

    The SPD had a much increased rate of attrition in 2020. As Kevin Schofield points out, attrition “steadily rose from 2011 through 2019. 2011 was when the DOJ investigation into biased policing by SPD began, and the Consent Decree was signed in 2012.” The SPD would like to use the $5.4m to mitigate their high attrition rates through further investments in civilian hiring, technology upgrades and solutions, officer wellness, lateral hires, separation and family leave pay. If the money is cut from the budget, it would be added to the amount currently allocated to the participatory budgeting process.

    At present, the Council seems more sympathetic to the SPD’s case than they have often been in the past nine months. This legislation is likely to receive a committee vote at their next meeting on Tuesday, March 23 at 9:30am before moving to a full Council vote. If you would like to see this cut go through, now is the time to contact your CMs, and you can also make public comment at the March 23 meeting.


In election news, Nikkita Oliver has announced their candidacy for position 9 of the Seattle City Council (the seat being vacated by CP González). They are a community organizer, lawyer, and activist who came in third in Seattle’s 2017 mayoral race. They have been a key player in the movement to defund the SPD by 50%.


There has been some reporting on the Black Brilliance Research Project’s final report and presentation. It is both striking and illuminating what a different tone the article in The South Seattle Emerald (a Black-led publication) takes compared to other articles on the same topic. I am going to quote that article extensively, and I suggest both supporting The South Seattle Emerald and going to read the entire piece:

But despite the setback, BBRP moved forward to complete its critical work. Glaze and Severe said that misleading news reporting on the BBRP and subsequent City Councilmembers’ decisions to create additional requirements in response to that reporting slowed down the research progress.

“We had a couple of examples where there were a few reporters who have put out stories talking about the report that we put together and have said things like ‘it doesn’t contain details,’ or ‘it’s too vague or not detailed enough.’ Meanwhile, it’s like are you kidding me? We have produced something that is orders of magnitude more detailed than is typically required of literally any research consultant who has ever done research for the City,” said Glaze.

Glaze and Severe also said that they faced double standards which Black people and People of Color often face in professional settings. “As a Person of Color, as a Black person, I’m very used to what happens when people move the goalpost. They’ll say, ‘Alright, you just have to do this and you’re good.’ And so you not only do that, but you go a little bit farther above and beyond, so you’re definitely good, and then they’ll move the goalpost again,” said Glaze. Glaze and Severe say this repeated addition of new requirements caused a lot of frustration for the research team. “Honestly, the goalpost was moved no less than four times in the beginning,” said Severe.

Severe said that these added obstacles were also a result of the political context of the research project. “The project was very politicized from the beginning,” said Severe, “coming out of the uprising in defence of Black lives and a call for defunding the police, having folks in the streets.”

It sounds like CM Morales isn’t sure the participatory budgeting process will hit the projected timeline, but in an article at SCC Insight she said, “We might be pushing it to actually get money out the door in the fall, but I still have faith that we’ll be able to get money out the door before the end of the year.” The above article also lists details about the participatory budgeting process that still need to be decided. We should receive further updates on the participatory budgeting process at CM Morales’s next committee meeting on March 16.


In a last few tidbits of news, Mayor Durkan’s office has asked the state auditor to expand the scope of its audit of the contract between Seattle’s legislative department and the Freedom Project for their $3M research project. CP González mentions the Mayor’s office has itself engaged in no-bid contract processes, which makes her office’s letter smack of hypocrisy. CP González also had this to say:

González, who is running for mayor (Durkan will not seek reelection), called the letter a “distraction” from the issues Durkan could be addressing in the final months of her term. “I’m just confused about why the Durkan administration is spending time, energy, and resources on this letter… instead of on the real problems facing the city in the remainder of her term,” González said. “This audit was already happening, and it’s going to go through its natural course, and I don’t understand how this letter helps advance our city.”

Meanwhile, Seattle’s Director of Labor Relations, Jana Sangy, has announced she is leaving in June. Apparently the city doesn’t anticipate this affecting the timeline for the upcoming SPOG contract negotiations. However, this resignation could indicate problems:

But Peter Nguyen, who represented the Labor Relations unit during the last round of bargaining with SPOG in 2018, thinks that Sangy’s departure ahead of one of her unit’s most crucial performances is a sign of a struggling unit. “The resignation of the city’s Labor Relations Director is troubling,” said Nguyen. “There is not a very deep well of stability to fall back on during this transition to yet another interim director. It begs the question why this mayor has had such difficulty retaining solid talent in such a critical role.”


And with that, I’ll leave you to enjoy this lovely sunny Wednesday afternoon!

SPD swings back at #DefendtheDefund; and more state bills to support! Read More »