December 2021

Gearing Up for 2022

We have a few bits of news to wrap up before the holiday break, so let’s dive in!

Seattle News

 

Amy Sundberg
Good morning, and welcome to the last Seattle Council Briefing of the year!
CM Sawant has officially survived her recall election and will serve out the remainder of her term in office. It’s impressive to see how effective CM Sawant and her team was at getting voter turnout for an early December election. The balance of power on the Seattle City Council will still be shifting as CP González leaves and is replaced by CM Nelson, but it is not changing as much as it could have done.
On Monday the City Council passed legislation with various reporting requirements for the City Attorney’s Office. This legislation was watered down from original discussions in which it would have required diversion programs in the office. Allegations of sexism from Ann Davison not withstanding, having increased transparency from a government office doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, especially considering Seattle’s recent struggles with accountability. Additionally, in response to People Power Washington’s election questionnaire a few months ago, Ann Davison had signaled her support for transparency and quarterly reporting from the City Attorney’s Office:
People Power WA - Police Accountability
We asked Ann Davison if she supported transparency and quarterly reporting by the City Attorney office on our candidate questionnaire during the campaign (SPOILER: She said Yes):

https://t.co/4HsIdz9AXl https://t.co/STOPY5gQPe

The Seattle City Council’s schedule will be changing beginning in January. The Council Briefing will move from Monday mornings to Monday afternoons at 2pm, and the Full Council meetings will move from Monday afternoons to Tuesday afternoons. At the beginning of January, the Council will elect their new Council President, as well as appoint new committee chairs and set committee meeting schedules.
Mayor-Elect Harrell has announced a list of his top staff, which includes his niece Monisha Harrell as Senior Deputy Mayor, Tiffany Washington continuing as Deputy Mayor, and Tim Burgess as Director of Strategic Initiatives (guess we’ll find out what that means soon enough!) Ann Davison has also announced some of her staff, including Scott Lindsay as deputy city attorney and Natalie Walton-Anderson as criminal division chief. Among other things, Scott Lindsay wrote the report that led to KOMO’s “Seattle is dying” video. Meanwhile, Budget Director Ben Noble is leaving the CBO and becoming the new Director of the Office of Economic and Revenue Forecasts.

Redistricting News

The Washington Coalition for Open Government launched a lawsuit arguing that members of Washington State’s redistricting commission broke the law by crafting the new district maps in secret, violating the Open Public Meetings Act. Another lawsuit from Redistricting Justice for Washington is also expected, which would potentially argue that the new maps violate the Voting Rights Act. If either (or both) of these lawsuits succeed, the maps could potentially be struck down and have to be redrawn.
News should (hopefully) be fairly slow over the next few weeks, so you probably won’t be hearing from me until the New Year. In the meantime, I’m wishing all of you a safe and happy holiday season. And I’m looking forward to finding out what 2022 will bring!

Recent Headlines

After fatal shooting in protest zone, Seattle mayor’s email called situation ‘foreseeable and avoidable’ | The Seattle Times

Gearing Up for 2022 Read More »

Continued Accountability and Transparency Problems

The theme of today’s newsletter seems to be a lack of accountability and transparency, so buckle up!

Seattle News

Amy Sundberg
Good morning, and welcome to Seattle’s Council Briefing. CP González is excused today so CM Herbold is serving as CP pro tem.
The big Seattle news today is, of course, CM Sawant’s recall election. So far it’s looking like turnout is better than expected, which could be a sign in favor of CM Sawant.
This week there is a special Public Safety and Human Services Department committee meeting on Thursday morning at 9:30am. Among the topics under discussion will be legislation requiring the City Attorney’s office to give quarterly and annual reports on data related to its diversion programs in an effort to increase the transparency of the office. If passed through committee, this legislation should receive its Full Council vote on Monday the 13th, the last Full Council meeting before winter recess.
Also in Seattle City Council news, apparently CM Herbold and CM Juarez both wish to be considered for the role of next Council President. Committee chair assignments will be reshuffled as well.
The OIG has released its year-long audit on SPD’s disciplinary system, and surprise, surprise, they’ve found several shortcomings. For example, SPD’s police chiefs chose the least severe discipline possible in almost half the cases from 2018-2021, officers with a history of misconduct don’t typically have any trouble being promoted, and supervisors cannot track suspended officers’ overtime work, meaning officers can make up for any required disciplinary time off with overtime. Many of the identified holes exist either because of Seattle’s police union contracts (both of which are currently expired) and/or the discretion of SPD’s police chief. In 2022, the police union contracts will continue to be negotiated and Mayor-elect Harrell is expected to appoint a new police chief, both of which will have ramifications to SPD’s disciplinary system.
Speaking of the OIG, Carolyn Bick has a new article out in the South Seattle Emerald today digging further into the whistleblower complaint from within OIG. It appears the Seattle City Council is responsible at this point for commissioning an investigation looking into the complaint, and more specifically Public Safety and Human Services committee chair Lisa Herbold. There seems to be a lot of resistance to actually taking the complaint seriously and launching a thorough investigation; only one aspect of the complaint, the allegations about an OIG auditor who appears to have been certifying cases without thoroughly reviewing the evidence, is currently being investigated. While challenging to summarize their article briefly, Carolyn Bick chronicles a trend of obfuscation, confusion as to actual OIG and OPA policies and procedures, and a general lack of true oversight by the Seattle City Council on this issue.
In another instance of a lack of transparency in Seattle, the City has now spent a whopping $407k on contractor fees to analyze the matter of Mayor Durkan’s missing text messages. The private contractor was hired over a year ago by the City Attorney’s Office to produce a forensic report on the matter, a report that has yet to be delivered. That’s a lot of money for taxpayers to pay for no results as Mayor Durkan prepares to leave office.

County and State News

 

King County’s Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) is expanding next year, adding two new positions to the office. One of the new staff members will join the investigation review team, and the other will join the policy analysis team. This is part of OLEO Director Abouzeid’s “push to expand his office’s role as a quasi-think tank on police oversight policy for Washington state. “We would like to see statewide policy to codify the roles of civilian oversight bodies, because otherwise oversight becomes a hodgepodge of what police unions negotiate into their contracts,” he said.” This is a good reminder that not only will a new Sheriff be chosen by Executive Dow Constantine next year, but the current KCPOG contract expires at the end of this month, meaning new negotiations on the horizon.
Following up on the redistricting debacle of November, the State Supreme Court has refused to take on redistricting themselves, instead accepting the redistricting commission’s late maps. We may be seeing several lawsuits about these new maps in coming months. Meanwhile, we are left with the troubling disregard of the Open Meetings Act shown by the commission’s behavior leading up to their deadline.

Local Media Shakeups

 

Not only as Crosscut‘s opinion section been shut down (although a new effort to provide a greater diversity of voices has been promised), but Kevin Schofield at SCC Insight has announced he’s discontinuing his reporting at the end of the year, further shrinking the area’s sources of independent journalism. As you know, I often link to Kevin’s work in this newsletter, and he reports on Seattle issues not covered by any other news outlet.
Especially in light of these recent developments, I urge you to consider donating to Publicola, whose reporting I also often share here. They are looking to expand their coverage next year and could use your financial support. Their goals for expansion are admirable and would be valuable to the community. Similarly, you might also consider donating to the South Seattle Emerald, another source of excellent local reporting. As Kevin eloquently says, “Every journalist working the local government beat can tell you that it is both physically and mentally exhausting.” Local independent journalism is crucial for holding government accountable and increasing transparency; these venues both need and deserve your support.

Recent Headlines

Tacoma City Council to vote on appointment of next police chief | KNKX Public Radio

Prosecutors can photograph tattoos of Auburn officer charged with murder, judge rules | The Seattle Times

Rev. Harriett Walden speaks out against hate crimes after she says she was targeted | The Seattle Times

Continued Accountability and Transparency Problems Read More »