November 2022

Seattle Budget Inches Towards the Finish Line

Seattle Balancing Package Budget Amendments

Amy Sundberg
Good morning and welcome to Seattle’s budget meeting! Today CMs will vote on amendments to the balancing package.
After a marathon budget meeting yesterday lasting almost twelve hours, we have a much better idea of the final shape the 2023 Seattle budget will take. The Council will vote on the final budget in budget committee on Monday, November 28 and take the final vote in Full Council on Tuesday, November 29. However, barring a dramatic event and/or last minute shenanigans, most changes to the budget during the next week will be technical in nature.
So where are we with the budget in terms of public safety?
  • the PEOs will be moved back into SPD (more about this later, as it is the subject of much opining); CMs Herbold, Juarez, Lewis, Nelson, Pedersen, and Strauss voted yes, CMs Sawant and Morales abstained, and CM Mosqueda voted no.
  • in the same budget move that achieved the PEO move, a few SPD balancing package cuts were restored: $750k for a recruitment media campaign and $191k for an assistant city attorney position within SPD
  • the following SPD cuts remain: $450k from police equipment (guns, tasers, etc); $450k from additional retention initiatives; $1m for a gun detection system like ShotSpotter
  • 80 “ghost cop” positions were abrogated; CMs Herbold, Juarez, Morales, Sawant, Strauss, and Mosqueda voted in favor; CMs Lewis, Nelson, and Pedersen opposed. While CM Mosqueda argued for the measure as expected (since she included it in her balancing package), CM Herbold and CP Juarez both also argued strongly in favor of this proposal. Central Staff found there were even more ghost cop positions than previously known; the total number was 240. With the abrogations, the new number of ghost cop positions will be 160.
  • SPD salary savings will continue to be under a proviso to allow Council to be part of the conversation about how these dollars will be spent; all CMs but Nelson and Pedersen voted in favor.
  • Seattle will be spending some unexpected SPD salary savings to fund a seaplane awareness campaign, among other priorities.
  • Sweeps will continue to be funded.
  • Human Service workers will be paid commiserate with inflation.
  • $50k was added to develop an Impacted Person’s Program for victims of SPD violence and their families; this work will be done by forming an OPA workgroup.
Other items of interest:
  • CM Morales’s amendment to create a Municipal Housing Administration Program (one that could interface well with I-135 should it pass in February) failed to pass. CMs Lewis, Morales, and Sawant voted in favor, CMs Herbold, Juarez, Mosqueda, Nelson, Strauss opposed, and CM Pedersen abstained.
  • CM Sawant’s amendment to increase the JumpStart tax also failed, which was not a surprise, but it did garner support from two additional CMs: CM Morales and CM Mosqueda.
  • The law will not be changed this year making the JumpStart tax a permanent fill-in for General Fund woes at the expense of its intended spend plan.
  • Seattle Public Schools look like they’ll be getting around $1.5m for mental health services, which is better than nothing but far below students’ $9m ask. Let’s hope this fight for much-needed funding is taken to the state during the next legislative session in January.

What about the PEOs?

As Erica Barnett reported in Publicolathe PEOs’ ULP (Unfair Labor Practice) against the City was rejected. This suit was one reason given for wanting to move the PEOs back into SPD; however, CMs couldn’t resist the lure of several million more dollars to invest in pet projects if they went ahead with the move. The failure of this suit is still relevant, however, since the PEOs argued they needed access to the Criminal Justice Investigation System (CJIS), a database they can only currently access if part of SPD. However, the Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC) said access to this database is not necessary for the PEOs to do their jobs, clearing the way for them to be located in CSCC or another department in the future, an idea favored by several CMs.
If you want a rundown of the history of the PEO controversy, look no further than Will Casey’s article on this in The Stranger. If it seems like a strange issue to be fighting over, you are not alone in this assessment. And it is true that in their year over at SDOT, the PEOs weren’t supported in making any kind of meaningful culture shift away from a policing, punitive mindset. They were even still housed in an SPD building, and their uniforms and vehicles retained SPD labels.
However, this doesn’t mean the location of the PEOs doesn’t matter. They certainly won’t succeed in shifting their culture from within SPD, and they are part of a bigger policy question: do civilian workers belong within a non-civilian department like SPD or are they better housed in civilian departments? In 2020 the Council came down clearly on the side of the latter, when they also moved the 911 dispatchers and victim advocates out of SPD.
Another policy question looms large over Seattle: will our elected leaders ever choose to make meaningful investments in addressing root causes of crime and suffering, or will they continue to primarily invest in a strategy with a thus far poor track record: police and sweeps? Only time will tell, but looking at allocated dollars remains a powerful way to understand a city’s priorities.

Housekeeping

As most of you already know, Twitter is not the most stable service right now. This newsletter is currently running through a Twitter-attached service. I am weighing options on the best solution to meet Notes from the Emerald City‘s needs in the future, but rest assured, I will be continuing to report, and I will keep you informed about any changes that might be coming.
I am also on vacation next week, so there will be no newsletter. Yes, this was planned before budget season was extended for an extra week. I’ll do a wrap-up of budget season upon my return, from which we will all benefit from the wisdom of everyone else’s wrap-ups!

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Seattle’s Budget Balancing Package

Seattle’s Balancing Package

Amy Sundberg
Okay, let’s try this again! Welcome to Seattle’s budget committee meeting introducing the Chair’s balancing package.
Budget Chair Mosqueda released her budget balancing package yesterday morning, after delaying its unveiling a week to wrestle with lower than expected revenues.
Looking at the public safety portion of the budget, it lays out the following:
  • 80 “ghost cop” positions to be abrogated
  • the PEOs to remain in SDOT with increased supports until a study about their final destination can be run
  • many small cuts in SPD: to the retention program (although the main program passed earlier this year remains intact); to the recruitment media plan; to police equipment; elimination of the gunfire detection system (ShotSpotter); and elimination of an assistant city attorney position that was to be housed within SPD, for cuts totaling around $2.84m. These cuts were all originally funded by empty positions SPD can’t hope to fill anytime soon.
  • $4m additional to LEAD, which is less than CM Herbold asked for
  • $300k for a gun violence prevention pilot run at Haborview through the Regional Peacekeepers Collective, which is half of what CM Herbold asked for
  • $50k to develop an Affected Person’s program for those impacted by SPD violence
  • $1m to expand mental health services in schools, in answer to Seattle Student Union’s demands for $9m to improve the ratio between counselors and high school students
  • the dual dispatch emergency response pilot doesn’t get any additional funding until 2024, and the expansion of CSO duties isn’t funded
In addition, transportation projects took a big hit, unsurprising given the much lower forecast of the REET funds. Sweeps remain well funded. Given the poor revenue forecast, CM Mosqueda opted to use JumpStart funds to avoid an austerity budget for the next two years but chose not to permanently change JumpStart to become a General Fund slush fund in perpetuity as Mayor Harrell had wanted. She seems to be pinning her hopes on the task force looking for new progressive revenue for the city. You can read another overview of the balancing package here.
At the meeting on Monday, one could already observe the “tough on crime” part of the Council wringing their hands, and CMs Nelson and Pedersen quickly published an op-ed in The Seattle Times, complaining specifically about the public safety portions of the balancing package. The piece seems to claim that somehow Seattle’s homeless problem will be addressed by…keeping those 80 perpetually open SPD positions? moving the PEOs back into SPD? undoing the less than $3m in proposed cuts to SPD in the balancing package? It is an incoherent argument at best, given that meaningfully addressing the homeless crisis will cost hundreds of millions of dollars spent on HOUSING and supportive services, not SPD.
Given the hysteria over what amount to fairly small changes from the Mayor’s proposed budget, perhaps it is time to revisit WHY 7 out of 9 Councilmembers agreed in 2020 that as a general policy position, the idea of shrinking SPD might have some merit:
  • In response to the mostly peaceful George Floyd protests, SPD indiscriminately used less-lethal weapons such as tear gas, pepper spray, blast balls, and flash bangs, as well as using their bicycles as weapons and punching and kneeling on the necks of people who had been arrested. They did so night after night, at protest after protest. The OPA were contacted over 19,000 times between May 30 and the end of 2020 with complaints about police behavior at protests.
  • In fact, SPD were so extreme in their behavior that the Court granted a temporary restraining order against SPD and their use of these weapons in June 2020, and then in December 2020 found SPD in contempt for protests in the preceding August and September.
  • The City of Seattle also withdrew the motion “to terminate most of the Consent Decree” on June 3. 2920 because of community outcry and SPD’s egregious use of force, a consent decree which has now been in place in Seattle for over TEN years.
  • SPD were noted to be specifically targeting medics, legal observers, and journalists with violence and arrest, including journalist Andrew Buncombe, who wrote about the experience for his paper
  • The protests were marked by both a lack of communication from SPD and the Mayor’s Office (for example, pertaining to the evacuation of the East Precinct, for which no one would take responsibility) and flat-out lying, for example in the case of the Proud Boys ruse executed by SPD and the SPD press conference on June 10, 2020
  • The public later discovered text messages from the period in question had been illegally deleted from the Chief of Police’s phone, the Mayor’s phone, the Fire Chief’s phone, and several other SPD command staff members’ phones. Former Chief Best later admitted she had gone in and manually deleted some of her texts
  • A strong coalition of protesters came together to demand cuts to SPD and investments to address the root causes of violence, meet community members’ basic needs, and begin to address the systemic racism that has been at play in our city since its founding
And yet here we are, a little over two years later, arguing over less than $3m, the civilian PEO unit staying in a civilian division, and 80 SPD abrogations that SPD has no way of filling for years to come. Meanwhile, the much small 911 dispatcher unit is undergoing 26 abrogations in the same budget, a move that hasn’t caused an outcry even though the “tough on crime” proponents make frequent complaints about increased 911 call response times. This is because abrogation of positions that cannot be filled is simply good fiscal practice.
The last public hearing on the budget was held tonight beginning at 5pm. You can still email council members with your thoughts on the balancing package; here are a few scripts. The next round of amendments, which need to be self-balancing, will probably be released towards the end of this week. You will have the opportunity to make public comment on these amendments on Monday, November 21 starting at 9:30am (signups beginning at 7:30am), after which the amendments will be voted upon.
The budget committee will vote on the entire budget on Monday, November 28, and the full council will make their final vote on Tuesday, November 29.

Other News

Carolyn Bick reported today that the OPA may have broken city and state public records laws by deleting emails they were legally required to keep. Given the “missing” text messages of 2020, it is perhaps no surprise that other city departments will now follow that precedent, secure in the knowledge that we don’t currently have a city culture of transparency or accountability and that they won’t suffer any consequences for improper actions.
UW graduate student Matthew Mitnick announced his run today for the Seattle D4 council member seat currently held by CM Pedersen.
The King County Council voted on the 2023-2024 biennial budget today, which passed unanimously.

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Harmful Body-Worn Camera Policy Being Considered in King County

King County News

As reported last week, King County just approved their police union contract with KCPOG, an agreement that included 20% raises for deputies over the next few years and finally gave the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) subpoena power and independent investigative authority. The agreement also paved the way for use of body-worn cameras (BWC) for the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO). While some studies have shown body-worn cameras do not reduce use of force by police, making their use by law enforcement bodies controversial, their adoption was part of a settlement between King County and the family of Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens, a 17-year-old killed by police in 2017.
However, two troubling issues regarding these body-worn cameras have recently come to light. First, OLEO requested that in the new King County budget, they be given twelve additional positions, and four additional positions if a contract agreement was reached that included the use of body-worn cameras (coming to a grand total of sixteen new positions). This is because reviewing body-worn and dash camera footage is a time-consuming process that requires more personnel. Instead, only five new positions were included for OLEO in the new budget, and only TWO for 2023, meaning OLEO will be under-resourced to exercise the new breadth of its powers under the ratified contract. It is interesting that the Executive is willing to spend over $50m in salary increases for deputies in the new budget but is unwilling to spend a fraction of that amount to prioritize police accountability and capitalize on hard-won concessions in the police union contract.
Second, the current body-worn camera policy has numerous flaws. As this is the first time body-worn cameras will be used by KCSO, this policy will set departmental norms and expectations. It is important to understand that without a strong and enforceable body-worn camera policy, this technology can actually be used to further shield King County deputies from accountability. Body-worn camera usage will be held up as an example of how accountability is being prioritized, while gigantic loopholes in the policy that render their adoption ineffective will not receive equal time in the spotlight.
As it currently stands, the policy has two major issues that will act as a large impediment to accountability, as well as a few smaller issues, as highlighted by OLEO:
  1. The best practice for more serious incidents is for a deputy to be interviewed before they get a chance to watch any video footage. That this is best practice is not in dispute. However, in the current policy, deputies will submit an initial written statement and then be allowed to watch any video before being interviewed. For less serious incidents under the current policy, deputies will be allowed to watch the video as they are writing their initial report, whereas OLEO would like them to write the report first, then watch the video, and file a supplemental report if needed after viewing.
  2. The current policy regarding discretionary recording is purposefully vague, stating that deputies don’t have to record if there is any circumstance that would justify a decision not to record. This lack of specificity will serve as a gigantic loophole, making the stated purpose of mandatory recording toothless, as in practice this will mean deputies can stop recording at any time and command staff can simply shrug and say they miscalculated and need more training.
  3. Smaller issues include training being required “as needed” instead of on an annual basis, giving cover to deputies making “mistakes” and a policy around what happens if a body-worn camera isn’t working properly, which allows a deputy to wait a week before handing in the faulty equipment and not necessarily receive a replacement while waiting for repair, creating large potential gaps of no video recording.
In addition, King County created the Community Advisory Committee on Law Enforcement Oversight (CACLEO) to advise both the Sheriff’s Office and the King County Council on issues related to equity and social justice. However, CACLEO hasn’t been an integral part of the process in advising on the new body-worn camera policy.
There will be a chance for the public to give comment about the body-worn camera policy at a King County budget committee meeting tomorrowThursday, November 10 at 9:30am either in person or via Zoom. You can find more information about how to give comment and a sample script here. You can also email the King County Council before November 15 to give them feedback about this policy.

Election News

The prophesied red wave failed to materialize yesterday, and locally we elected several more progressive candidates. On the Seattle Municipal Court, which had two contested judge races this cycle, both winning candidates were the more progressive choice who have less punitive philosophies and will be less likely to criminalize poverty. King County also selected the less punitive prosecutor, Leesa Manion, who will continue investment in proven diversion programs.
The Stranger has announced that fearmongering failed this election cycle, which is frankly a breath of fresh air. Democrats seem newly energized about the upcoming state legislative session, which begins on January 9. The Stranger reports that Senator Pedersen is “working on a bill to make gun manufacturers liable for the “damage their dangerous products cause,” and Dems will also be running a bill to ban sales of assault weapons. “Who knows where we’ll be in terms of the budget, but we’re going to be in a pretty strong position to defend the work we’ve done and to go further in terms of climate and carbon reduction. We’ll also continue to have a good discussion on progressive taxation … and it’s pretty hard to see a mandate out of these results for a dramatic rollback on the police accountability bills,” he said.“ It looks like it could also be a productive session in terms of housing. So get ready to roll up your sleeves and communicate with your state legislators come January.

Seattle News

The budget balancing package will be released next Monday, November 14 at 11am, and the last budget public hearing will be held on Tuesday, November 15 at 5pm. Then final amendments to the budget, which must be self-balancing, will be heard on Monday, November 21.
The final Seattle redistricting map was passed yesterday in a victory for the Redistricting Justice for Seattle coalition. However, it didn’t pass without a final flare of drama, with Commissioner Nickels the sole vote against the final map, saying, “Retribution [against] Magnolia because it is an older, wealthier and whiter community—I think that’s not something that the redistricting commission ought to be engaged in.” Luckily the other commissioners had a strong vision that the commission should be engaged in equity, and thus we have our final map.

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Grim Economic News Leads to Extended Seattle Budget Season

Seattle Budget News

Amy Sundberg
Good morning, and welcome to today’s Seattle budget meeting. I won’t be live tweeting all details (and have to leave for a bit mid-meeting to drop Nala at the vet) but I’ll throw some info up here.
Above you can view my tweet thread on last week’s budget meetings covering proposed amendments for the CSCC, HSD, SDOT, and SPD. However, given yesterday’s bleak revenue forecast, many of the over 100 amendments discussed in last week’s meetings are likely toast. The new forecast foresees a net $64 million decrease in real estate excise tax revenues, a net $9.4 million decrease in general fund revenues, and a net $4.5 million decrease in revenues from the sweetened beverage tax over the next two years (2023-2024). There is also worry that the Jumpstart tax, which as a new tax is hard to predict, might begin to bring in less revenue. The REET revenues are dedicated to capital projects listed in the comprehensive plan, and the sweetened beverage tax revenues go towards “programs that increase access to healthy food and supports children’s health and learning.”
Due to this bad news, the budget season schedule has been changed. The last two public forums for public comment remain at the same times: Tuesday, November 8 at 9:30am and Tuesday, November 15 at 5pm. But everything else has been shifted back by about a week to give Budget Chair Mosqueda time to adjust her balancing package to account for the revenue shortfalls.
Thus, the balancing package will be announced on Monday, November 14. The votes on the balancing package and proposed amendments will take place on Monday, November 21. And then we have to wait until after Thanksgiving for the final budget committee vote on Monday, November 28 and the final Full Council vote on Tuesday, November 29.
The Solidarity Budget has arranged a week of action that began this past Monday. Today the website “Should SPD Do It?” was launched, which I encourage you to go give a spin. Tomorrow will be a call-in day to protect JumpStart. Next week, there will be a webinar on ShotSpotter on Monday at noon, a rally at 8:30am on Tuesday to support human services workers, and a Women in Black vigil on Wednesday at noon. So if you want to get involved, now is a great time!

Other News

The King County Council ratified the new police union contract with KCPOG on Tuesday. In addition to the new powers this contract grants the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) including the ability to subpoena, the contract also gives King County Sheriff deputies a raise of 20% over the next three years: 6% for 2022 (to be paid retroactively), 10% for 2023, and 4% for 2024. This raise will require a substantial increase to the King County Sheriff Office’s overall budget.
This contract was approved right as news dropped of a case from 2021 where a Black female detective from SPD was undercover monitoring a protest and was menaced by two men in a truck who she believed might be Proud Boys…but ended up being KCSO deputies. Both deputies have since left the department, one for a position in the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office.
As Will Casey reports in The Stranger, SPD officers have apparently been breathing in toxic gas while on the job, both in the garage and in the sergeant’s workroom adjacent to the garage. It took one SPD officer bringing forward and winning a lawsuit, after being harassed at work for wanting to protect his health, to daylight this issue. As Will Casey says, “If this is making you wonder whether, perhaps, mean statements from City Council members in 2020 doesn’t amount to the sole reason for attrition within the department, then you’re not alone.”
Finally, Seattle has released its Q3 accountability report required by the consent decree, which you can read here.

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