Last Week of Seattle Budget Talks
Good morning, and welcome to today’s Seattle Council Briefing!
The last week of Seattle’s budget talks is going to be a busy one! First, the Solidarity Budget is holding a rally outside City Hall tomorrow (Tuesday) from 6-8pm, which is an excellent time to make your support known. Happily, it even looks like the rain is going to hold off.
On Wednesday, the Council will publish a list of the proposed amendments to the 2022 budget. On Thursday morning, the last public hearing on the budget will be from 9:30-11am (signups beginning at 8am), followed by a budget meeting discussing the proposed amendments. If the Council can’t get through all the proposals on Thursday, they will also meet on Friday.
Then on Monday, the budget committee will convene in the morning directly after the Council Briefing to vote on budget-related legislation. Finally, they will make a final vote on the 2022 budget and all related legislation Monday afternoon at 2pm. There will be one last chance for public comment at that meeting (11/22 at 2pm). And of course, you can always email and call your CMs as well!
We have heard about two potential amendments that may be discussed on Thursday. CM Sawant announced an amendment to raise the JumpStart tax to fund more investments in affordable housing and the Green New Deal. Thus far, her colleagues have been reluctant to increase this tax so it is uncertain whether she’ll have enough co-sponsors to bring the amendment to a vote.
Meanwhile, CP González has signaled she’s working on an amendment that will abrogate the extra SPD officer positions that the department is unable to fill this year. This is actually more important than it may sound on the surface. SPD has a huge number of funded but vacant positions, which results in a much larger amount of salary savings for them every year than is realized by the average city department. Having these unfilled but funded positions as the base for each year’s budget means the SPD starts out with much more money for staffing than they can possibly spend. In practice, what this means is if the Council retrieves this money (that isn’t actually going to be used for officer salaries) to use for other priorities (like community alternates to public safety or affordable housing), then this is characterized as a “cut” to the SPD budget and becomes immediately controversial. Having the SPD budget start closer to the actual salary spending needed will alter the conversation and make it more transparent when SPD is adding funds for expenses other than officer salaries.
Unsurprisingly, much of the conversation about the budget this year is about SPD. The Solidarity Budget is calling for further cuts to the SPD budget, while Mayor Durkan and Mayor-elect Harrell are calling for the SPD budget to be what Mayor Durkan originally proposed. There is even vigorous debate over what exactly constitutes a cut. For an excellent summary for the issues around SPD’s budget so far, check out this article from the South Seattle Emerald:
Continued OIG Woes
Meanwhile, Seattle’s accountability system continues to show cracks, as Carolyn Bick’s recent reporting in the South Seattle Emeraldshows:
Based on a preliminary internal quality control investigation conducted in July 2021, it appears that Office of Inspector General (OIG) auditor Anthony Finnell failed to thoroughly review more than 30 protest case findings issued by the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), before issuing either full certifications or approving cases as “Expedited” — cases in which the OPA determines that findings can be issued mainly on intake investigations.
The article continues by laying out many examples that show Finnell’s pattern of not thoroughly reviewing OPA case findings and simply rubber stamping them as approved.
In light of the OIG whistleblower and the problems revealed in the OPA’s report on the Labor Day SPOG HQ protest, this is further evidence that the current accountability system is not working as designed. The lack of an established process for investigations of serious allegations related to the accountability system is alarming, as is the apparent lack of recourse for residents of Seattle who are concerned about the continued accountability issues we’ve been seeing. While it is frustrating that public officials don’t appear interested in addressing these concerns, it makes it all the more important to continue to both monitor and raise awareness about what is happening.