Are you ready to talk more about the budget?
Okay, we’re starting part 2 of this budget meeting. Should get into some interesting stuff later this afternoon.
During a multi-hour meeting yesterday that was at turns deeply dull and gut-churningly suspenseful, Seattle council members discussed amendments to the balancing package for Seattle’s 2022 budget.
The Council voted to fund the expansion of the CSOs within SPD, although with slightly less money due to expectations that it will take time to hire more CSOs. There were also three amendments on the table to restore different levels of SPD funding that were in the Mayor’s proposed budget but reduced by the balancing package. Both of CM Pedersen’s amendments in this vein were handily defeated. CM Lewis wished to add back $2.7m in order to use SPD’s estimates of hiring and attrition rather than Central Staff’s. While it is rather neat that Central Staff’s estimates for attrition and hiring equal out, it seems everyone is agreement these estimates tend to be off-base in any case. It also seems likely SPD’s estimate for hiring is on the high side and that their attrition estimate is on the low side (it doesn’t seem to take into account the probable increased attrition due to officers who choose not to get vaccinated for COVID-19, for example). Lewis’s amendment as it stood was narrowly defeated, but it’s possible he’ll walk on a new amendment on Monday that includes a proviso on these funds, which may gain him the extra needed vote.
A source of surprising controversy was CP González’s amendment that would have abrogated unfilled 101 positions from SPD. In what Kevin Schofield characterized as “an inflammatory press release,” Chief Diaz accused the Council of voting to eliminate 101 officers, which is simply not accurate. The amendment would have removed 101 of the 134 open and unfillable officer positions currently in SPD. This doesn’t affect in any way the 125 positions for which SPD is planning to aggressively hire in 2022. In fact, given their hiring pipeline, SPD will be unable to fill any of those funded yet unfilled positions until 2024 at the very earliest. And if they were suddenly able to hire more than anticipated, there would have been 33 funded and unfilled positions maintained, just in case.
Instead, CMs Herbold, Juarez, Lewis, Pedersen and Strauss chose to vote against this amendment. CM Herbold specifically called out her concern that this amendment would send the message that the right number of officers in SPD is 1256. She said this in spite of the fact that the SPD can’t possibly hire enough for that number to be higher within the next few years. Further, there is no general consensus as to what the right number of officers actually is or will be in the future, especially if dragging alternate response programs finally get resourced, stood up, or scaled up. It seems reasonable to expect the number of police officers in any given department will need to be revisited on a regular basis regardless. It’s also worth noting that no other city department is allowed to maintain such a large number of funded but unfillable positions from year to year in the budget.
For a council eager to prove—contrary to Diaz’s claims—that it is not at war with the police department, the optics of González’s amendment seemed too daunting. Instead, the council opted to rubber-stamp SPD’s budgetary sleight-of-hand, ostensibly as a peace offering to the department. SPD will enter 2022 with a larger budget and more positions than it can likely fill. The vote represents a dramatic reversal for a council that, one year ago, expressed its interest in redistributing a portion of police department’s budget to build a more diversified public safety network. The decision also underscored that SPD now has the upper hand in the messaging battle.
You have one more chance to make your voice heard about Seattle budget matters. The Council will have their last budget committee meeting on Monday morning after the usual Council Briefing, and they plan to vote on the final budget balancing package at Monday afternoon’s meeting at 2pm. There will be public comment at the afternoon meeting, and as always, you can also call and/or email your CMs to give them budget feedback.
Crosscut Opinion is no more
The local media landscape has been rocked by the announcement that Crosscut will no longer be running its opinion section, one of the few alternatives to the Seattle Times in the region. Doug Trumm wrote an in-depth analysis of the current state of local media coverage that is worth your time.
This is doubtless not the last time you will see concern over local media, which has been struggling across the country for decades. We know that media plays a crucial role in democracy, both in helping the electorate remain informed on current affairs and in acting as a check to hold government officials and bodies accountable. In a marketplace in which only one large print publication has survived and in which there are no progressive local TV outlets, it is perhaps even easier to see the impact of local media on the framing and content of the civic conversation.