BLMSKC lawsuit

Never a dull moment in Seattle politics

We’ve had a busy couple of days in Seattle politics, so let’s catch up on recent events, shall we? I’m afraid this is a long one!

Mayor Durkan announced she won’t be running for a second term next year. There’s been speculation for months that she might be offered a position in the Biden administration so we’ll see if that comes to pass. After making a big deal about how she was paying her own legal defense fees against a recall unlike CM Sawant, she is now asking for the City to pay her fees, an early signal of this announcement.

What does this mean for Seattle? We’re in for an interesting election season!

At Council Briefing yesterday, the CMs talked about their committee meetings and what they’re discussing this month. In addition to today’s Public Safety and HSD meeting (more about that in a minute), there was an education and governance committee meeting this afternoon to discuss new grassroots lobbying regulations. The interim director of HSD, Director Johnson, is stepping down, as is Randy Engstrom from the Office of Arts and Culture.

There is also a special meeting of the Housing and Finance Committee tomorrow at 1pm. Among other things (including new COVID relief for restaurants and restaurant workers), they’ll be speaking about additional SPD overtime expenses in 2020, and it has the potential to get a bit heated.

The Council also adopted the City of Seattle’s state legislative agenda for 2021.

Remember the lawsuit brought against the City by Black Lives Matter Seattle King County and the ACLU? Well, the judge is holding the city of Seattle in contempt for violating his crowd control injunction. He found four clear instances of the SPD violating this injunction between late August and September; three of these instances involved blast balls. He said he was also troubled by how many instances were inconclusive. The plaintiffs have until Friday to submit their proposal for sanctions and the City will have a week to respond. The City could also choose to appeal the ruling.

There was a Public Safety and HSD committee meeting this morning, with three items on the agenda: the semi-annual accountability report from the OPA, OIG, and CPC; discussion on legislation to give the OPA and OIG subpoena powers; and discussion about the possibility of creating a basic needs defense for misdemeanors. During public comment, 10 people spoke against this basic needs defense and 8 people spoke in favor of it; there were also a few comments on the police accountability system being broken.

I’ll limit my comments here about the OPA and OIG subpoena powers to saying that even were this legislation to pass, it would still need to be bargained with the police unions, so it would take awhile to be implemented. It is, however, a positive change in terms of increased accountability. There has been some speculation that city government is using this legislation to assume a tougher stance for the upcoming contract negotiations with SPOG.

The misdemeanor basic needs defense is receiving a lot of negative attention, which is somewhat baffling as it probably wouldn’t change much in terms of how things are currently being done. The current City Attorney already has a policy of not prosecuting necessity cases as a matter of principle. There is also a lot of misinformation about this proposal being spread.

This proposal does NOT decriminalize misdemeanors. What it does is create an affirmative defense to misdemeanors committed in order to fulfill basic needs (other examples of affirmative defenses are the common law defense of necessity and the “under duress” defense). An affirmative defense requires the defendant to admit to the crime and then present extenuating circumstances, in this case, circumstances of poverty, allowing the judge and jury to hear the defendants’ stories and factor them into their decisions.

A lot of the discussion today was highly technical in nature, reviewing various possibilities of what this legislation could look like. The King County’s Director of Public Defense and a representative from the City Attorney’s Office were both present to answer questions and present their departments’ views on various aspects of this issue. Both departments are generally in favor of this potential legislation but differ in the details of how they believe it should be written. More details can be found in my tweets above if you’re interested in the nitty gritty. This proposal will continue to be discussed in January.

There will be a special Public Safety and HSD committee meeting on Thursday, December 17 at 9:30am. Discussion of the basic needs defense will NOT be on the agenda, although CM Herbold didn’t say what would be discussed.

Kevin Schofield reported on the Black Brilliance Project last week and is concerned about some red flags he found. Because I think local journalism exists to provide scrutiny, I don’t object to this deep dive nor think it differs substantially from the deep dives Kevin routinely does. What he glosses over is that this research project is emphatically not business as usual for the City and seeks to do research in a different way, centering different populations, and by populations that are typically not paid to do this kind of work. As such, it is not surprising that this effort would not look the same as other past research projects, nor is it surprising that rules might be bent in the process. Kevin says:

But taking this kind of approach to surfacing embedded wisdom is high-risk: for the Council as it cuts corners and bends the rules; for KCEN as it pushes the edges of creativity at the expense of rigor; for BIPOC communities as they place their hopes on this effort to deliver solutions for them; and for the city as a whole: if the intent is to downsize SPD across the whole city, then the alternatives stood up in its place will also need to be city-wide.

I do agree this is a high-risk project, and I will go further and say it always has been. There has always been an enormous amount of pressure on this attempt to divest from policing and re-invest in community alternatives to public safety, working against significant resistance. Whatever the details of the Black Brilliance project, the risk was going to be there. That being said, KCEN’s preliminary research report will be delivered on December 21, so in less than two weeks we’ll have a much better idea of the details behind the project.

If anything interesting transpires at tomorrow’s special Finance meeting, I’ll be sending a (hopefully brief) update to keep you in the loop.

I hope you’re staying warm and dry on this rainy December evening!

Never a dull moment in Seattle politics Read More »

Lots of budget and police accountability news

Lots of news to cover this fine November Monday!

Seattle’s Police Contract Negotiations Team

Seattle announced last week that a member of Central Staff will be at the police contract bargaining table, and that the head of the OPA, the head of the OIG, and a member of the CPC will all serve as bargaining advisors. This step is a big deal and should serve to increase accountability during the bargaining process. The CPC has been pushing to be more involved with contract negotiations for some time now, and by making this move the City is presenting a united front when coming to the bargaining table. Having a member of Central Staff present should mean CMs are better kept in the loop as well. You can find more analysis here.

State law states these police union contract negotiations must be confidential. However, look to the next state legislative session for a bill that might make these negotiations public, which would improve accountability even more.

New City Revenue Forecast

The new Seattle revenue forecast came in as expected last week, and the news is positive! The City expects some additional $40m in funds than previously anticipated for 2020 and 2021, and the CMs have plenty of ways to spend it. Mayor Durkan wrote her own letter expressing her interests in how these funds should be spent; she talks about funding priorities that encapsulate a lot more than the new funds available, but it is noteworthy that many of her priorities seem to line up with priorities expressed in the budget talks the Council has been having.

I wondered if this presaged a new, more conciliatory attitude between the Executive’s Office and the City Council, but the preview we’ve had today of the Council’s proposed budget suggests this probably won’t be the case.

Black Brilliance Research Project and BLM-ACLU vs Seattle Lawsuit

The Black Brilliance Research Project, led by Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now, released their preliminary report on budget priorities based on their research findings thus far. If interested, you can read a summary of the qualitative research they’ve been doing.

Kevin Schofield also wrote an analysis of the City of Seattle’s response to the BLM-ACLU lawsuit regarding crowd control weapons. He collected the officer declarations, incident reports, and video footage (mostly from body cameras) that the City submitted as part of their defense, which you can review at your leisure at the link above.

Today’s Seattle City Council Briefing

The bulk of today’s Council Briefing was a presentation from SDOT and a member of Central Staff about the West Seattle Bridge and the choice between repair and replace. The main new piece of information discussed was the report of an independent contractor the Council hired for an outside opinion on the bridge, who said since the Cost Benefit Analysis is trying to compare all options at the same high view level, it neglects the fact that we can learn a lot more information about the repair option than is presented in the CBA. This seems to suggest these contractors see the repair option more favorably than presented, while I got the impression SDOT Director Zimbabwe was leaning more towards replacement. CM Herbold, the CM of West Seattle, supports the repair option.

In their individual reports, CMs discussed the spike in COVID cases, the results of the national election, and several CMs expressed dismay at the continuing issue of the SPD’s harsh treatment of protesters, as well as journalists, legal observers, and medics.

Budget Season Continues!

Tomorrow we have an all-day budget meeting, where CM Mosqueda will present the Council Draft Budget. You can sign up for public comment starting at 7:30am, and they will be hearing at least an hour of public comment beginning at 9:30am. You can expect me to begin live tweeting around 10:30am, and I’ll be there all day tweeting and then compiling the day’s discussions into a summary for you all.

Skimming the released budget documents, I don’t see any huge surprises, but it does look like the Council is proposing a huge cut to the $100m for BIPOC communities to spend elsewhere and wants whatever is left over to be allocated by participatory budget process instead of via the Mayor’s task force. So expect more discussion of that tomorrow, among other points.

Twitter avatar for @SCC_Insight

SCC Insight @SCC_Insight
Taking a first pass through @CMTMosqueda ‘s “balancing package” for the 2021 city budget. It cuts Mayor Durkan’s proposed $100 million Equitable Communities Initiative to $30 million, and restricts it to be spent only in alignment with its own participatory budgeting process.

CMs’ Form Cs proposing amendments to the budget that are self-balancing are due this Thursday at 10am, and they will be discussed publicly next Wednesday and Thursday. The budget is scheduled for a final vote on Monday, November 23, a few days before Thanksgiving.

Finally, I’d like to mention the great news that the King County Charter Amendments related to police accountability all look like they’re going to pass, several by large margins. That is something definitely worth celebrating! Thank you for voting and spreading the information about these amendments.

I’ll see you tomorrow, and in the meantime, have a wonderful evening!

Lots of budget and police accountability news Read More »

The revised budget passed!

First things first, the big vote of the day: the revised 2020 budget passed today with a vote of 7-1. CM Sawant voted against the bill and CM Juarez wasn’t in attendance.

Resolution 31962 was also passed, stating the Council’s intent to organize a new Department of Public Safety and laying out a road map and timeline of their future actions in this regard. Unfortunately Legistar doesn’t yet have a copy of this resolution available for our perusal, so I’ll take a more in-depth look at it later this week. Another resolution passed affirming the rights of members of the press, legal observers, and medical personnel covering the protests against police brutality.

With these votes the Council chose to take a middle road that is a bit more progressive than that advocated by Mayor Durkan, while disappointing both those advocating for an immediate 50% defund of the SPD and those who want more police. In particular, they ensured community organizations and the community research process have funding to begin their work right away, which is a big win. The Council has clearly stated their intentions to continue the process of defunding and creating a new vision of public safety during the fall budget process and beyond.

How this revised budget will play out remains to be seen, given the previously discussed obstacles of SPOG negotiations and consent decree requirements, as well as Mayor Durkan’s and Chief Best’s resistance. I agree with Council President Gonzalez, who stated that this process will get harder before it gets easier. We will have to watch to see if the Council’s commitment to change wavers in the face of so many obstacles. But this summer budget process was a first step in a positive direction.

Additional amendments on the passed budget bill discussed today:

Twitter avatar for @amysundberg

Amy Sundberg @amysundberg
Council briefing in a few minutes here. Big day of meetings today!

There was a long conversation about the amendment reducing the salaries of the command staff at the SPD. The amendment that passed reduces Chief Best’s salary to $275k instead of the lowest pay band as the previous amendment passed stated, but maintains the other salary cuts.

CM Sawant’s Amendment 52 version 3, the one prohibiting SPD from spending money supporting the prosecution of protesters in the George Floyd protests, didn’t receive a second to be voted upon so it’s now dead.

Amendment 56 pertains to CM Strauss’s reporting provisos, which Central Staff determined didn’t work as passed, so this is an alternate bill trying to get those reports. CM Pedersen added 56a, which asks for an additional report on how budget reductions will impact police deployment and response times. CP Gonzalez stated concern about how this amendment is worded as a leading question and that its resulting reports might become politicized, but it did pass 5/0 with Strauss, Gonzalez, and Sawant abstaining.

Amendment 57, creating two new civilian positions in the 911 call center to replace the two remaining sworn officers working there, passed 5/1 with two abstentions.

Amendment 58 imposes a proviso for funding on community service officers to make sure this funding is retained this year. It passed 8/0.

Twitter avatar for @amysundberg

Amy Sundberg @amysundberg
New thread for the Full Council meeting. Public comment will last 60-75 minutes, I’m guessing till around 4pm.

Amendments 59 and 60 were walked on in full council, provisos to HSD regarding the $4m and $10m marked for community investment, in response to some legal issues with the original amendments. They passed unanimously 8/0.

Other News of Note:

The August update of the budget forecast was released today, and it is worse than anticipated. Seattle’s economic recovery is no longer predicted to follow a fast V-shape, and Seattle’s revenues for 2020 will fall short an additional $26m. Recovery is not nw expected until 2023 and 2024.

The judge signed an updated injunction in the case brought against the City of Seattle by the ACLU/BLM-King County. The evidentiary hearing that was scheduled to take place later this month has been canceled as a result. This new injunction states the following:

  1. SPD can’t use chemical irritants or projectiles to re-route a protest unless necessary to prevent an imminent act of harm or as a response to a specific act of violence or property destruction.
  1. The SPD must provide a warning of usage of these and provide enough time, space, and opportunity for people to leave.
  2. The SPD may not target journalists, legal observers, or medics.
  3. The SPD may not indiscriminately deploy chemical agents or projectiles into a crowd.
  4. Declaring a protest to be a riot or unlawful assembly does not preclude the SPD from following this injunction’s requirements.

SPOG issued a demand to the city of Seattle to bargain today over out of order layoffs based on officer history of complaints.

Further legislation related to the SPD will be voted on this Wednesday afternoon at a special Council meeting, where they will also vote on the vetoed COVID Relief Bill. I’ll be back to discuss the results of this meeting.

The revised budget passed! Read More »

We finally get to discuss the SPD-related amendments

What’s going on with the ACLU/BLM court case:

The court has determined this requires an evidentiary hearing, and a trial has been set to take place August 26-September 1. Audio access will be available to the public. You can read more about it here.

Differences in coverage:

An article in the Seattle Times entitled “Seattle police say explosives were found in van at protests over weekend” ran earlier this week. Among other things it says: “Police later impounded the van and, after obtaining a search warrant, discovered firework pyrotechnics, smoke bombs, stun guns, bear and pepper spray, makeshift spike strips and gas masks, Best said.” The article quotes Mayor Durkan, Chief Best, Chief Scoggins, and Police Sgt. James Lee, giving a narrative point of view entirely from the establishment’s side.

Meanwhile, over on Twitter, we have a breakdown of what was actually in that van, where such items can be obtained, and what they are used for:

Twitter avatar for @spekulation

Spek the Lawless @spekulation
Mayor Durkan and Chief Best held a press conference to talk about the objects found in a van at the protest this past weekend. As usual, it’s a whole lot of commonplace items, none of which comes close to what SPD used indiscriminately on crowds for hours. Let’s have a look…

It’s worth reading through the Twitter thread because I think this is an excellent example of a problem facing all of us these days: the mainstream media often reports on police statements and reports as unalloyed truth, which, given the corruption we know exists within police departments, along with their understandable self interest to present themselves in the best possible light, doesn’t seem like the smartest policy.

Friday’s budget meeting, the SPD-related portion:

My twitter thread starts here, but I’m afraid there are several breaks in the thread this time. Sorry about that!

Today the meeting covered an initial draft of a resolution establishing the Council’s intent to create a civilian led department of community safety and violence prevention. CM Lewis says it creates a road map for the Council’s future commitment to create a new system of public safety. It goes over various types of legislation the Council wants to introduce in the coming months, as well as suggesting modifications to current practices to Chief Best. It also suggests a timeline for future Council actions in an effort to create accountability. The intent is to discuss this resolution, revise it, and vote on it on August 10th.

CM Juarez had many concerns about the resolution, saying that it includes divisive language and isn’t bringing us together as a city. She was worried about some issues of legality pertaining to out-of-order layoffs, seeming to have a different understanding of what those entail than that of CM Herbold. She seemed frustrated about the Council considering such monumental change without enough time for robust discussion, wanted to know the CPC’s thoughts, and thinks her fellow CMs have been making false promises regarding the 50% number. (If you’ve read my previous reports, you know I’ve been skeptical about that number as well.) CM Pedersen, on the other hand, supports this resolution, and in particular said he was glad that it mentions no specific percentage goal in terms of defunding.

Next the meeting began reviewing proposed amendments. The amendments reviewed today, #16-39, were almost all co-sponsored by CMs Mosqueda, Morales, Gonzalez, and Herbold. Many of the amendments, 16-25 and 29-31, were provisos suggesting lay-offs in various units. It’s important to understand that these are suggestions, but that ultimately Chief Best gets to decide where the layoffs come from. These layoffs would have to be bargained, and the optimistic estimate for when that bargaining could be finished is the end of October, meaning a possibility of recovering two months worth of funds for 2020 from the eliminated positions. However, since the timing is uncertain, none of those funds have currently been allocated for spending.

Other amendments dealt with accounting practices and moving the data-driven policing positions and Victim Advocates and Victim Support Team Coordinator out of the SPD and into other city departments.

Finally, we went over the Mosqueda-Morales-Gonzalez-Herbold spending package, covered by Amendments 32-39. These amendments provide immediate funding as follows: $3m for community-led research; $4m for HSD’s Seattle Community Safety Initiative, which will work to scale up gun-violence intervention and prevention; and $10m to invest in community-led organizations. This adds up to a total of $17m in community investment. You may remember that I was expecting $20m-30m of investment, and this is in that ballpark, if a bit low.

Where is the money coming from, you may ask? Well, amendments 35-39 tell us: $886k from cuts to the SPD; $12.8m from the Revenue Stabilization Fund (aka Seattle’s rainy day fund, aka the fund that’s already super low on money because of COVID relief efforts); and $3.3m from a reduction to COVID Relief Bill administration costs. The good news is that all of this money is potentially available immediately.

The other CMs have many concerns, chief among them a reluctance to use the rest of the money in the rainy day fund. The amendment sponsors have said that while this was a hard decision, they believe the rainy day fund can be replenished by cuts to the SPD during the fall budget process. CM Mosqueda added that the violence against Black and Brown communities is a public health crisis and therefore they are justified in spending the emergency funds. CM Lewis is very uneasy about using the rest of the already-depleted rainy day funds. CM Juarez had similar concerns, saying “This is what happens when you write a check you can’t cash.” CM Sawant says these amendments barely defund the SPD at all, and she was also upset that the funding for community investment was coming mostly from the rainy day fund instead of directly from defunding the SPD.

On Monday morning we’ll hear the rest of the amendments, including Sawant’s entire package that is much more aggressive about defunding the police (and also much less likely to pass). My impressions at the end of today’s meeting were that a revised resolution and many of the proviso amendments about layoffs are likely to pass. They are easier for the CMs to support because they don’t really require much commitment since all the layoffs need to be bargained anyway. The investment amendment package is going to be a tougher sell, which is unfortunate because I think it’s probably the most important part of the plan. Without any advance community investment, the overall plan to divest from the police is more likely to fail, and an unwillingness to invest dollars shows less of an overall commitment to the process.

That being said, CM Sawant will probably vote in favor of the package, albeit with objections, if she can’t garner support for her own package, meaning there will be 5 CMs in favor. That’s enough to pass, if barely, but it is not veto-proof. If the Council can’t sway either CM Strauss (who didn’t indicate his opinion either way) or CM Lewis (who has reservations), they may not be able to obtain the funds for significant community investment.

Be that as it may, we’ll know more next week. The CMs will have time to study the proposed amendments and the resolution over the weekend, and then the remainder of the amendments will be discussed on Monday morning after the Council Briefing, aiming for a vote on Wednesday. Then the final vote can proceed on Monday, August 10th. CM Mosqueda said there will be opportunities for public comment next week on Monday morning at 10am, Monday afternoon at 2pm, and Wednesday morning at 11am.

We finally get to discuss the SPD-related amendments Read More »

Updates on relevant court cases and budget schedule

There wasn’t much of any discussion of the SPD budget at today’s budget meetings, in part because there were THREE HOURS of public comment this morning, with 336 people given a chance to speak. Sounds like people really care about what’s going on right now!

The revised schedule for the rest of the 2020 revised budget process is as follows:

Fri July 31: initial review of SPD amendments, after a public comment period beginning at 10am and a Council vote on non-SPD-related amendments

Mon August 3: continued review of SPD-related amendments immediately following the Council Briefing (so I’d guess starting around 10:30am)

Wed August 5: Committee vote on SPD-related amendments

Mon August 10: The final vote on amended legislation

My guess is they will do everything possible to have that final vote on the 10th as the City goes on a two week vacation starting on the 17th.

In other news, the ACLU and Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County filed with the federal court to hold the Seattle police department in contempt for violating the court order barring the indiscriminate use of less-than-lethal weapons on protesters this past weekend. The City of Seattle responded today, denying any wrongdoing by the police department (although individual actions of officers are still open for investigation). Also at the link above, you can also read the statement of SPD Lieutenant John Brooks, the Deputy Operations Sections chief for the demonstration event, for his perspective on what happened. There will be a hearing on Friday morning.

Finally, relating to the Mayor Durkan recall effort, this afternoon a judge denied Mayor Durkan’s request to reconsider the certification of the recall petition against her. The Mayor may now appeal this certification, buying herself some more time, as this process inches forward. Knowing the Council cannot force the Mayor to spend the money they appropriate, meaning she could act as a major roadblock if she so chooses in spite of a veto-proof majority in the Council, I’m even more interested in how this progresses.

More about the ongoing budget meetings on Friday!

Updates on relevant court cases and budget schedule Read More »