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