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On the Budget Meeting Overviews

Are you ready to talk about budget meetings?

First, the relevant Twitter threads.

This Twitter thread covers the budget overview presented on Wednesday morning.

This Twitter thread covers the SPD budget presentation this morning.

And this Twitter thread covers the Reimagining Public Safety presentation and Seattle Municipal Court presentation.


SPD Staffing Levels

My report on SPD sworn officers from the last newsletter was not completely accurate, so I want to go over the numbers now. The original 2020 budget included 1497 sworn officer positions but only funded 1422 of these positions, leaving the remainder unfunded and vacant. The proposed 2021 budget includes 1450 sworn officer positions but only funds 1400 of these positions, leaving the remaining 50 positions unfunded and vacant. Hence the confusion about whether the Mayor’s proposed budget includes the layoff of 100 officers called for in the Council’s revised 2020 budget. It doesn’t in practice, but the numbers aren’t straightforward.

SPD says that in order to maintain its current level of service and response times, it needs a minimum of 1400 sworn officers. It is important to note this number represents staffing needed if there is no decrease in the police scope of work. There is disagreement between the Council and SPD as to which staffing models should be used and potentially the timing of the shift of functions. SPD also wants to halt the current hiring freeze and start recruitment and hiring again in 2021 in order to maintain this staffing level. Otherwise with expected attrition they will fall below 1400 officers, and in addition, it takes some time to begin recruitment and training so needs to be planned ahead.

It’s also worth noting, in regards to the revised 2020 budget, the Mayor has asked the Council to reconsider the command staff pay cuts and has noted that the $200k cut to legally obligated hiring bonuses needs to be revisited, as it violates the City charter. You can read more here about the Mayor’s take on implementing the revised 2020 budget, including copies of the three recent letters on this subject from the Mayor’s office.


The Mayor’s Plan to Reimagine Public Safety

In an excellent example of the Seattle process, the Mayor is forming the Community Safety Work Group and the Functional IDT. The work group will formulate policy around reimagining public safety based on data and analysis, and the IDT serves the research and analysis function, as well as hopefully presenting an idea of what community wants from SPD. The Mayor presented a timeline for this work; going through the end of 2021, it is vague and repetitive and doesn’t present a very clear picture of what will be happening when.


Potential Issues

  • Although the General Fund is one big pot and can therefore be confusing to assess, it seems clear the $100m for BIPOC communities is coming from the new JumpStart tax revenue that had already been allocated to other purposes, mostly COVID relief in 2021. There is a lot of confusion around this, and lots of numbers being thrown around. There is concern this is taking money away from BIPOC groups that advocated for various JumpStart spending, therefore pitting BIPOC community members against one another. In response to this, community released a statement entitled “Towards a Solidarity Budget.”
  • Of the $14m the Council allocated for community organization ramp-up and gun violence prevention, $4m will be dispersed this year to organizations with already existing city contracts. Because she believes the rest cannot be spent by the end of the year, the Mayor has decided not to execute the interfund loan that was the major source of most of these funds, which the Council intended to repay next year, either with further SPD cuts or with JumpStart tax revenue. However, the Mayor’s proposed 2021 budget has already allocated all JumpStart tax revenue while ignoring this obligation and has also already allocated any savings from SPD, so the Council will be forced to figure out how to pay for the remaining $10m.
  • A task force is being put together of BIPOC community members to recommend priorities for the $100m worth of investment into BIPOC communities. There is concern that this task force won’t truly be representative of the BIPOC community and doesn’t answer the demands for a true participatory budget process. The counter argument is that a participatory budget process takes about a year, and the Mayor wishes to get these funds out the door sooner, potentially by mid-2021.
  • There is concern about having several parallel processes within the BIPOC community, one through this Equitable Communities task force of the Mayor’s, one through the research/PBP led by King County Equity Now funded by the Council, and potentially one led by the IDT for reimagining public safety. It is not known whether these processes will be complimentary, and how they could work together has not been determined. It is possible that a lot of work might be duplicated, or that work could be done at cross purposes.
  • There is concern that the Mayor’s various efforts divorce divestment (aka defunding the police) from the process of investment. Investment without divestment won’t lead to the same systemic changes overall and therefore will have a greatly reduced impact. In addition, this separation could cause various additional sources of confusion.
  • The Mayor says disbanding the Navigation Team could potentially violate the law as interpreted in the Hooper case and moves the SPD in the wrong direction by expanding its sworn officer duties for what should be services provided by civilians. The Council stated its intentions this summer that the money provided by disbanding the Navigation Team should go to community partners providing homelessness services, but it is unclear whether this investment is reflected in the Mayor’s proposed budget. At her town hall last night, CM Herbold said she was concerned because there was no plan to get this money out the door. This might become more clear at the overview on homelessness response presentation tomorrow morning (although I won’t be covering that myself.)

The Seattle Municipal Court Reforms

The Seattle Municipal Court is enacting various reforms that they think will help address current racial inequity:

  • Ending in-person day reporting
  • Moving to a collaborative Community Court model
  • Eliminating various discretionary court fees
  • Decreasing their Probation Services budget by 25%
  • Adding a contract social worker to help with the new Community Court and service referrals
  • Participating in a 3-year bail project

It will be interesting to see how these conversations develop! In the meantime, there will be a public hearing next Tuesday, October 6 at 5:30pm where you can sign up to give public comment on any issues related to the budget, including reimagining public safety. After the final budget overviews tomorrow, the next scheduled budget meeting currently on the calendar isn’t until October 15, when the Council begins their Issue Identification process. Of course, as always, that is subject to change.

Until next time!

On the Budget Meeting Overviews Read More »

The decisions being made in Seattle over the next week are potentially groundbreaking.

All right, let’s dive right into today’s City Council briefing and budget meetings.

We started out with a presentation about an upcoming bill prohibiting the questioning of juveniles by police unless legal counsel is present. This bill sounds solid and important; a similar bill was passed in San Francisco last year, and it sounds like it’s gone very well there. The San Francisco DA speaks highly of it. Hopefully this bill can be voted upon in the next few weeks.

CM Morales was the only council member who commented on the incidents of the weekend, in which the Every Day March went to try to visit Police Chief Best at one of her homes in Snohomish. (Apparently she also has an apartment in Ballard?) Chief Best’s neighbors were armed and chased away the protesters, preventing them from practicing their first amendment rights, and Chief Best wrote to the Council asking them to call for an end to such protester tactics. (Apparently she hasn’t been keeping up with the news since the Council did distance themselves from these tactics last week.) CM Morales says that while they’ve condemned certain tactics, we also have an obligation to understand where the protesters are coming from, and she took exception to the police chief’s response celebrating the protesters meeting with a response from armed neighbors.

Onto the remainder of the amendments!

The Council discussed the last 15 amendments today. Amongst them was CM Sawant’s package of amendments, ten in all (although she withdrew one), that defund the police department by 50% for the rest of this year. Because of labor issues and especially SPOG’s particular level of power, her amendments calling for quick police layoffs are unlikely to be supported by the other CMs. That leaves three of CM Sawant’s amendments that have a chance of passing. Amendment 48 caps SPD combined pay and overtime to $150,000, and CMs seemed amenable to this if certain exceptions were put into place (for example, for the Police Chief), as it has the potential to forcibly reduce overtime. Amendment 52 is a proviso not allowing SPD budget money to be spent to support the prosecution of individuals participating in George Floyd protests except as required by court order, which CM Sawant said was possibly the most important amendment in her package and which other CMs seemed favorable towards given the language is first changed slightly. Amendment 53 immediately moves the 911 call center from the SPD to the FAS, thereby removing SPD’s financial control over 911 response.

Other amendments discussed:

Two amendments were presented that overlap with previously discussed amendments from Friday providing funding to research a new 911 response system and a participatory budgeting process that they’ll probably incorporate together in some fashion.

CM Strauss introduced two amendments (46 and 47) that would require the mayor to submit a report and plan on which SPD departments can be civilianized and would require greater fiscal transparency of the SPD, including fiscal reports every two weeks, reporting of expenses related to defending claims against the SPD (including tracking if there’s any pattern of legal claims against officers), and disclosing all weapon and equipment expenditures. This would also allow them to flag excessive overtime spending. These amendments were both very popular with the CMs.

And finally, CM Morales submitted amendment 40 to defund the Navigation Team and use the money to expand and maintain homelessness outreach and engagement. This one is now co-sponsored by four CMs, and I’m not sure if it will pass, although it definitely has a chance.

What does this all mean?

There are two competing plans being presented here. The one that we went over on Friday from four CMs (Morales, Herbold, Gonzalez, and Mosqueda) potentially defunds the SPD by around 41% in 2021 (although this would have to be hammered out in the 2021 budget process this fall) while not defunding by much this year, supplementing some small SPD cuts with the remainder of the rainy day fund and some of the COVID relief package money to fund community investment in 2020. You can view the blueprint of potential 2021 cuts for this plan, which I think of as the compromise plan. CM Sawant’s plan defunds the SPD by 50% for the rest of this year and reinvests that money into community but potentially runs into labor difficulties that she insists are surmountable. Whether they are or not, she hasn’t garnered support from the other CMs for her plan, making it unlikely to pass in spite of widespread community support for the idea of immediate 50% cuts.

The next budget meeting is on Wednesday, August 5 at 10am (this is a change in schedule), where the CMs will discuss these amendments further and then potentially vote on them. This meeting on Wednesday is probably the most important one in terms of what will be discussed and decided, so now is the time to get in touch with your CMs. The final vote on the amended 2020 budget is scheduled for Monday, August 10. You can sign up for public comment at both of these meetings; signups begin at 8am on Wednesday and at noon on Monday.

My best guess (although I could be wrong) is that some version of the compromise plan will pass on Wednesday, and then the revised 2020 budget and the resolution about the new department of public safety will both pass on Monday. A lot of the details of the amendments are still up in the air, to be hammered out between now and Wednesday, and there is also the question of whether the budget will pass by a veto-proof majority, which would require at least six CMs in support. (Given the Mayor just vetoed the COVID relief bill on Friday night and her general resistance to the Council’s plans regarding the SPD, it’s a real possibility she will also veto this revised 2020 budget.)

The main sticking point on supporting this version of the budget with the compromise SPD amendment plan seems to be the reluctance to spend down the rainy day fund to $0 this year, given the likely revenue shortfalls the city will be facing in 2021 and possibly beyond. (It’s worth noting there is only $12m left in the fund right now, which is a fairly small amount in the grand scheme of a city’s overall budget.) Unfortunately, this money is needed to invest in the community organizations now to give them time to ramp up before shrinking the SPD further in 2021. There is a solid block of support for spending the rainy day fund from CMs Gonzalez, Morales, Herbold, and Mosqueda, who have some confidence they’ll be able to replace the money next year with further SPD cuts, and CM Sawant will likely support their plan as being better than nothing. CM Lewis has reservations, and I still don’t know how CM Strauss feels about it. CM Juarez and Pedersen are less likely to support this expenditure.

Finally, a reminder about a technical aspect of all this, namely, that the Council authorizes spending but can’t force the Mayor to spend. However, there is a way to perhaps get around this by placing provisos on money the Mayor does want to spend and tying it to money she might not otherwise want to spend. How’s that for some fancy bureaucratic juggling?

Twitter avatar for @michaeljmaddux

Michael Maddux (↙️↙️↙️) @michaeljmaddux
This is an important part of the conversation. Many @SeattleCouncil Central Staff ACTIVELY oppose provisos. However, a proviso on something the mayor wants is the only way to ensure families and small biz are helped. Keep that in mind when you call, write, and testify.
Twitter avatar for @SCC_Insight

SCC Insight @SCC_Insight

However, all the Council can do is authorize the spending; they can’t directly force the Mayor to actually spend it. Though they sort-of can indirectly; they can put a proviso on money that Durkan wants to spend that locks it up until she spends the money she doesn’t want to.

I know this is all complicated, so thanks for bearing with me. The Wednesday meetings will be very interesting indeed!

The decisions being made in Seattle over the next week are potentially groundbreaking. Read More »