The Council overturned all three vetoes!

After listening to ninety minutes of public comment and spending ninety minutes making speeches, the Council voted today to overturn the Mayor’s veto of the revised 2020 budget.

Thanks to all of you who made your voice heard in support of this issue, and an especial thanks to the protesters who risked their safety to achieve this goal. Today we can celebrate a real win.

For those interested in details, there were three bills the Mayor vetoed, the main budget bill and then two bills providing funding for community investment. The main budget bill had its veto overturned by 7-2 with CMs Pedersen and Juarez voting against. The other two vetos were overturned by unanimous votes.

The 2021 budget process begins next Tuesday the 29th when the Mayor presents her proposed budget. The next two months are going to be very important, and you can see a draft of the budget calendar here. I’ll be doing my best to keep you informed throughout the process. But for now, we can take a few days to rest, celebrate, and rejuvenate.

The Council overturned all three vetoes! Read More »

The meeting to discuss the Mayor’s veto is tomorrow, and it’s not looking good.

Let’s jump right into what we learned at the Council Briefing today, shall we?

There will be a special Council Meeting tomorrow, Tuesday September 22, at 3pm to discuss the Mayor’s veto on the 2020 revised budget bills. There will be an opportunity for you to make a public comment at the meeting; signups will be at 1pm and the public comment period will be at 3pm.

Various remarks from CMs during their meeting today signaled that they think they may have lost their veto-proof majority. Because the bills in question involve appropriations, two of the three would require a 3/4 vote to overturn the Mayor’s veto, meaning 7 out of 9 votes. In spite of CM Sawant’s repeated demands that CMs state their positions publicly today instead of blindsiding their constituents tomorrow, none of the CMs opposed to overturning the veto were willing to publicly state their positions. However, we can certainly make a good guess: CMs Pedersen and Juarez, and probably CM Lewis, who has stated more than once how important it is to make a “deal” with the Mayor. CM Strauss might also be in question.

I put “deal” in quotations above because what they’re currently discussing is…not much of a compromise at all. The Council has put together an alternate bill that they can discuss should they fail to overturn the veto. This bill was constructed specifically to be something the Mayor will not veto, therefore representing the outlines of the “deal” being struck. This bill is still being revised, but you can see the current version and its summary & fiscal note.

To summarize aspects of this new bill that were discussed this morning: In terms of community investments, there will be $1m for research and a participatory budgeting process (and possibly $2m allocated for 2021, but that will have to be in the new 2021 budget) and $2.5m allocated for community organizations scaling up to address public safety needs. Compare this to the vetoed legislation, that provided $3m for research and participatory budgeting, $4m for gun violence prevention (something Seattle is experiencing an uptick in right now), and $10m for community organizations scaling up. $3.5m is the compromise vs. $17m previously allocated, and it’s worth noting that even the $17m was a huge compromise from the initial ask by community.

All of the provisos regarding police officer layoffs (the 100 positions) have been completely dropped. The Navigation Team will remain, the “compromise” here being that the 2 FTEs for sworn officers currently unfilled will remain unstaffed, which, given the current hiring freeze, is fairly meaningless. They are also eliminating 5 civilian positions from HSD from the Nav Team, through which they are funding $500,000 for behavioral and mental health services for the rest of 2020. There is potential for more funding for this in 2021 because of these staff cuts. However, this $500,000 is prioritized for use by the Navigation Team as opposed to community partners, and there is also no language prioritizing shelter access for community service providers. In addition, there is a commitment for $3m to be spent on non-congregate shelters this year. (Even though there has been other financial allocations for this that the Mayor has refused to honor, apparently she has agreed to actually follow through this time). CM Lewis says there will be additional announcements made about the Navigation Team in 2021 to reduce its role to be more supervisory.

So, in a nutshell, there will be no layoffs in the police department, there will be $3.5m invested in community instead of $17m, and the Navigation Team will continue its dysfunctional operations largely unchanged while community partners working with the homeless population will not receive any additional funding or even tools like being able to give referrals to shelters more easily.

I don’t think I need to tell you that $2.5m will be wholly inadequate to build the capacity community organizations need to take on important roles in community safety, but since the intention is obviously not to downsize the police department in any meaningful way or allow community organizations to step in and take on some of those functions, I guess it’s a moot point. Section 20 of the proposed bill does state: “By establishing this Section, the Council expresses its policy intent for the Seattle Police Department (SPD) to reduce the overall size of the City’s sworn police force,” but this intent can be met simply by transferring some departments out of SPD and doesn’t actually require any downsizing whatsoever in the number of sworn officers employed.

Let me say this plainly: this is not actually a compromise. This is the Mayor getting exactly what she wants. And because the Seattle Times and all the major news networks back her, she gets to drive the public narrative, giving her a lot of power.

In conclusion, today is the day to email and CALL your CMs. If your CM is Andrew Lewis or Dan Strauss, this is even more important. Ask them to overturn the veto. If you already did this last week, do it again. If you can bring yourself to offer public testimony at the meeting tomorrow, do that. The vote tomorrow will determine city policy going forward, and it will define the 2021 budget session.

I’ll report back tomorrow and let you know what happened.

The meeting to discuss the Mayor’s veto is tomorrow, and it’s not looking good. Read More »

An Interview with the Mayor

Not quite as much happening this week, but there are still a few things to note.

King County Equity Now is currently asking anyone who is a resident of King County to take a survey about their research program regarding public safety. It’s a quick five minutes to fill it out.

The City Council Briefing didn’t involve discussion about public safety this week.

The Council should be discussing the vetoed 2020 revised budget next Monday the 21st. The next Public Safety & Human Resources committee meeting will be on Tuesday the 22nd. The Mayor’s proposed 2021 budget is expected on Tuesday, September 29.

What can we expect next week in regards to that veto? The Council has two options at this point: to reach a deal with the Mayor that still results in a balanced budget or to overturn the veto. Here’s an interview with Council President Gonzalez in which she speaks of her hope of reaching a compromise. It’s hard to say exactly what the details of any deal between the Council and the Mayor might be, although I don’t see the Mayor budging on the Navigation Team or indeed, on any officer layoffs whatsoever beyond what they might achieve by attrition. If you would like the Council to overturn the veto or if you have ideas about what concessions would make a deal more acceptable (prioritizing community investment, for example), now is the time to write to your CMs to share your views. What happens next week will set the tone for the ensuing conversation about the 2021 budget.

Today Crosscut held an interview with Mayor Durkan, led by journalist David Kroman.

I much preferred this format to the usual press conferences and was pleased by the caliber of questions asked. In terms of “re-imagining policing,” a buzz phrase from the summer, Mayor Durkan appears to have two main goals: a change to crowd control policies (which are also being called into question by the OPA/OIG/CPC trifecta and the demands of the consent decree) and a revamp of the 911 response system to include the possibility of response by people other than armed police officers. It seems like she doesn’t necessarily expect to fully achieve either within the next year but hopes to make progress in these two directions.

Aside from that, as per usual she prefers to focus on her commitment of $100m to Black and Brown communities in 2021, and she said we should expect to see that commitment fulfilled in her proposed 2021 budget. While I’m pleased about the allocation of these resources, it is worrisome that while she repeatedly states systemic racism is a problem in policing and criminal justice, and that this needs to be dismantled, she is unwilling to speak of how to achieve greater police accountability within the SPD.

It is worth noting that new research shows no evidence implicit bias trainingmental health training, the use of body cameras, or community representation in policing are effective in reducing police violence. (H/t to Campaign Zero for compiling the research.) It would be encouraging to see more discussion of other options by our elected officials, including a strong commitment to negotiating a police union contract that enables greater accountability, an acknowledgement of the flaws and loopholes currently exigent in the current community oversight system (OIG/OPA/CPC); more discussion of ways to effectively demilitarize the SPD; and more acknowledgment of the racism inherent in broken-windows and community policing. Meanwhile Mayor Durkan also isn’t speaking about any ways to ameliorate mass incarceration, even while acknowledging its harmful impacts on Black and Brown communities.

Obviously there is a lot of work to do, and it can’t all be addressed overnight, but these points do have direct bearing on the current conversation in Seattle about public safety and do need to be kept in mind even when they are skillfully talked around.

In related news, it sounds like Mayor Durkan’s main hope for filling the city budget shortfall from the pandemic in the next few years is for Biden to win the presidency and increase federal aid. Otherwise our city services might take a real beating. She is also more on board with regional solutions to increasing revenues and dealing with problems such as homelessness and transit, as opposed to Seattle-specific ones.

Next week should be an interesting one! In the meantime, stay safe and let’s hope some of this smoke clears by the weekend.

An Interview with the Mayor Read More »

The City Council met for the first time after their summer recess.

I hope everyone had a pleasant long weekend! I know I appreciated having a little time off from Seattle City Council meetings, and hopefully we’re now all refreshed and ready to launch into the next few months of important meetings.

To catch us up, Mayor Durkan vetoed three bills relating to the 2020 revised budget on Friday, August 28. The Council has thirty days from that date to respond. The mayor’s particular objections to the legislation in question included all of the money earmarked for community investment in public safety (including $3m for research, $4m for gun violence prevention, and $10m to begin scaling up community orgs); the defunding of the Navigation team; the reduction of 100 police officers by the end of the year; and the decrease in pay for the command staff.

New Police Chief Diaz unveiled a plan to redeploy 100 police officers to patrol by the middle of September. He hopes this change will result in faster response times to 911 calls, better engagement with community, and less overtime expenditure. It’s possible this change could also result in increased retirements from older officers who don’t wish to return to patrol positions, but that has yet to be seen.

This morning the City Council came back from summer recess and held their usual Council Briefing.

Council President Gonzalez said that her office has been in communication with the Mayor’s office over the break trying to find a compromise regarding the revised 2020 budget, but that so far, such a compromise hasn’t been reached. She anticipates that the soonest the Council will take action is on September 21st, which is slightly less than two weeks from now. The last day they can act is September 24th. The Council will need to begin work on the new 2021 budget around the end of September as well.

The big question is what compromise the Council might be able to reach with the Mayor. Most of the CMs seem inclined to make a deal if at all possible. The City Council passes the budget but cannot force the Mayor to make expenditures, so everything will work much more smoothly if everyone is on the same page. It does sound like the investments in community organizations, research, and gun violence prevention are still a priority for at least some CMs, which is reassuring as these investments are important for being able to move forward with moving resources upstream and scaling up key organizations.

There will be a a Public Safety & Human Services committee meeting this Friday at 9:30am. CM Herbold is hoping there will a presentation on the Puget Sound Emergency Alert project. The CPC, OIG, and OPA will also be presenting on their reports about the use of crowd control weapons, about which you can refresh your memories here. CM Herbold also talked about the issues with SPD overtime, which apparently have been a problem for some years. The city auditor made some recommendations on how to fix this problem back in 2016, but there are still several recommendations pending, including a new IT system that Chief Diaz says is now projected to be completed in the first quarter of 2021.

The Seattle federal police monitor has resigned, and Dr. Antonio Oftelie has been appointed in his stead. You can read some of his thoughts about public safety and police reform here and here.

As always, thanks for reading!

The City Council met for the first time after their summer recess. Read More »

The final pieces of the SPD-related legislation passed today.

Police Chief Best Announced Her Retirement

Chief Carmen Best was the first black woman to lead the SPD. Her last day will be September 2, and Mayor Durkan has appointed Deputy Chief Diaz to serve as interim chief, with no plans to search for a new chief until next year at the earliest. Chief Best said at the press conference announcing her retirement that she’d made the decision to retire because she couldn’t bring herself to make any layoffs and because of the lack of respect for officers. She also felt targeted personally by the Council and therefore felt it would be better to get fresh eyes on the problem.

Here’s a balanced summary of various reactions to this news. There have been debates over whether it was about the money; the Council had discussed reducing Best’s salary and ultimately reduced it from $294k to $275k, although Best herself says it wasn’t about the money. Some people feel the Council drove Chief Best out. I have a lot of compassion for Chief Best, who I think was in an impossible position, and for the people who are suffering because of this situation.

I do think it’s important to be clear that the City Council is bound by bureaucracy to not engage in discussion with department heads (of which Best is one) during budget season. That being said, while preparing the 2020 revised budget, they did consult with other members of the command staff at the SPD more than once; I know that to be true because I watched them do it. One can argue that this is a bad policy that should be changed; I have no opinion on this because I don’t know the reasoning behind the policy. But the Council was in fact just abiding by rules agreed upon by everyone beforehand. For Mayor Durkan to repeatedly slam them for following these rules seems like a misrepresentation of the facts.

Today’s Special Meeting:

Twitter avatar for @amysundberg

Amy Sundberg @amysundberg
The special meeting of the City Council has begun!

This afternoon’s special Council meeting was full of political posturing and hedging as the Council discussed the COVID relief bill that was vetoed by the Mayor. The division between the Executive and the City Council is particularly rancorous right now, and the slamming the Council has been taking in the press this week hasn’t helped. From all the rhetoric, it sounds like the Council was trying to find a compromise and make a deal with the Mayor regarding this legislation, but that the Mayor refused to come to any compromise unless the Council first sustained her veto. CMs Pedersen and Lewis were willing to do this, but the other council members were not. (CM Juarez was absent today.) Therefore the Council was able to override the veto, although only by a 2/3 majority. The lack of a 3/4 majority meant the parts of the bill related to appropriations were no longer valid. However, the Council then passed, with a 7-1 vote, an amended version of the bill that reduced its appropriations from $83m to $57m, reflecting the additional revenue shortfall for 2020 that had been reported on Monday.

Also passed was a bill appropriating $3m from the COVID relief bill to be used for community research and a participatory budget process related to public safety, a bill requiring precincts to be disaggregated in SPD budget reports, and a bill authorizing the interfund loan that will be financing much of the investments into community organizations working on public safety. With these passages, I believe the Council’s public safety package is complete…depending on whether the Mayor chooses to veto once again.

The Public Safety and Policing Resolution Passed Monday

The revised text to this resolution is now available, and as it lays out the Council’s promises and future work program related to public safety, I think it’s important to go over the details.

  1. The Council states their intent to create a civilian-led Office of Community Safety & Violence Prevention by the fourth quarter of 2021.
  2. By the end of November 2020, they will move the following units away from the SPD and into other departments: 911 communications functions; the Office of Emergency Managment; Harbor Patrol; and Parking Enforcement.
  3. By the end of November 2020 they will have also provided sufficient appropriations for a community-led research and participatory budgeting effort and funded new appropriations through phased reductions to the SPD’s budget
  4. They suggest to the Chief how to prioritize 911 calls during this transition, as well as requesting a work plan related to addressing biased policing in the SPD.
  5. They ask that for SPD cuts, the Chief consider out-of-order layoffs based on sustained complaint history and that the Chief establish a police misconduct registry for all SPD officers that is accessible to the public.
  6. They ask the SPD for a report by 10/15/20 on how patrols would function after proposed layoffs, covering general redeployment and response times by precinct.
  7. The Council promises not to support any budget amendments that increase the SPD budget to offset overtime expenditures above funds budgeted in 2020 or 2021.

Their proposed timeline is as follows:

Aug-Nov 2020: The Council and Mayor consider: reducing SPD budget, funding a community-led research process; removing specified functions from SPD; working to identify police practices with disproportionate impact on BIPOC communities

Aug 2020-Jul 2021: Community-led organizations should: conduct research; have a participatory budgeting process; recommend structure and functions for the new department; present recommendations

April 2021-July 2021: The Council, Mayor, and City Attorney should: develop draft legislation for public review; identify necessary city charter amendments; develop ballot language for charter amendments if necessary and submit it to King County Elections for a November 2021 vote

Sept 2021-Nov 2021 (during the 2022 budget process): The Council and Mayor should: introduce, consider, and act on proposed legislation creating the new department of public safety and making associated budget changes.

The last Council Briefing and City Council meeting before the summer recess are this coming Monday.

The final pieces of the SPD-related legislation passed today. Read More »