Morning Fizz: Police Attrition, Demands for Resignation, and the Latest on Durkan’s Latest Task Force

Seattle City Council member Tammy Morales, via Flickr.

Fizz is back after a week in the mountains. Thanks to Paul and Josh for holding down the fort!

1. Last week’s city council budget discussions included the revelation that Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal to spend $100 million annually on unspecified “investments in BIPOC communities” relied on funding the city had already allocated to equitable development in neighborhoods where there’s a high risk of displacement and low access to opportunity—AKA BIPOC communities.

The mayor’s budget plan abandons a commitment made in 2019 to create a Strategic Investment Fund, financed by the sale of the Mercer Megablock property, that was supposed to build “mixed-use and mixed-income development that creates opportunities for housing, affordable commercial and cultural space, public open space, and childcare,” according to Durkan’s 2019 budget.

Fizz predicts that the Equitable Investment Task Force could become 2021’s One Table—a group that reaches consensus around a set of basically uncontroversial proposals while the real budget and policy action happens elsewhere.

Council members suggested last week they may propose reducing Durkan’s $100 million “equitable investment” fund by $30 million to recommit to the plan the city adopted in 2019. “I just think it’s ironic that [the Strategic Investment Fund] is now cut so that we can fund a new program with a new process,” council member Tammy Morales said. “I’m struggling to understand the logic here.”

2. While the council debated whether to whittle down Durkan’s $100 million proposal, the mayor announced the members of a new task force that will discuss how the city should spend the money. Given the council’s lack of enthusiasm for the mayor’s blank-check proposal, Fizz predicts that the Equitable Investment Task Force could become 2021’s One Table—a group that reaches consensus around a set of basically uncontroversial proposals while the real budget and policy action happens elsewhere.

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One Table, as you may or may not recall, was a task force, spearheaded by Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine, to come up with a regional approach to homelessness. After meeting sporadically for eight months, the group announced a set of recommendations that included rental subsidies, job training, and behavioral-health treatment on demand. None of the recommendations were ever officially implemented. 

3. On Monday, council public safety chair Lisa Herbold added some context to a recent Seattle Police Department announcement that a record number of officers left the department this year. As Paul reported last week, the department reported a loss of 39 officer positions in September, for a total of 110 positions this year, compared to an early projection of 92. Mayor Durkan said the departures showed the need to recruit hire additional officers “committed to reform and community policing.”

But Herbold pointed out that the city council adopted a rebalanced 2020 budget that assumed 30 additional officers would leave this year, for a total of 122 departures—a milestone that SPD has not yet hit, despite the spike in September. (The projection has since been updated to 130 officers by the end of the year.) “One month’s data does not make a trend,” Herbold said.Her point: It’s still too soon to say whether officers are actually jumping ship in unprecedented numbers, and whether their departures are related to the ongoing discussions about defunding the department. “I do understand that operating for months at a time managing multiple crises is really hard for workers on the front lines,” Herbold said. For example, the Seattle Fire Department had lost 45 workers by the end August—seven more than the city projected for the entire year. 

4. After the city’s Human Rights Commission signed a letter calling for Mayor Durkan to resign, deputy mayor Shefali Ranganathan invited the members of five city commissions, including the Human Rights, LGBTQ, and Women’s Commissions, to a meeting Friday morning to discuss their concerns. The Human Rights Commission accused Durkan of authorizing police brutality against protesters and of failing to adequately respond to the homelessness crisis.

Ranganathan’s invitation to meet came on the heels of a letter she sent to the LGBTQ Commission last week, defending the mayor’s positions on policing and homelessness and disputing of the commission’s charges, including the claim that Durkan opposed the JumpStart payroll tax, which was originally earmarked to fund housing and homelessness programs. (Durkan’s budget plan would use the revenues to balance the overall budget and fund unspecified investments in BIPOC communities).

In the letter, Ranganathan said the mayor does support a payroll tax, just not at the city level: “She continues to believe in and support a regional progressive payroll tax which would prevent companies from leaving Seattle for nearby cities,” like the one that was rejected by the state legislature last year.

On Monday, Ranganathan spoke briefly at the Women’s Commission, defending the mayor’s approach to homelessness and suggesting that Durkan was not directly responsible for how the police department responded to protesters. “I just want to be clear that our city charter [says] very explicitly that … the chief of police is responsible for public safety in our city,” Ranganathan said. “I know that there are lots of questions about SPD’s actions and Mayor Durkan had those questions herself, which is why she asked our independent accountability partners to review those actions and to make recommendations based on that.”

The Women’s Commission did not vote on whether to co-sign the letter calling for Durkan’s resignation. But they did express frustration that the mayor’s office has, according to commissioners, ignored their requests for meetings or scheduled meetings and then canceled the,. “We have been met with silence throughout this process,” commissioner Sophia Lee said. Ranganathan said she was unaware of any invitations to meet with the commission. “I know it feels like I show up only when there’s a crisis, but I just wanted you to know that will make a meeting any time, any day,” Ranganathan said.