By Paul Kiefer
On Monday evening, Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) President Mike Solan sent an email to members of his guild. “Connecting with you today to directly respond to the latest media frenzy surrounding our union,” he began.
The police union leader had been under fire since last week after posting a tweet that appeared to blame Black Lives Matter activists for the attempted pro-Trump insurrection at the US Capitol, and after he refused to condemn two officers—both SPOG members—for traveling to Washington, D.C. during the attacks.
Last Friday, the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) opened an investigation into both officers. That same day, Mayor Jenny Durkan and former Seattle police chief Carmen Best called for Solan’s resignation. Since then, members of city council have added their voices to the chorus. Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz made clear that he will only fire the two officers if the OPA investigation finds that they took part in attacks on Capitol police officers or otherwise violated federal law.
“I am in communication with those two members and have provided SPOG resources to assist them during this process,” Solan wrote in his email on Monday. “As you can imagine, we are concerned for their safety, mental health and for what appears to be their guilt by association for merely exercising their constitutionally protected first amendment rights. We are in a scary time in our nation’s history as voicing a dissenting opinion can get you ‘canceled’.” SPOG’s resources likely include defense attorneys, paid for with union dues.
Solan made no effort to condemn the attack on the U.S. Capitol, nor did he endorse Diaz’s plan to fire the two officers if the OPA finds that they participated in the attack.
Pivoting to calls from city leaders for his resignation—which spurred a second OPA investigation into whether his tweets violated the department’s social media policy—Solan declared that he has no intention of stepping down. “I will never bend to cancel culture as I lead this union with conviction,” he wrote. He did, however, backhandedly admit that his comments on Twitter hadn’t helped SPOG’s public image, writing that his tweets have “been spun intentionally for political reasons to hurt SPOG and limit our influence” and that he will “definitely take this as a lesson learned in Seattle politics.”
Solan did not, however, back down from his claims that Black Lives Matter and left-wing activists bear some blame for the attack on the Capitol last week. “At no point did I blame one faction over the other, including BLM, Antifa or Proud Boys,” he wrote. “What I was trying to convey is that we as police are caught in the middle of two extreme political groups (left/right) whom [sic] are vying for political control via violence.”
He ended his email with a call to circle the wagons in the face of mounting criticism, naming both Durkan and City Council President Lorena González as leaders who “abandoned” the department during last summer’s racial justice protests. “The reasonable Seattle community supports us and we will always have each other as we are a strong union,” he wrote.
Solan’s email ignited another round of condemnation and frustration among city leaders on Tuesday, with many expressing concerns about Solan’s role in the upcoming contract negotiations with SPOG. Guild presidents are typically responsible for shaping SPOG’s bargaining agenda and strategy, and Solan will likely be at the table as part of the guild’s negotiating team when the process formally begins later this year.
During a press conference to discuss the roll-out of a new COVID-19 vaccination program, Durkan commented that while SPOG has the right to choose their leaders, she does not consider Solan “someone who can come to the table in good faith” to bargain reforms to the Seattle Police Department. “We’re hoping to have someone at the table who will be a true partner to negotiate those things in good faith,” she added, alluding to the possibility that SPOG members may recall or censure Solan ahead of the contract negotiations.
González told PubliCola Tuesday that even if Solan continues to lead SPOG, the city will have no choice but to move ahead with negotiations despite concerns that he won’t negotiate in good faith. “The city’s contract negotiations with the police guild need to be guided by policy objectives and not so much by personalities who are in a position of power temporarily,” she said. “We have a responsibility as management, like they do as a police guild, to act in good faith. But when there are campaigns by the police guild to undermine the city’s efforts to reimagine, transform and continue to reform the police department, it does raise questions for me about whether we’re going to be able to find a deal.”
Council member Lisa Herbold, the chair of the council’s public safety committee, suggested that there might be a path to challenge Solan’s participation in the bargaining process. “All parties involved in bargaining have a legal obligation to do so in good faith,” she said. “Because of this obligation, I have asked [the Office of Labor Relations] whether this permits the city to object to the participation in bargaining of someone who has exhibited a lack of good faith.”
The Labor Relations Policy Committee, which includes city council members, the director of Seattle’s HR and budget offices, and the mayor’s legal counsel, is only in the preliminary stages of preparing the city’s agenda for bargaining with SPOG. Its members, including González and Herbold, haven’t provided a timeline for negotiations.