Category: City Council

Afternoon Fizz: New Sheriff In Town, Council Adopts $7 Billion City Budget

1. Starting January 1, King County will a new interim sheriff: Patti Cole-Tindall, previously an undersheriff in the King County Sheriff’s Office, will assume the role until County Executive Dow Constantine appoints a permanent sheriff in mid-2022.

Last year, county voters approved a charter amendment that sets up a process for appointing, rather than electing, the King County sheriff. Tindall will be King County’s first appointed sheriff in more than two decades.

Before joining the sheriff’s office in 2015, Tindall served as both the director of the county’s labor relations unit and interim director of the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, an independent agency that investigates misconduct and systemic problems in the sheriff’s office.

At a press conference Tuesday, Tindall said that she doesn’t plan to apply for the permanent sheriff or for permanent chief of the Seattle Police Department, the two most prominent law enforcement job openings in the county. “I see my value in this appointed process as being there to help the permanent sheriff be successful,” she said. The county council, with input from a panel of sheriff’s staff, community members and local government representatives, is still reviewing candidates to become the permanent sheriff.

Constantine also debuted his proposal to provide hiring and retention incentives for sworn sheriff’s officers, which county council budget chair Jeanne Kohl-Welles introduces as an emergency amendment to the county’s 2022 budget today. The proposal would provide $15,000 to officers who transfer from other departments, $7,500 to new hires, and a one-time $4,000 bonus to every officer in the department. Constantine argued that while the sheriff’s office, which has 60 vacant officer positions, isn’t currently struggling to meet demand, the incentives might help attract and retain officers as a growing number of officers reach retirement age.

King County Police Officers’ Guild (KCPOG) President Mike Mansanarez told reporters he supports the hiring and retention incentives. His counterpart at the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, Mike Solan, voiced his skepticism about a similar hiring incentive program introduced by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan in October.

2. On Monday, the Seattle City Council approved a $7.1 billion 2022 city budget that provides new funding for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, preserves the JumpStart payroll tax spending plan while restoring the city’s depleted reserves, and keeps Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed budget for the Seattle Police Department largely intact, shaving about $10 million off the mayor’s initial $365.4 million proposal.

As budget chair Teresa Mosqueda emphasized twice on Monday, the budget the council adopted doesn’t require SPD to lay off any officers, nor does it eliminate any officers’ salaries. Instead, the council saved $2.7 million by assuming SPD will lose more officers next year than Durkan’s budget projected—125, instead of 91—and moving their unspent salaries out of SPD’s budget. Continue reading “Afternoon Fizz: New Sheriff In Town, Council Adopts $7 Billion City Budget”

In Reversal, Council Keeps Durkan’s Expanded Police Budget Mostly Intact

Seattle interim police chief Adrian Diaz.
Seattle interim police chief Adrian Diaz

By Paul Kiefer

The Seattle City Council voted Thursday to leave Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal for the Seattle Police Department’s 2022 budget largely intact, and in the process put an internal messaging battle—whether to attempt to make peace with SPD or repurpose dollars from the department’s budget in the future—in the spotlight.

The council’s decision to leave Durkan’s budget largely untouched was preceded by a dramatic last-minute press release from Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz, who inaccurately claimed that council president Lorena González had proposed eliminating more than 100 officers’ jobs. In reality, González’s amendment would have eliminated the spending authority for 101 positions that SPD doesn’t expect to fill in 2022. While Durkan’s budget has already redistributed the unspent salaries for other purposes in 2022, the amendment would have allowed the council to repurpose more than $17 million in future years.

The amendment struck at a pillar of SPD’s accounting strategy: asking the council to leave space in the department’s budget for dozens of positions that SPD can’t feasibly fill and redirecting the unspent salaries elsewhere in the department. In 2022, SPD expects to have 134 vacant positions, leaving a total of $19 million in unspent salaries that the department intends to use for other purposes, including new civilian staff and equipment.

The strategy is unique to SPD; while other department have vacant positions, only SPD builds a noteworthy portion of its budget around vacancies that it doesn’t expect to fill. González’s amendment also left a 33-vacancy “cushion” in case SPD surpasses its hiring goals, leaving the department with a maximum of 1,256 officers in 2022.

Diaz’s press release forced González and her colleagues to re-hash a familiar debate about whether the council’s budget proposal would restrict the department’s growth or simply bring an end to an unusual accounting trick that gives SPD an annual surplus to spend as it chooses—a privilege, González noted, that no other city department enjoys.

González’s failed amendment struck at a pillar of SPD’s accounting strategy: asking the council to leave space in the department’s budget for dozens of positions that SPD can’t feasibly fill and redirecting the unspent salaries elsewhere in the department.

The interim chief isn’t asking the council for wiggle room or a reasonable level of discretionary funding. He is apparently demanding a blank check and zero fiscal accountability or scrutiny,” González said, calling Diaz’ statement either a “gross, intentional misrepresentation” or a “gross misunderstanding” of her amendment.

A slim majority of the council voted against the amendment, signaling their wariness to engage in a battle with SPD after a year of acrimony with the police department.

In the week and a half since council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda debuted revisions to Durkan’s proposal for the SPD budget, the council has seen an onslaught of accusations from Durkan, mayor-elect Bruce Harrell, Diaz, and others claiming that the council was attempting to slash SPD’s budget and ranks. In fact, Mosqueda’s revised budget would have reduced Durkan’s proposed budget increase by $10.8 million, for a total of $6.8 million in new investments. (The overall size of the police budget would have decreased slightly under Mosqueda’s original proposal).

Most controversially, Mosqueda’s budget assumed that SPD will lose more officers in 2022 than Durkan or Diaz currently project. While Durkan and SPD estimated that just 94 officers would leave the department next year, Mosqueda estimated a loss of at least 125 officers: enough to cancel out the department’s hiring goals and leave 31 more vacant positions—and $2.7 million more in unspent salaries—than Durkan anticipated.

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The mayor’s projections are optimistic, given that SPD will lose an estimated 150 officers by the end of this year. Her estimate also does not factor in the dozen unvaccinated officers currently on leave who will likely lose their jobs in January. However, Diaz and Durkan predict that attrition will decline sharply in 2022, in part because of plans to spend more on retention programs like group therapy.

Additionally, Mosqueda suggested that the council scale back Durkan’s planned increase to the department’s overtime budget, saving another $3.2 million. Mosqueda’s budget also would have maintained, rather than expanded, SPD’s Community Service Officer (CSO) program—a civilian unit that handles outreach and some non-emergency calls—and omitted Durkan’s proposals to pay hiring bonuses to new officers in 2022 and to launch two new software projects.

On Thursday, an amendment sponsored by Councilmember Alex Pedersen to use the city’s emergency reserve funds to restore most of Durkan’s original budget failed by a wide margin; another amendment—also from Pedersen—that would have met Durkan halfway on attrition projections and overtime increases met the same fate.

The mayor’s projections are optimistic, given that SPD will lose an estimated 150 officers by the end of this year. Her estimate also does not factor in the dozen unvaccinated officers currently on leave who will likely lose their jobs in January. However, Diaz and Durkan predict that attrition will decline sharply in 2022, in part because of plans to spend more on retention programs like group therapy.

The council also narrowly voted down an amendment by Councilmember Andrew Lewis that repurposes $2.7 million from the city’s reserves to defer to Durkan’s attrition projections. “There’s an advantage to assuming less attrition so that we don’t have to go back next year to correct the budget,” Lewis said. He also raised concerns about the optics of Mosqueda’s attrition projection, adding that he “would prefer that the council not habitually predict that hiring and [departures] will be the same,” noting that the council made the same prediction last year. While the council initially voted in favor of the amendment, Councilmember Tammy Morales asked for a re-vote near the end of the session that defeated the proposal; Morales, who previously supported the amendment, reversed her vote.

Mosqueda introduced her own amendment to expand the CSO program, though her $900,000 amendment fell short of Durkan’s original $1.3 million proposal. Because SPD will likely be unable to hire the six additional officers before next spring, she said, the CSO unit will only need six months of funding in 2022. The council agreed, voting overwhelmingly to expand the program. Mosqueda added that she eventually hopes to move the the CSO program to a civilian department, but she conceded that the unit will stay in SPD for the foreseeable future. The CSOs have said they aren’t interested in leaving SPD, citing close relationships with their sworn counterparts; Herbold admitted that she had assured the unit’s supervisors that the council wouldn’t force the CSOs to leave SPD in exchange for expanding the program, and Thursday’s vote allowed her to keep her promise.

The council rejected just three minor proposals to increase SPD’s budget. Pedersen’s pitch to add more dollars to SPD’s overtime budget didn’t find traction, and nobody on the council expressed interest in supporting the two SPD technology projects that Mosqueda deemed “non-essential”: a body-worn video analysis system used to assess racial disparities in policing and a wearable biometric monitor that would track police officers’ vital signs to flag officers at risk of using excessive force or acting erratically because of stress. Continue reading “In Reversal, Council Keeps Durkan’s Expanded Police Budget Mostly Intact”

Council Amendments Would Stall Downtown Streetcar, Preserve Laurelhurst Community Center, and Defund Salvation Army Shelter

Laurelhurst Community Center

By Erica C. Barnett

The battle over police funding may be the marquee issue at Thursday’s final public city council budget meeting, but the council will also be taking up dozens of other changes to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed 2022 budget. Here are a few we’re tracking as the council winds up its deliberations over next year’s budget.

• A proposal by Councilmember (and perennial streetcar opponent) Lisa Herbold to cut $2.4 million that would re-start planning for the long-delayed downtown Seattle streetcar and reallocate that money to help improve Seattle Public Schools’ bus routing technology and to fund a citywide hiring incentive program.

Herbold noted earlier this month that there are currently vacancies across all city departments, not just SPD, and suggested funding incentives to fill those positions as well.

• Two amendments, both by Councilmember Tammy Morales, that would strip $5.1 million in federal funding from a Salvation Army-operated emergency shelter in SoDo and use the money to fund land acquisition for cultural space through the city’s Cultural Space Agency, to purchase a separate piece of land in SoDo for transitional housing to be run by the Chief Seattle Club, and to develop a new “City-run social housing acquisition program.” The Cultural Space Agency is a public real estate development agency established last year with a mission to create new, community-based arts and cultural venues and spaces in Seattle; an infusion of $1.1 million would allow the agency to set up a land acquisition fund.

Social housing is a somewhat loftier notion; according to Morales’ amendment, $2 million would be enough to hire a team that would “research portability of social housing acquisition program models currently operating in cities like Berlin, Paris and Vienna,” but any expansion of the program would require ongoing funds in future years.

PubliCola is seeking more information about the transitional housing project.

UPDATE: On Thursday afternoon, all three of Morales’ proposals to repurpose funding for the SoDo shelter failed; two, the transitional and social housing proposals, failed for lack of a second vote to put them up for discussion.

In her budget this year, Durkan proposed eliminating the creative industries director position altogether and demoting the city’s creative industry policy advisor to a lower-level “creative industries manager” job overseeing various special events and permitting staff.

The Salvation Army shelter receives additional funding from the city and county, but the loss of $3.1 million in annual funding would force the agency to close the shelter in 2023 or find funding elsewhere. The shelter, located in a former COVID isolation site inside a former Tesla dealership, enabled the Salvation Army to consolidate several existing shelters in one location, freeing up other spaces for use during weather-related emergencies. The building, which has a special air-filtration system, served as the city’s only smoke shelter during the 2020 summer wildfires.

• Morales has also proposed restoring a position at the Office of Economic Development to support and promote film, music, and other creative industries in Seattle. Over her term, Durkan has steadily chipped away at this longstanding city function, first by neutering the Office of Film and Music (whose director, Kate Becker, left for a job as King County’s first-ever Creative Economy Strategist in 2019 and was never replaced), then by attempting to eliminate the city’s nightlife advocate, and, finally, by bumping OED’s Creative Industries director position further and further down the OED org chart.

Currently, the Inclusive Creative Industry Director job is vacant; the city’s website describes the job of the office as helping creative workers “transition into middle and higher earning jobs,” promote economic recovery, and “Better connect businesses and workers with the creative skills that will be in high demand in the Network Economy,” whatever that means.

Laurelhurst is a wealthy area that ranks among the least diverse in Seattle. In his pitch to trade the parks workers’ pay increases for the community center, Pedersen argues that the center serves an important race and social justice purpose because it is “connected by a bridge to the adjacent [Laurelhurst] elementary school, where 45 percent of students are Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC) and 31 percent of students’ families are low income.”

In her budget this year, Durkan proposed eliminating the creative industries director position altogether and demoting the city’s creative industry policy advisor to a lower-level “creative industries manager” job overseeing various special events and permitting staff. Morales’ resolution wouldn’t reverse the demotion, but it would place a hold on the money to fund the manager position until OED provides the council with a “Creative Sector Action Plan” and a description of how the office will “reorganize so that this position can focus solely on policy development and implementation related to the creative industries and not be responsible for staff management.”

• Councilmember Alex Pedersen, who frequently talks about the need to treat “mom and pop landlords” differently than big property management companies, wants to set up a special “small landlord and tenant stakeholder group” at the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections. According to Pedersen’s proposal, “The group should propose a definition of ‘small landlord,’ estimate the population of small landlords with units in Seattle, make findings about how current regulations and market trends impact small landlords and their tenants, and identify whether those impacts are disparate.”

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The plight of smaller landlords came up frequently during the COVID pandemic, when many tenants who lost their jobs were unable to pay rent. Landlord advocates argued that the eviction moratorium and other tenant-friendly laws and policies put smaller-scale property owners at risk of defaulting on their mortgages.

• Pedersen is also behind a proposal that would eliminate pay increases for some salaried parks employees to fund the reopening of the Laurelhurst Community Center, which Durkan’s budget proposes closing and turning into a “premier rental facility” like those at Pritchard Beach and Golden Gardens. Durkan’s budget uses the money saved by shuttering the center to pay for a mobile recreation and playground program called Rec’N the Streets. The city’s parks department shut down all 26 of the city’s community centers last year because of the pandemic, and has reopened only nine.

Laurelhurst, a waterfront neighborhood in Northeast Seattle, is a wealthy area that ranks among the least diverse in Seattle. In his pitch to trade the parks workers’ pay increases for the community center, Pedersen argues that the center serves an important race and social justice purpose because it is “connected by a bridge to the adjacent [Laurelhurst] elementary school, where 45 percent of students are Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC) and 31 percent of students’ families are low income.”

However, the community center is one of the smallest in the city, lacks a gym, and does not offer child care, limiting its usefulness to families with school-age children. Across Seattle, community centers serve the entire surrounding community, not just nearby elementary school students, and are especially critical in lower-income areas where residents may lack the ability to pay for private sports lessons, child care, after-school activities, homework help, fitness classes, and other types of programming that community centers provide.

The Laurelhurst Community Club, a private organization that runs a beach club that’s open only to property owners in the neighborhood, has been a vocal advocate for reopening the community center, where the group has historically held its meetings.

Council Considers Backing Out of SPD Funding Fight

SPD West Precinct

By Paul Kiefer

With less than a week of budget deliberations to go, the Seattle City Council will consider a trio of amendments on Thursday that could quash the ongoing battle with Mayor Jenny Durkan over the details of the Seattle Police Department’s 2022 budget.

The amendments would fully or partially walk back a plan, introduced by council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda, to reduce Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed SPD budget by $10 million. Within hours of the plan’s debut last Tuesday, both Durkan and mayor-elect Bruce Harrell condemned the plan as an outright “cut” to SPD’s budget; at a press conference the following day, interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz claimed that the council’s proposed reductions would effectively “eliminate” more than 30 officers from his department’s ranks.

Mosqueda’s initial budget proposal would not have actually resulted in layoffs or reduced SPD’s existing budget. Instead, it would have reduced the size of Durkan’s proposal by not allocating funds for salaries for positions that the council doesn’t believe SPD will be able to fill next year and by reducing Durkan’s proposed budget for officer overtime by $3.2 million.

While Durkan and SPD estimated that just 94 officers would leave the department next year, Mosqueda’s budget proposal assumed a loss of 125 officers, including at least a dozen unvaccinated officers who will likely lose their jobs by January. If Mosqueda’s assumption is correct, SPD would lose as many officers as it plans to hire in 2022, leaving the department with 31 more vacant positions—and $2.7 million more in unspent salaries—than Durkan anticipated.

The most sweeping proposal, sponsored by Councilmember Alex Pedersen, would leave Durkan’s plans untouched, re-introduce funds for hiring incentives and the CSO program expansion, and adopt the mayor and police chief’s more optimistic hiring and attrition projections.

Mosqueda’s proposal would also have maintained, rather than expanded, funding for SPD’s Community Service Officer (CSO) program—a civilian unit that handles outreach and some non-emergency calls. Her plan also nixed $1.1 million set aside for SPD to pay hiring incentives to new officers in 2022, which Diaz says are necessary to attract recruits in a region where hefty hiring bonuses are becoming the norm.

A final, less-controversial reduction would come from SPD’s technology budget, preventing the department from launching two new software projects in 2022: a body-worn video analysis system used to assess racial disparities in policing and a wearable biometric monitor that would track police officers’ vital signs to flag officers at risk of using excessive force or acting erratically because of stress.

The three amendments on Thursday’s agenda would each restore at least one component of Durkan’s original SPD budget proposal; because they are mutually exclusive, only one can pass.

The most sweeping proposal, sponsored by Councilmember Alex Pedersen, would leave Durkan’s plans untouched, re-introduce funds for hiring incentives and the CSO program expansion, and adopt the mayor and police chief’s more optimistic hiring and attrition projections, To keep the budget balanced, the amendment would remove $10 million from the city’s revenue stabilization fund and return it to SPD.

Continue reading “Council Considers Backing Out of SPD Funding Fight”

Council Declines to Fund Two Big-Ticket Asks from Homelessness Authority

By Erica C. Barnett

As the Seattle City Council closes out its budget deliberations this week, two big-ticket items that the King County Regional Homelessness Authority asked the city to fund will not be on the list. Both proposals were targeted specifically at unsheltered people living in downtown Seattle, a political priority for both mayor-elect Bruce Harrell and downtown business interests, including the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

The first, a high-acuity shelter to help stabilize unsheltered people experiencing health crises in downtown Seattle, will only receive a $5 million downpayment on the KCRHA’s $19.4 million ask. The city plans to combine with another $5 million from the county to begin work on a shelter—or multiple shelters—that will eventually be able to accommodate 150 people.

The second, a $7.6 million plan to hire 69 “peer navigators”—people who have been homeless themselves—to help unsheltered people navigate the homelessness system, will not receive any funding, although the council’s proposed budget doesn’t preclude the possibility of funding such a program in the future. Peer navigation programs are common in other service areas, such as behavioral and public health, but are a fairly new concept for the homeless service system. 

“People are burned out right now. I don’t think it would be at all a great time to turn to any of our providers and say, ‘Now do 220 percent,’ so we have to figure out what’s possible inside the capacity that exists.”—KCRHA CEO Marc Dones

Instead, the budget includes a statement of legislative intent—basically, a short-term directive—asking the KCRHA to come up with a plan for peer navigation that includes existing service providers that are already doing essentially the same work, rather than inventing an entirely new program from scratch that leaves current providers out. REACH and the Public Defender Association already employs outreach workers who have experienced homelessness, criminal legal system involvement, behavioral health challenges, and other circumstances that qualify them as their clients’ peers, for example.

“We’re asking the authority to develop the idea a little bit more with some existing organizations who do extensively employ people with lived experience [by talking] about how we can sync up the peer navigation concept with some of our existing outreach techniques to make sure there’s not redundancies with existing organizations or issues with delivering that service,” City Councilmember Andrew Lewis, who chairs the council’s homelessness committee, said. “We didn’t feel like we were quite at the place where that was a fundable-level project yet.”

KCRHA director Marc Dones agreed that REACH and other groups do “some longitudinal case management,” in which one person serves as a consistent point of contact for an unsheltered person over time, but added that scaling up this kind of work will require far more funding than the authority currently has.

“We’re going to have to see what’s the maximum here that we can realistically do, without saying we’ll do it in on bubblegum and shoestring,” Dones said. “In this instance, we are lucky that we do have some really strong place-based organizations downtown,” such as the PDA’s Just Care program and REACH, “and we do have organizations that have that longitudinal capacity, so it’s not like we’re just not going to do anything, but we do have to step back and take stock. People are burned out right now. … I don’t think it would be at all a great time to turn to any of our providers and say, ‘Now do 220 percent,’ so we have to figure out what’s possible inside the capacity that exists.” Continue reading “Council Declines to Fund Two Big-Ticket Asks from Homelessness Authority”

Police Monitor Raises Concerns About SPD Budget; Crosscut’s New Editor Kills Opinion Section

1. During the Seattle City Council’s Monday morning briefing, budget chair Teresa Mosqueda responded to a Seattle Times editorial published last week charging that the council’s proposals for the Seattle Police Department’s 2022 budget could plunge the city into another confrontation with the federal district court.

The editorial, which called on mayor-elect Bruce Harrell to hold a “public safety summit” soon after he takes office in January, challenged Mosqueda’s claim that the council’s amended SPD budget had been vetted by the court-appointed monitor who acts as the eyes and ears for Judge James Robart—the federal judge responsible for overseeing reforms to SPD as part of a decade-old arrangement called the “consent decree.” The Times’ source: An email to the editorial board from the monitor himself, Dr. Antonio Oftelie, who said that no one on the council had spoken to him directly about their plans for SPD’s 2022 budget.

“I understand that it must continue to be an inconvenience to the Seattle Times editorial board to acknowledge that we did indeed continue to engage with the court monitor directly, as we have done in the past,” Mosqueda said, adding that Greg Doss, the council staffer who specializes in SPD’s budget, “reached out and directly engaged” with Oftelie on behalf of the council. “The court monitor is very aware that Greg [Doss] works on behalf of all council members,” Mosqueda said.

During his meeting with Doss and a representative from the City Attorney’s Office, Oftelie did not offer direct feedback on the council’s budget proposals. A week later, he sent a memo to Mosqueda, along with public safety chair Lisa Herbold and council president Lorena González, raising concerns about the council’s plans to scale back SPD’s budget data analysis. Specifically, Oftelie described two programs—one that would identify 911 call types that could go to non-police emergency responders, and another that could identify officers with a pattern of using force during crisis calls—as vital to the department’s progress. If the council went through with plans to cut SPD’s data analysis budget, he added, the federal court might intervene. Despite his warning, Oftelie emphasized that “it is not the monitor’s role or intent to dictate City budget decisions.”

Mosqueda’s office debuted the council’s changes to Durkan’s budget proposal a day after receiving Oftelie’s memo; during the quick turnaround, Mosqueda said that she worked with the council’s central staff to ensure that the proposed budgets for the two data analysis projects Oftelie flagged would remain untouched. The council’s proposed budget now only omits funding for two of SPD’s proposed technology programs, totaling around $1.3 million.

During the council’s budget discussions last week, Mosqueda called the first—a body-worn video analysis software used to assess racial disparities in policing—a “nice-to-have” item that the council could support in the future. The second technology is a wearable biometric monitor that would track police officers’ vital statistics to flag officers at risk of using excessive force or acting erratically because of stress.

After Mosqueda’s rebuttal on Monday, Oftelie reiterated his frustration with the council’s communication style. His meeting with Doss, he told PubliCola, “was a one-hour briefing and in no way was meant or implied to be any type of ‘approval’ of the budget.” And after he raised his concerns about the council’s budget proposal in his memo, he added, “no one from City Council acknowledged receiving the memorandum or connected with me to discuss it before their Tuesday meeting.”

In the past year, the consent decree has loomed large over Seattle’s budget discussions; in June, the council abandoned plans to cut $2.83 million from SPD’s 2021 budget under pressure from the federal court. Oftelie, who advises the court about Seattle’s progress on police reforms, has argued that SPD needs to be able to rebuild its ranks after two years of record-breaking attrition in order to comply with the consent decree.

Meanwhile, the council could soon run into problems with the federal court on another front: an ordinance that the council passed in August restricting SPD’s ability to use so-called “less-lethal” weapons like tear gas for crowd control. Two weeks ago, Diaz reached out to Oftelie for legal guidance as his department prepares to update its policies to comply with the new law. In his letter to Oftelie, Diaz wrote that the ordinance may be at odds with the consent decree, setting the stage for another potential fight over the council’s power to pass police reform laws while SPD is under federal oversight.

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We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different: We’re funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

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2. Crosscut, the nonprofit news website that merged with Seattle’s PBS affiliate, KCTS, six years ago, is eliminating its opinion section, leaving Seattle with one less source of editorial views to counter the Seattle Times’ generally conservative opinion and editorial pages. Crosscut’s new executive editor, M. David Lee III, announced the decision in a memo to all staff last week. Lee replaces Victor Hernandez, who joined the site in 2018.

The section, which features Knute Berger’s “Mossback” history column along with regular opinion pieces by Transit Riders Union director Katie Wilson and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant,  will be replaced by a “new process of engaging community voices,” according to an internal memo from Lee. Berger told PubliCola he would continue writing for Crosscut and referred all other questions to Lee, who did not respond to an email Monday.

“There are a lot of priorities that need to be attended to and one of the top ones is the ‘Opinion’ section of Crosscut.com, which has been a fixture of the organization since its inception in 2007,” Lee, who joined Crosscut last month, wrote in the memo. “With the section, the goal, at the time and to this day, is to engage our community in conversation regarding important issues. Listening to the communities that we serve is one of the most important things we need to do as a non-profit public news organization. We must reflect the landscape in which we live and serve. Change is also important. Adapting and retooling how we engage with the community is what we must do moving forward and, because of that, we will be sunsetting the traditional ‘Opinion’ section of Crosscut.com effective November 30th.”

As a “project” of a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Cascade Public Media, Crosscut can’t endorse candidates or advocate for positions on issues itself, but it can run opinions by people outside the organization. In the recent past, those pieces have included opinions by former Washington state Republican Party chair Chris Vance, Republican congressman Dan Newhouse, right-wing radio host John Carlson, and Bryant. Nonetheless, board members have reportedly raised concerns over the years that the opinion page slants left. The governing board that oversees the site includes a former Seattle Times editorial board member, former Republican attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna, and Amazon global real estate VP John Schoettler.

Lee,  a former television news director and sportscaster in markets including Tallahasee and Green Bay, is also an independent filmmaker. In a post on Crosscut, Lee described himself as “a lifelong, self-proclaimed, ‘Star Wars Geek'” who was drawn to Crosscut by “the talent here” and “the commitment here to public non-profit journalism.”

“The beauty of Crosscut is that we can go deeper, offer unique insight to a story or issue that other outlets are unable to do, or just choose not to do. As I said above, this is something new for me. And I expect that Crosscut will change me, and I’m excited about it,” Lee wrote. For now, he concluded, he’ll “be exploring the city, getting to know the talented staff here and doing the work for you, our readers, while heeding words of Yoda: ‘Do or Do Not. There is no Try.”

Crosscut’s local news reporter, David Kroman, recently decamped for the Seattle Times. After a lengthy struggle to unionize, the Crosscut Union still lacks a contract, after rejecting a proposal from management earlier this fall that the union said would lower their annual pay increases provide no improvements to retirement, vacation benefits, or health care. Cascade Media’s CEO, Rob Dunlop, made more than $500,000 in 2019.

—Paul Kiefer, Erica C. Barnett

SPD Chief Reiterates Reservations About Rules Restricting Department’s Use of Controversial Weapons at Protests

Seattle Police Officers fire tear gas at demonstrators on Capitol Hill in June 2020 (Twitter Screenshot – Chase Burns)

By Paul Kiefer

Seattle Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz expressed his support last week for most of the recommendations the city’s Office of the Inspector General issued in July as part of its year-long review of SPD’s response to protests in the summer and fall of 2020. But he argued that some of the office’s recommendations—specifically, those suggesting the department scale back its use of tear gas and batons during demonstrations—don’t mesh with legislation passed by the city council in August restricting his department’s use of crowd control weapons, asserting that the restrictions actually increased the chances that SPD will use batons and tear gas during future protests.

Drawing from a year of panel discussions with representatives from both SPD and police accountability advocates, the OIG—an independent police oversight body that audits both the Seattle Police Department and its Office of Police Accountability—suggested several changes to the way SPD trains officers to respond to protests, including a recommendation that officers not form immovable lines in front of protesters. The panel assembled by the OIG also recommended that the department consider replacing radio communications with an encrypted messaging system like WhatsApp and create a central command center to streamline communications between officers during demonstrations.

In a letter to Inspector General Lisa Judge made public last Friday, Diaz said he supported the idea of revamping his department’s protest management strategies to avoid a repeat of last summer’s mistakes. SPD has already started retraining officers to avoid making arrests for minor tussles during protests, he wrote, and the department is purchasing new, “more subdued” uniforms to replace the intimidating body armor worn by officers during last year’s protests.

The chief also used his letter to raise concerns about the city council’s decision in August to restrict on his department’s use of so-called “crowd control” weapons. “It would be naive,” he wrote, to believe that SPD won’t need crowd control weapons to respond to protests in the future.

But Diaz was skeptical of other recommendations, including a suggestion that SPD change department policy to allow officers to show support for protesters, which Diaz said could create “legal complexities” for the department. And in response to a recommendation that SPD rely on CCTV cameras to spot acts of property destruction, Diaz noted that his department might need city council approval to expand its surveillance authority.

The chief also used his letter to raise concerns about the city council’s decision in August to restrict on his department’s use of so-called “crowd control” weapons. “It would be naive,” he wrote, to believe that SPD won’t need crowd control weapons to respond to protests in the future. In fact, Diaz argued that the only way to meet the OIG’s broader call to reduce serious uses of force against protesters, including tear gas, is for the department to purchase greater supply and variety of crowd control weapons.

While the OIG’s report urged his department to avoid using batons and tear gas against protesters, Diaz warned that under the new restrictions, his officers could be more likely to use those weapons as a last resort.

His warning is not new. In August, the council rewrote an earlier crowd-control ordinance, which banned the use of tear gas, blast balls, and other “less-lethal” weapons, after a federal judge blocked that law, citing the risk that SPD might resort to using batons against protesters if they didn’t have access to pepper spray and tear gas. But even after the council revised the ordinance, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan refused to sign it, predicting that the federal court would once again intervene to stop the new restrictions from taking effect. At the time, Diaz didn’t publicly side with Durkan; his letter to the OIG is the first sign that he may have reservations. For now, Diaz declined to comment on what lays ahead for the new law.

Several of Diaz’s subordinates—including Lieutenant John Brooks, the on-the-ground commander during many of last year’s protests—helped shape the recommendations. However, because the OIG finished its review before the council passed the latest version of the crowd control weapons bill, the office’s panel of stakeholders didn’t factor the new law into their recommendations.

The new restrictions on crowd control weapons can’t take effect without the federal court’s approval—a consequence of the 2012 agreement between Seattle and the US Department of Justice known as the consent decree, which placed a federal judge in charge of overseeing reforms to SPD. The department has until mid-November to draft policies on crowd control weapons that reflect the new law.

In his letter, Diaz also noted another key variable for the department: the city budget. “Our ability to implement change hinges precariously on our budget and staffing,” he wrote, “both of which have been under significant threat over the past 18 months.” For now, he added, SPD is relying on grants and dollars from the nonprofit Seattle Police Foundation to pay for training programs. Though he avoided making any explicit demands, his underlying argument was clear: If the OIG wants SPD to implement its recommendations, the office will need to go to bat for SPD’s budget.

As Homelessness Contracts Leave the City, Seattle Still Wants a Say In How Its Money Gets Spent

Councilmember Andrew Lewis
Councilmember Andrew Lewis

 

By Erica C. Barnett

At the end of 2021, the city of Seattle will cede direct control over all its existing homeless service contracts to the King County Regional Homeless Authority. But the city’s 2022 budget deliberations have made one thing clear: The city still expects to have a direct hand in how the money it provides to the authority gets spent, down to the line-item level of earmarking funds for specific purposes.

The city could send the new authority up to $150 million next year, including both funding for existing contracts (which the authority will retain, unchanged, in 2022) and for extras requested by city council members and the KCRHA itself.  Of about $40 million city council members have proposed adding to the city’s budget for homeless services next year, about $12 million would expand or extend existing programs or fund new priorities, all through what the budget describes as “contracts” between the Human Services Department and the KCRHA, which is independent from the city.

For example, three budget amendments from homelessness committee chair Andrew Lewis would provide a total of $1.5 million for YouthCare, which serves youth and young adults, to provide COVID pay and time off for workers and continue or expand programs like a youth shelter relocated to a larger location during COVID and a barista training program. Another amendment, by Councilmember Dan Strauss, would expand funding for the city’s RV outreach and parking ticket mitigation program, which Durkan, for the second year in a row, has proposed eliminating.

A spokeswoman for the KCRHA, Anne Martens, said that any money the council adds through the city’s budget process “will be included in our service agreement with the City” but referred more detailed questions about how the contracts would work to HSD. According a spokesman for HSD, the contracts will be part of a “master services agreement” between the homelessness authority and the city, similar to an existing agreement between the city and county for public health services. 

Councilmember Andrew Lewis acknowledged that the city has few options to require the authority to spend money in a specific way, since the KCRHA is not part of the city, beyond passing a budget restriction called a proviso stipulating that the city won’t provide funding unless it goes to a specific purpose.

In addition to the amendments council members initiated on their own, the authority is asking for $27.6 million to fund a new high-acuity shelter for people living with serious physical and behavioral health challenges downtown, peer navigators to help unhoused access shelter and services, and funding for administrative costs that the KCRHA didn’t include in its initial budget.

Lewis, who sits on the regional authority’s governing board, acknowledged that the city has few options to require the authority to spend money in a specific way, since the KCRHA is not part of the city, beyond passing a budget restriction called a proviso stipulating that the city won’t provide funding unless it goes to a specific purpose. Councilmember Kshama Sawant has proposed just such a proviso on $9 million in funding for the authority, which, under her amendment, could only fund new and existing tiny house villages, a shelter type that KCRHA CEO Marc Dones has frequently criticized.

In recent years, the council has used provisos to try to prevent Mayor Jenny Durkan from repurposing funds for her own budget priorities, with mixed success. Continue reading “As Homelessness Contracts Leave the City, Seattle Still Wants a Say In How Its Money Gets Spent”

As Council Moves to Fund Alternatives to Police, Durkan Proposes Big Bonuses for SPD Hires

1. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan issued an emergency executive order on Friday introducing hiring bonuses as a recruitment tool for the Seattle Police Department and the Community Safety and Communications Center, which houses the city’s 911 dispatch.

The order will allow SPD to pay officers who transfer from other departments up to $25,000, and new recruits from the academy up to $10,000, during the remainder of 2021. The CSCC will be able to offer the same bonuses to lateral transfers and new hires, respectively. The city council has repeatedly rejected attempts by Durkan and her allies to fund new police hiring incentives this year, including a July proposal to restore a hiring incentive program halted by the COVID-19 pandemic and a pair of proposals Councilmember Alex Pedersen introduced with Durkan’s support in early September.

In a statement Friday, Durkan said the bonuses would help SPD refill its ranks after two years of record-breaking attrition. According to SPD strategic initiatives director Chris Fisher, the greatest challenge to SPD’s ambitious plan to hire 125 officers in 2022 is convincing prospective officers to fill out applications; the generous bonuses are intended to sweeten the deal.

Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) President Mike Solan criticized the mayor’s order on Saturday, writing in an open letter that “dangling money to recruit new or lateral hires won’t get the job done.” Instead, he argued that the next mayor’s priority should be retaining existing officers.

The CSCC, which launched quietly over the summer as the city’s newest department, is also dealing with a staffing shortage at the 911 call center. The call center has spent 40 percent more on overtime this year than it had by the end of October 2020 as the department struggles to fill vacant call-taker and supervisor positions. Starting on Friday, Seattle residents who call the city’s non-emergency phone number will occasionally be met with a pre-recorded message suggesting alternative resources; that message will only appear when the 911 center has to assign all of its call-takers and dispatchers to emergency calls.

During discussions of the department’s 2022 budget on Tuesday, Councilmember Lisa Herbold reiterated that plans to use $1 million of the department’s unspent salaries for hiring incentives next year—a separate proposal included in the mayor’s 2022 budget plan—should factor in the need to fill vacancies across all city departments.

2. A $13.9 million amendment to Seattle’s 2022 budget would allow the city’s mobile crisis teams—mental health professionals who respond to crisis calls, mostly in and around downtown Seattle—to operate around the clock.

The amendment, sponsored by Councilmember Dan Strauss, would expand the 43-person mobile crisis team, operated by the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC), enabling DESC to expand its services city-wide and operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who signed on as a co-sponsor of Strauss’ amendment, called the mobile crisis team an example of the kind of investments in alternatives to traditional police response that Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed budget mostly lacks.

Durkan has proposed creating a new “Triage One” mobile unit to respond to about 7,000 annual non-emergency calls about people sleeping or unconscious in public places, but that still “leaves more than 30,000 calls that will default to police response without an alternative funded at scale,” Herbold said. After a review of SPD’s emergency responses by the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform earlier this year suggested moving half of the department’s call volume to other responders, Durkan endorsed a less-ambitious plan to divert another 40,000 calls to non-police responders each year—though her budget proposal didn’t create a plan for how to divert most of those calls.

The amendment would also scale up other mental health crisis services, including $1.5 million to pay for 15 new positions with DESC’s behavioral health response teams, which provide follow-up support for people in crisis after their initial interaction with the mobile crisis teams. At the moment, the follow-up team has only four members.

The largest portion of the proposed budget amendment—$8.5 million—would go to the DESC’s Crisis Connections Center, which currently relies on the county for funding; the amendment would not come at the cost of county funding. The money would double staffing for the center, which DESC hopes to move into a larger building.

3. On Tuesday, Councilmember Andrew Lewis introduced a $360,000 amendment to the mayor’s proposed budget that would. among other things, set aside $100,000 to create a “victim compensation fund” that would reimburse individuals and small businesses for stolen inventory, minor property damage, and other misdemeanor-related losses.

The goal of the fund, Lewis told his colleagues, is to replace a restitution process that rarely gets money to victims. “Under the current system,” he said, “an overwhelming majority of the defendants in the municipal court are indigent and, unfortunately, likely to remain indigent.” Of the roughly $191,000 that municipal court judges ordered defendants to pay between 2018 and January 2021, Lewis said, crime victims received just over a third.  Another $250,000 would go towards other “restorative justice” causes, including outreach to crime victims who don’t typically request or receive restitution—particularly people of color. 

The proposal to re-invent Seattle’s restitution system dates back to July, when City Attorney Pete Holmes and a group of advocates for court fee reform  pitched the concept of a “victim compensation fund” to the council. Though Holmes advocates for the fund as a more reliable way to compensate victims of crimes, the proposal is also a response to a recent Seattle Municipal Court analysis that found that judges were more likely to require Black and Indigenous defendants to pay restitution to victims than white clients.

Lewis’ amendment includes some nonbinding policy recommendations that resemble reforms Holmes has already adopted. Most notably, the amendment says the city attorney’s office must allow defendants to go through diversion programs or community court even when those options release defendants from their restitution requirements.

The non-binding policy recommendations in Lewis’ amendment are aimed at whoever takes office in January, although Holmes spokesman Dan Nolte noted that the next city attorney would be able to toss those policies aside without the council’s input.

—Paul Kiefer

Former OneAmerica Head Files Ethics Complaint Against Mayoral Candidate Bruce Harrell

By Erica C. Barnett

Rich Stolz, the former head of the immigrant rights group OneAmerica, has filed a formal complaint asking the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission to investigate mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell’s actions as a council member to “discourage [an] investigation” by the city’s Office of Labor Standards into allegations of unpaid sick leave and wage theft brought against the Royal Esquire Club, the Black men’s social club that Harrell chairs.

As we’ve reported, Harrell called the OLS investigator looking into the case to ask for information about the investigation, mentioning that “he helped construct the Office of Labor Standards and would have to look in the future if any changes in funding need to be implemented,” according to the investigator. The club settled the complaint, which involved five women, for a total of just under $11,000 in June 2019.

Four months after the agreement was finalized, Harrell proposed spending $50,000 to survey businesses investigated by OLS, whose employees Harrell called “extremely unprofessional.” In pitching the business poll, Harrell said he had heard from many minority-owned small businesses that were “devastated” or even “forced to close” by enforcement actions over what he called “good-faith disputes” with workers, not “wage theft in the traditional sense.”

In his complaint, Stolz—a González supporter—alleges that Harrell “misused his official position to influence an Office of Labor Standards (‘OLS’) investigation into serious workplace violations at the Royal Esquire Club (‘REC’) when Councilmember Harrell was the Board Chairman. Councilmember Harrell’s misuse of public office included a threat to OLS, with the implication that if OLS did not conclude its investigation in a way that Councilmember Harrell approved, its funding would be in jeopardy.”

His current opponent for mayor, Lorena González, objected back then to what she called a “hit piece on OLS” with “a predetermined outcome,” saying that if someone had conducted a survey of all the people she had sued for labor law violations over the years, “I suspect that the results of that survey would resoundingly say that they hated me, and that… my clients’ claims were frivolous.”

In his complaint, Stolz—a González supporter—alleges that Harrell “misused his official position to influence an Office of Labor Standards (‘OLS’) investigation into serious workplace violations at the Royal Esquire Club (‘REC’) when Councilmember Harrell was the Board Chairman. Councilmember Harrell’s misuse of public office included a threat to OLS, with the implication that if OLS did not conclude its investigation in a way that Councilmember Harrell approved, its funding would be in jeopardy.”

The complaint includes a memo from OLS’ file on the wage theft investigation about an apparently awkward meeting between two OLS investigators and a representative of the club who complained about the investigation and informed them that Mayor Jenny Durkan supports the club and has called herself an “Esquirette.” Continue reading “Former OneAmerica Head Files Ethics Complaint Against Mayoral Candidate Bruce Harrell”