Category: City Hall

Poll Tests Encampment Crackdown; Turf Battles Possible as Homelessness Authority Takes Shape

1. A recent poll asked respondents about a potential Seattle ballot initiative that would use existing government funds to support treatment for mental illness and drug addiction while giving police more authority to “intervene” if people experiencing homelessness didn’t accept the “help” they were offered. The hypothetical ballot measure would also re-establish the police-led Navigation Team, which removed encampments and offered information about shelter and other services to their displaced residents.

The poll also included a number of test messages supporting and opposing the theoretical measure. Among the opposition messages: The groups supporting this initiative don’t really care about solving homelessness and this solution doesn’t include housing; encampment sweeps are unethical or immoral; it’s wrong to involve police in homelessness; and big business contributed to the problem of homelessness and should help solve it.

The “pro” messages included: We’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars and the problem is still getting worse; the council is too lenient on repeat offenders, including one council member (Lisa Herbold) who is trying to pass a “poverty” defense for crimes; businesses are struggling and facing the possibility of having to reopen with encampments everywhere.

Gauging the impact of negative and positive messages helps supporters of ballot measures (and candidates) craft a campaign that responds to the strongest objections while pushing the most compelling message in favor of a measure.

It’s unclear who’s behind the poll. PubliCola has reached out to several groups that have advocated for the city to change its approach to unsheltered homelessness, including the Seattle Metro Chamber, which did not respond to questions.

An early version of the regional homelessness authority structure, circa 2019.

2. The King County Regional Homelessness Authority announced this week that it has finally chosen a director to lead the agency, which was supposed to take over most of the functions of Seattle’s Homelessness Strategy and Investments division beginning last year. The new director, Regina Cannon, is the chief equity and impact officer at C4 Innovations, which released an influential report on racial inequities in homelessness.

One of the chief authors of that study was Marc Dones, the other finalist for the director position and the lead architect of the original plan for the authority itself. Dones was a frequent presence at City Hall in 2018 and 2019, when Seattle and King County were discussing the makeup of the future authority. As a city consultant, Dones advocated for “digital IDs” that would enable people experiencing homelessness to access services using biometric markers (such as fingerprints) or some other form of digital “signature,” and in 2019, Dones’ firm received $637,000 from the county for various contracts.

Assuming Cannon accepts the $200,000-plus position, she will be in charge of creating an organizational structure for an entirely new agency that will oversee homeless services throughout the county, including both Seattle (the primary fiscal contributor to the authority) and three dozen smaller cities, many of which have their own ideas about how to deal with homelessness in their communities. And she will be responsible for taking over hundreds of homeless service contracts currently held by the city, which plans to shut down its homelessness division over the next year.

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We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

3. In the meantime, the city’s Human Services Department plans to retain control over homeless service contracts in 2021, and, in at least one instance, perhaps beyond. Prior to the elimination of the encampment-removing Navigation Team last year, Durkan had planned to keep that team—and only that team—at the city. Now that the Navigation Team is no more, Durkan reportedly wants to keep the outreach providers that currently contract with the city, primarily REACH, under city control.

Durkan’s office did not respond directly to a question from PubliCola about whether she was “seeking to hold outreach contracts at HSD, as opposed to moving outreach to the new authority.” Mayoral spokeswoman Kamaria Hightower confirmed only that the city would retain its contracts with outreach providers such as REACH “through the end of this year.” Continue reading “Poll Tests Encampment Crackdown; Turf Battles Possible as Homelessness Authority Takes Shape”

With González in Mayoral Race, Seattle’s Campaign Season Is Shaping Up

 

By Erica C. Barnett

Seattle City Council member Lorena González, who became the city’s first Latina council member in 2015, will run for mayor of Seattle, she announced this morning. The announcement, though hardly a surprise—González has been viewed as a likely candidate ever since current Mayor Jenny Durkan announced she would not seek reelection last December—creates a race with two clear frontrunners so far, both women of color; Colleen Echohawk, the head of the Chief Seattle Club and a frequent ally of Durkan’s, announced she was running late last month.

In an interview, González said she decided to run for mayor, which will require her to relinquish her at-large council seat, because she wants to “ensure that things are actually being implemented” after the council passes legislation. During the Durkan yerars, the council has frequently passed policy or budget legislation, only to see it vetoed or ignored by the mayor and departments. “I am acutely aware of the importance of the legislative branch in this city, and I am also aware of how important it is to have a mayor that understands that,” González said.

Durkan will likely leave office with a significant amount of unfinished business, including the selection of a new permanent police chief to replace Carmen Best, who resigned last August, and the adoption of a new contract with Seattle’s main police union, which expired last year. González said the next chief of police should be someone who can immediately “identify what things we need to move out of the police department because they’re better addressed by other systems, and … who is going to be dedicated to rooting out racism, white supremacy, and bad officers from the rank and file—to demilitarize not just the ammunition locker but to demilitarize officers’ minds and make sure that officers understand that they are here to serve the people of Seattle, not to deploy weapons of war against its citizens.”

González drafted the 2017 police accountability ordinance, which included a number of reforms that could have significantly changed the way police interact with the people they are sworn to serve. She also voted for the 2018 police union contract that effectively nullified the 2017 reforms. She told PubliCola that if she was voting on the same contract today, “I would vote very different, because the police department has unfortunately not advanced as much in reform as we thought they had.”

González said the next chief of police should be someone who can “demilitarize not just the ammunition locker but demilitarize officers’ minds and make sure that officers understand that they are here to serve the people of Seattle, not to deploy weapons of war against its citizens.”

Specifically, she said she would keep interest arbitration—a process in which a state-appointed arbitrator listens to both sides and decides the terms of a contract—on the table during contract negotiations so that the police union knows “that we are willing to go all the way to the end of the line to force the police guild to be serious about these negotiations and accept these accountability reforms. That has never been done in the city. There has never been a mayor who has been willing to go to interest arbitration and to hold the line.”

González also told PubliCola she would support purchasing hotels or other buildings with private rooms to serve as long-term non-congregate shelter; seek additional direct cash assistance and mortgage and debt forgiveness from the Biden Administration and state legislature, respectively, to address the looming eviction cliff; and “advance an actual work plan and strategy for implementation of universal access to internet service” in Seattle—a longtime goal of advocates for broadband equity.

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Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

The mayoral field could begin filling up soon. Jessyn Farrell, a 2017 mayoral candidate who was on the fence last month, was reportedly testing the waters with labor groups over the past week. Farrell did not return texts or a call for comment on Tuesday. Nor did former city council member (and, very briefly, mayor) Bruce Harrell, who multiple sources said is leaning toward getting in the race).

In other mayoral election news, Echohawk’s original consulting team, the Black-led firm Upper Left, left the campaign and has been replaced by the Mercury Group, led by former mayor Mike McGinn’s chief consultants, Bill Broadhead and Julie McCoy. (McCoy went on to be McGinn’s chief of staff.) Asked about the change, Echohawk said, “Like all new campaigns, we are putting our team in place. We appreciate all the work everyone has done in various roles to ensure we had such a strong start to the campaign.”

Lower down the ballot, Brianna Thomas, a legislative aide in González’s council office who ran for Council District 1 in 2015 (Lisa Herbold won), will reportedly announce she is running for the seat soon, after a bit of background drama: At-large Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who’s up for reelection this year, had asked King County Labor Council leader Nicole Grant, who is white, to consider running for González’s seat as part of a slate.

Grant, whose union expelled the Seattle Police Officers Guild over their use of force and tear gas against Black Lives Matter demonstrators last summer, decided against it after finding out that Thomas was planning to run, and getting feedback that it would be inappropriate for her (as a progressive labor leader with a built-in left-leaning base) to run for the same seat as a progressive Black woman.

On Tuesday, Mosqueda told PubliCola, “Nicole would have been a great candidate and council member, and I deeply respect her decision not to run as the conversation continues about Black community representation in City Hall.”

Meanwhile, another former council candidate, Fremont Brewing Company co-owner Sara Nelson—who ran for the seat Mosqueda won in 2017—filed to run for Position 9 on Monday. Former Red Door bar owner Pete Hanning (whose bar was located just down the street from Fremont Brewing) said he is still deciding whether he wants in, and Seattle Port Commissioner Ryan Calkins, another name that has been circulating in local-politics circles, said he’s currently focusing on his campaign to keep his Port seat, also on the ballot this year..

Election Speculation, Sweep Scheduled for Cal Anderson Park, and Sad News at the Seattle Indian Center

1. As speculation ramps up over who will jump into the race for mayor next year, a number of good and not-so-good rumors have come across Fizz’s radar. Here’s a look at the list of potential and supposedly potential candidates, in what we believe is the current general order of likelihood.

Decent Bets

City council president Lorena González. (González didn’t respond to a text sent last week but her name was on the shortlist of candidates even before Mayor Jenny Durkan announced she wasn’t running for reelection.

Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller. (Asked if he’s running, Sixkiller—who helped craft a compromise homelessness plan for 2021—responded, “Since the Mayor’s announcement last week I, like many others, have started thinking about the various ways I can contribute to the City and its future. But for now I’m focused on the important work of advancing Mayor Durkan’s agenda while overseeing a number of the City’s daily operations and engaging with our residents and businesses about ways we can support them as part of the City’s ongoing response to COVID-19.”)

Former mayoral candidate and state legislator and current Civic Ventures staffer Jessyn Farrell. (Farrell did not respond to a request for comment).

Former state legislator and current Grist executive Editor Brady Walkinshaw. (Walkinshaw did respond, but didn’t say whether he’s thinking of running.)

Chief Seattle Club director Colleen Echohawk didn’t respond to our email but has reportedly been talking with consultants.

Unlikely

Council member Teresa Mosqueda, who would not confirm anything specific, was reportedly wavering on whether to run for reelection to her current seat this year, much less run for mayor. Word is that she has decided to run for a second term.

Scott Lindsay, the former Ed Murray advisor who now writes reports calling for a crackdown on homeless people in public spaces, has been making a lot of public appearances lately (most recently on KOMO 4’s second installment of the “Seattle Is Dying” propaganda series), but he says he’s “still looking” for “a ‘back-to-basics’ Obama-Democrat candidate who has a serious plan to address our city’s homelessness and public safety challenges” to emerge. “[S]adly, it’s a tough political environment for anyone to want to throw their hat in the ring,” Lindsay said.

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If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter. Earlier this month, we took a look back at just some of the work we’ve been able to do thanks to generous contributions from our readers, but those pieces represent just a handful of the hundreds of stories we’ve published this year.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely and exclusively by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

Not Gonna Happen

A grab bag of names are on this list, including people who are unlikely to run and a number who said explicitly that they aren’t running. Deputy mayor Mike Fong and former council member (and, briefly, mayor) Bruce Harrell are on this list, along with former council member/mayor Tim Burgess (who told us he isn’t running, and that “it’s time for younger leaders to emerge”), county executive Dow Constantine (who just announced his bid for reelection and told employees of the county’s executive department last week unequivocally that he isn’t running), and United Way of King County director Gordon McHenry.
McHenry’s name has been floating around for the past week or so, but United Way King County spokesman Cesar Canizales told PubliCola, “Gordon is not running for public office. He is committed to the United Way of King County’s mission and he has no intention of running for public office whatsoever. He has given us 100% assurance, unequivocally that he’s not running.”

2. Several dozen people living in tents at Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill got notice this week that the city plans to clear the park on Wednesday morning, in preparation for the “reopening” of the park. Cal Anderson has been at the center of protests against police violence since June. Seattle Police Department officers have cleared the park several times before—including in August, when several activists occupied the shelter house in the middle of the park—but this is the first time campers have received prior notice, according to an encampment resident.

“They have never given us notice before—they’ve just sort of shown up at five or six in the morning and announced it,” the resident, who said their name was Mud, said. “They don’t like us to be prepared, and I don’t know how they do it, but they usually catch us when our guard is down.”

It’s also the first time, to PubliCola’s knowledge, that the city has orchestrated an encampment removal during the pandemic without the Navigation Team, a group of police officers and social workers who were responsible for removing encampments until earlier this year. The city council disbanded the team as part of the 2020 budget rebalancing package in August. The Parks Department, which already has the authority to remove encampments on its own, plans to orchestrate this one with backup from SPD. 

The city has mostly suspended encampment sweeps this year in light of an explicit CDC recommendation that cities allow unsheltered people to “remain where they are” to prevent the spread of COVID.

The Parks Department says they need to remove the encampment to reopen and reactivate the park, with programming that will include “music, art, community volunteer events, and ongoing offering of social service supports to those in need,” according to a spokeswoman for the department. Continue reading “Election Speculation, Sweep Scheduled for Cal Anderson Park, and Sad News at the Seattle Indian Center”

Mayor Asks for Year-End SPD Budget Boost, Budget Chair Responds: “I Don’t Believe This Is the Time”

Image via Seattle City Council Flickr page.

By Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Jenny Durkan has asked the city council to lift more than a dozen restrictions on Seattle Police Department spending in 2020 so that SPD can pay for overtime expenses accrued this year, including—as the fiscal note prepared by the executive City Budget Office describes it—”exceptional budget pressures due to the utilization of overtime in response to on-going protests and demonstrations and increased separation pay-outs as officers have left the force late in the year.”

As part of the city’s 2020 rebalancing package, the city council passed a resolution that said the council “will not support any budget amendments to increase the SPD’s budget to offset overtime expenditures above the funds budgeted in 2020 or 2021.”

This year’s fourth-quarter supplemental budget includes additional police expenditures in 2020 that would add more than $5 million in SPD spending to the rebalanced budget the city adopted in August—a budget Durkan unsuccessfully vetoed over the issue of police funding. The legislation indicates that the mayor’s office believes some of that money will be reimbursed by FEMA as part of a COVID relief package.

The legislation would also lift a number of provisos relating to out-of-order layoffs, in recognition of the fact that layoffs will be subject to bargaining and can’t happen this year, so the officers who would be subject to layoffs must keep getting paid through the rest of 2020. The council acknowledged earlier this year that this was a possibility.

The legislation has to go through the budget committee, and ordinarily would be sponsored by the budget committee chair. But there’s a problem: The budget chair, Teresa Mosqueda, tells PubliCola that she does not “believe this is the time to lift the provisos or allow for additional spending authority” for SPD. During Monday morning’s council briefing, Mosqueda elaborated: “As this council has [made] very clear, we… want to make sure that we’re interrupting the process and the practice of SPD specifically coming back to ask for overtime dollars.”

SPD, Mosqueda said, made it clear earlier this year that they would fund overtime, as well as jobs the council has directed SPD to cut through “out of order” layoffs, through its existing budget; the resolution and provisos were a way of making sure that they did so. To come back now and ask for money—more than $3 million—violates both the letter and the spirit of the 2020 budget (which Durkan attempted, unsuccessfully, to veto), Mosqueda says.

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter. Earlier this month, we took a look back at just some of the work we’ve been able to do thanks to generous contributions from our readers, but those pieces represent just a handful of the hundreds of stories we’ve published this year.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely and exclusively by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

“It’s no secret to the mayor or to the police department that council passed a resolution during our summer budget process that said the council will not support any budget increase … above the funds budgeted for 2020 or 2021,” Mosqueda told PubliCola on Sunday. “No other department is coming back to council and asking for additional spending authority or to [tell us] that they’ve already spent all their money and need reimbursement.”

The mayor’s office countered on Monday that the city council should have expected the additional spending request, given the magnitude of the cuts included in the mid-year budget revision. “In 2020, the Mayor and Council cut roughly $23 million from the SPD’s budget mid-year,” mayoral spokeswoman Kelsey Nyland said. “I don’t think it’s a huge leap to imagine the SPD – or any department – would have trouble making its budget under those circumstances.”

Nyland noted that in addition to excess overtime (which, she said, Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz has partially addressed by transferring detectives from specialty units to patrol), the department had to pay unanticipated extra separation pay and vacation payouts as more officers than anticipated have left the department. “One thing that’s important to remember is that attrition actually costs a lot more than people realize,” Nyland said. “When an officer leaves, it doesn’t translate exclusively to salary savings for the SPD.”

Continue reading “Mayor Asks for Year-End SPD Budget Boost, Budget Chair Responds: “I Don’t Believe This Is the Time””

Durkan Won’t Seek Reelection

This post originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

By Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Monday that she will not run for reelection, making her Seattle’s third one-term mayor in a row, after Ed Murray and Mike McGinn. 

In an 265-word announcement, Durkan said she couldn’t have done her job well and run for reelection at the same time, so she decided not to run. “I could spend the next year campaigning to keep this job or focus all my energy on doing the job,” she said. “I have decided not to run for reelection because Seattle, we still have some tough months ahead.”

Durkan’s announcement opens up the 2021 mayoral race. Potential candidates include the two at-large City Council members, Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena González, both up for reelection next year. Neither Mosqueda nor González immediately responded to messages seeking comment about the mayor’s decision or how it impacts their election plans. Last week, PubliCola reported on some of the fundraising issues that might be raised if either or both council members decide to run for mayor.

Speculation about whether the mayor would run again has been rampant in recent months—and the mayor’s consulting team has done little to tamp it down. The COVID pandemic transformed the economy overnight, a pivot that required Durkan to adapt quickly to being a recession-era mayor. The position often seemed like an uncomfortable one for Durkan, whose impulse was always to put a positive spin on every announcement, even if the news was bad. 

Thanks in part to circumstances no elected leader could have anticipated, Durkan’s term was largely reactive. In addition to the pandemic, Durkan had to respond to the emergency closure of the West Seattle Bridge, protests against police brutality, a homeless crisis that became increasingly visible as the city halted its policy (established under Durkan) of aggressively removing encampments, and the abrupt resignation of police chief Carmen Best.

The need to respond to so many crises at once often challenged Durkan’s ability to put a positive spin on the news, especially when the news was unequivocally bad. Faced with unprecedented challenges, she often lashed out, accusing the council of irresponsible budgeting and issuing multiple budget-related vetoes that she almost certainly knew would be overturned. When police turned on mostly peaceful protesters with tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets, Durkan defended their actions, standing by Best day after day as she claimed, without presenting evidence, that people “bent on destruction and chaos” with “nothing but ill intent” in their hearts had taken over whole swaths of the city.

As the city council responded to protesters’ demands by reducing the size of the Seattle Police Department, Durkan resisted, initially insisting that the council’s proposals would force the city to “abolish the police department.” Later, Durkan responded to calls to defund the police by promising Black communities a big round number—$100 million­, to be spent on unspecified programs that would be determined in the future. Then, when it became clear her plan relied on funding that was already allocated to marginalized communities, said that the 2021 budget the council adopted—which reduced her $100 million proposal by $70 million and funded a participatory budgeting process led by King County Equity Now—fulfilled her promise “through slightly different community-led processes.”

Durkan telegraphed her disinterest in keeping the job in other, more subtle ways. For the first time in recent memory, the budget adopted for 2021 was a one-year budget, which Durkan said was necessary because it is impossible to predict the two-year impact of the COVID recession. During the last recession, then-mayor McGinn produced grim all-cuts budgets that helped seal his status as a one-term mayor. Durkan has also raised almost no money this election cycle, an early indicator that she was, at best, on the fence about seeking to keep her position. And she has appointed an unusually high number of interim and acting department directors, including two more just last week. Finding permanent directors for these positions, including the head of the Human Services Department (already led by an interim director since 2018) will likely be the next mayor’s problem.

Since before the 2020 presidential election, there has been speculation locally that Durkan might seek appointment in the incoming Biden Administration. Prior to her election in 2017, Durkan was the US Attorney for Western Washington under President Obama between 2009 and 2014. Asked whether there would be an announcement soon about a federal appointment, Durkan campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Formas responded: “Nope!”

Proposal Would Grant Full Subpoena Power to Seattle Police Accountability Bodies

By Paul Kiefer

On Thursday morning, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and city council member Lisa Herbold announced a new proposal to explicitly grant subpoena power to the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). Subpoena power would allow the two police accountability bodies to compel testimony from people who were involved in, or who witnessed, police misconduct but refused to testify. It would also allow the two offices to compel witnesses to hand over records and other evidence in police misconduct cases. If witnesses refused to testify or provide evidence, the proposed law would allow the OPA and OIG to turn to the City Attorney’s Office to obtain a court order enforcing the subpoena.

If passed, the legislation would fulfill a three-year-old promise to expand the powers of the OPA and OIG. The city’s 2017 police accountability ordinance explicitly granted the OIG and the OPA the authority to issue subpoenas during investigations if a witness refused to cooperate, but those powers were placed on the bargaining table during the 2018 contract negotiations with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG).

During that process, which largely neutralized the 2017 ordinance, the city’s negotiating team agreed not to implement those elements of the accountability ordinance. Although the contract allowed the city to unilaterally bring SPOG back to the bargaining table to negotiate the OPA and OIG’s right to issue subpoenas, the negotiating team has not revisited the issue.

As a result, although SPD officers have been required to comply with OPA and OIG investigations for the past three years, the two offices have had no legal recourse if a witness decided not to testify. Neither office has needed to issue a subpoena to obtain testimony or evidence from an SPD officer, so the ordinance would be a proactive measure.

In a press release accompanying the announcement, Durkan said the proposal would “set the City on better footing to pursue stronger accountability measures in our collective bargaining agenda for the next round of negotiations with SPOG,” which expires at the end of the month.

Herbold’s public safety council committee will take up the legislation on December 8.

Morning Fizz: Participatory Budgeting Project Moves Forward, Deputy Mayor Moves Out

1. On Tuesday morning, the Seattle City Council’s legislative department provided a copy of their newly finalized $3 million contract with Freedom Project Washington to PubliCola. The Freedom Project will oversee King County Equity Now’s Black Brilliance research project, which is working on a plan to allocate about $30 million in city funding through a participatory budgeting process next year. Freedom Project Washington is expected to subcontract with other nonprofits to run parallel research projects, but the city has yet to publish the names of the other subcontractors.

The contract has been months in the making. KCEN began laying the groundwork for a Black-led research project to determine the city’s public safety priorities before the council funded the work through its midyear 2020 budget balancing package passed in August. The group launched the Black Brilliance Research Project in September, spending their own reserves while waiting for the arrival of city dollars; since then, KCEN has fielded nine research teams to conduct interviews, surveys, and community meetings. KCEN has not responded to questions for more details about the community meetings and interviews.

Freedom Project Washington has close ties to KCEN—its executive director, David Heppard, has been a regular speaker at the group’s online press conferences—but it was not the city’s first choice of contractor. The council and KCEN originally planned to contract with the Marguerite Casey Foundation but decided to go with the Freedom Project because the Freedom Project, which has been a fiscal sponsor of other nonprofits in the past and has previously received city contracts, could get up and running more quickly. Freedom Project Washington will process payments and expenses on KCEN’s behalf; in return, KCEN will manage the “day-to-day operations” of the Black Brilliance Research Project.

The budget also designated roughly $300,000 to “COVID-related support,” including face masks and “internet connectivity support” for research participants, as well as nearly $400,000 for accessibility resources (childcare at community meetings, transportation, translation) and $500,000 for “cash assistance and direct support for community members.”

The only window into how KCEN plans to spend $3 million on community research is their “Blueprint for Divestment/Community Reinvestment,” a document released last summer that includes KCEN’s own recommendations for city policy and budget priorities and a tentative budget for the Black Brilliance Research Project. As PubliCola reported in August, that budget allocated only around $1 million to pay research staff, though senior KCEN researcher LéTania Severe later said that the group intends to hire as many as 133 staffers over the coming year.

The budget also designated roughly $300,000 to “COVID-related support,” including face masks and “internet connectivity support” for research participants, as well as nearly $400,000 for accessibility resources (childcare at community meetings, transportation, translation) and $500,000 for “cash assistance and direct support for community members.”

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KCEN has not clarified how those resources would be allocated, nor whether and how their budget has changed to reflect tightening restrictions on in-person gatherings like community meetings. The contract with Freedom Project Washington does not include any directives about how to spend the contract dollars, so the project’s budget items will be decided by Freedom Project Washington and KCEN.

According to the contract, KCEN is expected to present their work plan and a preliminary report on their community research projects, including digital documentation of “community research that was presented as visual/performing arts, spoken word, etc.,” to the council in November, though the group’s opportunities to present at a council briefing before the end of the month are dwindling.

A final report on their “findings and recommendations for [a] participatory budgeting framework and mechanisms” informed by “community dialogues” is due in the first quarter of next year.

2. Deputy Mayor Shefali Ranganathan will leave the city at the end of the year, to be replaced by former deputy Human Services Department director for homelessness Tiffany Washington. PubliCola broke the story on Twitter Monday morning. Continue reading “Morning Fizz: Participatory Budgeting Project Moves Forward, Deputy Mayor Moves Out”

The C Is for Crank: Buried in the Budget, Signs of Ongoing Council-Mayor Mistrust

Although Mayor Jenny Durkan’s conciliatory statements toward the city council about their amended 2021 budget—which, you’ll recall, reduces her plan to set aside $100 million for future spending “for BIPOC communities” by 70 percent —mark an improvement from last summer’s low-water mark in mayor-council relations, two under-the-radar budget details may reveal a more lasting lack of trust between the branches.

Every year, the city council issues a number of budget provisos—restrictions on spending that require executive departments to meet certain conditions before the legislative branch will release funding for a program. For example, since 2019, the council has required the Human Services Department to release a report on various aspects of the Navigation Team’s work as a condition of releasing the team’s funds each quarter.

The number of provisos the council imposes, and the amount of funding restricted by those provisos, tends to vary from year to year, and the departments that are subject to provisos change over time depending on the areas of conflict between a particular mayor and a particular council. In 2015, under then-mayor Ed Murray, the council adopted 15 provisos, which restricted a little more than $16 million in spending in the 2016 budget.

This year, the council’s proposed budget includes 42 provisos that restrict an extraordinary, and almost certainly unprecedented, $117 million.

The bulk of those restrictions had to do with Seattle Department of Transportation; at the time, Murray was under fire for failing to dedicate enough money to bike lanes and other non-car-related infrastructure.Three years later, when Durkan was finishing her first year as mayor, the council imposed 17 provisos on about $10 million worth of spending. A review of a half-dozen city budgets going back to the Mike McGinn administration (2013: 19 provisos covering about $6 million) reveals that most years, the council’s limits on spending fall somewhere around this general range.

This year, in contrast, the council’s proposed budget includes 42 provisos that restrict an extraordinary, and almost certainly unprecedented, $117 million. The provisos place conditions on everything from the $30 million that remains in Durkan’s Equitable Communities Fund to more than $30 million that the council plans to spend on participatory budgeting. One proviso, citing typical hiring rates by the Seattle Police Department, holds back $5 million from the police budget unless the chief can prove it’s necessary. on salaries without council approval; another four dictate the geographical distribution of a few hundred thousand dollars for homeless outreach.

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In theory, placing a proviso on a spending item doesn’t necessarily mean that the council believes the mayor will ignore their adopted budget; provisos can simply indicate the council’s desire to stay involved in policy decisions made by departments, or to keep tabs on the city’s investments before sending more money out the door. They can also express a general frustration with the mayor for not providing information the council has requested. For example, in 2018, then-council member Mike O’Brien proposed, and the council adopted, a proviso restricting funds for the South Lake Union and First Hill streetcars until the mayor coughed up an overdue report on the streetcars’ performance.

This year’s outsize funding restrictions could also be a product of the city’s still-nascent efforts to divert funding from the Seattle Police Department and into community-based organizations that promote public safety; since the city still doesn’t know what the participatory budgeting process will recommend, for example, it may make sense to restrict that funding until the process is complete.

However, some council members have made no secret of the fact that they don’t trust Durkan to spend the money they allocate in the budget as directed. When the council was first trying to dismantle the Navigation Team last summer, for example, they used a budget proviso to remove police officers from the team—citing, among other things, the fact that Durkan had recently used $1.4 million intended for non-congregate shelter on rental assistance; failed to spend money the council allocated for mobile showers; and refused to approve an expansion of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program. Continue reading “The C Is for Crank: Buried in the Budget, Signs of Ongoing Council-Mayor Mistrust”

Guest Editorial: Seattle’s Restaurants Can’t Wait for COVID Relief

Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

By Debra Russell and Jessica Tousignant

The lockdown was a necessary step in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, but we couldn’t predict what it would mean for businesses. Restaurant owners didn’t know what to expect.

We were so grateful when Seattleites stepped up and supported us by ordering food for takeout. You were patient and generous as we built an entirely new business model. It was a bumpy transition, but you reminded us that we’re all in this together. Even now, your takeout orders are keeping many of us afloat.

But we can’t forget that our members who are hanging on are the lucky ones. One of the most frustrating aspects of the current economic downturn is that we don’t have enough data to understand exactly how bad things really are. It’s unclear how many neighborhood businesses have closed permanently since March.

The clearest overview of the economic impact on businesses nationwide arrived in a recent report from Yelp, which showed that of all the businesses that closed since March , about 61 percent have now closed permanently. That’s 97,966 businesses wiped out nationwide. Due to the customer-driven nature of Yelp’s reporting, this almost certainly represents an undercount—and in Washington, the numbers are likely even worse.

When ordinary people don’t have enough money to spend at local businesses, those businesses don’t make enough money to stay open.

The Yelp data confirms what we have suspected to be true: We’ve already lost half the businesses that had to temporarily close for lockdown, and the rest are imperiled. A majority of Seattle’s neighborhood restaurants will likely close by the end of the year.

Let’s be clear: this isn’t on our customers. They’ve done more than their part to keep us afloat. But the people and organizations who are supposed to use their resources and visibility to stand up for and protect small business have been entirely absent.

Local leaders claimed we should wait for the federal government to lead the way in the economic response to the pandemic. But the US Senate adjourned for vacation until September 8 without any agreement on a new stimulus plan. Since the additional $600-per-week unemployment benefits written into the last stimulus package were allowed to expire, some of our members report business has dropped by as much as 25 percent. When ordinary people don’t have enough money to spend at local businesses, those businesses don’t make enough money to stay open.

For years, powerful business interests like chambers of commerce, the Washington Hospitality Association, and others have used small businesses as a political football. Today, small businesses are shuttering around Seattle, people are losing their jobs, and these same organizations have quietly looked the other way.

The federal government told states and cities that they’re on their own, and local leaders have failed to step up to fill the void. Mayor Jenny Durkan, for instance, vetoed the expenditure of emergency funds—as though this economic collapse isn’t the biggest emergency most Seattleites have ever seen. (The city council subsequently overturned that veto, but Durkan’s budget would reallocate the money for other purposes.)

Continue reading “Guest Editorial: Seattle’s Restaurants Can’t Wait for COVID Relief”

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. Continue reading “Morning Fizz: Police Attrition, Demands for Resignation, and the Latest on Durkan’s Latest Task Force”