Category: Elections

Eco Blocks Update, Sawant Replacement Rumors, Another Preventable Outbreak,and Another Sweep In Ballard

City Light anti-RV fencing

1. Last week, PubliCola reported on the widespread use of “ecology blocks” to prevent people living in RVs from parking on the street in the Ballard industrial area. Although blocking public right-of-way without a permit  is against the law, the city’s transportation department has chosen not to enforce the law, and at least two government agencies—the US Postal Service and Seattle City Light—have installed their own barricades to keep RV residents at bay.

Seattle City Light spokeswoman Julie Moore, following up on our questions from late November, said the electric utility decided to install a double line of fencing, which completely blocks the sidewalk on the north side of its Canal substation in Ballard, after two RVs caught fire next to the substation earlier this year.

City Light installed the fencing, at a cost of about $15,000 a year, “to mitigate risks to our critical infrastructure, specifically lines that provide communications to the System Operations Center and 26kV capacitor banks, which, if damaged, would create a power loss at the King County Wastewater Treatment Plan,” Moore said.

Moore said City Light did not install the eco-blocks that block off parking on the south side of the substation.

Ethan Bergerson, a spokesman for the Seattle Department of Transportation, said the department’s street use team “is working with Seattle City Light to consider possible solutions to create a pathway or detour for pedestrians while still addressing their safety concerns.”

“Without access to shelter—especially access to a toilet, a place to wash your hands, and clean water – this type of outbreak should come as no surprise, and is an exceedingly difficult problem to control.”

2. As voters in Seattle City Council District 3 decide the fate of City Councilmember Kshama Sawant in a recall election today, the city council is reportedly already mulling her potential replacement.

One name that has risen to the top of the list is that of Alex Hudson, the director of the Transportation Choices Coalition. Hudson, who first rose to prominence as the pro-transit, pro-density director of the First Hill Improvement Association and the co-founder of the website Seattlish, told PubliCola, “I like the job I have now,” adding that she “never wanted to be a politician” or subject her family to the kind of toxicity elected officials have to endure. (Case in point: The Kshama Sawant recall election).

Another rumored contender, Marjorie Restaurant owner and Capitol Hill EcoDistrict executive director Donna Moodie, said she had heard her name “mentioned as well,” but added, “I am currently so enthusiastic for the work I’m doing at Community Roots Housing [formerly Capitol Hill Housing that I can’t imagine anything distracting me from that.”

3. Shigella, a gastrointestinal disease that can be prevented by providing access to soap and running water, is on the rise again among Seattle’s homeless population. According to King County Public Health, there were 13 documented cases of shigella among people experiencing homelessness in King County in November.

According to the Seattle Human Services Department, as of late last week, the HOPE Team had relocated 51 people living at the Ballard Commons into tiny house villages or emergency shelter.

Additionally, Public Health spokeswoman Kate Cole said the agency has see more reports of diarrheal illness in general, “but we have no testing or other clinical details to indicate type of illness, so we don’t know if this could be Shigella, norovirus, some other pathogen, or something non-infectious.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic almost two years ago, advocates have asked the city to provide access to running water and soap so that people living unsheltered can prevent the spread not just of COVID but of other diseases more likely to be transmitted by unwashed hands, like shigella and cryptosporidiosis, which can result in severe illness and hospitalization. To date, the city still has not installed the street sinks the city council funded in 2020, citing a dizzying array of supposed logistical and public health problems with giving homeless people opportunities to wash their hands.

“Pathogens that cause GI illnesses, including Shigella, are highly transmissible, particularly in settings with large numbers of people living unsheltered,” Cole said. “Without access to shelter—especially access to a toilet, a place to wash your hands, and clean water – this type of outbreak should come as no surprise, and is an exceedingly difficult problem to control.”

4. Outreach workers and members of the city’s HOPE Team, which offers shelter placements to people living in encampments the city plans to sweep, have relocated most of the people living at the Ballard Commons and behind Broadview Thomson elementary in the Bitter Lake neighborhood in preparation for the closure of both encampments. The Commons, incidentally, has been the site of several previous outbreaks of shigella and other gastrointestinal illnesses. Continue reading “Eco Blocks Update, Sawant Replacement Rumors, Another Preventable Outbreak,and Another Sweep In Ballard”

“In This House,” Seattle Votes for the Status Quo

Bruce Harrell campaign sign with extra sign reading "MODERATE."

By Erica C. Barnett

On Tuesday, less than 18 months after nationwide protests against police violence prompted Seattle leaders to consider new approaches to public safety, Seattle voters endorsed a return to the pre-pandemic status quo, electing a slate of candidates who promised to hire more cops, crack down on crimes associated with poverty and addiction, and remove more unsheltered people from public spaces, with “consequences” for those who refuse to go.

Longtime former city council member Bruce Harrell will be mayor;  longtime city council aide-turned-“take back Seattle” brewery owner Sara Nelson will replace Lorena González on the city council, and Republican (and three-time candidate) Ann Davison will be city attorney.

The new regime is a significant win for the business and political leaders who have been shouting for the past year and a half that Seattle Is Dying because the city’s mushy progressivism has gone too far. What’s ironic about that view is that “the left”—that is, people on Twitter who have the unique ability to send mainstream pundits into fits of derangement—has essentially no power in Seattle city government.

Yes, there are a few more progressive faces on the council than there were a dozen years ago. But that doesn’t mean they’ve had much luck changing city policy (and on many issues, the council is still sharply divided). Under Seattle’s form of government, the mayor controls almost every city department and has the authority to ignore or reverse the council’s policy and spending directives, meaning that even if the council were to tell the mayor to, say, cut the police department by 50 percent, the mayor could and probably would just ignore them—as Seattle’s current moderate mayor, Jenny Durkan, has done with policy after policy. If the council’s progressive bloc could spend money or establish policy by fiat, you would see a whole lot more hotel-based shelters, public restrooms, and handwashing sinks around the city.

Of course, if your entire understanding of how politics currently operate in Seattle is based on Twitter, you might believe that the “Nikkita Oliver left” is actually in charge of things. It’s an analysis that feels right—if you choose to ignore the list of people who are actually running the city and the policies they have created.

For the past several years—the period when centrist pundits claim that Seattle was controlled by a far-left progressive bloc—the city has stayed the course on any number of policies that previously failed to address the city’s problems—pouring money into downtown Seattle at the expense of other neighborhoods, offering huge hiring bonuses to new police officers, and ramping up encampment sweeps to pre-pandemic levels. (Prior to the current administration, encampment residents generally got 72 hours’ notice before a sweep.)  Progress on Vision Zero, a plan to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030, has not only stalled but reversed, with more people killed by traffic violence last year than in any year since 2006. Exclusionary zoning laws continue to prohibit new housing except in tiny strips of land along major arterial roads. And overdose deaths have increased dramatically, an outcome that could have been mitigated by opening the supervised consumption site King County recommended in 2016, and which Durkan has consistently (and successfully) opposed.

The claim that Bruce Harrell, Sara Nelson, and Ann Davison represent a set of “fresh new faces” with “new ideas” may be the most confusing piece of conventional wisdom being pushed by Seattle’s pundit class. Harrell served on the council for 12 years before stepping down at the end of 2019. His homelessness policy, a copy-and-paste of the failed Compassion Seattle charter amendment, was drafted by 12-year council veteran Tim Burgess. And Nelson’s old boss, Richard Conlin, was a 16-year incumbent.

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As mayor, Harrell’s campaign promises sound pretty much the same as Durkan’s when she came into office: More, better, reformed police, lots of new shelter beds, and a “pragmatic” approach to the city’s basic issues, like transportation. (Cycling advocates have considered Durkan particularly hostile to their requests for safer infrastructure; at a recent campaign forum, Harrell made a point of mocking bikes as a viable transportation option.) Durkan never did build all 1,000 tiny houses she promised to complete by the end of her first year, and the police department is so far from “reform” that it remains under a federal consent decree, after Durkan and outgoing city attorney Pete Holmes prematurely tried to terminate the agreement in 2020. At the beginning of her term, Durkan vowed to apply a compassionate but tough approach to the city’s most pressing issues. Now that her four years are up, Harrell is proposing more of the same.

Seattle has always been a wealthy, mostly white, fundamentally centrist city that wears its thin veneer of progressive politics like a “Black Lives Matter” sign slapped in the window of a single-family house in a segregated neighborhood.

Of course, if your entire understanding of how politics currently operate in Seattle is based on Twitter, you might believe that the “Nikkita Oliver left” is actually in charge of things. It’s an analysis that feels right—if you choose to ignore the list of people who are actually running the city and the policies they have created. For people who are well represented by the current status quo, it can feel like oppression to listen to how people talk about you and your political allies in an online space that you chose to enter. But look around: Seattle has always been a wealthy, mostly white, fundamentally centrist city that wears its thin veneer of progressive politics like a “Black Lives Matter” sign slapped in the window of a single-family house in a segregated neighborhood.

Davison, admittedly, is a special case—one Seattle’s center left may soon regret supporting as gleefully as they backed moderates Nelson and Harrell. On election night, several Davison supporters at Harrell’s party referred to her, somewhat apologetically, as “Republican-Lite,” but there’s little question about the views she has expressed in public. When Davison ran against city council incumbent Debora Juarez (one of those moderate council members the pundits who scream about the “far-left council” never mention) in 2019, she proposed fixing homelessness by rounding up unsheltered people and busing them to warehouses on the outskirts of the city, where they would somehow be kept alive for less than $1,500 a year. A year later, she declared herself a proud Republican and ran for lieutenant governor on the Donald Trump/Loren Culp ticket. Her plans for that office were even easier to fit on an index card: If elected, she said, she would abolish the office.

Seattle spent much of 2020 in righteous convulsions over Trump’s revanchist, neo-1968 law-and-order rhetoric. But when it comes to quieter dog whistles—protecting single-family zoning, “reclaiming our parks,” and “reforming” the police department—Seattle always responds on cue.

And there is considerable overlap between Harrell’s supporters and Davison’s (they even share some of the same consultants). On election night, after Harrell made his celebratory speech, a number of people from Harrell’s party piled into their cars and headed over to Davison’s celebration party. One was former Ed Murray public safety advisor (and Davison endorser, Chris Gregoire’s son-in-law) Scott Lindsay, who could hold a high-ranking position in the Davison city attorney’s office. Although most of the work of the office is in the civil division, Davison has said her top priority would be prosecuting misdemeanors—a radical reversal of the policies Holmes has put in place over the past 12 years, and a retreat into the zero-tolerance, broken-windows approach Lindsay has advocated.

Seattle spent much of 2020 in righteous convulsions over Trump’s revanchist, neo-1968 law-and-order rhetoric. But when it comes to quieter dog whistles—protecting single-family zoning, “reclaiming our parks,” and “reforming” the police department—Seattle always responds on cue. “In this house,” Seattle votes for the status quo.

On Election Night, Voters Reject Progressive Slate

By Erica C. Barnett

With reporting by Paul Kiefer and Clara Coyote

Even before election results appeared on the big screen at presumptive mayor-elect Bruce Harrell’s campaign party Tuesday night, the mood in the room—a cavernous upstairs event space overlooking Second Avenue downtown—was jubilant. The campaign for mayor has been unusually ugly, and the candidates’ dislike for each other has been palpable.

A late-breaking dispute over a González ad that the Harrell campaign denounced as “racist” didn’t help González’s campaign, but it’s hard to attribute a blowout margin of almost 30 percent to a single event. Instead, it looks like Seattle voters went hard for a slate of candidates who promised to return Seattle to the time before last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, when there was no question that the city’s job was to hire more police, remove encampments, and make Seattle a business-friendly climate with parks activated by giant Connect-4 sets and jazz trios, not marred by the visible evidence of the homelessness crisis.

Besides Harrell, the leading candidates in last night’s city of Seattle races were Republican city attorney candidate Ann Davison (leading public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy 58 to 41 percent) and Fremont Brewing owner and Position 9 candidate Sara Nelson (leading attorney and activist Nikkita Oliver 60 to 39 percent). Even Kenneth Wilson, the Position 8 candidate whose campaign against incumbent Teresa Mosqueda boiled down to “reopen the West Seattle Bridge,” tallied almost 60,000 early votes, trailing Mosqueda by just 47 to 52 percent. This wasn’t a long-tail election; it was three separate blowouts, plus a warning: Candidates who (like Mosqueda) are seen as progressive can’t count on their seats anymore, not even in Seattle.

The undercurrent of backlash was evident at Tuesday’s Harrell celebration, attended by a long list of current and former Seattle power brokers who no longer wield the influence they once did at city hall. Current deputy mayor and former mayoral candidate Casey Sixkiller was there, as were ex-council member (and “Compassion Seattle” founder) Tim Burgess, former Murray public safety advisor-turned-pro-police quote machine Scott Lindsay, former city council member Jan Drago, and the CEOs of both the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Rachel Smith, and the Downtown Seattle Association, Jon Scholes.

The current mayor, Jenny Durkan, was in Glasgow for the C40 climate conference. She did not endorse any candidates in this year’s elections.

Surrounded onstage by family members and former Seattle mayor Norm Rice—the city’s first Black mayor—Harrell said he and his team were “going to put Seattle on fire with our love. … We’re going to have a new conversation on homelessness, a new conversation on education, on transportation, on climate change… rooted in the love we have for each other and the love we have for the city.”

Support for Harrell’s campaign came largely from business and real estate interests, which poured more than $1.3 million into an independent expenditure effort on his behalf. (Harrell’s own campaign raised about $1.2 million, making the campaign the most expensive in Seattle’s history).

Over at González HQ—for election night, Hill City Tap House in Hillman City—the mood was less dour than one might expect, oddly, even jovial, given the immense hill González would have to climb to reverse the night’s results. (Officially, neither mayoral candidate declared victory or conceded). Campaign staff and supporters passed around pints of beer, union members and a large group city council staffers packed together under the outdoor awning, and a who’s-who of progressive political figures, including 37th District state Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley and former mayoral candidate Andrew Grant Houston gestured at one another with slices of pizza. Gonzalez’s sister and nephew flew in from Kansas City.

Speaking to the crowd, González said it was still too early to concede. “We are used to being underdog in every which way, and this is no exception,” she said. “The fact that so many of the votes of our voters, who tend to vote at the very end, means that we may not know who will be the next mayor until later this week.” Her own longtime staffers, however, looked visibly shaken. Continue reading “On Election Night, Voters Reject Progressive Slate”

Vaccine Mandate Applies to Incarcerated Workers; Anti-Vax Conspiracy Theorist Runs for Hospital Board

1. According to a memo issued to all Washington Department of Corrections inmates last week, the state’s vaccine mandate does apply to some incarcerated workers. The memo clears up one point of confusion in a larger and ongoing debate about whether inmates qualify as state workers.

As of October 26, the DOC will require vaccinations for positions on Department of Natural Resources (DNR) work crews, Department of Veteran’s Affairs (DVA) work crews, and for positions with Correctional Industries, the semi-autonomous business conglomerate run by the DOC, that involve working outside of the state’s 12 prisons. Any unvaccinated incarcerated workers have until December 13 to complete the vaccine regimen; for now, the DOC will not allow them to return to work.

The department is allowing incarcerated people to apply for medical or religious exemptions from the mandate. The DOC has not yet responded to PubliCola’s inquiries about the exemption process, nor have they specified how many workers are subject to the mandate.

Vaccination rates among people in DOC custody have slightly outstripped the state’s overall rate of 73 percent: more than three-quarters of all inmates are fully vaccinated. In mid-September, the vaccination rate for DOC staff was significantly lower—around 40 percent—and the department has begun the process of firing more than 300 staffers who refused to comply with the state’s mandate.

Despite the relatively high vaccination rate, COVID-19 infections remain a persistent problem in the DOC’s prisons and work release facilities. On Thursday, the department instituted a lockdown at the Cedar Creek Correctional Center near Centralia to contain an outbreak of the virus; meanwhile, the Clallam Bay Correctional Center on the Olympic Peninsula is still recovering from a dramatic surge in cases in late August and September.

Although the number of new vaccinations that will result from the mandate is still unknown, any increase in vaccinations among incarcerated people could become even more important as the DOC begins an effort to shift hundreds of inmates from prisons to work release facilities and home monitoring in the coming months. That project—a continuation of last year’s efforts to reduce prison populations in response to the pandemic—also involves adding bunks at the dozen work release centers around the state in anticipation of new arrivals; as those centers become more crowded, vaccination campaigns will become even more vital for the safety of people in custody.

2. Even if you vote faithfully in every election, you may not pay always make it to the bottom of the ballot, where the fire and rescue commissioners, sewer board members, and cemetery commissioners tend to languish. But maybe you should—especially if you live in Renton, where a anti-vax COVID denier who peddled election conspiracy theories and bragged about being in Washington, D.C. on January 6 is running for a position on the hospital board that oversees Valley Medical Center, in Washington.

Katie Bachand, a doula who graduated from the Seattle Midwifery School and Bastyr University, portrays herself in the King County  King County Voters’ Guide as a fiscally-minded reformer who wants to “return control of our Hospital District to the voters” and “stop the Trustees from taking your property taxes to fund whatever they deem to be necessary expenditures, including the salary of the CEO, without a vote from the Board of Commissioners!”

But in private social media posts, Bachand has promoted disinformation about COVID, including the “theory” that vaccinations cause the disease, promoted posts calling the pandemic itself a “psy-op,” not a pandemic”), referred to vaccine mandates as “Nazi[sm],” and promoted untested “cures” for COVID such as ivermectin, the much-mocked horse dewormer that the FDA has warned is not a treatment for COVID. In one September post, Bachand suggested that the government manufactured the COVID crisis to convince people to “accept a shot that changes our dna. This is all factual and from the Bible- no conspiracy theory ideas….”

As recently as August 21, Bachand encouraged nurses and other public employees to resist vaccine mandates in order to “win against tyranny”. Bachand also bragged about being in Washington, D.C. for former president Trump’s January 6th “Stop the Steal” rally claiming that “the truth is coming out that the F Bee Eye was behind it”—lingo meant to evade Facebook’s misinformation filters—and claimed in September that Joe Biden’s election should be decertified because “the audit showed over 57,000 fraudulent votes.”

Monique Taylor-Swan, Bachand’s opponent, is a certified home care aid and a board member of Service Employees International Union 775 with a long list of union and Democratic Party endorsements. According to the Progressive Voters Guide, Taylor-Swan wants to focus on “proper staffing and making pay more equitable between the highest-paid executives and underpaid nurses and staff” at Valley Medical.

—Paul Kiefer, Clara Coyote

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”

Council Tries to Protect Diversion Programs, ICE Contractor Ordered to Pay Minimum Wage, SPD Will Phase Out Minor Traffic Stops

1. For at least the past decade, the Seattle city attorney’s office has worked to replace punitive criminal-justice approaches with programs designed to reduce recidivism without involving police and jails. The office launched pre-filing diversion programs; supported an intervention program for domestic batterers; and took part in the launch of a new community court in 2020. The office still prosecutes misdemeanors—assault, theft and trespassing remain among the most common charges—but outgoing City Attorney Pete Holmes frequently argues that Seattle’s public safety problems can’t be solved with jail time alone.

All of those new additions to the office’s workload are discretionary. A future city attorney could decide to repurpose all or some of the money that currently supports diversion programs and ramp up criminal prosecutions, for example. Ann Davison, a Republican who could become the next city attorney, seems poised to do something along those lines. In Davison’s view, Holmes has failed to adequately pursue misdemeanor charges for “quality of life” crimes like property destruction and shoplifting.

The prospect of an incoming city attorney who might cast aside years of reforms prompted some members of the Seattle City Council, which has supported the office’s diversion programs since 2017, to consider setting some of those reforms in stone.

On Wednesday, council president Lorena González proposed restricting almost $2 million of the city attorney’s 2022 budget so that it can only pay for diversion programs.  Her amendment notes that the council is also working on legislation that would make diversion a permanent duty of the city attorney’s office, in an attempt to deter future city attorneys from discontinuing these programs. That bill will likely go before the council in December.

On Wednesday, council president Lorena González proposed restricting almost $2 million of the city attorney’s 2022 budget so that it can only pay for diversion programs

Public safety committee chair Lisa Herbold introduced her own amendment to add four new positions to the city attorney’s diversion team, to support LEAD and other pre-filing diversion programs run by Choose 180, Gay City, and Legacy of Equality, Leadership, and Organizing (LELO).

While a future city attorney could sidestep the proposed proviso by simply not spending the dollars earmarked for diversion, failing to spend money allocated for a specific purpose comes with some political risk. Another looming risk for the city attorney’s office—the departure of staff from its civil division, which works with the council to develop new policies, in response to the change in leadership—is out of the council’s control.

Despite the obvious allusions to Tuesday’s election, no council member mentioned Davison by name.

2. A federal jury determined on Wednesday that the for-profit firm that operates the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma violates Washington’s minimum wage laws by paying detainees only $1 per day for their labor. The jury also ruled that the Florida-based GEO Group Inc., one of the largest private prison and immigrant detention center operators in the country, will need to pay all workers the state’s $13.69 hourly minimum wage, or more, immediately.

Next, U.S District Court Judge Robert Bryan will decide how much the company profited from more than a decade of underpaying detainees to perform most non-security labor in the detention center. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is requesting that the court order GEO to reimburse detainee workers for years of underpaid wages, as are a group of private plaintiffs in a separate class action lawsuit.

During the two-and-a-half-week trial, several former and current staff at the detention center said GEO also replaced civilian workers with detainees to cut costs; Ferguson also asked the court to require GEO to reimburse civilian workers for wages they lost when they were replaced by detainees.

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The ruling comes four years after Ferguson initially sued GEO for minimum wage violations. In that time, detainees at the facility have held multiple protests and hunger strikes to raise concerns about overcrowding, inadequate meals, and a lack of access to medical care.

GEO has owned and operated the facility—the fourth-largest of its kind in the country—since 2005, but when the company’s current contract expires in 2025, the facility will likely close because of a new law, signed by Gov. Jay Inslee this past spring, banning most private detention facilities. GEO is currently challenging that law in federal district court, arguing that it undercuts the federal government’s authority to detain immigrants and that the closure would mean moving hundreds of detainees far away from their families and attorneys.

The nearest detention facility that can hold ICE detainees is a jail in Yuba County, California, which can hold up to 220 people for ICE.

Though the ramifications of Wednesday’s ruling are tremendous for current and former detainees at the Northwest detention center—according to earlier estimates by GEO, the center generated some $57 million in annual profits—those ramifications won’t extend to the much larger incarcerated workforce in Washington State’s prisons, Ferguson spokeswoman Brionna Aho said. Nearly 2,000 people in state custody produce furniture and medical gowns, cook and package meals, and clear trails, among other jobs; after the state deducts victim compensation, incarceration costs, and other fees, inmate workers earn far less than minimum wage.

3. In a memo to the city council and Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office last week, Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz endorsed a plan to phase out traffic stops for minor infractions by the end of the year.

The memo comes five months after Seattle Inspector General Lisa Judge, who co-signed the letter, asked SPD to bring an end to traffic stops for infractions that, unlike DUI or reckless driving, do not endanger the public. Continue reading “Council Tries to Protect Diversion Programs, ICE Contractor Ordered to Pay Minimum Wage, SPD Will Phase Out Minor Traffic Stops”

The Other City Attorney Candidate’s Radical Tweets

By Clara Coyote

The Seattle City Attorney’s race has been dominated, thanks to recent mass mailings and a huge online ad in the Seattle Times, by criticism of left-wing candidate Nicole Thomas-Kennedy’s tweets. The Seattle Times, Q-13 FOX, and KOMO News (among many, many others) have taken the bait, framing Thomas-Kennedy’s online history as “reckless” “toxic” and “crude.” The tweets, most of them posted during the nationwide summer 2020 protests against police violence, are intentionally inflammatory, referring to police as “pigs” and “serial killers,” and celebrating damage to SPD’s East Precinct and the county’s youth detention center. Thomas-Kennedy addressed the tweets in a recent interview with PubliCola, saying she was “outraged” by the way police retaliated against protesters and repeatedly tear-gassed her neighborhood.

In comparison, Thomas-Kennnedy’s opponent, Ann Davison—who joined the Republican Party after Trump was elected and ran for state lieutenant governor on the Loren Culp ticket last year—has received relatively little coverage for her own social-media history, in which she has aligned herself with far-right figures like Ben Shapiro while referring to her own city as a lawless, “Marxist” hellhole where homeless people are allowed to “choose” a “lifestyle” that makes it impossible for housed people to sit on their porches.

Davison’s Twitter account  @NeighborsforAnn, which she has used in three successive bids for office, reveals a candidate with political views that are deeply out of sync with most Seattle voters.   

Last year, for example, Davison recorded a video conversation with Bradon Straka, a right-wing influencer for the “Stop the Steal” conspiracy theory and a recently convicted January 6th rioter, in which the pair encouraged people to leave the Democratic Party. Davison used her Twitter account to promote the event, which she described as “Bradon & I on a livestream talking about the far left takeover of the Democratic Party in Washington.

Davison embraced radical Republican positions during her run for lieutenant governor as well. During the early days of COVID, she argued for “local control” over mask requirements, railed against “cancel culture and Marxism,” trashed the centrist Washington Women’s Caucus as “extreme far-left” because they did not endorse her, and referred to Democrats as “Socialists” for waiving bar exam requirements for law students during the COVID crisis.

During a 2020 legislative debate over whether to require comprehensive sex education in Washington state’s public schools, Davison relentlessly promoted a far-right disinformation campaign against the bill, joining a nationwide right-wing effort to mischaracterize the legislation as an attempt to teach five-year-olds about sex using “graphic photos and descriptions of sexuality and sexual acts.” During the same period, she also promoted a conspiracy theory about homeless people being a “COVID threat” to housed people promoted by right-wing radio personality Jason Antebi (“Rantz”), frequently tagged far-right Youtube pundit Ben Shapiro and his outlet, the Daily Wire, and began regularly adding the hashtag “#republican” to her tweets and touting her support from Republican elected officials and pundits from across the state.

Perhaps more noteworthy for a city attorney candidate, Davison’s social media history shows her embracing Seattle Police Officer Guild President Mike Solan. Solan notoriously blamed the January 6th riots on the BLM movement, and publicly follows known white supremacists on social media. Davison, who posted a graphic of a Thin Blue Line flag at the height of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, featured Solan on her “After Homeschool” video series in May 2020. In the video, the two championed the reactionary statement that the “overwhelming majority of homeless people in Seattle choose that lifestyle.” 

Given her history of espousing right-wing talking points alongside conspiracy theorists, it’s not surprising that Davison has called state mask mandates an unfair “double standard” compared to the “lawless” existence of people living in homeless encampments.

Davison has portrayed herself as a centrist, middle-ground alternative to Thomas-Kennedy, but her own radical Twitter history suggests otherwise.

PubliCola Picks: Nicole Thomas-Kennedy for City Attorney

Nicole Thomas-Kennedy

For weeks, media coverage of public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy’s campaign for city attorney has focused on anti-police tweets she posted in 2020, to the exclusion of almost any other campaign issue. Amid the onslaught of one-sided coverage and attacks, Thomas-Kennedy has declined to apologize, and odds are, it wouldn’t matter anyway: The “But Her Tweets” crowd is so set on demonizing and caricaturing Thomas-Kennedy as a monstrous extremist, acknowledging their demands would only encourage them.

Nor, it seems, have Thomas-Kennedy’s opponents paid much attention to her actual platform, which represents an evolution and expansion of city policies that have already demonstrated their effectiveness. Already, under current city attorney Pete Holmes, the city has invested in diversionary programs that keep people out of jail and put them on a path to recovery and self-sufficiency—programs like Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, which provides case management and services to people involved in low-level street crime, and Community Passageways, a diversion and prevention program for youth and young adults.

Ten or 15 years ago, when the first diversionary programs were just coming online, it was still somewhat controversial to propose spending money to address the problems that cause people to commit “public disorder” crimes instead of locking people up for things like shoplifting, sleeping in public, and small-time drug deals. Today, the evidence is incontrovertible that prevention and diversion are far more effective (and cost-effective) than punishment and retribution. Restorative justice, diversion, and decarceration are no longer radical concepts, but mainstream approaches.

Thomas-Kennedy wants to push farther in the direction of decriminalization and abolition than Holmes, who accomplished significant policy changes (decriminalizing marijuana locally before it was legal statewide, for example) using a quiet, sometimes incremental approach. But elections present choices, and Holmes is no longer on the ballot. The choice now is between a public defender with a firm grasp of both the civil and criminal sides of the city attorney’s office and a clear, full-speed ahead progressive agenda—and an unqualified activist and perennial candidate whose solution to homelessness and crime are the same: Lock ’em up. Of all the members of this year’s backlash slate, Davison is the most extreme, pushing a law-and-order agenda Seattle hasn’t seen the likes of since the voters returned Mark Sidran to private practice 20 years ago.

Davison conflates crime and homelessness but fails to understand that prosecuting homeless people does nothing to address the conditions that lead people to shoplift, sleep in parks, or buy and sell drugs. Like her supporters Scott Lindsay, Ed McKenna, and, yes, Sidran, she believes that Seattle is too soft on people whose crimes result from poverty, addiction, and homelessness, and wants to restore “order” to Seattle streets by delivering “disorderly” people, particularly “chronic offenders,” into the hands of the criminal justice system.

This simplistic, out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach to complex problems is a pattern for Davison. In 2019, when she ran for city council against District 5 incumbent Debora Juarez, Davison proposed making people experiencing homelessness invisible by rounding them up and busing them to warehouses in North Seattle, Pierce County, and Renton. Her “plan” to warehouse up to 5,500 people, which Davison claimed she “meticulously priced out,” would have supposedly cost the city less than $1,500 per person, per year—an estimate that is profoundly out of touch with the reality of not only what shelter costs, but what shelter is.

Beyond her strange policy proposals, Davison appears to have a shaky grasp on what the city attorney’s office actually does. In campaign mailings and public statements, Davison has focused largely on felonies, like homicide, rape, and burglary, which are not handled by the city attorney’s office. To the extent she has articulated a vision for the city attorney’s office, her plan focuses on what she won’t do—allow people to sleep outside, in conditions she calls worse than “a UN Cambodian refugee camp”—than what she will. Perhaps that’s because Davison has almost no actual courtroom experience, representing just a handful of clients in low-level probate and arbitration cases, most of them more than a decade ago. The region’s coalition of minority bar associations recently gave Davison its lowest rating: “Not qualified.”

Seattle voters, known for electing leaders with generally progressive values, should be alarmed by the fact that Davison not only joined the Republican party during the Trump Administration, but ran for office as a Republican when Trump was at the top of the ticket. (Davison now claims she is a nonpartisan, “independent thinker.”) Although Davison says she voted for Biden, she has not said whether she supported “Stop the Steal” conspiracy theorist Loren Culp, the Republicans’ choice for governor last year. Davison’s platform was a classic Republican stunt: Elect me, and I’ll abolish the office.

The city attorney is not primarily a prosecutor; the criminal division makes up about a third of the office, while the bulk of the work takes place over in the civil division. Mostly, the job involves working far outside the spotlight: Ensuring that legislation passes legal muster, developing labor relations policy, enforcing local regulations, and representing the city in civil litigation. Seattle needs an attorney who is qualified, prepared, and understands the assignment.

While we’re a bit skeptical of Thomas-Kennedy’s plans to enlist the city attorney’s office in a dramatic overhaul of the entire criminal legal system, we are convinced she understands the job she’s applying for. As a public defender who’s had to advocate for people whose actions she didn’t agree with, she’s also well aware that the job will sometimes require her to put her personal views aside and provide the best possible representation for her clients. We’re not convinced that Davison, who has consistently advocated for a justice system based on punishment and retribution, has the perspective or the legal experience to do the same.

The PubliCola editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.

In the Seattle Mayor’s Race, A Flawed Ad Raises Fair Questions

Mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell and his supporters have spent several days denouncing his opponent, city council member Lorena González, as “racist” because of an ad she ran featuring a white, female sexual assault survivor. In the ad, the woman—identified only as Caitlyn F.—says she could “never” support Harrell because he defended former mayor Ed Murray, who resigned amid allegations that he sexually assaulted young men, including Black boys, in the 1980s. The ad also notes allegations that Harrell advised a legal client to “discredit” women who raised allegations of sexual harassment at a Seattle nonprofit he represented.

Given the long history of racist attacks on Black men in America, including vile, centuries-old tropes about Black men preying on white women, having a white woman issue this criticism of Harrell was profoundly tone deaf, at best. On Tuesday, González conceded this point, pulling the ad and apologizing for centering a white sexual assault survivor instead of survivors of color.

Having said that: The allegations the ad alludes to are both substantive and well-documented. That Harrell questioned whether Murray should be “judged” for “maybe” assaulting his own foster children is not in dispute. Nor is the fact that several of Murray’s alleged victims were young Black men, including one who died of suicide in 2018.

Here is what Harrell had to say on July 17, 2017, hours after González became the first Seattle elected official to call for Murray’s resignation: “The people of Seattle … did not ask us to judge anyone for something that happened 33 years ago or that maybe didn’t happen. We just don’t know. And I would ask that I don’t want to be judged for anything 33 years ago.” Addressing his council colleagues, he continued. “And I would challenge any of you to think about where you were 33 years ago. The question is, are you doing your job right now?”

Harrell has repeatedly evaded questions about his decision to make a public statement supporting Murray when the allegations came to light. (He eventually joined the rest of the council in calling for Murray to resign.) When Real Change asked him why he defended Murray, he said he didn’t. “I never defended Ed Murray,” Harrell told the paper. “I stated the facts.”

Given the long history of racist attacks on Black men in America, including vile, centuries-old tropes about Black men preying on white women, having a white woman issue this criticism of Harrell was profoundly tone deaf, at best.

One incident the ad doesn’t mention happened in 2018, when Harrell—then city council president—attempted to intervene in a city investigation into wage theft allegations made by five women who worked at a Black men’s social club where he serves as chairman, the Royal Esquire Club. (The club does not allow women as members but does hire them as waitresses.)

When the city’s Office of Labor Standards began looking into the wage theft allegations, Harrell contacted the city employee who was investigating the case, Daron Williams, to remind him that the council and mayor had the power to cut OLS’ budget. According to Williams’ contemporaneous notes, Harrell also mentioned that the current mayor, Jenny Durkan, was a supporter of the club, complained about the fact that Williams, who had been on vacation, did not immediately respond to his call, and demanded to know who had initiated the investigation.

Harrell alluded twice in city council meetings to OLS’ “horrible” treatment of an organization currently under investigation in his district, presumably the Royal Esquire Club, and sought to add $50,000 to the city’s annual budget for a survey of businesses about how the office had treated them. (OLS investigates claims against businesses, including claims of wage theft, so the likely result of such a survey would be a negative review of OLS.)

According to the eventual settlement, the club had to pay the women about $12,000 in back wages and fines.

In addition to Harrell’s supporters, a number of local right-wing pundits (including FOX’s Brandi Kruse and KTTH Radio’s Jason Rantz) have gleefully seized on the ad, using it as another opportunity to discredit González, a frequent target.  Meanwhile, the Seattle Times, which has endorsed Harrell, ran a story on the controversy that dutifully parroted Harrell’s claim that the entire Black community in Seattle is united in outrage on his behalf—an insulting oversimplification that is as exploitative as it is inaccurate.

One incident the ad doesn’t mention happened in 2018, when Harrell—then city council president—attempted to intervene in a city investigation into wage theft allegations by five women who worked at a Black men’s social club where he serves as chairman, the Royal Esquire Club, telling the investigator that he had the power to cut their budget.

In general, attack ads provide the opposite of useful information; they’re designed to stir emotion while drawing contrasts, all in the space of 20 to 30 seconds. But the fact that Seattle’s largely white pundit class has spent several days talking among themselves about whether one of two mayoral candidates of color, (a first in Seattle) is “racist” represents a win for Harrell, who continues to evade important questions, including one posed by González’ flawed ad: Why did Harrell support Murray for so long—long after many of his colleagues had demanded his resignation, and what does that say about his judgment?

Why is Harrell’s donor list dominated by big real-estate and corporate interests, including Trump’s largest Washington State donor, and are these the people who will have his ear as mayor?

And, if elected, will Harrell listen to advocates who happen to support different policies than he does (those who disagree with Harrell’s commitment to expand the police force and double down on encampment sweeps, for example)? Or will he continue to respond to substantive criticism by attacking, evading, and shutting critics down?