Category: Mayor Harrell

As Questions Swirl About SPD Accountability, City Announces “Dual-Dispatch Pilot” for Low-Priority Calls

By Erica C. Barnett

On Thursday, during a press conference outlining his proposal to expand, reorganize, and rename the city department that responds to 911 calls, Mayor Bruce Harrell said he believed “the process is working” in the case of Daniel Auderer, a police officer and Seattle Police Officers Guild vice president who was caught on body-worn video mocking the death of 23-year-old student Jaahnavi Kandula with SPOG president Mike Solan. The video, which only captured Auderer’s side of the conversation, was recorded shortly after Officer Kevin Dave struck and killed Kandula on January 23.

Harrell was announcing $6 million in new funds for the Community Assisted Response and Engagement (CARE) department, formerly known as the Community Safety and Communications Center; that money will help hire 13 new staff, including behavioral health specialists, to respond alongside police to low-priority calls.

The question about Auderer came from a trainee at the 911 call center in SPD’s West Precinct where the announcement took place.

“Sometimes justice is not quick, due process sometimes is not quick, certainly not as quick as people would like to see,” Harrell said. “But everyone accused of misconducth as the right to due process and I will defend that process. We can’t be quick to judgment. … I have a member of my administration who was sentenced to prison for over 20 years without the possibility of parole. He was unfairly convicted because of the lack of due process. So I will defend due process … and hopefully we’ll see outcomes that people will say, ‘the system worked’.”

As PubliCola reported last week, an SPD employee saw the disturbing video and reported it to supervisors on August 2. Six days later, Auderer sent a letter to the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) attempting to minimize his and Solan’s comments, saying the two SPOG leaders were laughing at “the ridiculousness of how I have watched these incidents play out as two parties”—in this case, Kandula, who was killed by a speeding police officer just hours earlier, and SPD’s own lawyers—”bargain over a tragedy.”

Earlier this week, the Community Police Commission, a civilian oversight body, wrote a letter calling on Police Chief Adrian Diaz to immediately suspend police officer Daniel Auderer without pay while the investigation is ongoing.

SPOG released Auderer’s August 9 letter to a conservative radio commentator the day before PubliCola and the Times received the video in response to records requests, and posted, on social media on September 15.

Earlier this week, the Community Police Commission, a civilian oversight body, wrote a letter calling on Police Chief Adrian Diaz to immediately suspend Auderer without pay while the investigation is ongoing. The CPC also asked Diaz to “immediately engage in a workgroup consisting of the Seattle Police Accountability Partners and members of the community to address repeated concerns with the culture of policing and police practices at SPD.” The other accountability “partners” are OPA and the Office of Inspector General, an independent office that reviews and audits SPD as well as OPA.

Mayor Bruce Harrell and 911 dispatcher Jordan Wallace discuss a Priority 3 call about someone selling stolen merchandise in the International District Thursday.

Auderer’s statements, the three CPC co-chairs wrote, “are horrifying and raise serious concerns about his attitude toward and interactions with members of the community, and his ability to investigate cases equitably, accurately, and without bias and keep the City’s residents safe. While the [body-worn video] does not capture SPOG President Mike Solan’s comments on the other end of the call, there is simply no context that could possibly make these comments acceptable.”

As of Friday, CPC co-chair Joel Merkel said SPD had not responded to the letter; a spokesperson for SPD said they had no comment beyond the statement they released on their website shortly after we published the video last week.

The city has been promising to send civilian first responders to calls that don’t require a police response since 2020, when thousands protested police misconduct after the death of George Floyd. In 2021, then-mayor Jenny Durkan announced the launch of a new crisis response team within the fire department to respond to some crisis calls, but the proposal never got off the ground.

Harrell, similarly, has vowed since taking office in 2022 to create a new “third public safety department,” in addition to police and fire, that would include a new type of civilian first responder. This week’s announcement does include new civilian responders. But they won’t be going out to most calls involving people in crisis.

Instead, they’ll be deployed, along with police, to two call types that police have already determined do not necessarily require a police response. Priority 4 calls, the lowest priority, are non-emergency calls that generally don’t require a police response at all. Priority 3 calls are for minor issues that may or may not get a police response, depending on officer availability—everything from noisy neighbors to off-leash dogs to illegal parking.

Priority 3 calls do include “person down” calls, where someone is unconscious in public, and welfare checks—two call types that might benefit from a behavioral health response, Diaz noted. “Sometimes, a highly intoxicated [person] might actually be … experiencing some level of crisis. Not always, but in some cases,” Diaz said.

However, the majority of Priority 3 calls, Diaz said, are so-called “paper calls”—calls where the incident already happened and the only thing left to do is file a report. Harrell characterized the new program as a “dual dispatch pilot” that the city will evaluate in a year or two “to see where it makes sense… [and] where the data leads us.”

SPD, Diaz noted, already has an internal crisis response team; more than 60 percent of officers have also taken a 40-hour course in crisis intervention training.

After Watering Down Language About Diversion, Committee Moves Drug Criminalization Bill Forward

By Erica C. Barnett

The Seattle City Council’s public safety committee approved legislation on Tuesday that will empower City Attorney Ann Davison to prosecute people for public drug use and simple possession. Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda cast the lone “no” vote, saying the council should be “focusing how on how we get people into public health services, not how we double down and recreate a punitive system … to prosecute more people.” Committee chair Lisa Herbold, along with Councilmembers Andrew Lewis, Sara Nelson, and Alex Pedersen, voted yes.

The legislation now heads to the full council, which will take it up on September 26—or sooner, if Herbold and council president Debora Juarez decide to amend council rules to push it through faster.

Substantively, the bill is more or less the same as a version the council narrowly rejected, with Lewis casting the deciding vote, in June; that is, it criminalizes public drug use and simple drug possession at the local level, mostly aligning the city’s law with state legislation that made public drug use and simple possession gross misdemeanors earlier this year. (Unlike state law, the city bill exempts cannabis.)

The newest version, which includes pages of new “whereas” clauses describing the fentanyl addiction crisis and stipulating that the city does not want another drug war, says police should show a preference for diversion to treatment and other programs when deciding whether to book people for drug use or possession. The new reference to diversion mirrors the new state law, which says that police are “encouraged to offer a referral” to treatment or  diversion programs “in lieu of arrest.”

Proponents of the bill, including Lewis, called this new clause a substantive change that helped transform the bill into a “balanced” piece of legislation. “What we’re really focusing on here is how to take full advantage of our provider community and the resources that they bring to to the forefront to facilitate warm handoffs from law enforcement” into programs like LEAD (Let Everyone Advance With Dignity), a successful pre-arrest diversion program, Lewis said. The state law adopted earlier this year also encourages LEAD referrals, mentioning the program by name 36 times.

“We have spent the last three years finding one-time funding sources to plug that gap at LEAD. If the funding gap from last year is the same [in Harrell’s 2024 budget], it will start to impugn our ability to actually do what this bill purports that it will do.”—Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda

For those who end up arrested under the new law, Lewis said, the legislation also provides the option of pre-trial diversion, in which the city attorney’s office would decline to file charges if a person agreed to go through one of several programs offered through Davison’s office. “If they complete that referral, then they decline the the case,” Lewis said during a recent episode of the Seattle Channel’s “Seattle Inside/Out.”. “They won’t pursue it. Incredibly effective program. Twice as many people who go through pre-file diversion do not re-offend as people who go to jail. Very important statistic.”

While this may be true, as PubliCola has reported, the city’s pre-trial diversion programs are targeted toward young adults and people who are generally high-functioning; they are specifically inappropriate for the chronically homeless and profoundly addicted people the drug legislation is meant to target.

An amendment by Sara Nelson removed language requiring officers “make a reasonable attempt to contact and coordinate efforts for diversion, outreach, and other alternatives to arrest consider diversion” before arresting someone under the law. That amendment, which passed 3-2 (with Mosqueda and Herbold voting “no”) effectively means that it will be up to officers to decide whether to direct people to diversion based on unidentified criteria. The bill says that the mayor plans to issue an executive order stating that diversion is the city’s “standard approach.”

Some councilmembers appeared reassured by this rhetoric, as well as apparent closed-door commitments from Harrell’s office to find money for diversion programs, which are chronically underfunded. But as Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda noted at Tuesday’s meeting, the bill itself commits no new funding to any of the city’s existing diversion programs, which are already stretched thin. This means that the council is putting great faith in Harrell’s budget, which won’t be released until late September. Historically, the mayor’s budget has underfunded diversion programs like LEAD, leading the council to add funding to keep existing programs going.

“We have spent the last three years finding one-time funding sources to plug that gap at LEAD,” Mosqueda noted. “If the funding gap from last year is the same [in Harrell’s 2024 budget], it will start to impugn our ability to actually do what this bill purports that it will do.”

Additionally, Mosqueda noted, the city faces a budget shortfall, starting in 2025, of more than $200 million a year. “Everyone should have that front and center,” she said.

Without new funding, the primary impact of this recommendation could be that existing diversion programs, such as LEAD, start getting new referrals primarily from police, instead of the community-based referrals that now make up the bulk of their work. For most of its existence, LEAD stood for “Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion”; last year, the group changed its name to reflect the shift in its priorities. Reverting to the old model would mean, “effectively, that the only entry point to LEAD is by a police officer,” Mosqueda said.

The committee also voted 3-2 for another amendment from Nelson that water down the second purportedly substantive change to the legislation, which originally would have required officers to use their discretion and judgment to “determine whether the individual, through their actions and conduct, presents a threat of harm to others” before making an arrest.” Nelson’s amendment changes “will” to “may,” making the use of discretion itself discretionary.

The change won’t have much practical impact, since the original version of the bill already defined “harm to others” so broadly it included any “street disorder” witnessed by “businesses, transit riders, and people traveling to school, work, retail stores, or trying to enjoy the City’s parks and other public places.”

But it does codify the notion that police officers get “confused,” as Nelson put it, “in the moment [about] … what we are expecting them to do,” and that requiring them to use their judgment before arresting drug users will make it harder for them to do their jobs (and, presumably, drive them away). “There are practical concerns for officers and prosecutors … includ[ing] time burdens and confusion for the prosecution of criminal cases to time burdens and confusion for officers that are trying to enforce our laws,” Nelson said. Given recent revelations about the way officers behave behind closed doors, one could reasonably argue that officers need more oversight and guidance from the city, not less.

Earlier in the meeting, Mosqueda proposed tightening the definition of “harm to others” to include only physical harm, as opposed to feeling uncomfortable or unsafe. That amendment failed, after Nelson said that someone “being exposed to fentanyl” should be enough to justify an arrest. During public comment, Rev. Harriett Walden, a member of the Community Police Commission, said she “had a fentanyl exposure and almost died.” According to numerous studies, fentanyl vapor contains almost no trace of the drug, and does not pose any physical risk to people who aren’t smoking it.

Burgess Threatened US Post Office Over Graffiti; OPA Clears Officers Who Arrested Protesters for Using Sidewalk Chalk

1. Earlier this year, as part of the the city’s efforts to spiff up downtown Seattle in the runup to MLB All-Star Week, Mayor Bruce Harrell wrote the US Postal Service with an urgent request: Let the city cover the outside of your building at Third and Union with murals or wall banners to help “improve conditions on the street.” At the time, there were several large graffiti tags on the outside the building along with someunpainted plywood panels.

“The City wants to make sure our downtown looks clean and feels safe. However, the current condition of the Post Office is inconsistent with our goal,” Harrell wrote on June 2, in a letter hand-delivered to the local acting postmaster. “The City will pay all costs associated with the murals or wall banners.”

As anyone who frequents downtown Seattle knows, the city plastered the neighborhood with large paste-up portraits of players in the weeks before the All-Star Game; for a while, working in the area was a bit like living inside a promotional installation for baseball.

When the USPS declined the city’s offer to decorate their building, mayoral advisor Tim Burgess responded by threatening legal action.

“The City may be compelled to take action regarding the graffiti on the building, violating the city code,” Burgess wrote on June 20. “Your building looks terrible and contributes to blight.” In a copy of the letter PubliCola received through a records request, those two lines were highlighted for emphasis.

One week earlier, US District Judge Marsha Pechman had issued an injunction barring the city from enforcing its law against graffiti, agreeing with several protesters arrested for chalking outside SPD’s East Precinct that the law is overbroad and likely unconstitutional. However, the mayor’s office noted, Burgess’ threat referred to civil action, which is different than the criminal charges at issue in the federal case.

“I would also point out that the University District post office has a mural painting on it that the UW completed. So permission can be and has been granted in the past,” Burgess’ email continued.

The US Postal Service responded to Burgess’ threat by, in effect, rolling its bureaucratic eyes. “Considering how agitated they are about the exterior, is there a reason we cannot get a coat of paint put on the outlined areas right before the all-star game next month?” a local USPS customer relations manager wrote to USPS higher-ups. Six days later, the postal service sent its response to the city—photos of the building, its exterior wall painted flat government gray and “ready for All-Star game this week.”

The mayor’s office confirmed this sequence of events.

2. Speaking of the graffiti injunction: On August 1, the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) dismissed a series of complaints against six police officers who arrested the four protesters who subsequently sued the city, concluding that the arrests did not constitute biased policing or retaliation against the protesters for chalking messages that criticized police.

In the report, OPA director Gino Betts agreed with the arresting officers that the arrests had nothing to do with the content of the chalked messages, which criticized police, but were “based on property damage—which [an officer who witnessed the arrests] described as a crime—and the cleanup efforts that would ensue rather than the community members’ positions.” At the time, Betts’ report notes, the law banning any kind of alteration to public property was in effect, so the protesters were breaking the law by chalking messages on the temporary walls surrounding the East Precinct.

Additionally, according to the report, at least one of the officers who made the arrests didn’t see the specific messages, “undermining the allegation that [one of the officers] retaliated based on the political message inscribed on the wall.”

In her preliminary injunction against the city, Judge Pechman wrote that the officers clearly retaliated against the four protesters, using the “astonishing degree of discretion” police have under the current law to “to retaliate against criticisms written by Plaintiffs, four peaceful protesters who Defendants arrested for writing political messages in ordinary charcoal and children’s sidewalk chalk in an open and traditional public forum. Defendants selectively enforced [the law] against Plaintiffs’ criticisms while tolerating politically neutral and pro-government chalking,” such as pro-SPD messages chalked on sidewalks by police supporters. “Such viewpoint discrimination,” Pechman wrote, “the Constitution does not allow.”

Ceis Gets Another $30,000 from City, Poll Tests Anti-Andrew Lewis Messages, Burien Site May be Too Loud for Shelter

1. Tim Ceis, the consultant who received a no-bid, $280,000 city contract to work on issues related to Sound Transit’s Ballard-to-West Seattle light rail alignment earlier this year, received a $30,000 contract extension this month, bringing his total city contract to $310,000.

Ceis’ contract involves meeting with neighborhood advocacy groups and other stakeholders to build “community consensus” around the mayor’s priorities for the light rail extension, strategizing, and advancing Harrell’s views to the Sound Transit board.

PubliCola broke the story about Ceis’ initial contract in March.

At the time, Harrell was pushing a proposal to eliminate a station in the Chinatown International District (CID) neighborhood and replace it with a second Pioneer Square Station across from City Hall, roughly where the King County Administration Building currently stands. King County Executive Dow Constantine has proposed creating a towering new residential neighborhood and new civic center in the area. Sound Transit board adopted this proposal as its preferred alternative in March, but left one potential CID option on the table in response to protests from residents and businesses.

The plan to skip over the CID would add a new light rail station near Lumen Field and an existing Salvation Army shelter, amid a broad swath of land owned by developer Greg Smith. As far back as 2022, Smith’s company Urban Visions had mocked up a proposal to move the planned CID station south into SoDo, suggesting the area could turn into a new destination like Chelsea Market in New York or the food and event center in the revamped Seattle Center Armory.

Documents obtained through records requests show that Ceis, along with the city’s designated liaison to Sound Transit, has met with Smith “to discuss potential partnerships related to the proposed CID south station” on Smith’s property. He has also met with attorney Jack McCullough, who represents the developer that owns the development rights around the proposed second Pioneer Street station.

The newly amended contract says that “due to delayed Sound Transit board action,” Ceis’ work will continue through November. The board spent several weeks this summer debating whether to eliminate a promised station on Denny Way or build it on Westlake as planned; Harrell, who initially seemed to support eliminating the long-planned station on Denny, ultimately got behind a station north of the original proposed site on Westlake that will cause less disruption to Amazon and the South Lake Union developer Vulcan.

Public records show that Ceis communicates regularly with Vulcan, and facilitated a meeting between Harrell and Vulcan VP Ada Healey, who told Ceis that the original plan for a station on Westlake would “put [the city’s] economic engines at risk and “sacrific[e] our downtown neighborhoods.” A spokesman for the mayor’s office said the scope for Ceis’ $250-an-hour contract remains unchanged.

2. There’s a new poll in the field testing positive and negative messages about District 7 City Councilmember Andrew Lewis, along with positive messages about his opponent Bob Kettle—a former Navy officer who received 31.5 percent of the vote to Lewis’ 43.5 percent.

The poll, which only tests positive messages about Kettle, appears to be from the Kettle campaign. For one thing, it mischaracterizes several of Lewis’ key positions in odd ways—saying, for example, that Lewis is “working…to bring rent control to Seattle” (in fact, he voted against a rent control “trigger” law earlier this month). For another, it describes Lewis’ views in a way that no human working on his campaign would be likely to phrase them—like a question that says Lewis “believes we can make progress… if we center the work and meet the moment with the urgency it requires,” or another that talks about “electrify[ing] houses.”

The real meat of the poll—the messages voters should prepare to hear from Kettle as he runs against Lewis from the right—is more or less what you’d expect from a guy with campaign signs all over the top of Magnolia and Queen Anne: Kettle will represent District 7 neighborhoods outside downtown Seattle, crack down on “open drug use and dealing from Downtown to our neighborhoods,” and “clean up our public spaces” by removing encampments now that “we’ve finally built-up enough shelter space to offer housing to everyone.”

Quick fact check on that last point: There are currently around 6,000 shelter and transitional housing beds in all of King County—a fraction of what’s needed to serve a homeless population that could be as high as 48,000. Even under the most conservative estimates, we have not “built up enough shelter space,” much less housing, “for everyone.”

3. A potential site for a Pallet shelter in Burien could be disqualified because of extreme noise levels from nearby SeaTac Airport. The property—an empty lot next to the Boulevard Park branch of the King County Library—sits inside a “35 decibel reduction zone,” in which all “living and working areas” must be soundproofed to reduce inside noise by 35 decibels.

Pallet shelters, which are thin-walled temporary structures ventilated to the outdoors, can’t be soundproofed—a fact the Port of Seattle brought up in rejecting a proposal from the city to site the shelter inside the Port’s Northeast Redevelopment Area (NERA). In both locations, the average noise level is between 60 and 70 decibels, a level SeaTac Airport’s director of environment and sustainability said was “not conducive to residential purposes, especially when it is highly unlikely that any temporary housing structures (let alone permanent structures) could be modified to attain the City of Burien’s stringent noise mitigation code.”

A spokesperson for the city of Burien did not immediately respond to questions about noise levels at the potential shelter location and how the site, which has been vacant for many years, first came to the attention of the city.

Months Into Contract Negotiations, City Unions Say Harrell Has Barely Budged On Pay

City union members roll out a petition supporting better wages and working conditions in the lobby of City Hall earlier this year.

By Erica C. Barnett

Months into contract negotiations with Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office, the Coalition of City Unions—an umbrella group of 11 unions that represent about 6,000 city employees—says the two sides are no closer to agreement than they were when negotiations began 11 months ago. The biggest sticking point remains a proposed cost of living adjustment for 2024 that union members say represents a “minimal” increase over Harrell’s initial offer of 1 percent.

In the Seattle area, the consumer price index—a measure of the cost of living—increased 6.5 percent in the first half of 2023, so any pay increase below that level represents a cut to real wages.

City workers aren’t just feeling the pinch—they’re taking on second jobs, moving out of town, and considering jobs in the private sector, where wages have increased much faster. Dominique Ingram, an administrative specialist at Seattle Municipal Court, said she now works seven days a week—five at her job answering calls for the court, and two at a secondary weekend gig—to make ends meet.

“I like the work that I do.  I’m passionate about it. So that’s the type of type of sacrifice that I’m making to still be an employee of the city,” Ingram said. But the reality can be grinding. With two jobs, “there’s no work-life balance,” Ingram said. “I work, work, work. I hardly see my kids. When I started at the city, [I thought], finally, I was at a place where I had financial stability. The city is a great place to work. But now it’s it doesn’t even seem like a competitor in the game.”

As a point of comparison, Seattle police officers received a 17 percent pay increase after their last contract negotiation, with retroactive pay increases between 3 and 4 percent a year for the years they worked without a contract. The city council approved hiring bonuses of up to $30,000 for police last year. More recently, city attorney Ann Davison applauded the council and mayor for voting to increase city prosecutors’ pay by 20 percent.

“It‘s a negotiation, so you’re prepared for some give and take. But with this proposal, there was nothing to talk about. Nobody said anything. Everyone just quietly grabbed their things and left.” —Steven Pray, PROTEC17

The way contract negotiations with local governments typically work, union negotiators say, is that the union takes the most recent annual increase in the consumer price index, then comes up with a floor and a ceiling based on that amount; during the last negotiation, during the Durkan administration, the unions asked for the CPI plus one percent and ended up with 10.2 percent over three years. In contrast, they say, Harrell has spent the last 11 months insisting the city can’t afford more than 1 percent—a hardline position that prompted the union to walk out of negotiations earlier this month.

“It‘s a negotiation, so you’re prepared for some give and take,” said Steven Pray, a union representative for the Professional and Technical Employees Local 17 (PROTEC17), which represents workers in local governments around the region. “But with this proposal, there was nothing to talk about. Nobody said anything. Everyone just quietly grabbed their things and left.” 

On Wednesday, when the two sides came back to the table, Harrell himself showed up—an “extraordinarily rare” gesture, according to Pray. “He said, ‘I think there’s no trust in these negotiations,’ and that really stood out. Him showing up is a step in the right direction, but … the proof is in the actions that follow.”

Harrell’s office said they were unable to comment on ongoing negotiations.

Anne Cisney, a librarian at the Central Library downtown, said she talked with Harrell, whose mother worked as a finance manager for the library, about how the job has changed in recent years.

“We have people overdosing in the bathroom, we have people who are in a mental health crisis, and are getting into conflicts … and we have to be able to de-escalate that,” Cisney said. “We need to know that if you’re assaulted at work, you’re not going to have to use your own sick leave [to recover]. We need to know that we have [adequate] staffing levels, so that I’m not simultaneously running a storytime and responsible for checking for overdoses in the bathroom.”

In addition to a true cost of living adjustment, the unions have asked, so far unsuccessfully, for a citywide safety committee and incident recovery leave for workers who experience or witness traumatic incidents at work. 

The ability to work from home is another persistent sticking point. Earlier this year, Harrell issued a back-to-office mandate that requires most city employees to commute into downtown Seattle at least two days a week, even if they can do their jobs remotely. For some workers, the new requirement has meant a return to long commutes from the outlying areas where they can afford to live.

And there have been other challenges.

Rachael Brooks, a dam safety engineer for Seattle City Light, moved 50 miles north of Seattle during the pandemic when the cost of living in the city got so high that renting became unaffordable. Her job takes her all to hydroelectric dams across the region and is “really variable—we can’t just say, ‘this is what my day to day looks like,'” Brooks said. But she and her coworkers are still required to show up to an office in downtown Seattle on a regular “hybrid” schedule—a requirement Brooks has managed to navigate by crashing with friends in Seattle two nights a week.

Ingram, who is Black, said it’s ironic to hear Harrell talk about the need for racial equity in compensation and hiring when many public-facing and administrative jobs like hers, which are held mostly by women of color, are “significantly under market.” By lowering the real wages of workers like her, “He’s actually doing the opposite of what he says he wants to do,” Ingram said.

According to Pray, the mayor’s office has not budged on the unions’ request for more flexibility for jobs that don’t require an in-office presence.

Another issue, city employees say, is that their overall compensation—dictated by pay ranges, or “bands,” and “steps” within those bands—is far below market rate in Seattle, which means people are constantly leaving tl he city for other jobs. Pray said the coalition of unions asked for market adjustments for a “small percent” of the workers they represent, but “we’re seeing very, very little movement on that front.”

Engineers like Brooks make some of the least competitive wages in the city—about 17 percent less than their private market equivalents, a recent city-commissioned market analysis found. As a result, Brooks said, “engineers are leaving left and right,” and “we can’t hire quality new engineers, whether experienced or just out of school,” because they can make much more in the private sector. “We are not a competitive employer at this point.”

Employees with Ingram’s job classification start at around $58,000 a year and max out at $65,000; increasing their wages one percent would add just $22 to $25 to their twice-monthly paychecks. Ingram, who is Black, said it’s ironic to hear Harrell talk about the need for racial equity in compensation and hiring when many public-facing and administrative jobs like hers, which are held mostly by women of color, are “significantly under market.” By lowering the real wages of workers like her, “He’s actually doing the opposite of what he says he wants to do,” Ingram said.

Starting in 2025, the city is facing a “structural” budget shortfall—that is, a gap between revenues and projected spending—of more than $200 million a year, as temporary federal funding for programs begun during the COVID pandemic goes away. “The mayor is saying ‘I’ve got a $200 million shortfall that I need to fix,” Pray said. “But every other municipality and county in this region also went through COVID and has those same issues,” and only the city of Seattle is refusing to meaningfully raise workers’ wages.

Since he started at PROTEC17 in 2017, Pray added, “we have seen the roller coaster of the economy being really great and really bad, and I have never not heard that the city is broke.” The city council is currently considering a list of revenue options that could help close the gap, including expansion of the JumpStart payroll tax on the city’s largest high-paying companies, a capital gains tax, and a tax on companies with outsized CEO pay.

Meanwhile, weekly negotiating sessions continue—as do plans for a rally of city workers on the steps of City Hall at 3:30pm on September 19. Employees are being asked to take leave to attend the rally, but a future strike isn’t out of the question.

Even a one-day citywide strike would be unprecedented.  State law does not explicitly grant the right to strike, and former attorney general Rob McKenna issued an opinion in 2006 saying public employees “do not have a legally protected right to strike.” Nonetheless, teachers’ strikes happen regularly, often with significant public support. In LA, thousands of workers went on a one-day strike earlier this month to protest what they called unfair labor practices during contract negotiations, although the impact of the action on the contract itself remains to be seen.

Here in Seattle, “in terms of a strike,we’re just not there right now,” Pray said. “We are putting all of our energy into this rally and seeing what kind of movement we can get” from the city.

Nobody wants to be on strike,” Pray continued. “And we think we can get a fair contract without having to do that. But with that being said, you can’t just [accept] something that is super subpar.”

Council Declines to Fast-Track Law Empowering City Attorney To Prosecute Drug Users

By Erica C. Barnett

The Seattle City Council narrowly rejected Councilmember Andrew Lewis’ proposal to fast-track a bill empowering City Attorney Ann Davison to prosecute people for drug possession and public use, voting to allow the bill to go through the regular committee process. The impact of the vote is that the council will take up the bill after they return from the regular August recess, allowing council staff the time to draft amendments and analyze the latest version of the legislation.

Councilmembers Sara Nelson and Alex Pedersen introduced the first version of the drug criminalization bill last April, after the state adopted legislation making drug possession and public drug use a gross misdemeanor. Initially, Lewis voted against the legislation, citing Davison’s unilateral decision to abandon Seattle Community Court, but he has since become one of the bill’s most vocal advocates, arguing that the work of Mayor Bruce Harrell’s fentanyl task force will produce policy and legal alternatives to the traditional arrest-and-prosecution system.

While the bill says diversion and other options are the “preferred” alternatives to arrest, it does not require diversion or lay out the kind of circumstances in which diversion would be appropriate. Instead, it directs SPD to develop “guidance on diversion” as part of policies that will “state that diversion and referral to services is the preferred response to possession and public use while acknowledging that arrests are warranted in some situations.”

The latest version of the bill includes 13 additional “whereas” clauses, along with eight new findings about the state of the drug crisis in Seattle. It also adds a new section to the Seattle Municipal Code stating that, in the future, police will adopt policies governing arrests for drug possession and public drug use, and that those policies will state that alternatives like diversion and treatment “are the preferred approach” when police make arrests under the new law.

At a committee meeting to discuss the drug criminalization bill Monday afternoon, council members discussed several issues with the legislation that PubliCola pointed out two weeks ago.

First, while the bill says diversion and other options are the “preferred” alternatives to arrest, it does not require diversion, provide funding for alternatives to arrest, or provide examples of circumstances in which diversion would be appropriate. Instead, it directs SPD to develop “guidance on diversion” as part of policies that will “state that diversion and referral to services is the preferred response to possession and public use while acknowledging that arrests are warranted in some situations.”

Beyond this, the ordinance delegates to individual officers the authority to decide whether a person poses a threat, based on “the totality of the circumstances and the officer’s training and experience,” which is essentially the current system, augmented by some new training on what constitutes a drug-specific threat.

The standard mirrors the practical thought process that officers ordinarily apply in the field when deciding whether to make an arrest, and it allows for it encourages officers to exercise discretion,” mayoral advisor Andrew Myerberg told the council. If a person is only a “threat to self,” the bill says officers should “make a reasonable attempt to contact and coordinate efforts for diversion, outreach, and other alternatives,” but leaves that decision, too, up to individual officers.

“The fundamental goal of this ordinance and executives overall approach to the synthetic opioid crisis is to increase the proportion of individuals suffering from addiction who seek and accept treatment services,” Myerberg said.

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda pointed out the obvious: The mayor’s office has not proposed funding for addiction, treatment, or diversion programs. “It seems important that the resources be sufficiently invested into the alternative strategies so that people are not being given a false promise that there will be a diversion strategy [but] we don’t have those resources,” Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said. “And where will that funding come from?” 

The law does not address private use of illegal drugs inside people’s homes.

Second, while Harrell has stated (and mainstream media outlets have inaccurately reported) that the bill includes $27 million for treatment and other alternatives to arrest, the bill never mentions money or spending priorities. In fact, as council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda noted repeatedly on Monday, the “new” $27 million is a combination of $7 million in grant funding the city didn’t spend in previous years, plus $1 million a year from two state settlements with opioid manufacturers and distributors. Harrell has indicated he wants to use the money to stand up and staff the proposed opioid response center he announced in April. That would leave no additional funding for programs like LEAD, REACH, and We Deliver Care, to which Myerberg said police could direct people who break the new law.

“When I’m talking to officers in the field about this [harm to others] concept, I guess there is a concern that it is an additional layer of complexity and standard that would be put on [officers. Personally I believe that the council should have incorporated state law, and then if some council members and others wanted to add policy or funding, they could have done that shortly after adopting the ordinance.”—Councilmember Alex Pedersen

At Monday’s meeting, Pedersen and Nelson raised concerns that the bill would create ambiguity and introduce new challenges for police officers that would make it harder for them to do their jobs.

“When I’m talking to officers in the field about this [harm to others] concept, I guess there is a concern that it is an additional layer of complexity and standard that would be put on” officers, Pedersen said. “Personally, I believe that the council should have incorporated state law into our Seattle Municipal Code and then if some council members and others wanted to add policy or funding, they could have done that shortly after adopting the ordinance.”

Myerberg said the legislation isn’t “asking [officers] to reinvent the wheel.” While it is Harrell’s “intent” to steer people toward diversion and treatment, officers will still get to make the calls they consider appropriate in all cases, including arrest if they believe it’s necessary to prevent harm or get someone to go into treatment or crisis care. “[Harrell is] asking them to do what they already do,” Myerberg said. “The executive remains clear that such a decision will be within the discretion of the officer. It will be fact-specific and individual-dependent.”

In late July, the Seattle Police Officers Guild “applauded” the new legislation, saying it would help “restor[e] public safety to the city.” This suggests that, at the very least, SPOG —which has a history of opposing substantive police reforms—does not expect the bill to cause major disruptions to officers’ usual way of doing business.

Including a preference for diversion in the police manual could lead to incremental change. But without significantly more funding, it’s unlikely to result in different outcomes, either for people using drugs in public or the general public witnessing public drug use.

Myerberg noted Harrell’s personal commitment to encouraging alternatives to arrest and prosecution, which stem partly from his direct experience as a Black man growing up in Seattle during the drug war. But intent is not the same thing as law; mayors come and go, and their lasting impact isn’t meaning well, but pushing through tangible, legally binding changes that last longer than a single administration. 

After Planned Encampment Removals, Just 15 Percent Go to Shelter—and That’s the Best-Case Scenario

Slide from the city’s presentation on pre-announced encampment removals, which don’t include no-notice “obstruction” sweeps

By Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Bruce Harrell’s Unified Care Team, which removes encampments and informs their displaced residents about available shelter beds, made 1,352 offers of shelter during scheduled removals during the second quarter of this year, the Human Services Department reported this week. The number of shelter offers is greater than the number of individuals who received information about an open bed, because the number represents people who were told about shelter more than once.

Within that number, the UCT provided 554 “referrals,” in which a person said they would go to shelter. Finally, of that subset, there were 206 shelter enrollments, meaning that in 206 instances, a person with a referral actually showed up at a shelter and stayed there for at least one night. That number, which also includes duplicates, suggests that only around 15 percent of people who got a shelter “offer” actually took it; however, the true percentage of people getting into shelter after planned sweeps is probably much lower, because people tend to relocate once the city puts up signs announcing an impending encampment closure.

Another issue, committee chair Andrew Lewis noted, is that the numbers the Harrell Administration presented Thursday represent just a fraction of the total number of people displaced from encampments daily around the city—a number that also includes sweeps the city routinely conducts with no notice or offer of shelter or services.

An HSD staffer, strategic advisor Chris Klaeysen, presented the numbers to the council’s homelessness committee on Wednesday. Klaeysen demurred on a number of key questions, referring council members to Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington, who wasn’t there.

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda asked Klaeysen why his presentation focused so much on the fact that the UCT offers shelter to everyone remaining at an encampment, which is something they are required to do. “Just saying that 100 percent received offers of shelter when 15 … percent confirmed they went into it—I don’t see how that conforms with our requirement that they receive an offer of shelter that works for their individual needs,” Mosqueda said.

People “refuse” shelter, to use the city’s term, for many reasons, including restrictive shelter rules, concerns about theft, and the fact that most shelters are single-gender and require people to relinquish pets and leave their partners behind. Klaeysen said UCT members have started asking people why they decline shelter, but his presentation only included the top three reasons: People wanted to wait for a tiny house; didn’t “want shelter”; or didn’t want to be separated from their partner, family member, or friends.

Another issue, committee chair Andrew Lewis noted Wednesday, is that the numbers the Harrell Administration presented Thursday represent just a fraction of the total number of people displaced from encampments daily around the city—a number that also includes sweeps the city routinely conducts with no notice or offer of shelter or services. “I don’t have any baseline to compare [these numbers] to,” Lewis said.

Historically, the city has justified no-notice sweeps by saying that a person, tent, or other property constitutes an “obstruction” if it occupies public space. Last month, a King County Superior Court ruled that the city’s definition of obstruction is unconstitutionally broad, and that the city may be violating a ruling, Martin v. Boise, that prohibits cities from displacing people when they have nowhere to go. The city has said it plans to challenge that ruling.

Primary Election Voters Show Support for Harrell Agenda

City Councilmember Dan Strauss, shown in Ballard with Mayor Bruce Harrell, is the only incumbent who received more than 50 percent of the vote Tuesday night.

By Erica C. Barnett

A majority of Seattle’s primary election voters cast their votes Tuesday night for city council candidates who favor encampment sweeps, claim they’ll improve public safety by hiring hundreds of cops, and support arresting people for drug possession and public use.

The results are a proxy endorsement for the Harrell Administration—and a sign of how difficult it may be for progressives to maintain voices on the council who won’t rubber-stamp the mayor’s agenda. Unless the left-leaning underdog candidates who did come through—including experienced urbanist Alex Hudson in District 3—can overcome the odds, Harrell’s popular sweeps agenda could soon face minimal council opposition.

Although the most progressive candidate received a plurality of votes in several races—urbanist Ron Davis, for example, finished the night with 41 percent in Northeast Seattle’s District 4—that result was usually offset by a group of candidates splitting the conservative/centrist vote.

What this means for November is that nearly every council race will feature a progressive or progressive-ish candidate fighting for votes against a centrist candidate who didn’t command a majority in the primary but will scoop up all the more conservative votes when just two candidates are on the ballot.

And unlike progressives, the latter group will be lavishly funded; independent expenditure campaigns backed by big business and real estate interests have already spent tens of thousands of dollars on misleading ads supporting Harrell Administration staffer Maritza Rivera in District 4 and Meta attorney Rob Saka in District 1 (West Seattle), a template that helped propel one-term District 4 Councilmember Alex Pedersen to victory in 2019. (In notable contrast to similar candidates, Saka got just 25 percent of the vote despite relentlessly parroting Harrell-adjacent talking points.)

This assessment comes with a couple of significant caveats. So far, King County Elections has only counted the ballots of about 23 percent of eligible voters, a total that will continue to rise as later—generally more progressive—ballots are counted. In 2019, the last time all seven districted council seats were up for grabs, about 40 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the primary.

Although Lewis did an immediate about-face and said he would support criminalizing drugs at the local level, the Seattle Times and Lewis’ opponents have treated the initial vote as a critical litmus test, putting Lewis on the back foot against his more conservative opponent, Bob Kettle.

The other thing to keep in mind when reading results is that people who vote in August, a time when many voters are out of town or not paying attention to local elections, trend more conservative than the larger group that votes in November.

Despite these caveats, the vote often skewed conservative even in races where the most progressive candidate took first place. Take Davis, who had a strong lead against runner-up Rivera last night with 41 percent of the vote. Rivera, the candidate of choice for Seattle’s business establishment, had a weak showing with 34 percent, but the second and third runners-up, Republican George Artem and two-time candidate Kenneth Wilson, shared a combined 25 percent (most of that, 23 percent, coming from Wilson)—a 59 percent majority for a centrist-to-conservative vision.

Already, Davis seems to be walking back some of his early progressive pronouncements; in a recent campaign mailer, he echoed Rivera’s promise to reduce 911 response times to five minutes, an utterly unrealistic goal that goes far beyond the police department’s own seven-minute goal.

District 5 (North Seattle) offers another good example. Thanks in part to an endorsement from the Stranger, equity consultant Christiana Obeysumner is currently defeating community advocate Nilu Jenks for second place by 21 to 19 percent. That puts former judge Cathy Moore in the lead with a weak 32 percent that could grow significantly if voters fail to respond to Obeysumner’s lefty housing justice agenda.

And even in the district that has repeatedly elected socialist Kshama Sawant, District 3 (Central District, Capitol Hill), progressive former Transportation Choices Coalition director Alex Hudson trailed Harrell-endorsed candidate Joy Hollingsworth, 40 to 32 percent.

Incumbents will face an uphill battle, too, including one—District 7 candidate Andrew Lewis—who has been pilloried by opponents over a single vote, against a drug criminalization bill sought by City Attorney Ann Davison. Although Lewis did an immediate about-face and said he would support the bill, the Seattle Times and Lewis’ opponents have treated the initial vote as a critical litmus test, putting Lewis on the back foot against opponent Bob Kettle, a Navy veteran who has focused on Lewis’ 2020 support for police defunding, who got 33 percent of the vote Tuesday night to Lewis’ 41 percent. On its own, a result in the low 40s is alarming for an incumbent, and Kettle will scoop up votes from people who voted for SPD officer Aaron Marshall and Piroshky Piroshky owner Olga Sagan, a favorite of the “Seattle Is Dying” crowd. Together, those three candidates currently share 54 percent of the vote.

In District 2, Morales is looking a little stronger against Chinatown-International District neighborhood advocate Woo, who led the battle against an expansion of a Salvation Army shelter in SoDo, a few blocks from the CID. As of Tuesday, Morales had 48 percent to Woo’s 45.

Dan Strauss, in District 6 (Northwest Seattle), is the only incumbent who ended election night with more than 50 percent, to former Red Door bar owner Pete Hanning’s surprisingly weak showing of 29 percent. Earlier this year, Strauss’ district shifted boundaries to include wealthy, conservative west Magnolia, which used to be in Lewis’ district; Strauss’ pitch to voters has shifted too, as he’s disavowed his previous support for reducing police funding and replacing some cops with civilian first responders.

Meanwhile, a similar scenario is playing out in Burien, where incumbent Cydney Moore is currently trailing two challengers, Linda Akey and Rut Perez-Studer. Moore has been a vocal supporter of people living unsheltered in the city, telling residents of an encampment the city swept earlier this year about another location where they were legally allowed and voting to accept funding from King County for a temporary shelter in the city. Akey is a frequent presence at Burien council meetings, arguing that the council needs to ban encampments and punish “disruptive behaviors” like drinking and using drugs in public. As of Tuesday, Moore had 26 percent to Akey’s 32 percent and Perez-Studer’s 28 percent.

Votes will continue to roll in over the next few days, with results landing on the county elections page around 4:00 every day.

Harrell’s “$27 Million Drug Diversion and Treatment” Plan Would Allow Prosecutions But Add No New Funding

Mayor Bruce Harrell and City Councilmember Sara Nelson, who cosponsored the original drug criminalization bill.

By Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Bruce Harrell’s proposal to reintroduce a local drug criminalization ordinance has been widely described as a “plan to combat opioid addiction” that would—as the Seattle Times put it—”[c]ommit $27 million toward enhanced treatment facilities, new addiction services and improved overdose response.”

But this characterization is misleading. For one thing, the $27 million includes no new funding. For another, that total includes both one-time spending and a small annual allocation from last year’s state opioid settlement that will trickle in over the next 18 years.

Of the $27 million, $7 million consists of leftover federal Community Development Block Grant funding that the city did not spend in previous years—a one-time allocation that Harrell’s spokesman, Jamie Housen said will provide “capital funding to prepare existing facilities to provide care and treatment services for substance use disorders.”

Of the $27 million, $7 million consists of leftover federal funding that the city did not spend in previous years. The rest is the total amount the city estimates it will receive from the statewide opioid settlement over the next 18 years—a little over $1 million a year each year, on average, through 2032.

The rest, $20 million, is the total amount the city estimates it will receive from the statewide opioid lawsuit settlement over the next 18 years—a little over $1 million a year each year, on average, through 2032. That’s less than seven-hundredths of one percent of the city’s general-fund budget, and about three-tenths of one percent of the Seattle Police Department’s budget.

Housen said the $1.1 million a year will go toward “programs addressing addiction and improving our treatment and service provision systems.”

Those are surely worthy goals (spending on any kind of treatment or social service is almost certainly better than further criminalizing addiction), but they do not amount to the “enhanced treatment facilities, new addiction services and improved overdose response” Harrell announced his plan would pay for. Nor is the opioid settlement funding new; we’ve been reporting on what it will mean for Seattle, and how the state has directed cities to spend the money, since last year.

So what does the bill actually do? Exactly what an earlier version of the bill, which the council rejected 5-4, would have done: Empower City Attorney Ann Davison to prosecute people for simple drug possession or for using drugs, except alcohol and marijuana, in public. The substantive portion of the bill, which comes after nearly six pages of nonbinding whereas clauses and statements of fact, is identical to the previous proposal.

In addition, and less substantively, the bill directs the Seattle Police Department to adopt policies governing arrests under the new law, and says that these future policies must “state that diversion and referral to services is the preferred 2 response to possession and public use while acknowledging that arrests are warranted in some situations,” including situations that threaten any person’s safety.

Harrell’s task force on addiction, which includes subgroups that are discussion diversion, treatment, and the role of the municipal court, continues to meet. According to Housen, the groups are focusing on “court systems, arrest and pretrial diversion, and treatment programs” and “are tasked with advancing efforts to improve connections between systems, map and identify gaps in diversion programs, and strengthen partner coordination.”

Campaign Will Pay for Bagel Giveaway After All; Harrell Backs Light Rail Station that Will Inconvenience Amazon

1. After PubliCola reported on a mailer and billboards from Eltana Bagels that appeared to promote the District 1 City Council campaign of Eltana founder and president Stephen Brown, his treasurer contacted us to let us know that the campaign will reimburse Eltana approximately $33,000 for the promotion, along with a billboard in West Seattle and a June 2023 Youtube video that concludes, “Stephen Brown fixed the bagel problem in Seattle—who knows what’s next?”

The mailers, which went out shortly before ballots arrive for the August 1 primary, read, “Seattle Deserves Better… – Stephen Brown” and open to reveal the word “…Bagels!” along with an offer for free bagels valued at $25. About half the mailers went out to addresses in West Seattle, which does not have an Eltana location. (Brown says Eltana targeted people who live near grocery stores that sell the bagels).

Last week, Brown characterized the billboard and mailers—on which “Eltana” appears off to the side in much smaller font than Brown’s name—as a routine advertising expense. “The intention was to use a banal, stereotypical message as a parody—to use humor to sell bagels,” Brown told PubliCola. Similarly”This effort is not a campaign expense—it is not electoral in nature.”

Brown’s campaign decided to pay for the billboard and mailer after Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission director Wayne Barnett sent Brown a letter posing a series of questions about the promotion, including when the mailers went out and where they went, what vendors Eltana used for the ads, and how often Eltana has sent out similar mailers. Barnett also asked whether previous Eltana promotions have prominently featured Brown’s name, and requested examples of other advertising materials from Eltana over the last two years.

“As you know, all money spent to promote your candidacy must be timely reported, and is limited by your choice to participate in the Democracy Voucher Program,” Barnett wrote. “Therefore, we must resolve this issue before the Voucher Program can release any more funds to your campaign.”

The reimbursement has not showed up yet in campaign filings.

2. Transit advocates were dismayed when Mayor Bruce Harrell wrote a letter to his fellow Sound Transit board members in May suggesting the agency study alternatives that could move a future light rail station north or west of Sound Transit’s preferred alternative. The goal of considering both of these alternatives was to prevent a four-year closure of Westlake Ave. that would impact Amazon, Vulcan, and other large employers in the area. One of those alternatives, the “shifted west” option, would have eliminated the Denny station altogether.

Last week, at a meeting of the board’s system expansion committee, Harrell said he now plans to support the preferred alternative and focus on ways to mitigate the impacts of construction in the neighborhood. “I’m waiting for the ridership analysis [to see] how it affects all of this, but I [am]  leaning towards support for the DT-1 preferred alternative that will preserve the two stations in South Lake Union with a strong emphasis—again, I can’t repeat this enough—on mitigating construction impacts,” Harrell said.

During public comment, a number of representatives from South Lake Union businesses testified that closing Westlake to cars for the four-year construction period would be like signing a death warrant for the (booming) neighborhood. Dan McGrady, a longtime lobbyist for the developer Vulcan who now lobbies on behalf of PEMCO Insurance, said light rail station construction on Westlake would cause “devastation” similar to the COVID pandemic, creating a “lasting scar on the community” that “I just don’t think the community can survive.”

Sound Transit is hosting two webinars about the South Lake Union station alternatives before the full board meets again on July 27, where they will have an opportunity to pick a different preferred alternative or keep the preferred alternative on Westlake just off Denny Way.