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New Leadership on Every Floor of City Hall as 2022 Begins

1. Incoming city Attorney Ann Davison painted a dire portrait of Seattle in her official swearing-in speech on Tuesday morning, framing her plans to crack down on misdemeanor offenses as a fight to “stand up for victims” who have been unrepresented at City Hall.

“Communities are afraid to use their parks, people are afraid to walk down 3rd Avenue, and parents are afraid to send their kids to wait for the bus,” Davison said, pointing to the Seven Stars Pepper restaurant at the intersection of S. Jackson Street and 12th Little Saigon as a case study in the consequences of rising petty crime. The owner, Yong Hong Wang, warned last fall that her restaurant is on the brink of failure because customers are afraid of the ad hoc street market — a group of vendors selling everything from shampoo to narcotics — at an adjacent bus stop.

“She will lose her life savings because criminal activity has gone unchecked,” Davison said of Yong. “She should not have to pay the price.”  

Davison also raised the specter of gun violence, citing the May 2020 shooting of 18-year-old Connor Dassa-Holland in Rainier Beach. “It is the duty of the city attorney’s office to prosecute weapons charges and take guns off the streets so that misdemeanor gun offenses don’t lead to felony homicides,” Davison said.

Only a handful of gun-related crimes are misdemeanors under Washington law, including “unlawfully displaying” (or brandishing) a firearm as an intimidation tactic and carrying a concealed handgun without a permit. Davison’s office can only prosecute misdemeanors; the King County Prosecutor’s Office is responsible for filing felony gun possession charges.

Davison did not mention her office’s civil division, which defends the City of Seattle in lawsuits and advises the city council and mayor’s office as they develop new legislation.

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Davison’s tough-on-crime rhetoric prompted the city council to consider adding diversion to the city attorney’s charter duties in 2021. The council demurred in December, opting instead to require the city attorney to notify the council within 90 days of making any changes to, or eliminating, the office’s diversion programs, and provide quarterly reports to the council about the effectiveness of diversion programs. Davison was critical of the reporting requirement, accusing the council (six women, three men) of holding her to an unfair standard because of her gender. Davison is the first woman to hold the city attorney’s office—a detail she underscored in her remarks on Tuesday. Her general-election opponent, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, is also a woman.

2. Shortly after Davison wrapped up her speech, new mayor Bruce Harrell held his own ceremonial swearing-in at City Hall. In an optimistic, mostly lighthearted speech that offered few policy details, Harrell pledged to work with people who opposed his election,  and make quick progress on major issues including homelessness, health care, and the selection of a permanent police chief.

Harrell previewed a handful of upcoming executive orders and decisions, including one order that will direct the city’s public utilities “to proactively provide us information on utility shutoffs, which is often an indicator of homelessness vulnerability or human service needs.” No utility customer has lost power or water since mid-2019, thanks to a combination of legislation and a moratorium on utility shutoffs during COVID.

Asked about the practical impact of the order, a Harrell spokesman said it would identify “people most at risk of homelessness or housing instability, as those facing arrearages or utility shutoffs—enforced or not—are often those most in danger of losing their housing. So the order is focused on driving greater coordination between SPU, City Light, and Offices of Housing and Human Services to prevent homelessness.”

Alluding to the longstanding debate over police funding, Harrell said that a “safe city needs the right kind and right number of police officers.”

In his speech, Harrell also vowed to review barriers to affordable housing construction, such as reducing permitting delays—a common obstacle that can add thousands to the cost of housing construction. During his campaign, Harrell made it clear that believes dense housing should be confined to specific areas (the longstanding “urban village” strategy), but reducing barriers to development is a pro-housing step—as is Harrell’s appointment of Marco Lowe, a City Hall veteran who worked for mayors Greg Nickels and Mike McGinn before taking a position at the Master Builders Association, where he advocated for pro-housing policies.

Harrell, responding to a reporter’s question, said he would not immediately launch a national search for a permanent police chief, instead giving interim Chief Adrian Diaz “real measurement criteria by which I can see what he’s doing” before deciding whether to “lift the ‘interim’ or do a national search” at some point before the end of March.

Alluding to the longstanding debate over police funding, Harrell said that a “safe city needs the right kind and right number of police officers.” Deputy mayor Monisha Harrell, who served as the interim police monitor overseeing the federal consent decree, will oversee policing policy for Harrell’s office and will play a key role in determining what the administration believes “the right number” is.

3. After weeks of behind-the-scenes drama, the city council elected District 5 Councilmember Debora Juarez the first Indigenous council president on Monday. (Backstory here). The council also approved a new list of committees and committee chairs that reflects the relative power (and individual interests) of the eight other councilmembers. (Council presidents, who oversee the business of the legislative branch, generally don’t take on high-profile committees). Continue reading “New Leadership on Every Floor of City Hall as 2022 Begins”

Pending Sweep Defies “New Approach to Encampments” Narrative, Ann Davison Names Top Staff, and More

1. On Monday, December 20, the city will remove a large RV and tent encampment along West Green Lake Way North, close to the lawn bowling area of Lower Woodland Park. Notice for the removal went up on Thursday and the city’s HOPE team—a group of city employees that does outreach to encampment residents in the immediate runup to a sweep—began its usual pre-sweep process of offering shelter beds to the people living there earlier this week. 

According to outreach workers in the area, most of the RV residents plan to move their vehicles about a block, to an area of Upper Woodland Park where the city has indicated they will not remove tents and RVs until next month. 

The encampment, which has persisted for many months, was the backdrop for a pre-election press conference by then-candidate Bruce Harrell, who said that if he was elected mayor, he would have the authority to “direct mental health counselors and housing advocates down here [and] bring down individualized case management experts” to find shelter or housing for the people living at the site.

Last week, City Councilmember Dan Strauss said the city planned to expand the “new, person-centered approach” used to shelter people living at the Ballard Commons into other encampments in his North Seattle district, including Lower Woodland Park. Outreach workers say that what they’ve seen instead is a business-as-usual approach that consists of putting up “no parking” signs and notices that encampment residents have 72 hours to leave.

“Every single one of these people was swept from another site, and I know that most of these people have been swept over and over.”

As PubliCola noted (and Strauss acknowledged) last week, the approach the city took at the Ballard Commons was successful thanks to an unusual flood of new openings in tiny house villages and a former hotel turned into housing in North Seattle, making it possible for outreach workers to offer something better than a basic shelter bed to nearly everyone living on site. Now that those beds are mostly full, the Human Services Department’s HOPE Team is back to offering whatever shelter beds happen to become available, including beds at shelters that offer less privacy, require gender segregation, or are located far away from the community where an encampment is located.

PubliCola contacted the Human Services Department on Friday and will update this post with any additional information we receive about the encampment removal.

Jenn Adams, a member of a team of RV outreach workers called the Scofflaw Mitigation Team, said the people living in RVs in Lower Woodland Park ended up there after being chased from someplace else. “Every single one of these people was swept from another site, and I know that most of these people have been swept over and over,” Adams said. She estimates that between 25 and 30 people will have to move when the city comes through to enforce its no-parking signs on Monday.

2. City attorney-elect Ann Davison announced two key members of her administration on Thursday. Scott Lindsay, a controversial 2017 city attorney candidate who authored an infamous report that became the basis for KOMO TV’s “Seattle Is Dying” broadcast, will be deputy city attorney. Although Lindsay, who advised Davison on her campaign, was widely expected to receive a prominent role in her office, his appointment was met with groans from allies of former city attorney Pete Holmes, who defeated Lindsay four years ago by a 51-point margin.

Lindsay has a scant record, including virtually no courtroom experience. He also tried and failed to get the job Davison won, making him a deputy who considers himself fully qualified for his boss’s position.

Lindsay’s views on crime and punishment (in brief: More punishment equals less crime) are largely in line with statements Davison, a Republican, has made during all three of her recent runs for office. As public safety advisor to Ed Murray, Lindsay was the architect of the “nine-and-a-half-block strategy” to crack down on low-level drug crime downtown; he also came up with the idea for the Navigation Team, a group of police and outreach workers who conducted encampment sweeps. (The HOPE Team is basically the Navigation Team, minus the police.) Lindsay has a scant record, including virtually no courtroom experience. Importantly, he also tried and failed to get the job Davison won, making him a deputy who considers himself fully qualified for his boss’s position.

In contrast, Davison’s pick for criminal division chief, former King County deputy prosecuting attorney Natalie Walton-Anderson, prompted sighs of relief among advocates for criminal justice reform. As the prosecuting attorney’s liaison to the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, Walton-Anderson “was instrumental in the success of the LEAD program for many years,” prosecuting attorney Dan Satterberg said in a statement. LEAD provides alternatives to prosecution for people engaged in low-level nonviolent criminal activity.

To emphasize the point, Satterberg’s office distributed an email chief deputy prosecuting attorney Daniel Clark sent around to the criminal division on Walton-Anderson’s last day earlier this year, when she left the office to join the US Attorney’s office earlier this year. In the memo, Clark called Walton-Anderson “braver, smarter, wittier, wiser, and savvier than anyone can convey in an email. And her impact on our community, our office and on the many people whose lives she has touched along the way is far greater than I can write.”

LEAD program director Tiarra Dearbone told PubliCola Walton-Anderson “has shown that prosecutors can make discretionary and creative decisions that support community based care and trauma informed recovery. She has made herself available to others across the nation who are trying to stand up alternative programs that create community safety and well-being. This is a really hopeful development.”

Davison’s announcement includes no testimonials on Lindsay’s behalf. According to the press release, Lindsay will work to “coordinate public safety strategies in neighborhoods across the city.”

3. Former City Budget Office director Ben Noble—whose departure announcement we covered last week—is staying on at the city, but moving from the CBO (an independent office that works closely with the mayor to come up with revenue forecasts and budget proposals to present to the council) to be the first director of the new Office of Economic and Revenue Forecasts, which will answer to a four-person body made up of two council members, the mayor, and the city finance director. Continue reading “Pending Sweep Defies “New Approach to Encampments” Narrative, Ann Davison Names Top Staff, and More”

Harrell Announces Key Staff, Veteran Budget Director Departs, Council Adopts New Rules and Transparency Requirements

1. Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell announced a list of top staff on Monday headlined by his campaign manager, niece, and now incoming senior deputy mayor Monisha Harrell.

But the biggest throughline in Harrell’s list of appointees wasn’t family—Harrell, who was omnipresent during her uncle’s campaign, was widely expected to take on a key role in his administration—but the elevation of so many longtime insiders to top roles in the new administration.

Of the ten appointments announced yesterday (and an eleventh, Chief of Staff Jennifer Samuels), all but one are current or recent city of Seattle staff, and half are current appointees or allies of outgoing Mayor Jenny Durkan.

Tiffany Washington, the former head of the city’s Homelessness Strategy and Investment division, is currently Durkan’s deputy mayor, and will continue in that role under Harrell. Julie Dingley, the incoming interim budget director (more on that in a minute), is Durkan’s interim Innovation and Performance director and the former lead budget staffer in Durkan’s office. Adiem Emery, the new Chief Equity Officer (“tasked with delivering on the mayor-elect’s vision to make tangible progress embedding equity across City departments and programs,” according to a a press release), is currently a division director at SDOT.  Pedro Gómez, the incoming head of external affairs, is currently director of Small Business Development for the Office of Economic Development. Harrell’s longtime council aide Vinh Tang works in the city’s IT department.

And former city council member Tim Burgess, who will head “strategic initiatives” in a position listed just below Harrell’s two announced deputy mayors, is a longtime Durkan ally—and, of course, Harrell’s former colleague.

Filling out the list are several longtime insiders who worked elsewhere in the city or are returning after an absence. Chief operating officer Marco Lowe (who will focus “on driving efficiencies in Seattle’s public utility agencies, making Seattle government more transparent and accessible, and streamlining housing and infrastructure construction,” per the press release) worked in two mayoral administrations; policy director Dan Eder is deputy director of the city council’s central staff; and chief of staff Samuels worked for Harrell’s council office.

In fact, besides Monisha Harrell—who serves as deputy monitor overseeing the federal consent decree over the Seattle Police Department—the only City Hall “outsider” on Harrell’s team is former Seattle/King County NAACP leader Gerald Hankerson, who will be Harrell’s external affairs liaison.

“One of the issues over the past few years on the council is that it hasn’t always been completely clear when a deputy of the mayor is speaking for the mayor, and I don’t think there will be any ambiguity at all that when Monisha speaks, she is speaking for her uncle. I think that’s one of the advantages of having a family member in a position like that.”—City Councilmember Andrew Lewis

City Councilmember Andrew Lewis, a member of the public safety subcommittee of Harrell’s transition team, said he has “a lot of confidence in [Monisha Harrell’s] commitment” to pursue non-police responses to emergency and crisis situations. “That’s the real nucleus for moving forward on this intractable argument that we’ve had around what the future of policing is going to be—how can you set up response alternatives?” Lewis said.

The city’s ethics code only raises conflict-of-interest alarms when a city employee supervises an “immediate family member,” which does not include nieces or nephews. (King County’s law is both more prescriptive—the Harrells would be considered each other’s “immediate family”— and slightly more vague.) Former mayor Charley Royer, who served three terms, appointed his brother Bob deputy mayor in 1978, a position the younger Royer held for more than five years.

Lewis said he believes having a mayor and deputy mayor who are related could be an asset. “One of the issues over the past few years on the council is that it hasn’t always been completely clear when a deputy of the mayor is speaking for the mayor, and I don’t think there will be any ambiguity at all that when Monisha speaks, she is speaking for her uncle,” Lewis said. “I think that’s one of the advantages of having a family member in a position like that.”

2. Seattle City Budget Office director Ben Noble announced last week that he is leaving the city after more than 20 years. A longtime city council central staffer who became central staff director in 2006, Noble took over the reins at the budget office in 2014 under Mayor Ed Murray and continued in the position under Durkan, where he often found himself on the opposite side of testy exchanges with his former colleagues over Durkan’s approach to budgeting.

In recent years, Durkan repeatedly attempted to fund her own annual priorities using funds that had already been committed to other purpose (in one case, by Durkan herself), sparking heated debates between the council and the budget office. Last year, Durkan vetoed both the budget and legislation funding COVID relief, both times unsuccessfully.

City Councilmember Alex Pedersen prevailed Monday on a change to the city council’s rules that will allow him (and other council members) to abstain rather than vote on council resolutions unrelated to city business, like the one praising Cuba for its response to the COVID pandemic last year

In a letter to city staff, Noble provided little detail about why he is leaving, calling it “very much a personal decision.” Whatever prompted it (former colleagues speculated burnout, but Noble demurred), his departure opens up a major position in the Harrell administration—and represents a significant loss of institutional knowledge, brainpower, and longstanding relationships between the executive and legislative branches.

3. City Councilmember Alex Pedersen prevailed Monday on a change to the city council’s rules that will allow him (and other council members) to abstain rather than vote on council resolutions unrelated to city business, like the one praising Cuba for its response to the COVID pandemic last year. The legislation was part of a package of council rule changes that will, among other things, move City Council meetings to Tuesdays and limit the amount of time council members can speak to a pending motion. The new rule, which Councilmember Lisa Herbold opposed as vague and open to “unintended consequences,” says that council members can abstain from any resolution that, according to the council president, “does not pertain materially to the City of Seattle.”

Pedersen has long complained that nonbinding resolutions, many of them proposed by his ideological opposite Kshama Sawant, are pointless wastes of the council’s time; in early 2020, he proposed and passed a sarcastic resolution condemning “all forms of oppression affecting communities throughout the world—a response to a Sawant resolution in on national policy in India and Iran.

4. Pedersen cast the lone “no” vote against legislation that will require incoming city attorney Ann Davison to notify the council within 90 days of making changes to, or eliminating, the city’s pre-filing diversion programs, and provide quarterly reports to the council about the effectiveness of diversion. Continue reading “Harrell Announces Key Staff, Veteran Budget Director Departs, Council Adopts New Rules and Transparency Requirements”

Fremont Brewing Is Still Using Concrete Blocks to Prevent RV Parking. So Are the City of Seattle and the US Postal Service.

Ecology blocks outside Seattle City Light's substation in Ballard
Ecology blocks outside Seattle City Light’s substation in Ballard

By Erica C. Barnett

After at least one formal complaint, the Seattle Department of Transportation has issued a warning—but no penalty—to Fremont Brewing, the company co-owned by city council member-elect Sara Nelson, for obstructing the public right-of-way around its Ballard brewing facility with massive concrete “ecology blocks.”

As PubliCola reported last summer, eco blocks—so called because they are a byproduct of concrete production that uses waste that would otherwise occupy landfills—are an inexpensive way for business owners to prevent people living in their vehicles from parking on the street next to their properties.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, when the city stopped enforcing a law requiring people to move their vehicles every three days, the blocks have proliferated throughout Seattle’s industrial areas, which are the only places where people living in oversized vehicles can legally park. Business owners say that the presence of RVs and other types of large vehicles, such as box trucks, discourages patrons, and that large concentrations of RVs can lead to health and safety problems that impact their customers and employees.

Obstructing public streets is illegal, but SDOT has treated eco-blocks differently than other street obstructions; instead of penalizing business owners for taking over public space that belongs to everyone, as they might if a random person set up a tire fort or craft fair in the middle of the street, the department has responded to the proliferation of eco-blocks by essentially throwing up its hands.

Eco-blocks line the street next to Fremont Brewing's production facility in Ballard.
Eco-blocks line the street next to Fremont Brewing’s production facility in Ballard.

This is true not just of Fremont Brewing, which received a written warning, but of many other businesses around the city’s industrial areas as well as the US Postal Service, which surrounded its Ballard sorting facility with eco blocks way back in August 2020.

At the time, USPS spokesman Ernie Swanson told PubliCola that “USPS got the OK from the city to put in the concrete barriers” in response to a proliferation of RVs in the area. The Seattle Department of Transportation disputed this, calling the road-blocking barricades “unpermitted,” but took no action. They’re still there today, graffiti-covered and looking dingy compared to their more recently installed counterparts in front of a Bevmo!-anchored strip mall across the street. 

Contacted for information about why the blocks are still in place more than a year later, Swanson said, “The concrete blocks were placed in front of the Ballard PO as well as other neighboring businesses as a response to a proliferation of needles, human waste and other hazardous materials being discarded on the property. As of this date, the blocks remain not only in front of the PO but also other businesses in the area. We have no knowledge that a permit was ever required.”

"Eco-blox matta": Graffiti on an ecology block in Ballard.

The city’s process for dealing with Fremont Brewing’s ecology blocks was typical. After someone filed an anonymous complaint about the blocks in September, SDOT performed an inspection “and observed ecology blocks” in the street around Fremont Brewing, according to a notice SDOT sent to the company September 17. “We do not allow this type of use in public right-of-way due to traffic safety concerns as well as transportation and utility access needs. Please remove these unpermitted encroachments from public right-of-way by the compliance date indicated below”—November 10.

November 10 came and went; the blocks remained. About a week later, the case was closed.

SDOT spokesman Ethan Bergerson told PubliCola the department followed “standard procedure” in responding to the complaint. “The first step in the enforcement process is to mail a letter to the adjacent businesses or property owners notifying them of their responsibilities to remove the concrete blocks,” Bergerson said. “The purpose of this letter is to initiate a conversation with the responsible party so that we can find a path forward leading to their removal of the unpermitted concrete blocks. To date, we have sent letters of this nature to property owners and businesses adjacent to concrete blocks left in about a dozen locations around Ballard, SoDo, and Georgetown. … Our approach [with Fremont Brewing] has been consistent with the other locations.”

A reminder for dog walkers is visible behind a fence that blocks sidewalk access next to City Light's Canal substation.
A reminder for dog walkers is visible behind a fence that blocks sidewalk access next to City Light’s Canal substation.

Fremont Brewing owner (and Nelson’s husband) Matt Lincecum, who runs the company day to day, declined to comment for this story, as did Nelson.

SDOT has the authority to take enforcement action against any business (or government entity) that obstructs the public street with eco blocks or other objects that make it impossible for the public to access streets, sidewalks, or parking strips. To date, it has not done so, beyond warnings like the one it issued to Fremont Brewing.

As if to emphasize the city’s lackadaisical approach to enforcement, Seattle City Light has installed its own anti-RV fortifications at its Canal Substation, located two blocks away from Fremont Brewing and the rest of the eco-block-littered Ballard brewery district. In addition to eco-blocks in the street, the north side of the substation is walled off by two layers of fencing that completely obstruct the public sidewalk. A review of historical Google Maps reveals that the eco-blocks were installed sometime after this past August, when several RVs were parked along the south side of the substation. The fence, too, is new; as of June 2021, per Google Maps, several RVs were parked on that side of the substation, too. Since then, the RVs appear to have moved around the corner, to a narrower residential street on the east side of the building.

We’ve reached out to City Light as well as SDOT about the obstructions around the Canal Substation and will update this post when we hear back.

Old and new ecology blocks next to the Ballard postal sorting facility, which installed blocks on parking strips and (around the corner) on the street itself last year.
Old and newer ecology blocks next to the Ballard postal sorting facility, which installed blocks on parking strips and (around the corner) on the street itself last year.

From the point of view of a property owner, ecology blocks solve an immediate problem—people living in RVs or parking large vehicles indefinitely in front of their business—that the city has failed to address. But the fact remains that even if the city continues to turn a blind eye to vigilante street obstructions, nothing will really change until the region stops ignoring the needs of people living in vehicles, who make up as much as half of King County’s homeless population. In the absence of “safe lots,” social services, and affordable, permanent housing, people sleeping in their vehicles will continue to take up space in public,

But no amount of semi-sanctioned street and sidewalk obstruction will fix the underlying problem: The city and county have dedicated virtually no resources to people living in vehicles, who make up as much as half of the region’s unsheltered homeless population.

 

SPD Officers Return During Budget Spat; Police Club Dumped Debris in Wetland; and Inmates Begin Hunger Strike Over Transfer

1. Two officers rejoined the SPD on Tuesday after quitting and transferring to other law enforcement agencies during the surge in attrition last year.

Sergeant Lauren Truscott, who worked in SPD’s homicide unit before transferring to a command role at the Issaquah Police Department last fall, said during her swearing-in that she decided to return to Seattle after the death of Officer Alexandra Harris, a member of SPD’s protest response team killed in a hit-and-run on I-5 in June. Truscott previously worked with Harris in SPD’s officer wellness unit. Truscott won’t return to her position in the homicide unit; instead, SPD has assigned her to a patrol shift. Officer Tyler Poole—the other returnee sworn in on Wednesday—will also join a patrol unit; Poole previously worked as a patrol officer based in the north precinct. For now, the department has opted to assign new hires to its patrol operations instead of investigative units.

Truscott and Poole aren’t the first former SPD officers to return to the department this year; according to Interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz, nine people have returned to SPD in the past six months. Like Truscott, most returnees transferred to other police departments in Washington in the summer and fall of 2020. During Wednesday’s ceremony, Diaz said his department hopes to double the number of returnees. He added that officers who previously left SPD might be enticed to come back by the new $25,000 hiring bonus available to officers who transfer from other departments—a bonus that Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan introduced by executive order in late October. According to Diaz, the incentives allow SPD to compete with other nearby law enforcement agencies for recruits.

Because the returning officers left SPD in the recent past, Diaz noted that the department can send them into the field after only a week or two of training.

During the swearing-in ceremony, Diaz took a moment to criticize the 2022 budget rebalancing package City Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda introduced on Tuesday afternoon. The package includes slightly more than $10 million in reductions to the SPD budget originally proposed by Durkan; most of the reductions target salaries for positions that the council does not expect SPD to fill in 2022. “We cannot take from the Seattle Police Department’s budget because it compromises public safety,” he said, claiming that the council’s budget package would require “eliminating 30 officers.”

“It is really misleading for Chief Diaz or anybody in the mayor’s administration to assume that this will result in a cut in staffing.” —Council Member and Budget Chair Mosqueda

The council’s budget proposal likely would not require SPD to lay off any existing officers. While the council’s rebalancing package would provide enough money for SPD to hire its goal of 125 officers, it assumes that a higher number of departures will cancel any growth of the department’s ranks, leaving SPD with 31 fewer officers than the mayor and Diaz hoped.  According to Mosqueda, of the 80 officers who received exemptions from the city’s vaccine mandate, about a dozen will likely lose their jobs by January because SPD won’t be able to accommodate their health risks. 

“There is not a single cut to an officer, maybe to the chagrin of some. But there’s no reduction in staff,” Mosqueda told PubliCola on Wednesday. “There’s no reductions in salary, there is the full funding for SPD’s hiring plan. It is really misleading for Chief Diaz or anybody in the mayor’s administration to assume that this will result in a cut in staffing.”

Councilmember Andrew Lewis, however, raised skepticism on Wednesday that an increase in attrition would neatly cancel out SPD’s hiring plans. “I’m not saying [the council’s estimate for attrition from SPD] should be lower or higher,” he said. “I’d just like [our estimate] to be based on something more defensible than the number of hires, which is what it appears to be.”

Mosqueda responded that the council could lower its attrition estimates and leave SPD with more money to spend on salaries, but she argued that the current estimate of 125 departures “may actually be conservative.” So far, neither the council nor SPD have found a reliable way to predict attrition; in the past year, departures from SPD have outpaced both the council and the department’s estimates.

2. The Seattle Police Athletic Association—a 70-year-old nonprofit that runs a clubhouse and firing range for Seattle Police Officers—and the City of Seattle are still working to clean up a wetland in Tukwila after the association dumped truckloads of dirt, tires, concrete and other debris onto the marshy banks of the Duwamish River. The project, intended to build up the backstop for the association’s firing range, caught the attention of Tukwila’s code enforcement office in April.

After a community member complained that the association was dumping debris into the wetland without a permit, an environmental impact study, or erosion prevention measures, a Tukwila inspector visited the site and found a 300-foot-long mound of dirt and debris on a bank above the river. Elsewhere on the site, the inspector found a small wetland partially filled with broken concrete.

Tukwila’s code enforcement office issued a stop-work order in May, requiring the removal of the mound of dirt and an impact survey by early June; the order also requires the replanting of trees and other wetland vegetation.

Part of the damaged wetland sits on property owned by Seattle’s Department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS); an agreement from the early 1950s allows the association to use the FAS property. According to Seattle City Attorney’s Office spokesman Dan Nolte, the city has taken on responsibility for complying with Tukwila’s orders. He could not divulge how much the restoration will cost.

The Seattle Police Athletic Association has not responded to a request for comment.

Inmates in a minimum-security unit at the Coyote Ridge Correctional Facility in the Cascade Mountains began a hunger strike last week to protest their upcoming transfer to a medium-security unit within the same prison. 

3. Inmates in a minimum-security unit at the Coyote Ridge Correctional Facility in the Cascade Mountains began a hunger strike last week to protest their upcoming transfer to a medium-security unit within the same prison, claiming that they will be targets for harassment and assault in the new unit. The Washington Department of Correction’s (DOC) is set on consolidating a shrinking inmate population. Since 2018, the number of people in state custody has dropped from 18,000 to fewer than 14,000; to cut costs and cope with a mounting staffing shortage, the DOC has begun closing some lower-security units, particularly at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Snohomish County. Additionally, the state’s 2021-2023 biennial budget requires the DOC to reduce prison spending by $80 million over the next two years—a deadline that has spurred the DOC to speed up its consolidation.

According to DOC spokeswoman Rachel Ericson, the unit closure at Coyote Ridge is also intended to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak: the medium-security unit has in-cell bathrooms, while the minimum-security unit has shared bathrooms.

According to one inmate in minimum-security custody at the Coyote Ridge facility who asked to remain anonymous, the DOC will begin relocating the inmates housed in his unit—roughly 225 people, including some inmates with sex offenses—to higher-security cells next week. The goal of the hunger strike, he said, is to pressure the DOC to call off the transfer. While strike organizers hope that the protest will spread unit-wide, the exact number of strikers remains uncertain.

The transfer may only be temporary: as courts across the state work through their backlogs of criminal cases—a widespread consequence of the pandemic—the DOC may need to reopen the minimum-security unit to make space for new arrivals.

Durkan and Harrell Criticize Council Budget Proposal; Fired SPD Officer Lands Job in Pacific County, WA

1. The Seattle City Council introduced a 2022 their budget proposal on Tuesday afternoon under difficult circumstances: the surge in COVID-19 infections in the early fall knocked the wind out of the city’s revenue forecasts, forcing the council to consider reductions to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed 2022 budget despite surging demand for city spending on economic recovery, housing, transit, and new public safety programs.

In total, the latest revenue forecasts predict a $15 million decrease in general fund revenue, driven largely by lower-than-expected payroll tax and parking ticket revenue—both consequences of the slow return to in-person work. A shortage of parking enforcement officers, forcing the city to suspend the collections of parking fines, also explains the parking ticket revenue decline. Parking revenue shortfalls totaled more than $7 million.

While presenting the new budget package on Tuesday, council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda criticized Durkan for basing her proposed budget on the more-optimistic revenue projections from August rather than the grim forecasts the council has relied upon for most of the past two years. “It’s good to be optimistic,” she said, “but do it while planning for the worst-case scenario.”

Many of the council’s reductions are directed at the mayor’s proposed public safety budget. In total, the council’s budget package outlines $10 million in reductions to Durkan’s proposed police budget. The council largely targeting salaries for sworn positions that the council believes will go unfilled in 2022; the council expects SPD to end next year with no more than 1,223 officers, compared to the 1,357 funded in the mayor’s proposed budget. The package also outlines reductions to SPD’s overtime budget and scraps a pair of data analysis projects, the proposed expansion of the department’s Community Service Officer program, and hiring incentives for new officers in 2022. Another $1 million reduction would cut the  Seattle Fire Department’s new Triage One teams by half in 2022; the new emergency response units likely won’t launch until July, so the council plans to trim their budget accordingly.

Durkan responded sharply to the council’s proposed public safety budget plans on Tuesday night, saying “after last week’s election results delivered a clear rejection of the City Council’s plans to defund SPD, I was hopeful the Council would listen to voters and address our public safety needs with a real plan. Instead, it’s déjà vu all over again with Council proposing one of the largest cuts to public safety to date.” The council’s plan did not, however, cut any police officer positions that SPD expected to fill.

Despite the reductions to Durkan’s proposed SPD budget, Mosqueda maintains that the new budget package isn’t austere, in large part because of the more than $230 million available through the JumpStart tax—a payroll tax she spearheaded and the council adopted last year as a means to fund affordable housing and small business recovery. It’s also a source of revenue that Durkan has often tried to repurpose despite the council’s protests. Durkan has taken the same tactic this year; in her proposal for the 2022 budget, the mayor suggested redirecting $148 million in JumpStart revenue to fill gaps in the general fund.

The council’s proposal outlines $192 million—half of which will come from JumpStart revenues—in spending on affordable housing and homelessness programs, including roughly a dozen projects not included in Durkan’s original budget plan.

The council’s budget package reins in Durkan’s plans to spend JumpStart revenue, capping the amount that Durkan can use to fill in gaps in the general fund at $85 million. Among Durkan’s proposals the council didn’t give the go-ahead: using $30 million in JumpStart revenue to expand the budget for the upcoming participatory budgeting program. Instead, the council plans to use the nearly $30 million left in this year’s budget to get the still-stalled program off the ground in 2022.

The council’s proposal outlines $192 million—half of which will come from JumpStart revenues—in spending on affordable housing and homelessness programs, including roughly a dozen projects not included in Durkan’s original budget plan. Those projects include a $1.5 million investment in safe parking lots for people living in their cars and trailers, including ongoing dollars to pay for garbage pickup and handwashing stations, and a $10 million expansion of the city’s budget for Tiny Home Villages. For some one-time housing related costs, the council’s plan would repurpose federal grant dollars that Durkan previously planned to use to pay for long-term projects.

The budget package also sets aside $7 million for new public safety-related programs, focused largely on mental health crisis centers and emergency responders—namely the Mobile Crisis Teams managed by the Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC).

In spite of the revenue shortfall, Mosqueda said that the council hopes the budget will be able to “make up for spending we should have done 20 or 30 years ago”—particularly spending on affordable housing development and mental health services.

In a press release on Tuesday night, mayor-elect Bruce Harrell echoed Durkan’s criticisms of the council’s budget package, suggesting that the council’s proposals constitute an outright cut to SPD’s ability to hire new officers and launch new training programs. “Proposing further cuts deprives the City of resources needed to achieve national best practice staffing levels, decrease response times, and hire and train desperately needed officers,” he wrote, “and is in direct conflict with what Seattle voters demanded just last week.”

2. The  Long Beach, Washington police department recently hired Duane Goodman, an 11-year SPD veteran with a history of misconduct in Seattle, including a pair of incendiary social media posts that prompted former Police Chief Carmen Best to fire him in January of last year.

In 2018, an anonymous complainant reached out to SPD to raise concerns about two posts on Goodman’s Instagram account. First, under a picture of a package bomb, Goodman had written, “I don’t condone sending package bombs but god it would be nice for Killary and Anti-cop Obama to finally STFU!” A second post—a picture of Goodman raising his middle finger towards the camera—HAD A caption disparaging undocumented immigrants. SPD turned over the first post to the US Secret Service, which launched a criminal investigation; the US Attorney’s Office later declined to file charges.

In a letter firing Goodman, Best wrote that his “embrace [of] violence as a ‘solution’ for a public figure” was a “betrayal of the values of our profession.” Best also wrote that Goodman’s hostility towards undocumented immigrants indicated that he couldn’t treat members of the public fairly regardless of their immigration status. In the letter, Best also referred to a 2018 incident in which Goodman threatened to throw a person in crisis off a balcony if he didn’t comply with officers’ demands. An officer who witnessed Goodman’s threat later reported the incident to his supervisors; a year later, SPD suspended Goodman for two days without pay for failing to de-escalate.

After his termination, Goodman’s misconduct record only continued to grow. In February 2020, an investigation by Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA) revealed that Goodman—while awaiting discipline for his Instagram posts—had tracked down the contact information of the anonymous whistleblower and harassed her via text message; in one message, Goodman called the woman a “cunt.” At the urging of his union, the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG), Goodman refused to appear for an interview with OPA investigators about the messages. Though the department could no longer discipline Goodman, the OPA concluded that he had breached SPD’s anti-retaliation policies.

Long Beach Police Chief Flint Wright has not responded to PubliCola’s request for a comment. In an interview with the Chinook Observer, Wright claimed that his department spoke with Goodman’s former supervisors and co-workers at SPD before bringing him on board; he added that the found no cause for concern during the vetting process.

In an ironic twist given Best’s post-retirement criticisms of the city council’s alleged political posturing during protests in 2020, Wright also implied that Best’s decision to fire Goodman may have been politically motivated. “[Best’s] decision is her decision,” he told the Chinook Observer. “She lives in a different world politically and in a different environment.” The Long Beach Police Department, he added, is willing to give Goodman another chance.

Little Appetite on Council for Fighting Durkan’s Police Hiring Bonus

"Lateral hire" sign for Spokane Sheriff's Office in Times Square
Photo via @SpokaneSheriffOffice on Twitter.

By Paul Kiefer

Last Friday, outgoing Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan signed an executive order offering hefty hiring bonuses as recruitment tools for the Seattle Police Department and the city’s 911 call center.

The order was a blunt tool for accomplishing a policy goal the mayor has pursued for months. In July, the city council declined to consider a bill drafted by her office that would have restored a hiring incentive program for SPD halted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and in early September, the council narrowly voted against a pair of proposals—introduced by Councilmember Alex Pedersen, with Durkan’s support—to offer hiring and retention bonuses for police officers.

The mayor’s order will allow SPD to pay officers who transfer from other departments up to $25,000, and new recruits up to $10,000, for the rest of 2021. The CSCC will be able to offer the same bonuses. Those figures are substantially higher than the hiring incentives offered to new police officers in 2019, when lateral transfers received $15,000 and new recruits received $7,500.

For the members of the city council who resisted the mayor’s previous attempts to reestablish the hiring incentive program, Durkan’s executive order appeared reckless. “It’s not clear whether the funding in this year’s budget is sufficient to allow this program to begin operating as envisioned,” said council public safety chair Lisa Herbold during the council’s briefing on Monday.

According to Durkan spokesman Anthony Derrick, the city will fund this year’s hiring incentives using $1.1 million in unspent police salaries that SPD hasn’t yet diverted to cover other expenses—a sum that would allow SPD and the 911 call center to hire around 44 experienced staff, 110 new recruits, or some combination of the two. As of late September, SPD had hired 57 officers in 2021, with plans to hire an additional 28 by the end of the year. The 911 call center, now housed in the city’s new Community Safety and Communications Center, hopes to fill 30 vacancies as quickly as possible, including 10 that opened after the city’s vaccine mandate took effect in October.

From the council’s perspective, the decision to spend the leftover $1.1 million could have budgetary repercussions even if SPD and the 911 call center don’t spend the full amount on hiring incentives. When the council discussed how to redistribute SPD’s unspent salaries earlier this year, it resolved to leave the $1.1 million as a reserve to cover unexpected costs, a decision informed by Durkan’s last-minute request in December 2020 to add more money to SPD’s budget after the department spent more on overtime than the council had approved.

For now, SPD hasn’t signaled that it will ask for a year-end addition to its budget like it did last year. But for a council worn down by months of debate about how to discourage the department from spending beyond its means, the prospect of losing the only contingency fund because of the mayor’s executive order is concerning. The launch of Seattle’s newest sports franchise, the Kraken hockey team, could accelerate SPD’s overtime spending over the next two months, adding to the risk that the council could face a repeat of 2020’s last-minute police budget crisis. In her comments on Monday, Herbold mentioned that the council may have “learned its lesson” about leaving dollars unassigned in the SPD budget.

Hiring incentives for police officers have become commonplace in Western Washington. Officers who transfer to Bellevue’s police department receive a $16,000 bonus; in Renton and Lynnwood, the bonus for lateral hires is $20,000. Combined with the starting salary for new, fully trained officers at SPD—a base of more than $83,000, compared to between $68,000 and $78,000 at other nearby agencies—the hiring incentives mean that Seattle police officers will remain the best-paid in the region, with brand-new officers making close to six figures. In 2019, hiring incentives seemed to help SPD boost its recruitment figures after a dip the previous year, rising from 68 new hires in 2018 to 108 in 2019.

Mike Solan, the president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG)—the union representing most sworn officers in SPD—is skeptical that the incentives will work this year. “Dangling money to recruit new or lateral hires won’t get the job done,” he wrote in a letter to Durkan on Saturday. “Seattle cannot simply hire enough people to balance the loss of so many officers as other agencies across the country are competing for those same jobs.”

Despite objections from the city council’s labor relations policy committee, which establishes the city’s bargaining position during union contract negotiations, Durkan also offered to pay SPOG members to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Negotiations between the union and the city about the impacts of the vaccine mandate are still ongoing.

The council is still considering whether to approve more than $1 million in the city’s 2022 budget to continue the hiring incentive program. In the meantime, few council members seem eager to enter a political battle with Durkan over her executive order.

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

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

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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”

City Unions File Complaint About Mishandling of Accommodations Process for Unvaccinated Employees, SPOG Weighs In

Seattle Police Department cruiser parked outside of Union Station in Seattle's International District

By Paul Kiefer

Several of Seattle’s largest public employee unions filed identical complaints with the state Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC) on Tuesday about the rollout of the new vaccine mandate, less than a day after the deadline for public employees to turn in proof of vaccination.

The complaint, first filed by the PROTEC17 union, as well as a union representing electrical workers, focuses on the treatment of city employees who sought exemptions from the vaccine mandate on religious or medical grounds. The city first started notifying employees that their exemption requests were approved or denied on October 11.

Before Seattle’s vaccine mandate took effect on October 18, the city offered employees a chance to apply to be exempt from the vaccine requirement—on the condition that they reach an agreement with their department about how to continue working while minimizing their risk of transmitting COVID-19 to coworkers or the public. Of nearly 700 exemption requests, the city approved about 520.

According to the complaint, when the unions reached an agreement about the vaccine mandate in September, they expected city departments to adhere to their promise to meet with unvaccinated workers to come up with accommodations—working from home indefinitely, for instance—before the October 18 deadline. According to PROTEC17 negotiator Shaun Van Eyk, that didn’t happen: only two dozen employees with exemptions had a chance to meet with their supervisors to discuss accommodations before the mandate took effect, while another 500 employees landed on paid or unpaid leave. “It’s unfortunate that we had to resort to filing this Unfair Labor Practice in order to preserve union members’ rights as we agreed to, and as outlined in our contract,” said PROTEC17 Executive Director Karen Estevenin in an email on Thursday.

Since the agreement didn’t anticipate this delay, the unions argue the city needs to return to the negotiating table—and provide back pay or restore paid leave days for employees who keep their jobs.

On October 14, several departments—including the Seattle Department of Transportation and Seattle Public Utilities, among others—issued letters informing their employees with religious exemptions that their “individualized interactive process” to consider possible accommodations was over—according to the complaint, the letter came as a surprise to some employees, who didn’t know the process had started in the first place. While the departments hadn’t identified any accommodations for unvaccinated employees, the letters offered three options: comply with the vaccine requirement, come up with a proposal for accommodations, or leave.

The following day, the same departments backpedaled, issuing new letters offering employees with exemptions a chance to meet with human resources staff to discuss accommodations. In the corrected letter, the departments wrote that any employees with exemptions would need to use their own paid or unpaid leave if they weren’t fully vaccinated, accommodated, or fired by October 18.

Meanwhile, the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) remains the only Seattle public employee union that hasn’t reached an agreement with the city about the vaccine mandate. In a press release on Monday afternoon, SPOG President Mike Solan claimed that the police department planned to refuse accommodations for any officers who received exemptions on religious grounds; he also claimed that the department refused to accommodate officers who received medical exemptions, including an organ transplant recipient. According to Solan, nearly 100 of his union’s members have religious or medical exemptions.

Though the Seattle Police Department announced on Tuesday that it has just begun what will likely be a lengthy process of firing six officers for not complying with the vaccine mandate, that number could rise in the coming weeks if the department actually refuses to accommodate officers with exemptions, as Solan claimed it will.