Tag: city contracting

Morning Fizz: As City Hall Moves Closer to Agreement on Homeless Outreach, “Seattle Is Dying” Star Claims the Council Wants to Legalize Crime

Screen shot from “Seattle Is Dying”

1. Scott Lindsay, a former mayoral public safety advisor whose report on “prolific offenders” featured prominently in the viral “Seattle Is Dying” video, published a broadside against city council member Lisa Herbold yesterday on the website of a new political nonprofit called Change Washington. In the piece, Lindsay accuses Herbold of sneaking legislation into the 2021 budget that would  “create a legal loophole that would open the floodgates to crime in Seattle, effectively nullifying the city’s ability to protect persons and property from most misdemeanor crimes” and “negat[ing] the majority of Seattle’s criminal code.”

Change Washington was incorporated at the end of 2019. Its principals are former state Sen. Rodney Tom, a conservative Democrat from Medina who caucused (and voted) with Republicans; Sally Poliak, a “centrist Republican” political consultant in Seattle; Steve Gordon, a Republican donor from Pacific, WA who runs the anti-tax group “Concerned Taxpayers of Washington State“; and former Zillow executive Greg Schwartz, who left the company last year vowing to focus his energy on “Seattle’s chaotic streets and government.”

In his post, Lindsay refers to himself as a “dyed-in-the-wool blue Democrat.”

Lindsay’s claims about legalizing crime come from an extremely broad reading of a draft bill crafted with input from Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now and posted on the website of the King County Department of Public Defense. Lindsay appears unaware that these groups participated in the drafting of the bill, and even claims that they have never expressed any support for its basic concepts. And despite Lindsay’s claim that Herbold is using an elaborate “backdoor” strategy to “[keep] the proposed legislation almost entirely hidden from the public,” Herbold has not actually proposed any legislation. Council staffers are still working on a draft, one of many bills the council will propose as part of the budget process.

Nor would the bill Lindsay incorrectly identifies as Herbold’s actually legalize crime. Instead, the county public defenders’ draft proposes several new defenses against prosecution for crimes that result from poverty or an unmanaged mental health or addiction disorder. Among other (welcome) changes, the bill would prevent prosecutors from throwing a person with untreated mental illness in jail because he broke a store window during a psychotic episode, or pressing charges against a hungry person because he stole food. It would not create a get-out-of-jail-free card for anyone who commits a crime and then claims to have—as Lindsay glibly puts it—”depression, anxiety, etc.”

Herbold says it’s high time the city reconsider its approach to offenses that result from poverty and lack of access to health care and housing. “As we’ve seen in the massive national and international protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, it is past time that we reexamine our systems which often perpetuate homelessness and economic instability,” she says. “The City currently spends approximately $20 million a year on incarceration, which is known to significantly increase the risk of housing instability and homelessness.” The council will discuss the proposal at its budget meeting Wednesday.

Lindsay’s arguments will almost certainly find purchase in right-wing talk radio and on TV chat shows whose ratings depend on keeping audiences in a perpetual state of fear. There will always be a large contingent of people, even in liberal Seattle, who don’t believe that crimes that result from poverty or untreated mental illness really exist. To these people, Lindsay’s assertion that defendants would only have to “claim drug or alcohol addiction” or fake a mental illness to evade justice will make sense. It’s easier to believe in a world where shady defense attorneys argue, as Lindsay predicts they will, that “drugs are a ‘basic need” for someone with a substance use disorder” to than to consider the possibility that throwing people in jail for being addicted, mentally ill, or poor doesn’t actually work.

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2. After the city council passed legislation establishing a new “outreach and engagement team” to coordinate the city’s response to unauthorized encampments, you might think Mayor Jenny Durkan would be thrilled. After all, the team keeps most members of the Navigation Team on the city payroll, while leaving the question of what, exactly, the team will do.

Instead, the mayor responded to the 7-1 vote by reigniting the debate over the council’s 2020 budget rebalancing package, which Durkan vetoed (unsuccessfully) after the council voted to eliminate the Navigation Team. In a statement Monday night, Durkan characterized the council’s vote as a decision to “restor[e] funding for the Human Services Department to coordinate homelessness outreach” and called the legislation “similar to previously proposed legislation negotiated in August” that would have kept the Navigation Team intact.  Continue reading “Morning Fizz: As City Hall Moves Closer to Agreement on Homeless Outreach, “Seattle Is Dying” Star Claims the Council Wants to Legalize Crime”

Sawant Spent $46,000 in City Funds on PR Consultant

Screen shot 2015-11-16 at 12.23.00 PMSocialist council member Kshama Sawant, who frequently uses her council podium to rally her supporters around causes beyond the council’s reach, spent nearly $50,000 in city money on a public relations consultant to rally support for pet causes such as rent control, and to meet with individuals and groups who were not among Sawant’s allies, among other duties. The consultant, hired as a “strategic public relations expert,” went on to work on Sawant’s campaign and had previously worked on the 15Now campaign closely associated with the Socialist council member.

Between April 17, 2014, and December 31, 2014,  Sawant’s office spent $46,000 on an unusual contract with Jeff Upthegrove, who also served as treasurer to the Sawant-affiliated 15Now campaign in 2014 and went on to be one of Sawant’s paid political advisors. The contract was unusual both because of its size (according to city contracting records, it was one of just four contracts over $40,000 with the legislative department signed that year), but because of its purpose: To advise Sawant prior to council meetings, serve as a proxy for Sawant in meetings with constituents, and mobilize stakeholders—supporters—to show up at Sawant events and rallies like the one she held at City Hall in support of rent control. Council contracts for other offices were typically related to research and analysis work in complex policy areas, such as a $246,000  contract with the University of Washington to study the impacts of a $15 minimum wage, or $43,000 for a “Seattle Gang Needs Assessment” from Arizona State University.

Upthegrove says his role was basically that of an adjunct, non-political staffer, a way around the limitations the city places on council members’ budget. Every year, each council members gets a set budget for office expenses, including staff, which the council member can divvy up as he or she pleases. Traditionally, council members have divided up their staff budget between two or three staffers, or occasionally four, who do the core work of advising he council member and running her office.  The problem with just hiring Upthegrove outright, according to Upthegrove, was that although salaries come out of a council office’s budget, health care doesn’t, and hiring so many staffers would have put a strain on the legislative department’s benefit pool.

It’s worth taking a step back here to point out that this story was being shopped around before the election by Sawant opponents, which shows you how badly they wanted to see the popular member go down to defeat November 3. As we know, that didn’t happen. But the story of how and why a council member came to spend so much city money on a PR and outreach consultant remains interesting, because it’s extremely unusual, if not unprecedented, for a council member to hire a consultant who also happens to be a political advisor to serve as a de facto staffer.

An analogous example, one council observer argues, would be if Christian Sinderman set up shop in Tim Burgess’ office and met with constituents on his behalf. And in fact, none of the other five-figure contracts with the council are remotely similar. Most are consultants—firms or individuals—hired to advise a council member, or the council, on specific complex issue areas, like how to implement universal preschool, or the pros and cons of a municipal bank. Hiring a consultant to do the work staffers would ordinarily do, like interacting with constituents and setting up meetings, is unusual, according to council staff.

Obviously, that doesn’t happen (nor does Sandeep Kaushik set up a laptop and card table in the mayor’s office.) And Upthegrove says he did abide by the rules, signing in when he came to brief Sawant before committee meetings and spending “most of my time working at home to follow the rules laid out for contractors.” The council sign-in sheets shed little light on what Upthegrove was up to when he visited Sawant; a typical visit is marked as “discussion” or sometimes “housing” or “City Light issues.” Most days, Upthegrove’s contract said he clocked in for 6 to  8 hours doing things like “meeting prep, and “post meeting debrief.”

The unusual arrangement kept Upthegrove out of the office, organizing turnout at events like Sawant’s July forum on rent control at City Hall and meeting with constituents in Sawant’s place. Critics, including her campaign opponent Pamela Banks, frequently complain that Sawant doesn’t meet with people who don’t agree with her, while people who are Sawant advocates insist she’s extremely accessible, including to those with whom she disagrees.

Sawant did not return a call for comment. But Upthegrove confirms that he did meet with Sawant’s political opponents, including “folks who didn’t have a great relationship with Sawant, like [developer lobbyist] Roger Valdez. I would meet with Roger occasionally—not to insulate her, but so I could introduce his point of view.” Upthegrove says he also “met with a lot of people she did like to meet with as well. … I didn’t just meet with people that she didn’t want to meet with. I met with people who were her allies or sometimes people that she didn’t have time to meet with.” Upthegrove’s invoices do not generally detail who was at the meetings he held, only that they were generally with “stakeholder groups.”

Upthegrove says “the notion of folks who can’t get meetings with her,” promulgated most recently by Banks, who said she couldn’t get Sawant to meet about expanding the CareerBridge jobs program, isn’t accurate. “That was a function of the volume of people that wanted to meet with her and the choices she made. She would pick and choose based on what was most important or what staff believed would add the most value to her policymaking, so some people didn’t get meetings and were upset about it.” He says Banks sent a single email seeking a meeting to Sawant’s intern, and “it was lost amongst hundreds of other emails that came in on a daily basis. … I don’t think those kinds of decisions were ever based on political malice or wanting to exclude political enemies or exclude people who disagreed with Kshama.”

After a brief period as an official (though temporary) Sawant staffer, Upthegrove returned to his consulting firm, Sound Consulting. According to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, she paid him $2,500 this year for campaign consulting services.