Tag: Joe Nguyen

Public Restroom Closures Coincide With Shigella Outbreak Among Seattle’s Homeless

Plus election speculation and news from City Hall.

1. As the COVID-19 pandemic approaches the one-year mark, the city of Seattle has decided to keep some restrooms in parks and other public spaces open over the winter so that people who might ordinarily use restrooms in fast-food restaurants or libraries can have more places to go.

As PubliCola reported last month, the city’s Parks Department says it has no choice but to close certain parks restrooms down during the winter months because their plumbing can’t withstand freezing temperatures. The department provided PubliCola with a list of all the restrooms that are currently closed, either for winterization or for other reasons, such as fires, vandalism, or structural damage.

The upshot: Of more than 130 restrooms operated directly by the city, and not counting restrooms in library buildings or shelters operated by nonprofit providers, more than 60 are currently closed. Of those, fewer than half have been replaced by what the city euphemistically calls “sanicans,” better known as portable toilets, and only a relative handful of which include a place for people to wash their hands after doing their business.

In Judkins Park, near PubliCola HQ, a lonely pair of portable toilets that replaced two multi-stall restrooms looked the worse for wear this weekend, as did toilets placed in nearby Sam Smith Park. The official restroom map maintained by the city’s Human Services Department lists two open restroom buildings and a 24-hour “sanican.” Other restrooms that only have portable toilets, according the Parks Department’s list, show up on HSD’s list of open restrooms, as do many non-city restrooms that are open limited hours, such as Immanuel Community Services (open from 8 to 2 on weekdays) or are only accessible to certain groups, such as the women-only day center at Mary’s Place.

The result is that—like last year—the city’s list of “open” restrooms overstates the actual number of restrooms that are open, accessible, and safe, not to mention clean.

2. Limited-access day centers, the five library branches (of 27) that allow walk-in restroom use, and portable toilets with handwashing stations are certainly better than nothing. But during a pandemic, when people experiencing homelessness have less access than usual to basic hygiene, portable toilets without toilet paper or a sink invite the spread of disease. Last month, King County Public Health issued a warning about an outbreak of Shigella, a highly contagious bacterial infection that causes diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. According to the county, “the [Shigella] germs can spread when someone with Shigella does not wash their hands well after using the toilet then contaminates objects, food or water.”

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Since the end of October, Public Health has received 61 reports of Shigella, 46 of those after December 14. Of that total, the vast majority—47—occurred among “people who reported experiencing homelessness or unstable housing or who accessed homeless services,” a spokeswoman for Public Health told PubliCola. Because these numbers only reflect reported cases, the true number is undoubtedly higher.

According to King County’s info page, simple “handwashing with soap and water is the best way to protect yourself and others against Shigella infections.” Many homeless people lack this option, and we’re seeing the results.

3. Lorelei Williams, the deputy director overseeing capital projects for the Seattle Department of Transportation, is leaving the city after more than 16 years to take a job with WSP, a mega-engineering firm that has many current contracts with the city, including a contract to monitor the structural integrity of the West Seattle Bridge. Williams will be WSP’s Pacific Northwest Transportation Business Line Leader.

According to an SDOT spokesman, Williams “has not had any role in selecting WSP or overseeing their contracts” for SDOT. She’ll be the second high-ranking SDOT staffer to make the jump to the engineering firm in recent years, after Mike Terrell left his position as deputy director in charge of capital projects and roadway structures to take a job at WSP in 2018. Although city rules bar certain high-ranking employees from lobbying elected officials for three years after leaving the city, there are no rules prohibiting city employees from taking jobs at firms that compete for city contracts.

4. Although conventional wisdom has it that King County Executive Dow Constantine, who is running for reelection this year, has a lock on the position, one name keeps coming up as a potential challenger: Washington State Sen. Joe Nguyen (D-34). Nguyen won his senate seat in 2018, defeating Constantine’s deputy executive, Shannon Braddock. He did not return a call seeking comment about whether he’s running.

Two Bills on Cop Discipline Illustrate Limits of Labor Support for Police Reform

Sen. Joe Nguyen (D-34) presents before the Washington State Senate’s Labor, Commerce and Tribal Affairs Committee on Thursday

By Paul Kiefer

Labor leaders, police accountability activists and elected officials from across the state, including Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, testified Thursday in Olympia about two state senate bills intended to restructure or streamline the disciplinary process for police. The testimonies from the labor leadership revealed the sharp divide between Seattle’s labor movement, which distanced itself from police unions in June, and the statewide labor movement, which continues to defend police union membership—in their words, both out of solidarity and for self-preservation.

The first bill, sponsored by Senator Joe Nguyen (D-34) and a dozen of his colleagues, would streamline the arbitration process that police union members use to challenge disciplinary rulings by empowering the state’s Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC) to choose the attorneys who decide the outcomes of appeals. Under the current statewide system, both employers and police unions have to agree on an arbitrator from a pool of private attorneys; that system is rife with delays.

The bill would also prohibit police union collective bargaining agreements from including conditions that violate or nullify state or local laws; that clause would prevent a repeat of the 2018 contract between Seattle and the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) that nullified key elements of the sweeping police accountability ordinance the city council passed in 2017.

The second bill, sponsored by Senator Jesse Salomon (D-32) and five of his colleagues, would eliminate the arbitration process altogether and require officers to appeal disciplinary decisions to quasi-judicial bodies called civil service commissions, whose members are mostly appointed by mayors and city councils. Seattle already has its own Public Safety Civil Service Commission, but officers only appeal disciplinary decisions to that commission if their union has declined to support their appeal, which is rare.

The bill would also require departments to automatically fire any officers found guilty of a set of extreme offenses—including excessive force, hiding or falsifying evidence, and engaging in sexual contact with anyone in custody. And it would prohibit police union contracts from restricting accountability and oversight by, among other means, limiting the subpoena authority of civilian oversight bodies and allowing the sealing or destruction of officers’ misconduct records.

At their core, both Nguyen and Salomon’s bills would make law enforcement bargaining rules more distinct from the rules that govern any other employees. But to most of the labor representatives who testified at the hearing, the two bills are night and day. While Nguyen’s would limit the input of both unions and management in the arbitration process, Salomon’s would specifically limit the powers of police unions and the disciplinary appeal options for law enforcement officers.

Statewide labor leaders, including representatives from the Washington State Labor Council, argued Thursday that police accountability reforms that restrict the powers of police unions could have dire consequences for the power of organized labor in the state as a whole, threatening the due process and collective bargaining rights of all workers. Shaunie Wheeler James, the political director for Teamsters Joint Council 28 (and a member of the Port of Seattle’s Commission on Port Policing and Civil Rights), called the bill a “stalking horse for those with an agenda to undermine all workers.”

Several labor leaders dismissed the notion that the collective bargaining process and arbitration stood in the way of meaningful police reforms. State labor council president Larry Brown, for example, argued that the real barrier to reform is police management, who oversee training, hiring, and data collection about misconduct and use of force, rather than rank and file officers.

“Nothing in this bill addresses the police leadership—the chiefs, the sheriffs, and the training programs—that have allowed these culture problems to persist,” he said.

Only one labor representative testified in favor of Salomon’s bill: David Parsons, the president of UAW 4121—a union representing graduate, doctoral and postdoctoral student employees at the University of Washington.

Seattle-area labor leadership joined forces with police accountability advocates last summer, mostly notably in June, when the Martin Luther King County Labor Council expelled SPOG from their organization. That local shift was visible on Thursday, when representatives from the ACLU of Washington and Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County joined Parsons in supporting the bill, as did prominent police accountability expert and retired municipal court judge Anne Levinson and Fred Thomas, the father of a man killed by police officers in Fife in 2013 who is now a leader in police accountability lobbying group Next Steps Washington.

In contrast, both law enforcement and non-law enforcement labor lobbyists seemed cautiously optimistic about Nguyen’s bill. Joseph Kendo, the government affairs director for the WSLC, only balked at the proposal to limit the pool of arbitrators to nine members, which he said was too few to meet the statewide need. Washington State Fraternal Order of Police president Marco Monteblanco said the bill would provide officers a more consistent, unbiased arbitration process.