Tag: participatory budgeting

Participatory Budgeting Plan Is Heavy on Overhead, Seattle Rep. Macri Schools Suburban Cities, and Emails Confirm Durkan Audit Directive

[REDACTED]: Emails confirm Durkan directive.
1. In what may be a final act before the wheels of the citywide participatory budgeting process begin to turn, the Black Brilliance Research Project’s (BBRP) team—specifically, longtime research leads Shaun Glaze and LéTania Severe—are working with the Seattle City Council to develop a spending plan for the participatory budgeting rollout. The city plans to use participatory budgeting to select programs that will replace some functions of the Seattle Police Department.

Any money the city spends on staffing and infrastructure for participatory budgeting will come out of the $30 million set aside in the city’s 2021 budget for PB; that means it will reduce the dollar amount available to finance the projects for which Seattle residents will eventually be able to vote.

A draft spending plan written by the BBRP team outlines $8.3 million in overhead costs—roughly 28 percent of the project’s total budget, and 40 percent more than the entire budget of Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights. The BBRP’s final report to council also suggested setting aside another 20 percent of the budget to cover any unexpected future costs, which would leave just under $16 million to pay for project proposals.

The largest portion of that spending would go to 35 staff members, all identified as “Strategic Advisor 2″-level employees (a city employment tier that comes with a six-figure salary), including a seven-person steering committee to set the rules and procedures for participatory budgeting as well as 25 full-time members of five “work groups” who will provide administrative support to the steering committee.

The draft spending plan also outlines plans to address inequitable access to the internet that might hinder efforts to give BIPOC and low-income residents a voice in the participatory budgeting process. Some digital access-related budget items fit within the current $8.3 million spending plan, but others don’t, including a $2.75 million program called the “Digital Navigator Program” that would involve hiring 50 people to provide one-on-one “assistance in getting to and using online resources, low-income internet [and] device programs, and developing digital skills” to BIPOC residents.

The BBRP and its supporters are still advocating for the city to spend additional dollars to the participatory budgeting process. At the moment, their focus is on a proposal before the council’s Public Safety Committee to cut $5.4 million from the Seattle Police Department’s budget to account for an equivalent amount that the department overspent in 2020. In an email sent on Monday, supporters of the participatory budgeting process suggested that the dollars taken from SPD’s budget could enable the city to hire the team of digital navigators, among other expenses. 

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

2. Representative Nicole Macri (D-43, Seattle) is working to pass legislation (HB 1220) that updates the Growth Management Act with rules that would require more affordable housing stock. The bill says Washington cities should plan for upcoming growth by requiring cities to incorporate affordable housing into their comprehensive plans.

However, representatives from several suburban cities, including Renton and Auburn, testified against sections of the bill that would prohibit jurisdictions from banning homeless shelters and transitional housing, as the city of Renton effectively did earlier this year. The bill would prohibit such bans in any area where other types of short-term housing, such as motels, is allowed. Critics argue that the bill is an overreach of state authority, and cities should be able to deal with homelessness as they see fit.

Macri doesn’t buy it. “It seems like local control hasn’t led to inclusive zoning in the last 50 years, so why would I think that it would [now]?” she said, adding that while planning for more housing to accommodate growth is “good policy,” the proposed affordable housing mandates make the policy “real.”

Even though the bill passed the House on March 3 with unanimous Democratic support, Rep. Macri says she’s still worried about how the bill will fare in the Senate. Rep. Macri is currently trying to have conversations with cities, trying to find out what resources they need to “be inclusive to all people in all the zones where [cities] currently allow some people.” She says those conversations are not going great.

On March 11, the Sound Cities Association, which represents suburban cities, sent a letter opposing the bill signed by the mayors of Vancouver, Renton, Sammamish and 21 other mid-sized cities. The Sound Cities Association is a major player in the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which is supposed to devise a region-wide approach to homelessness.

Conversations with the mid-size cities started out fine, Macri said, but as the legislation continued to move, cities kept coming up with new objections to the bill, before finally acknowledging their real beef, which Macri paraphrases as: “We don’t want certain kinds of people in certain kinds of neighborhoods because they can’t meet those people’s needs.”

Seattle’s City Council and Mayor Jenny Durkan both sent letters to Seattle’s legislative delegation last week expressing their support for the bill. “All cities play a part in establishing affordable housing and remedying the homelessness crisis that is gripping our county, our region, and our state, and appreciate your support for HB 1220,” the council wrote.

3. Records obtained through a public disclosure request, though heavily redacted, appear to confirm that it was Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office, not Department of Finance and Administrative Services director Calvin Goings or finance director Glen Lee, who decided to pressure the state auditor’s office to expand the scope of its performance audit of the city council’s contract with the Freedom Project, which served as the “fiscal agent” for the initial $3 million participatory budgeting research project. Continue reading “Participatory Budgeting Plan Is Heavy on Overhead, Seattle Rep. Macri Schools Suburban Cities, and Emails Confirm Durkan Audit Directive”

Durkan Administration Asks State to Expand Scope of Audit Into City Council Contract

By Erica C. Barnett

On Monday, the director of the city’s Department of Finance and Administrative Services, Calvin Goings, and the city’s Finance Director, Glen Lee, signed a letter to the State Auditor’s Office (SAO) asking the auditor to expand the scope of its ongoing audit of the contract between the city’s legislative department and the Freedom Project, which served as the “fiscal agent” for a $3 million project to study participatory budgeting and alternatives to policing.

However, PubliCola’s reporting indicates that the letter was written not by Goings and Lee but by Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office—and that Goings and Lee were less than thrilled to sign their names to such a blatantly political series of requests and leading questions.

The letter asks the auditor to look into three new issues: Whether the city auditor should be removed from Seattle’s legislative branch, where (according to the letter) it doesn’t have “adequate independence”; whether it was appropriate for the city council to award a “high-dollar contract … without competition to a non-profit,” the Freedom Project; and whether “laws of the state expressly authorize direct earmarked appropriations for specific entities, and if so, in what circumstances.”

The finance department does not typically get involved in political debates between the legislative and executive branches. In her seven years at the city, council president Lorena González said, “I’ve never seen a letter of this nature to an outside agency.”

In multiple instances, the letter suggests openly that the city council may have broken city and state law by granting the contract in the way it did.

Specifically, the letter suggests that by granting a no-bid contract, the council may have violated the City Charter, and that appropriating funds to a specific entity (in this case, King County Equity Now, via the pass-through contract with the Freedom Project) may have violated prohibitions on earmarks in city law, the charter, and state law.

The first point is a bit ironic, given the mayor’s history of granting noncompetitive contracts, including one to a personal friend who is married to Durkan’s then-deputy mayor.

On the second point, the letter takes a conspiratorial turn, suggesting that the council scrubbed the public record to hide evidence of misdeeds.

“[T]he original legislative documents (since revised and removed from the web), public statements by Councilmember and other records demonstrate that the $3 million dollar appropriation was for the benefit and intended to go to a specific entity,” the letter says.

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

“Again, the Executive has not been directly involved in the award of [our] implementation of the contract, as it was wholly in Council’s purview. However, Council has regularly appropriated funding for a specific contractor or provider, and in this case the contract is structured as a pass-through for an entity that was not qualified for the non-profit exemption,” the letter concludes.

“It would be helpful to know whether this type of ‘pass-through’ contracting is a proper use of the non-profit exemption and whether the Executive can award contracts based on ‘earmarks’ by Council or whether doing so would run afoul of the Charter, state law or generally accepted best practices.”

City council president Lorena González told PubliCola that she does not believe the state auditor’s mandate and jurisdiction extends to the city charter or municipal code. “We are certainly aware of several contracts in which the mayor’s office has engaged in no-bid contract practices,” she added, “and it’s interesting to me that FAS didn’t highlight those as additional potential issues.”

A spokeswoman for FAS directed all of PubliCola’s questions to the mayor’s office, which did not respond to several emails seeking responses to questions on Tuesday.

The letter is highly unusual in both its tone and content: The finance department, which oversees many city contracts as well as city facilities, HR, and many other internal aspects of city government, does not typically get involved in political debates between the legislative and executive branches. In her seven years at the city, González said, “I’ve never seen a letter of this nature to an outside agency.”

A spokeswoman for FAS directed all of PubliCola’s questions to the mayor’s office, which did not respond to several emails seeking responses to questions on Tuesday.

González, who is running for mayor (Durkan will not seek reelection), called the letter a “distraction” from the issues Durkan could be addressing in the final months of her term. “I’m just confused about why the Durkan administration is spending time, energy, and resources on this letter… instead of on the real problems facing the city in the remainder of her term,” González said. “This audit was already happening, and it’s going to go through its natural course, and I don’t understand how this letter helps advance our city.”

SAO spokeswoman Kathleen Cooper said the office would treat the letter from the city like any other tip or whistleblower complaint. “We consider everything that comes our way, and if there is an issue of large enough significance … that we think it should be considered in our auditing work, even though we hadn’t included it before now, then we would consider it,” Cooper said.

What’s Next for Participatory Budgeting in Seattle

The Priorities for City Investments Identified by the Black Brilliance Research Project

By Paul Kiefer

After six months and a trio of lengthy reports to the Seattle City Council, the Black Brilliance Research Project (BBRP) has come to an end. The two researchers who led the project, Shaun Glaze and LéTania Severe, appeared before the council last Friday for their final presentation, which gave a few glimpses at what lies ahead: An ambitious effort to put a city-wide participatory budgeting process into motion by August.

Participatory budgeting is a form of direct democracy in which residents generate city spending proposals. When the council first embraced the idea last fall, the idea was that it would go hand-in-hand with divestment from policing and reinvestment in community-based public safety. The preliminary research would create a working definition of “community safety” and a blueprint for the participatory budgeting process itself, and Seattle residents would get the opportunity to suggest public safety investments—things like emergency housing for domestic violence victims and youth mentorship programs—for which they could vote later in the budget cycle.

Last fall, the council allocated $30 million to pay for participatory budgeting and the winning project proposals themselves; if successful, it will be among the largest participatory budgeting projects in the United States.

But while the BBRP team has spent the past six months conducting surveys, interviews and focus groups on a set of high-level priorities that will “guide” participatory budgeting, Glaze and Severe told the council that most of the legwork needed to get the program up and running still lies ahead—as do some steps that the researchers initially planned to tackle over the past six months.

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

By March 16, council staff and the research leads—with some input from the city budget office and mayoral staff—are supposed to have hammered out the details of a spending plan for the participatory budgeting process. The money for that process will come out of the $30 million, and the final BBRP report also suggested setting aside 20 percent of the available funds to cover unexpected expenses. Whatever remains once the process comes to an end will be available to fund winning project proposals.

The proposed overhead would be significant: In addition to paying for promotional materials, translation, and software development, the researchers’ final report also outlined a plan to pay as many as 37 staffers to collect and review project proposals and encourage residents to participate, among other tasks.

Those new staffers would include the seven members of the “steering committee,” which Glaze and Severe said will create the rules for participatory budgeting, as well as 25 full-time members of five “work groups” and up to five full- or part-time city employees.

According to the BBRP proposal, seats on the steering committee would be year-long, and most members would receive a salary similar to a City of Seattle Strategic Advisor 2, in the range of $100,000 per year, based on a current listing for a strategic advisor position with the Office of Civil Rights, because of their roles as project managers.

But while the BBRP team has spent the past six months conducting surveys, interviews and focus groups on a set of high-level priorities that will “guide” participatory budgeting, Glaze and Severe told the council that most of the legwork needed to get the program up and running still lies ahead—as do some steps that the researchers initially planned to tackle over the past six months.

To choose the members of the steering committee, Glaze and Severe outlined a complex process in which a group of decision-makers will allot points to applicants based on their lived experiences; people with disabilities, Duwamish tribal members, trans or non-binary people, and Black women are among the groups who would receive points because the researchers have determined that their experience is vital to the success of the committee. Who the decision-makers would be, and how they will be chosen, is still unclear. After allocating points to applicants, the group of decision-makers would choose ten applicants from a pool of those who receive high enough scores at random, according to Glaze, to form a “jury” that would then choose the members of the steering committee from the remaining high-scoring applicants.

 

According to the BBRP’s report, applications for the positions will open in March. Excluding the city employees who will provide support for the process, the BBRP’s outline for a participatory budgeting process would require a staff nearly as large as Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights.

Once formed, the steering committee is supposed to create job descriptions for the full-time work group members. Members of the “accountability work group,” for instance, would “monitor and receive feedback” about the decisions made by the steering committee; a second group, called the “lived experience work group,” would “ensure the participatory budgeting process is aligned with the lived experiences of community members.” Continue reading “What’s Next for Participatory Budgeting in Seattle”

Community Safety Research Effort Splinters, Leaving Future of $3 Million Project Unclear

Black Brilliance Research Project co-lead Shaun Glaze

By Paul Kiefer

Editor’s note: This post has been updated. See below for update.

On Monday afternoon, the Black Brilliance Research Project announced a split with King County Equity Now, the organization that the city selected last year to coordinate research that will lay the groundwork for a public safety-focused participatory budgeting process later this year. The Black Brilliance Research Project (BBRP) is the name of that research effort.

In a post published on Medium, Black Brilliance Research Project (BBRP) co-lead Shaun Glaze wrote that Freedom Project Washington, the nonprofit that serves as a “fiscal agent” for the $3 million contract, will now be responsible for coordinating the project, with the BBRP conducting research as a direct contractor to the Freedom Project. At the same time, King County Equity Now (KCEN), the group that’s contractually in charge of the research effort, announced its own new “community research panel” that it says will complete the research.

Under the terms of the Freedom Project’s contract with the city council, KCEN—as the lone sub-contractor to Freedom Project—is responsible for a list of deliverables, including three reports and presentations to the council. KCEN fielded its own team of researchers, including Glaze, but also contracted much of the research out to other nonprofits and community organizations.

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your support.

Glaze told PubliCola on Monday night that research teams that previously contracted directly with KCEN will now contract directly with Freedom Project. However, Freedom Project’s role as a fiscal sponsor is strictly constrained by the terms of the contract. For example, the contract does not allow Freedom Project to add or remove subcontractors at will; any substantive changes to the contract must to be approved by the city council, which is likely to have some major questions about the project now that the BBRP and KCEN have said they are going their separate ways.

The BBRP is, in large part, Glaze’s brainchild; Glaze joined KCEN in June 2020 and, alongside co-lead LéTania Severe, assembled KCEN’s research team last fall. Glaze and Severe have also been the primary authors of the work plan and research progress reports submitted to the city council.

In the letter, Glaze wrote that the BBRP’s core staff lost confidence in KCEN’s leadership team after KCEN incorporated as a nonprofit at the end of 2020. “When KCEN represented a collective of Black community organizations, having KCEN facilitate the research made sense,” Glaze wrote. “However, once KCEN chose to incorporate, the community partnership dynamic changed, and this created obstacles and barriers to the research.”

Glaze’s letter claims that KCEN leadership locked researchers out of their email accounts and research databases, “[cut] off communication when requests for transparency and accountability were made,” delayed paying research staff and “dismiss[ed] the lived experiences of some Black community members, including Black people who live in but were not born in Seattle and trans and queer people.”

Of the eight research teams that previously sub-contracted with KCEN, two were notably absent from the signatories of Glaze’s letter: artist collective Wa Na Wari and South Seattle-based nonprofit East African Community Services. PubliCola has contacted East African Community Services and Wa Na Wari about the future of their involvement in the BBRP.

Meanwhile, in a community meeting Monday afternoon, KCEN’s leadership team announced the creation of a new “community research panel” that will “help steward research efforts moving forward,” producing its own report at some point in the coming year.

The council expects a final report on the findings of the BBRP by February 26. According to Glaze, the BBRP team expects to meet that deadline despite the shake-up. It remains unclear what will happen if the council ends up with two separate reports with conflicting recommendations.

Update on 2/11/2021:

The details of the split between KCEN and the core leadership of the BBRP are still difficult to track, but a representative from Freedom Project Washington says that their group will now directly oversee the research teams. (Previously, KCEN was responsible for supervising the work and budgets of the research teams.) In an email to PubliCola on Tuesday, Freedom Project spokeswoman Sauda Abdul-Mumin said the group will also take responsibility for the final research report to the council, which is due on February 26.

The contract for the work, which is held by the Freedom Project, makes King County Equity Now the only subcontractor on the project, and explicitly states that the Freedom Project, as the city contractor, “shall not assign or subcontract its obligations under this Agreement without the City’s written consent, which may be granted or withheld in the City’s sole discretion.” The city attorney’s office is advising the city council (which holds the contract) on what it needs to do to change the contract now, less than two weeks before the final report is due to the city.

Both Glaze, who spoke to PubliCola by text Monday night, and Abdul-Mumin said the re-shuffling of responsibilities won’t hinder the research project. “This change does not impact the contract schedule,” Abdul-Mumin said, “and we are still anticipating a final report and hearing to take place this month. Very little has changed in terms of the research facilitation. This transition occurred to safeguard the stewardship of public funds and remain aligned in our commitment toward making our communities safe for everyone, especially those who have for so long been targeted by systemic racism and oppression.”

Abdul-Mumin didn’t confirm whether KCEN’s own research team on KCEN’s subcontract) will remain involved in the project. However, in an email on Tuesday, KCEN’s press team wrote that the “nearly finalized” research project outlined in the city contract will remain “under KCEN’s Black research umbrella”; they did not clarify whether they intend to submit their own final research report to the council. Instead, the KCEN press team highlighted other advocacy efforts in which their organization is involved; some of those efforts, including calls for the city to set aside $1 billion for an anti-gentrification fund, appeared in past research reports KCEN submitted to the council.

KCEN’s press team also responded to the allegations that their leadership delayed payments to research staff, saying that the city didn’t provide “significant funding” until January. The press team also said that KCEN has paid a total of $1.8 million to the project’s research teams, including more than $1 million that KCEN raised from donors.

The payment schedule included in the city’s contract with Freedom Project Washington specified that the council would release the $3 million allotted to the project in four payments: a $250,000 payment after the council finalized its contract with Freedom Project; a $1 million payment after KCEN submitted a work plan and schedule; a $1.5 million payment after KCEN submitted its preliminary research findings; and a final $250,000 payment after the council received a final research report.

Financial records obtained by PubliCola show that Freedom Project Washington – which, until Monday, was solely responsible for distributing city dollars to its subcontractors and reporting their budgets to the council – show that the nonprofit submitted invoices for the first three payments in November, December and January. PubliCola has reached out to the Seattle City Auditor’s office, which is overseeing the contract’s payment schedule, to determine when Freedom Project received those three payments.

According to their contract with the council, Freedom Project cannot “transfer or reassign” any “essential” research staff without the “express written consent of the city”; Glaze and Severe, the project’s co-leads, qualify as essential staff, so their transfer from KCEN to Freedom Project will likely require city council approval.

Additional reporting by Erica C. Barnett

Five Months In, a Closer Look at Seattle’s $3 Million Community Safety Research Project

By Paul Kiefer

Seattle City Council central staff and representatives from King County Equity Now (KCEN) joined forces during Monday’s council meeting to provide a progress update on the Black Brilliance Research Project, a city-funded effort by nine community organizations to distill the public safety and community development priorities of marginalized communities in Seattle, particularly Black communities. The research is supposed to be the first step toward a citywide participatory budgeting process, which will shape how the city spends nearly $30 million the council set aside for investments in community safety projects in the 2021 city budget.

Councilmember Tammy Morales, whose office oversees the $3 million contract that funds the Black Brilliance Research Project (BBRP), prefaced the presentation by drawing a line between the project and the upcoming participatory budgeting process. “This is not a presentation about the participatory budgeting process,” she said, preempting any discussion of the project’s ultimate goal.

After months of preparation, the concrete details of the participatory budgeting process are still hazy; meanwhile, the deadline for transitioning from the Black Brilliance Research Project to the participatory budgeting process is approaching.

KCEN has spent the last five months advertising the BBRP as the vital first step toward “true community safety”: Its product, they maintain, will be a set of problems and priorities that Seattle’s public safety budget should address. To reach that end, KCEN has spearheaded a research process that has involved paying more than 100 community-based researchers to conduct surveys and interviews, produce photography projects, and host podcasts that address themes of public safety and community health. (The organizations that make up the BBRP are subcontractors to the nonprofit Freedom Project Washington, which is serving as the fiscal sponsor for the project.)

But after months of preparation, the concrete details of the participatory budgeting process are still hazy; meanwhile, the deadline for transitioning from the Black Brilliance Research Project to the participatory budgeting process is approaching.

The Black Brilliance Research Project began last September, guided by the Blueprint for Police Divestment/Community Reinvestment that KCEN co-produced with the Decriminalize Seattle coalition in the wake of last summer’s protests against police violence and calls to defund the Seattle Police Department. The Blueprint specified that the research would focus on defining “what health and safety actually means, including (but not limited to) alternatives to policing”; it also outlined an ambitious plan to spend roughly $1.2 million to cover the immediate needs of research participants, including transportation and childcare, as well as direct cash assistance. According to the Blueprint, the research project’s final product would be a “road map for how to engage in an accessible and equity-centered” participatory budgeting process by 2021.

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

The city contract that supports the research, as well as the ordinance appropriating money for the project, set broad deliverables for the BBRP. Aside from a work plan, a community needs assessment, and three data-driven presentations before the council, the contract asks KCEN to produce a “community participatory budget process” focused on public safety and a road map to repeat that process in the future.

Based on Monday’s presentation, as well as the 1,045-page research report that KCEN released last Friday, most of the researchers’ work has gone into interviews, focus groups and surveys—some to assess barriers to civic engagement, some about policing and the criminal justice system, some about mental health, housing and education, and others that posed open-ended questions about public safety.

In a presentation to the city council, KCEN research director Shaun Glaze distilled those suggestions into the same high-level priorities for public safety spending that KCEN has identified in presentations and reports since September

In the work plan they submitted to the council in November, KCEN wrote that all of the research would seek to answer three questions: “What creates true community safety, what creates true community health, [and] what do we need for our communities to thrive?”

While the qualitative data they’ve gathered can be a valuable guide when weighing budget priorities, the data collection itself has some holes: Elderly people, as well as Latinx and Asian American communities, are noticeably underrepresented among the 4,000 people who have participated in the research so far. Additionally, while KCEN has translated its online surveys into more than a dozen languages, the BBRP’s research teams only include one Spanish-speaking member, one Chinese-speaking member, one member who speaks Amharic and Oromo, and no members who speak Vietnamese, Khmer, or Tagalog. (The primary non-English language spoken by researchers, by far, is Somali.)

The researchers’ expanding collection of qualitative data includes hundreds of suggestions for city investments in public safety or community well-being. Some, like investments in arts education for young people, are relatively broad. Others, like the suggestion of a city program to transform vacant buildings into affordable housing, are more specific.

Continue reading “Five Months In, a Closer Look at Seattle’s $3 Million Community Safety Research Project”

King County Equity Now Presents Preliminary Research Findings to City Council

By Paul Kiefer

Monday morning’s Seattle City Council briefing began with an hour-long presentation by researchers affiliated with King County Equity Now’s Black Brilliance Research Project (BBRP) about the preliminary findings from their research on the public safety and community health priorities of Seattle residents. The presentation was KCEN’s first council appearance since the execution of a $3 million research contract between the council and Freedom Project Washington, the nonprofit serving as the project’s fiscal sponsor, in late November.

The contract itself provides only a broad description of its purpose: to fund “research processes that will promote public safety informed by community needs.” Nevertheless, the research project looms large in the council’s discussions about developing public safety alternatives because it will lay the groundwork for a public safety-focused participatory budgeting process in 2021 that will allocate $30 million to public safety investments chosen by Seattle residents; that process will play a significant role in shaping Seattle’s path away from police-centered public safety.

But the BBRP is largely separate from the project-development element of participatory budgeting. The research itself—which includes online surveys and focus groups—is delegated to “research teams” hired and managed by nonprofits that subcontract with Freedom Project Washington, including a team fielded by Freedom Project Washington itself. Each of these research teams has a distinct focus; PubliCola reviewed one survey, created by East African Community Services, that specifically targeted East African youth between 11-24.

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter. Earlier this month, we took a look back at just some of the work we’ve been able to do thanks to generous contributions from our readers, but those pieces represent just a handful of the hundreds of stories we’ve published this year.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely and exclusively by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

The core of the BBRP’s preliminary findings are five high-level priorities that KCEN hopes will inform the project proposals put to a vote during the participatory budgeting process: Expanding housing and small-business options (specifically “more Black-led residential and Black-led commercial spaces”); “culturally responsive and caring” mental health services; “childcare and out-of-school time supports… particularly for children facing systemic violence and trauma”; economic relief; and an alternative crisis response system.

These five priorities have remained consistent since KCEN first announced the launch of the BBRP in September. However, according to KCEN, the qualitative data gathered by researchers during this phase of the project will help sharpen more concrete budget and programming proposals at some point in the future.

Research teams have also been conducting “community needs surveys” as part of a parallel effort to address accessibility problems (like language barriers, cost of childcare or lack of internet) that could exclude marginalized residents from taking part in the participatory budgeting process. During Monday’s briefing, Glaze said that KCEN and their partners are distributing the community needs surveys through social media and the social and professional networks of researchers themselves, most of whom are Black and between 20-35 years old.

This could help explain why more than half of the participants in the survey have been Black, and why nearly 55% are younger than 35. KCEN’s efforts to reach older residents through community meetings and in-person interviews have been hindered by COVID-related restrictions on gatherings.

Because the contract between Freedom Project Washington and the council did not outline a budget for the project, the only guide to how contract dollars are spent is the Blueprint for Police Divestment/Community Re-investment released by KCEN and the Decriminalize Seattle Coalition last summer. Though that initial budget is not set in stone, it included nearly $300,000 in spending on “internet connectivity supports” and computers to ensure widespread access to online surveys, focus groups and educational materials. KCEN was not immediately able to say how many internet hotspots and computers it has distributed or how much it has spent on that infrastructure.

Though the work plan KCEN submitted in November included a timeline for the current research project, it’s unclear exactly how this project will lead to a citywide participatory budgeting process in 2021. During Monday’s presentation, Glaze said KCEN doesn’t intend to control the participatory budgeting process. Instead, Glaze spoke about a still-to-be-formed “steering committee” that will work with multiple city departments to set the ground rules for the process, review community-generated proposals and shape them into a list of viable projects. KCEN has not said who will select the committee’s members or when the committee will begin its work.

When asked by Council President Lorena González about city departments that could partner with the steering committee to launch the participatory budgeting process, Glaze pointed to the Equitable Development Initiative, housed in the Office of Planning and Community Development, as a prime candidate, as well as the Office of Civil Rights and the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. Glaze said those offices could offer technical support to the process and award grants to the winning projects, though the steering committee would remain responsible for gathering project proposals from community members.

KCEN is scheduled to submit a full report, including preliminary recommendations for the structure of the participatory budgeting process, on December 21.

Compromise City Budget Avoids Major Cuts, Including to Police Department

By Erica C. Barnett

The cessation of open warfare between Mayor Jenny Durkan and the city council over the 2021 budget doesn’t make for the most dramatic headlines (see above), but the detente between the two feuding branches could mean a budget compromise that won’t end in another spate of open warfare.

The council’s budget proposal makes dramatic cuts to Durkan’s proposal to designate $100 million in funding “for BIPOC communities,” fulfills the city’s 2019 promise to invest proceeds from the the sale of publicly owned land in South Lake Union into housing and anti-displacement programs, and cuts the size of the police department by about 20 percent, with a commitment to spend the savings from those reductions on community safety projects through a participatory budgeting process, which the budget also funds.

On Monday, Durkan issued a statement praising the council’s budget for “continuing that historic $100 million for communities through slightly different community-led processes.” This was a departure from Durkan’s previous position on the council’s spending priorities. Last month, a mayoral spokeswoman responded to questions about the racial equity implications of Durkan’s $100 million plan by suggesting that the council’s own spending proposals, including plans for COVID relief, participatory budgeting, and police department cuts, had not gone through a proper vetting to see if they truly benefited Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities.

Support PubliCola

PUBLICOLA NEEDS YOUR HELP.

This ad-free website is supported ENTIRELY by generous contributions from readers. At a time when real local news is more threatened than ever by declining revenues and the growing spread of misinformation, PublICola is a trusted source of breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter.

If you enjoy the work we do here at PubliCola, please help us KEEP IT GOING by donating a few bucks a month or making a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by check at P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. We’re truly grateful for your support.

During a press conference on Tuesday, I asked about this seeming contradiction. Durkan responded that while she hasn’t read all of the council’s budget amendments, “my read on it is that they are also committing $100 million to community investments, and I am really heartened that they have followed my lead to do so.” Durkan said she was “disappointed” that the council wasn’t spending even more on BIPOC added, given a new revenue forecast that adds more than $32 million to the 2021 budget.

“I’m very hopeful that when we come out of this, and when there’s a final budget, that we actually have a path forward that makes real on the commitment that we will invest generational investments in the city of Seattle” over the next 10 years, she said.

The council’s proposal is still a recessionary budget. Instead of massive spending increases, it reprioritizes limited dollars, in ways that advocates for sweeping, immediate change may find frustrating. But it also puts significant leverage in the hands of the community groups leading the process of participatory budgeting, and promises significant funding for that process.

“They are also committing $100 million to community investments, and I am really heartened that they have followed my lead to do so.” — Mayor Jenny Durkan, referring to the city council

In reporting on the council’s previous budget discussions, I’ve talked about many individual, one-off budget changes council members are proposing—from an analysis of “transportation impact fees” levied on new housing to funding for energy efficiency audits to the restoration of the city’s nightlife advisor position. This post will look at a few high-takes, big-ticket spending areas, including investment in community-led alternatives to police,

Major cuts to the mayor’s Equitable Communities Initiative

As I mentioned, the council’s budget chops $70 million from the mayor’s $100 million fund to pay for future investments in BIPOC communities. That money would be redistributed as follows:

• Durkan’s budget “abandoned”—and yes, that’s the technical term—$30 million that she promised last year for affordable housing and efforts to prevent displacement in gentrifying areas. The money came from the sale of the Mercer Megablock project, and was key to getting anti-displacement groups like Puget Sound Sage not to protest the sale. The council’s budget restores this money to its original purpose.

• The Human Services Department would get $10 million to distribute to community organizations “to increase public safety through technical support, capacity building, and expansion of capacity.” The council allocated this money in 2020, but the city didn’t spend it, and Durkan zeroed it out in her proposed budget.

• Another $18 million would go toward the participatory budgeting project that the council began funding in 2020, which I’ll discuss separately in a minute.

• The remaining $12 million or so would replenish the city’s emergency reserve fund, which Durkan’s budget almost zeroed out (see graph above); restore funding for a restorative pilot program in schools; and restore funding for community-based alternatives to policing, among other smaller-ticket items.

As for the $30 million that remains out of the mayor’s initial $100 million: That money would still get allocated, through a process that would still include the mayor-appointed Equitable Communities task force, but only after the city council approves the spending plan.

Participatory budgeting

A total of $30 million, including the aforementioned $18 million, would fund community safety projects chosen through a participatory budgeting process; these projects would replace some functions (such as responding to crisis calls) that are currently performed by SPD. Continue reading “Compromise City Budget Avoids Major Cuts, Including to Police Department”

As Black-Led Community Research Project Kicks Off, So Does Mayoral Task Force Charged with Allocating $100 Million to BIPOC Communities

Screen Shot from King County Equity Now press conference

Editor’s note: This story has been edited to reflect the fact that King County Equity Now says the group will hire some non-Black researchers for paid positions, in addition to volunteer researchers.

By Paul Kiefer and Erica C. Barnett

On Monday afternoon, members of the King County Equity Now (KCEN) coalition’s research team held a press conference to discuss their progress on a Black-led public safety research project they hope will be supported by a $3 million contract with the Seattle City Council.

Although their remarks revealed little concrete information about the Black Brilliance Project (as the undertaking is now known), one detail is clear: KCEN and its 14 Black-led nonprofit partners see the project as an opportunity to provide financial support and jobs for members of the city’s BIPOC communities, and Black communities in particular, as well as a way to lay the groundwork for a larger public safety-focused participatory budgeting process next year.

That process, said KCEN researcher LéTania Severe, began in earnest last week when the coalition behind the Black Brilliance Project hired 50 researchers, using their own resources to tide the project over until city funding begins to flow. The coalition expects to hire a total of 133 paid researchers representing “the diversity of Black peoples in Seattle,” most of whom will be Black youth. 

Severe added that KCEN hopes to provide those researchers “living-wage jobs”; in their email to PubliCola after the press conference, KCEN’s press team expressed hope that the researchers would remain employed past December 2021. Their first task will be figuring out what barriers exist to participation in participatory budgeting, and an online community needs survey focuses on identifying those barriers.

At Monday’s press conference, KCEN research director Shaun Glaze dismissed the mayor’s task force as “cherry-picked by white, wealthy people with access to power,” and therefore a reflection of the mayor’s pre-determined priorities.

The Black Brilliance Project’s outline comes from the “2020 Blueprint for Police Divestment/Community Reinvestment,” a document assembled in collaboration by KCEN and the Decriminalize Seattle coalition outlining a $3 million “community-led research” project that would be the first step toward participatory budgeting. (PubliCola wrote about this process last month.)  The city council allocated $3 million for the project in its rebalanced 2020 budget; the mayor’s 2021 budget proposal does not extend the funding beyond 2020.

Although the council’s research contract dollars have not yet reached their team, KCEN research director Shaun Glaze said the coalition “moved forward with promises of seed money and [their] own funds” to pay the new staff. As of early September, the group’s primary source of funds was the Africatown Community Land Trust, although it’s unclear whether the group currently has funding from other sources. According to Severe, KCEN’s organizers have been working as volunteers since the group formed four months ago.

The 2021 city budget process is happening parallel to this work. On Tuesday morning, Durkan released her proposed 2021 budget, which includes $100 million in unallocated funds that will be spent in accordance with recommendations from a special “equitable investment task force” appointed by the mayor. (The money is parked in a budgetary waiting area called Finance General, where it will remain unallocated until the mayor decides how to spend it next year.)

This morning, Durkan called her task force—whose members she has not yet announced—”a form of participatory budgeting” and a “community-driven process” that will drill down on what BIPOC communities want to see in the city budget. Durkan provided several examples of areas where the task force may recommend improvements; none, notably, involved cuts to the police department, a key demand from Decriminalize Seattle, King County Equity Now, and other BIPOC groups during the budget rebalancing process this year.

Support PubliCola

PubliCola is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going—and expanding!

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. We’re truly grateful for your support.

“Some time before the end of this year, the task force will come back” with recommendations, Durkan said. “They will be deciding those priorities with community—a broad-based community participation process.”

Durkan said she didn’t consider the work of her task force to be in conflict with the council-funded community research project. “I think those processes could be very complementary. Getting as many young people involved as possible, having community-driven research and the like, is complementary to having other voices coming in and engaging and making decisions collectively about what the future, and the future of that community, could look like with really broad-based investments,” she said. Continue reading “As Black-Led Community Research Project Kicks Off, So Does Mayoral Task Force Charged with Allocating $100 Million to BIPOC Communities”