Tag: Teresa Mosqueda

Council Budget Chair Decries Colleagues’ “Misinformation”; Co-LEAD Program May Shift to State Highway Encampments

1. After voting against the 2023-2024 city budget yesterday, City Councilmembers Sara Nelson and Alex Pedersen issued lengthy statements explaining their rationale. In general, both argued that the council should have approved Mayor Bruce Harrell’s budget without significant changes, and should not have eliminated 80 of the 240 vacant police positions for which SPD would otherwise receive funding year after year.

The council funded Harrell’s entire police hiring plan, including large financial incentives for new and transferring officers, and moved parking enforcement officers back to SPD, another top priority for Harrell and the police department.

Still, Nelson and Pedersen described the budget (which Harrell praised) as an affront that will endanger resident and drive qualified police applicants away “With SPD down about 30% of its deployable force and fatal shootings up 35% since 2020, these are far from normal times, and we need to change the narrative that contributed to their staffing shortage,” Nelson said.

Those numbers require some context: There were 36 fatal shootings in Seattle in the first ten months of 2022, compared to 24 for the same period in 2020—at 33 percent increase. But those disturbing numbers of part of a national trend that is actually worse in rural (and Republican) areas, making it a stretch to suggest that shootings are up because of police staffing problems. Similarly, it’s far-fetched to suggest that a largely symbolic (and fairly obscure) council vote to stop funding some long-vacant positions is driving potential job applicants away.

“At best, Nelson and Pedersen are exhibiting sheer incompetence, but unfortunately it appears it’s a wilfull attempt to spread misinformation to prop up their individual political goals. They are being dishonest and actively harmful.”—Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda

On Wednesday, council budget committee chair Teresa Mosqueda responded to the overheated rhetoric from Nelson and Pedersen, telling PubliCola: “At best, Nelson and Pedersen are exhibiting sheer incompetence, but unfortunately it appears it’s a wilfull attempt to spread misinformation to prop up their individual political goals. They are being dishonest and actively harmful.”

Although Nelson was just elected to her citywide position last year, Pedersen (who represents Northeast Seattle’s District 4) is up for reelection in 2023. One candidate has already announced, and PubliCola has heard about at least one more potential opponent—an urbanist who will challenge Pedersen from the pro-housing left.

2. One program that did not receive full funding from the council this year—the Public Defender Association’s Co-LEAD program, which provides case management and hotel-based shelter to people experiencing homelessness—may end up having to shift their focus away from Seattle neighborhoods to encampments near state highways, PDA co-director Lisa Daugaard said.

That’s because without $5.3 million in annual city funding to keep the program going, the PDA may end up moving Co-LEAD to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which has access to state funds to address encampments in state-owned rights-of-way, such as embankments and overpasses.

“[Focusing on state highways] will take us further away from the focus on public safety in Seattle neighborhoods and the public safety concepts that both the Harrell Administration and the City Council have strongly espoused.—Public Defender Association co-director Lisa Daugaard

The PDA made a similar change to its JustCARE program, which previously focused on large encampments inside the city of Seattle, earlier this year. The program moves encampment residents to hotels and enrolls them in intensive case management, enabling the Washington State Department of Transportation to remove encampments in state rights-of-way—a top goal of Gov. Jay Inslee during the last legislative session—without simply displacing them.

“I think the most likely solution is that more of Co-LEAD may shift over to RHA, if indeed RHA is successful in advocating for the state to double down on the approach that we and other partners have brought to the state transportation right-of-way work,” Daugaard said. “But that will take us further away from the focus on public safety in Seattle neighborhoods… [and] the public safety concepts that both the Harrell Administration and the City Council have strongly espoused.”

JustCARE and Co-LEAD both emerged during the pandemic, with support from emergency federal funding, to address the proliferation of large, sometimes dangerous encampments in places like City Hall Park in Pioneer Square. The council’s budget does provide funding for LEAD, the PDA’s original diversion program, which provides case management to people involved in the criminal legal system, such as homeless people facing charges for misdemeanor crimes.

Council Budget Eliminates 80 Vacant Police Positions, Preserves Human Service Pay, Moves Parking Officers Back to SPD

City Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda

By Erica C. Barnett

The Seattle City Council’s budget committee, which includes all nine council members, moved forward on a 2023-2024 budget yesterday that will move the city’s parking enforcement division back to the police department, preserve inflationary wage increases for human service workers, and increase the city’s funding for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority—all while closing a late-breaking budget hole of almost $80 million over the next two years.

Every fall, the mayor proposes a budget and the council “rebalances” it, adding spending for their own priorities and removing items to keep the budget balanced. In November, after many council members had already proposed substantial changes to Mayor Bruces Harrell’s initial budget proposal, the city received news that tax revenues would be even lower than previously anticipated. The biggest unanticipated shortfall came from a decline in real-estate taxes, which pay for long-term capital projects, but other revenues, including parking taxes and money from the sweetened beverage tax, also declined.

Last week, council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda proposed a balancing package that saved money by declining to fund most of the new programs and program expansions Harrell proposed in his budget, while making several substantive policy changes. Among the most controversial: A proposal to eliminate 80 vacant positions in the police department, and a related plan to to keep the city’s parking enforcement officers at the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), rather than moving them back to SPD, while the city decides on a permanent home for the unit.

“Our mayor’s budget did not delete these 80 [vacant police] positions, and if we trust in what the mayor asks for regarding public safety and the budgeting knowledge and skills and best practices of the city budget office, I don’t think we should do anything different here.”—Councilmember Alex Pedersen

The budget the committee adopted Monday night, nearly 12 hours into a meeting that began at 9:30 that morning, will eliminate the 80 vacant positions, while preserving another 160 vacant positions in future years. Vacant positions continue to be funded year after year unless the mayor or council takes action to defund them temporarily and use the money for other purposes, as Harrell’s budget does this year. Both the proposed budget and the one adopted by the committee on Monday use money  that would have gone to the 80 vacant positions to augment the city’s general fund, while using the savings from another 120 positions to pay for new spending within the police department. This week, the council got word that SPD had identified another 40 vacant positions, for a total of 240.

Council member Alex Pedersen opposed eliminating the 80 unfilled police positions, arguing that it would be wrong for the council to go against the “wisdom” of the City Budget Office, the mayor, and police chief Adrian Diaz, who want to keep as many positions vacant but funded as possible.

“Our mayor’s budget … did not delete these 80 positions, and if we trust in what the mayor asks for regarding public safety and the budgeting knowledge and skills and best practices of the city budget office, I don’t think we should do anything different here by abrogating or deleting these 80 positions,” Pedersen said.

Council member Sara Nelson added that eliminating vacant positions as a recurring budget line item could discourage people from applying for jobs at SPD and send a message to existing officers that the city did not support police hiring.

In response, council public safety chair Lisa Herbold pointed out that the budget fully funds the mayor and SPD’s hiring plan, which would increase the department by a net total of 30 officers in the next two years. (This hiring plan assumes a complete reversal, and then some, of current SPD hiring trends). It also keeps the remaining 160 vacant positions on the books, where they will be funded again automatically in 2025. For the city to need the 80 positions the council eliminated Monday, it would have to hire at least 190 net new officers, not counting new recruits who replace officers who leave the department. If that very unlikely scenario came to pass, the council could add funding for more officers—as it has many times in the past.

“It’s really disappointing that … some people seem unwilling to say that the hiring budget is fully funded for the next biennium for the council to act on,” Herbold said. “That would send a positive factual message, rather than … distort what an abrogation of positions would do for the budget.”

Nelson and Pedersen also cast the only votes against a Herbold-sponsored proviso, or spending restriction, requiring the police department to get council approval if they want to use their staffing budget for anything other than salaries and benefits, arguing it was important to give SPD special flexibility to spend their budget how they want to.

“I believe we should stop micromanaging the use of salary savings and exercise some humility going forward because we simply don’t know what needs will need to be met,” Nelson said. “[Extra] overtime, for example, if there’s an earthquake or a mass shooting or something.”

In a last-minute compromise with Harrell’s office, the council agreed to move parking enforcement from SDOT to SPD, as PubliCola reported Monday. The compromise amendment uses administrative savings from the move (almost $9 million a year) to pay for several council spending priorities, including $1 million in one-time funds to support the Public Defender Association’s LEAD and Co-LEAD programs, which Harrell’s budget partially defunded; $1 million to “activate” City Hall Park in Pioneer Square, which has been fenced off since the summer of 2021; and $1 million for RV parking and storage “associated with non-congregate shelter,” among other new spending.

In a separate amendment, the council provided an additional $2 million a year for LEAD and Co-LEAD, which the PDA says still leaves them $5.3 million a year short of what it needs to fully fund both programs. The two programs provide case management and (in the case of Co-LEAD) hotel-based shelter for people involved in the criminal legal system, including many with behavioral health conditions that make it harder to find housing.

Morales had more success with another amendment that would place a budget proviso, or restriction, on $1 million in 2023 spending from the city’s transportation levy, requiring SDOT to spend it replacing plastic bollards that do not actually “protect” bike lanes with concrete barriers that do.

Here are some more highlights from Monday’s meeting, which was the last chance for council members to make substantive changes to the budget; for budget changes the council agreed on prior to Monday’s meeting, check out our coverage of those changes from last week.

• The council turned down proposals to place extra scrutiny on two programs that the council’s more conservative faction, led by Pedersen and Nelson, generally oppose. For example, they voted to remove $1.2 million in funding (all numbers are two-year figures) that Nelson wanted to spend on two full-time city staffers who would evaluate the JumpStart tax, which was just implemented last year.

The council also rejected two proposals by Nelson to apply extra scrutiny to LEAD and Co-LEAD, which take a harm reduction approach to addiction and low-level criminal activity rather than the abstinence-only approach Nelson favors (more on that in a moment). Specifically, Nelson wanted detailed information about the PDA’s subcontracts with REACH, the homeless outreach provider, and the basic details of both programs.

“What services are provided to the clients of LEAD?” Nelson asked Monday. “Which contractors do what for which program?”  because they do receive so much funding?” Additionally, Nelson proposed an amendment that would require quarterly reports on LEAD and Co-LEAD clients’ shelter and housing “acceptance” rates. Continue reading “Council Budget Eliminates 80 Vacant Police Positions, Preserves Human Service Pay, Moves Parking Officers Back to SPD”

Council Budget “Balancing Package” Cuts Vacant SPD Positions, Restores Human Service Worker Raises

The city council’s budget “balancing package” still leaves a large gap the city will have to address in the future, possibly through new progressive taxes that have not yet been identified.

By Erica C. Barnett

Twelve days after a late-breaking revenue forecast punched new holes in the city of Seattle’s biennial budget, city council budget committee chair Teresa Mosqueda released a two-year “balancing package” that amends Mayor Bruce Harrell’s October budget proposal by eliminating proposed new programs and initiatives, allowing revenues from the JumpStart payroll tax to fund programs that would not ordinarily qualify for  JumpStart spending, and reducing the number of vacant police positions the city will continue to hold open next year from 200 to 120.

Mosqueda’s plan would eliminate proposed new funding for Shotspotter (or another gunshot detection system); reduce the proposed increase in police recruiting efforts; reduce the amount of new funding SPD will receive for new guns and ammunition; and reduce the amount of new spending on SPD’s Develop Our People leadership academy, a management training program for sergeants.

Harrell’s budget assumes that the 120 vacant positions Mosqueda’s proposal leaves untouched won’t be filled, and “reinvests” those on-paper savings back into other police programs. Mosqueda’s budget proposal doesn’t touch this “reinvestment” and still funds the vast majority of Harrell’s police hiring and recruitment plan, which still includes large bonuses for new recruits and enough money to hire a net 30 new officers over the next two years—an ambitious plan that would represent a rapid reversal of police hiring trends over the last several years.

At Monday’s initial council meeting to discuss the proposal, Councilmember Alex Pedersen said any proposal to cut vacant positions from SPD’s budget amounted to “revisiting the debate in 2020 and 2021” about “defunding” the police department. “I see in the [budget] proviso that it takes away the police department’s flexibility to use savings to address overtime needs, despite the fact that they have a severe staffing shortage,” Pedersen said.

Mosqueda anticipated the objection that eliminating funding for positions that will never be filled amounts to a “cut” in the police department. “We are not touching the 120 [police positions] and we are not touching the hiring plan,” Mosqueda told PubliCola Sunday. But “we know we are never going to fill [the remaining 80], so we are going to put those dollars back into the general fund.”

Councilmember Alex Pedersen said any proposal to cut vacant positions from SPD’s budget amounted to “revisiting the debate in 2020 and 2021” about “defunding” the police department.

Then, Mosqueda said, she looked at the items Harrell proposed funding with the money from the remaining 120 positions, and asked “what is above and beyond on that list. It was things like [the gunshot detection system] Shotspotter— gone. They wanted a PR firm that was in charge of the [police] recruiting plan. That’s gone. They wanted a website redesign investment. That’s gone. Anything that was not essential for the policy that was passed—gone.” 

Eliminating Shotspotter, SPD’s marketing plan, and a new $1.2 million-a-year anti-graffiti program would save about $3 million a year. Cutting and delaying capital projects funded by the city’s Real Estate Excise Tax, which stands to take a $64 million hit over the next three years, would save millions more. Another source of unanticipated funding—about $5 million a year—will come from the money the city planned to spend expanding an existing shelter in SoDo, a project King County Executive Dow Constantine abandoned earlier this year.

And then, of course, there is the JumpStart payroll tax, which the council originally earmarked for housing, Green New Deal programs, equitable development, and small businesses. Harrell’s budget would have empowered the mayor to use JumpStart for non-JumpStart purposes in perpetuity, by overturning a law, passed just last year, that only allows JumpStart spending for general government purposes if the city’s general fund falls below $1.5 billion.

Although Mosqueda’s budget provides a two-year exemption to this rule, she says she’s confident the council won’t have to do the same thing after 2024,, because by then a revamped progressive revenue task force will have come up with new funding sources to make the annual budget less susceptible to economic downturns.

The balancing package also shifts some funds around so that JumpStart will mostly go to its intended purposes; for example, instead of using the payroll tax to 14 new city employees to staff Sound Transit’s light rail expansion plan, as Harrell proposed, Mosqueda’s proposal would use money from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, funded mostly with vehicle license fees, to pay for those positions.

Although Mosqueda made some concessions on JumpStart, her budget also funds full inflationary wage increases for human service workers, rather than the sub-inflationary 4 percent increase Harrell proposed. Harrell’s plan would have required the council to overturn a 2019 law requiring cost of living adjustments that keep up with inflation; as Harrell, then council president, said in a speech supporting the measure at the time, the point of the law was to ensure that wages keep up with inflation during “hard times,” not just when things are going well.

The balancing package also keeps the city’s parking enforcement officers at the Seattle Department of Transportation, rather than transferring them back to the Seattle Police Department, as Harrell proposed. This plan, like Mosqueda’s proposal to stop funding 80 vacant police positions that cannot be filled, could end up a target for disingenuous accusations that the council is “defunding the police.”

PubliCola has heard that Councilmember Sara Nelson plans to resurrect Harrell’s original proposal to open up JumpStart spending permanently, including legislation originally sent down by Harrell’s office that would pin the threshold for JumpStart to go to non-JumpStart purposes to the rate of inflation, rather than a fixed $1.5 billion amount.

The balancing package also keeps the city’s parking enforcement officers at the Seattle Department of Transportation, rather than transferring them back to the Seattle Police Department, as Harrell proposed, and sets up a process for determining where parking enforcement will ultimately live at the city by next April.

“We’re asking them for a little bit of time to take the temperature down, have a conversation, and ask them what they need,” Mosqueda told PubliCola. “And then we’ll figure out which department has that structure. Is it SPD? Is it [the Community Safety and Communications Center? Is it a totally different department?” This plan, like Mosqueda’s proposal to stop funding 80 vacant police positions that cannot be filled, could end up a target for disingenuous accusations that the council is “defunding the police.”

The new budget proposal also includes funding to hire up to 90 parking enforcement officers and pay for supplies and new uniforms for the parking enforcement unit, which had to cut costs when the city moved parking enforcement to SDOT. The move increased administrative costs for the department by about $5 million due to a quirk in how  way general fund spending is allocated on administration; Mosqueda said neither SDOT nor then-mayor Jenny Durkan were honest with the council about the extra costs.

Other highlights of the balancing package, which the council will discuss in detail over the coming week:

• Instead of funding the mayor’s “Seattle Jobs Center,” which Harrell described in his first State of the City address as a portal “connecting workers and employers to new opportunities, workforce development, and apprenticeships,” the balancing proposal would use JumpStart revenues to fund the MLK Labor Council’s existing online “hiring hall,” while requesting a report from the city’s Office of Economic Development on what a city-run jobs site would look like.

Looking at Harrell’s budget proposal, which does not include any new details about the jobs center, “we were like, ‘what’s the plan here? What’s this going to look like? Have you consulted with labor partners?'” Mosqueda said. “And there wasn’t a lot of there there.”

• The proposal eliminates cash spending on large projects that would be funded by the Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) and proposes funding them instead with long-term debt, which increases the cost of projects but allows the city to fund them over time, rather than paying for entire big-ticket items up front. These include the redevelopment of Memorial Stadium, at Seattle Center, in collaboration with Seattle Public Schools, and the purchase of a building on the downtown waterfront for a new, 10,000-square-foot tribal interpretive center for the Muckleshoot Tribe.

• The balancing package would preserve most of the funding Harrell’s budget added for the new Unified Care Team, a group of city staffers from several departments that cleans up around and removes encampments. As we reported, Harrell’s budget adds 61 permanent positions to this team, the majority of them in the Seattle Department of Transportation and the Parks Department—the two departments primarily responsible for encampment sweeps.

However, the package would take most of the funding Harrell proposed spending to expand the HOPE Team, a group of city staffers that does outreach at encampments, and reallocate that money to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority to pay for contracted outreach providers, such as REACH. The plan would still add one new “system navigator” to the UCT, so that there will be one outreach worker for each of five areas of the city where the UCT will operate. The proposal also outlines clear, distinct roles for the city’s own system navigators and KCRHA’s outreach teams.

The formal request poses a list of 23 questions and sub-questions about “emphasis patrols” and the city attorney’s “high utilizers” list, such as “Does SPD have a theory of change for emphasis patrols?” and “How much has the City spent on jail beds for those arrested via emphasis patrols on the high utilizers list?

• As we reported on Monday, the regional homelessness authority approached the council in October, five months after submitting its annual budget request, to ask for more than $9 million in new funding to pay for ongoing programs that were originally funded with one-time federal dollars during the COVID pandemic. The balancing package provides $3.9 million—the sane amount KCRHA said it needs to continue federally funded rapid rehousing programs—and says KCRHA will use $5.4 million from its own 2022 “underspend” to fund these programs.

• The proposal includes $4 million in 2023 alone for the LEAD and CoLEAD programs, which provide case management, services, and, in the case of CoLEAD, hotel-based lodging for people who are involved in the criminal legal system, including people experiencing homelessness. The Public Defender Association, which runs both programs, has said it will need to make dramatic cuts to either or both in the absence of full funding for both. Harrell’s budget provided just $2.5 million over two years for CoLEAD, stipulating that the money was supposed to be spent moving CoLEAD clients from hotels into tiny house villages; the balancing package increases the city’s total contribution to both programs but says the PDA must come up with “other ongoing funding sources” after next year. Continue reading “Council Budget “Balancing Package” Cuts Vacant SPD Positions, Restores Human Service Worker Raises”

Dire Revenue Forecast Spells Trouble for Capital Projects, Delays Council Budget Action

Graphs showing stark decline in the US housing market in 2023
The problem: A spike in interest rates has made mortgages unaffordable to many, reducing revenue from real estate sales that the city relies on to balance its budget.

By Erica C. Barnett

PubliCola management has been out of the office for the past couple of weeks (vacationing in a graffiti-covered post-apocalyptic European wasteland), which is why we haven’t been posting our usual detailed city budget updates. Luckily for us, city council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda decided to take an extra week before releasing her final budget balancing package, after the city’s Office of Economic and Revenue Forecast released a new revenue forecast last week that sent budget writers scrambling.

That new forecast predicts a sharp decline in revenues from a number of sources, including the sweetened beverage tax (SBT), the real estate excise tax (REET), and the retail, business, and sales taxes that make up the city’s general fund, which pays for everything from police salaries to homeless outreach workers.

For 2023, the new forecast predicts an additional general-fund shortfall of about $4.5 million. In addition, the new projections predict an additional sweetened-beverage tax shortfall of $1.6 million and an additional REET shortfall of $26.7 million. Over three years, those projections are $9.4 million, $4.5 million, and $64 million, respectively. Revenues from REET and the sugary beverage tax, unlike general-fund revenues, can only be spent on certain purposes, which limits the city’s ability to pull funding from either source to fill general-fund shortfalls (although elected officials have frequently tried); in addition, REET is largely tied up in mandatory debt payments on major bond-financed capital projects, making much of this funding source off-limits to annual budget writers.

Usually, when people refer to the city budget, they’re talking about the general fund, which represents the part of the city’s overall budget that the city council and mayor have the greatest ability to tweak. So let’s start there. On its own, the $4.5 million general-fund shortfall is not a hugely significant number in the context of a $1.6 billion budget. However, in late October, council members proposed budget amendments that would add $80 million in general-fund spending, which would have to be offset by still-unidentified cuts to Harrell’s budget proposal.

To vastly oversimplify, last week’s revenue forecast downgrade means that if the council wanted to fund all of their own priorities, they would need to reduce Harrell’s budget by $90 million. Obviously, many of these budget amendments won’t make it through—looking at you, new Seattle Fire Department program to promote “floatplane awareness”—but any additional spending requires an equivalent cut to Harrell’s budget plan.

And some of these amendments will be sacrosanct. For example, the council has shown virtually no enthusiasm for Harrell’s plan to cap annual increases on human service provider wages at a sub-inflationary 4 percent, effectively cutting these underpaid workers’ wages. (The exception is Councilmember Sara Nelson, a longtime business owner who wondered aloud why a subinflationary wage increase didn’t constitute a “raise.”) Increasing provider wages to the level currently required by law would cost about $7.1 million in 2023.

Other amendments would increase the city’s contribution to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority by $9.4 million annually to offset the loss of temporary federal funding that enabled shelters to reduce crowding during the (still-raging) pandemic; establish new tiny house villages; preserve the LEAD and Co-LEAD programs; and pay for new and existing crisis response programs. Proposals to expand human services will be harder to eliminate than, say, an amendment from Nelson that would spend $1 million on an unspecified new addiction treatment center—something King County, which has jurisdiction over public health and addiction programs, would ordinarily fund.

Achieving a new budget balance will, as always, require some combination of spending restraint (passing only some proposed amendments) and cuts (bringing Harrell’s proposal, which includes tens of millions in new spending on priorities like removing encampments and graffiti abatement, down to size). Council members had already set their sights on Harrell’s proposal to dramatically expand the encampment-sweeping Unified Care Team and his plan to spend $1 million on a gunshot surveillance system like Shotspotter, which civil liberties advocates, including the ACLU, oppose.

Another option will be for council members to overturn a law they passed last year restricting the use of JumpStart payroll tax revenues, which are supposed to pay for affordable housing, equitable development, and Green New Deal programs, to backfill the city’s general fund. The new law says the city can only use JumpStart revenue for non-JumpStart purposes if the general fund falls below $1.5 billion. Harrell has proposed changing the law to pin the general fund baseline to inflation, allowing the city to use more of the earmarked money for non-JumpStart purposes.

The general fund is not the only budget area where the council will have to make some hard choices, nor is it the largest. Projected revenues from real estate taxes, which the city thought would continue to increase this year, have taken a nosedive thanks to rising mortgage rates and the resulting slowdown in housing purchases.

Because a large chunk of REET revenues pay for debt service, a fixed cost, or multi-year capital improvement projects such as road paving and maintenance, the city can only make limited changes to REET spending. Generally, that means cutting new or shorter-term capital projects. Some of these are improvements that mostly benefit city employees rehabbing the elevators at the Seattle Municipal Tower, for example—but others are the kind of visible, council district-level projects that voters tend to notice.

For example, Harrell’s proposed budget includes $2.5 million in new REET spending to promote “safety and accessibility” at City Hall Park; $10 million for a new Tribal Interpretive Center on the downtown waterfront; and $1 million to rehab at least one park restroom. Eliminating or delaying these programs, or any REET-funded capital project, will produce instant blowback from constituents, who will be voting next year in all seven district-based council races.

A spokesman for Harrell’s office said Monday that the mayor “recognizes that this is a challenging revenue forecast. … The mayor’s proposed budget makes critical investments in key priority areas including public safety, housing and homelessness, and the essential city services residents expect. Based on our collaboration throughout this process, we believe the Council will ensure these priorities remain adequately funded in the final budget.”

PubliCola has calls out to several council members, including Mosqueda, and will be posting additional budget updates later this week.

New Tax Would Fund Behavioral Crisis Centers; Things to Look for in Harrell’s Budget Proposal

King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay speaks at a press conference on a county proposal to raise property taxes to fund walk-in crisis centers
King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay

1. King County Executive Dow Constantine proposed a new property-tax levy to fund five behavioral health crisis centers across King County, along with higher wages for health care workers and the restoration of residential treatment beds that have been lost in recent years. The levy, assessed at 14.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value—about $121 for a median $694,000 house—could be on a countywide ballot in April 2023, if the King County Council approves it this year.

Currently, there are no walk-in crisis centers anywhere in King County, and the wait for a residential treatment bed averaged 44 days as of July, according to the county. Since 2018, the county has lost more than 110 residential treatment beds and is down to 244 beds countywide. “A question that doesn’t get asked enough to the person who says ‘get people into treatment,'” King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay said Monday, is “‘get people into treatment where?'”

In a county with 2.3 million residents, Zahilay said, we have one crisis care facility with 46 beds”—the Downtown Emergency Service Center’s Crisis Solutions Center in the Central District, which only accepts referrals from police and other first responders. “If you break a bone in King County, you can walk in and get urgent care. If you’re going through a mental health crisis or a substance use disorder crisis, you have zero urgent care options.”

The nine-year levy proposal would also create apprenticeship programs and other supports for people entering the behavioral health care field, and would “invest in equitable wages for the workforce at crisis care centers,” according to the announcement, plus mobile or co-located crisis services that would operate until the first crisis clinics were open.

“If you break a bone in King County, you can walk in and get urgent care. If you’re going through a mental health crisis or a substance use disorder crisis, you have zero urgent care options.”—King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay

It’s unclear how many people would see higher wages under Constantine’s proposal, which his office released only in summary form. Pay for behavioral health care workers is so low that many employees qualify for the same services they sign clients up for, said Kristen Badin, a crisis counselor and representative of SEIU 1199NW.

The King County Regional Homelessness Authority has asked the city and county to provide an additional $15.4 million to permanently service providers’ baseline budgets by 13 percent in order to increase provider wages—part of an overall budget request that would add about $90 million to the regional agency’s budget, which is funded by the city of Seattle and King County through their annual budget process.

That process kicks off for both the city and county tomorrow, when Harrell and Constantine announce their 2023 budget proposals. On Monday, Constantine said he considered the KCRHA’s budget request “aspirational,” and confirmed that he does not plan to provide all the money the authority’s CEO, Marc Dones, requested.

That budget request, Constantine said, “was essentially a statement of need, and that neither the county nor the city’s budget could support that full request.” Harrell added that “we weren’t able to meet all of the requests, but you’ll see [during Tuesday’s budget announcement] the support we have moving forward with RHA and the support we have the people on the ground doing this important work.”

2. In 2019, the City Council passed legislation requiring the Human Services Department to build a cost of living increase into all new or renegotiated contracts with service providers, based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). At the time, inflation, as represented by the increase in CPI, was modest—between two and three percent.

“I drew a line in the sand [on the use of the JumpStart tax to backfill the city budget], and I want to make sure that we’re sticking to that, not only because it’s what we passed in statute, but because the agreement to use the higher-than anticipated revenue was to prevent austerity.”—City Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda.

Last year, the CPI-W increased 8.7 percent, meaning that compared to 2021, it cost 8.7 percent more to pay for the same goods and services. Any wage increase that’s lower than the CPI effectively constitutes a pay cut—something social service providers whose wages are funded by the city will likely be watching for tomorrow when Harrell rolls out his budget.

Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda said she’ll also be watching for any effort by Harrell to transfer additional funds from the JumpStart payroll tax, which is earmarked for housing, small business support, Green New Deal programs, and equitable development. Earlier this year, Mosqueda proposed using excess payroll tax revenues to help close the budget gap; those extra revenues are projected at $71 million and $84 million in 2023 and 2024, respectively.

“I drew a line in the sand,” Mosqueda said Monday, “and I want to make sure that we’re sticking to that, not only because it’s what we passed in statute, but because the agreement to use the higher-than anticipated revenue was to prevent austerity. And part of preventing austerity is keeping our promises, [including] our promises to human service providers.”

Council Considers Using Excess JumpStart Revenues to Patch $141 Million Budget Hole

Before and after: The growing budget shortfall at the city.

By Erica C. Barnett

City Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda said yesterday that she would propose using JumpStart payroll tax revenues to supplement the city’s general-fund budget for the fourth and fifth years in a row, after the City Budget Office released new projections of a growing budget shortfall through the next five years. Between 2023 and 2026, the city now projects an average budget gap—the difference between revenues coming in and expenditures going out—of $142 million, on average, including a $141 million budget gap next year.

JumpStart—a payroll tax paid by the city’s largest employers on the salaries of their highest-paid workers—has consistently produced more revenue than originally anticipated. Since it went into effect in 2021, the tax has paid for COVID relief, housing, small business support, and to top off the general fund. Mosqueda’s proposal, which hasn’t been formally drafted, would use JumpStart revenues in excess of the city’s original 2020 projections to backfill the general fund in 2023 and 2024; currently, the city projects those excess revenues at $71 million and $84 million, respectively.

“This is just a 2023-2024 option. This is not a stopgap measure; this is a temporary use because that additional source of progressive revenue has not been passed and we need to prevent austerity while maintaining the city’s commitment to the JumpStart spending plan.”—Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda

“The broad coalition that proposed JumpStart always intended to avoid austerity, and we can do both the spend plan as codified in 2020 and potentially find some short-term solutions for addressing the shortfall,” Mosqueda told PubliCola on Wednesday. In the meantime, she said, Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office is convening a new progressive revenue task force to consider other locahoul revenue sources. The original progressive revenue task force, which recommended a payroll tax in 2018, also said the city should consider a local estate tax, a tax on excess compensation, and a tax on real-estate speculation, among other options.

“This is just a 2023-2024 option,” Mosqueda said. “This is not a stopgap measure; this is a temporary use because that additional source of progressive revenue has not been passed and we need to prevent austerity while maintaining the city’s commitment to the JumpStart spending plan.”

In addition to new revenues, the city could be looking at cuts to departments, including the elimination of some positions that have been vacant but funded in the budget for long periods. Advocates for reducing the Seattle Police Department’s budget aren’t likely to see much trimming in that area, though; the last time a council member (then-council president Lorena González) proposed reducing SPD’s budget by eliminating unfillable positions, the council voted it down.

At the same time, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which is primarily funded by the city, sent a budget proposal to the city and county earlier this year requesting $90 million for new programs, on top of the $119 million that it currently receives from the city and county. If the city funded this extra spending proportionally to its current contribution ($70 million in 2022), that would amount to an additional $60 million in city spending.

Harrell has expressed frustration publicly about the KCRHA’s budget, and has reportedly wondered aloud privately what the agency is doing with its money. Efforts to stand up a program to “navigate” people off the streets of downtown Seattle by placing them in shelters or housing, launched with a one-time infusion of private money earlier this year, are going slowly, with one of the program’s high-profile leaders leaving the agency after just three months in June. In February, KCRHA director Marc Dones said one of the goals of the initiative was to reduce the number of people living unsheltered downtown to around 30, or “functional zero,” in as little as 12 months.

When PublICola asked Harrell about KCRHA’s big budget ask back in June, he said the agency seemed to “approach the budgeting process as, ‘in a perfect world, this is what [we] could do.’… But at some point, I need you to do the hard work, which is tell us exactly what you need. This is not a negotiate, ‘you go high, I go low,’ process.”

Harrell will send his proposed budget to the council on September 24.

Lawmakers Propose Homeless Worker Stipend; Harrell’s State of the City Previews Potential Budget Battle

1. To support homeless service providers struggling with staffing shortages, Sen. Joe Nguyen (D-34, White Center) and Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43, Seattle) are hoping to add $78 million to the state budget to provide $2,000 stipends to thousands of homeless service workers across the state. The program would start in October.

Washington Low Income Housing Alliance policy and advocacy director Michele Thomas said many homeless service workers earn such low wages, “they are one step away from homelessness themselves.” Nonprofits that provide services and shelter to people experiencing homelessness are perennially underfunded, and often have trouble recruiting and retaining staff.

“Our permanent supportive housing providers and our homeless service providers are saying they’re literally competing with fast-food employers and their workers are leaving because [fast food jobs have] similar benefits, similar pay, and a lot less trauma,” Thomas said.

Nguyen said “we as a government have failed” because the state is relying on nonprofit homeless service providers and their underpaid workforce “to do the work that government should have been doing.”

In the House, 27 representatives, including half a dozen from Seattle, signed a letter urging the Appropriations Committee to include the request in the 2022 operating budget. Nguyen said the budget request has support in the senate as well, although he adds that “$78 million is a lot” to ask when there are so many competing budget priorities.

The House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee will release their 2022 operating budgets next week.

2. In his first  State of the City Address Tuesday, Mayor Bruce Harrell reiterated his commitment to hiring more police officers and removing more homeless encampments from public spaces; described work to consolidate various systems for reporting encampments and tracking outreach and services to homeless people; and promised to be “the administration that ends the federal consent decree over SPD.” The consent decree is a 10-year-old agreement giving the US Justice Department oversight of SPD’s efforts to correct patterns of excessive force and racially biased policing. “The time to build this [police] department is now,” Harrell said.

As he has during the first month and a half of his term, Harrell emphasized the need to address public disorder that, he said, is destroying small businesses or driving them out of Seattle.

“The truth is, the status quo is unacceptable—that is the one where we must all agree,” Harrell said.

Harrell teased a “major announcement” that will happen later this week on homelessness; as we reported last week, this announcement will include a large, one-time philanthropic donation to fund a “peer navigator” program within the King County Regional Homelessness Authority. Peer navigators are case managers with lived experience who connect people to shelter, health care, and other services; the city, which provides most of the authority’s funding declined to fund a $7.6 million peer navigator pilot last year.

“Yesterday we received some good news, learning that revenue from the JumpStart Payroll Expense Tax has come in $31 million higher than expected,” Harrell said. “That additional revenue must go toward alleviating the budget issues we expect in 2023.”

In a preview of a potential budget battle later this year, Harrell said the city is facing a $150 million revenue shortfall that he plans to fill with revenues from the JumpStart payroll tax, which is earmarked for housing, small businesses, and Green New Deal programs. Former mayor Jenny Durkan attempted repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, to use revenues from the tax (which she opposed), to fund her own budget priorities. She also tried to pass legislation that would allow the city to use JumpStart revenues for virtually any purpose, effectively overturning the adopted spending plan.

“Yesterday we received some good news, learning that revenue from the JumpStart Payroll Expense Tax has come in $31 million higher than expected,” Harrell said. “That additional revenue must go toward alleviating the budget issues we expect in 2023.”

For two years, the revenues from the payroll tax have largely gone into COVID relief. Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda, who sponsored the tax, told PubliCola, “We have a codified JumpStart spend plan in law for a reason. … It should also be noted that were it not for JumpStart in 2020, we would have faced an austerity budget. In 2022 and beyond, funding is dedicated to the areas noted in the codified spend plan which will create a more resilient and equitable economy.”

Asked if the mayor plans to use JumpStart revenues to backfill the general fund shortfall this year, Harrell spokesman Jamie Housen said, “The Mayor’s Office has been regularly engaging with [Councilmember] Mosqueda on budget issues and are looking forward to working with her and Councilmembers regarding how to allocate the new revenues just identified yesterday.”

Mosqueda said the city should consider new revenue sources to make the city budget sustainable, rather than using payroll tax revenues to fill holes in the budget. “We have to remember, while Jumpstart first revenue returns are in, our commitments to the community members who supported the Jumpstart tax and the detailed spend plan have yet to be realized,” she said. Harrell mentioned the possibility of new taxes in his speech, saying the city would “need to look at all our options, deciding between one-time and ongoing commitments, adjusting expenditures, revisiting existing funding sources, and looking at options for increasing revenues.”

—Leo Brine, Erica C. Barnett

In Reversal, Council Keeps Durkan’s Expanded Police Budget Mostly Intact

Seattle interim police chief Adrian Diaz.
Seattle interim police chief Adrian Diaz

By Paul Kiefer

The Seattle City Council voted Thursday to leave Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal for the Seattle Police Department’s 2022 budget largely intact, and in the process put an internal messaging battle—whether to attempt to make peace with SPD or repurpose dollars from the department’s budget in the future—in the spotlight.

The council’s decision to leave Durkan’s budget largely untouched was preceded by a dramatic last-minute press release from Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz, who inaccurately claimed that council president Lorena González had proposed eliminating more than 100 officers’ jobs. In reality, González’s amendment would have eliminated the spending authority for 101 positions that SPD doesn’t expect to fill in 2022. While Durkan’s budget has already redistributed the unspent salaries for other purposes in 2022, the amendment would have allowed the council to repurpose more than $17 million in future years.

The amendment struck at a pillar of SPD’s accounting strategy: asking the council to leave space in the department’s budget for dozens of positions that SPD can’t feasibly fill and redirecting the unspent salaries elsewhere in the department. In 2022, SPD expects to have 134 vacant positions, leaving a total of $19 million in unspent salaries that the department intends to use for other purposes, including new civilian staff and equipment.

The strategy is unique to SPD; while other department have vacant positions, only SPD builds a noteworthy portion of its budget around vacancies that it doesn’t expect to fill. González’s amendment also left a 33-vacancy “cushion” in case SPD surpasses its hiring goals, leaving the department with a maximum of 1,256 officers in 2022.

Diaz’s press release forced González and her colleagues to re-hash a familiar debate about whether the council’s budget proposal would restrict the department’s growth or simply bring an end to an unusual accounting trick that gives SPD an annual surplus to spend as it chooses—a privilege, González noted, that no other city department enjoys.

González’s failed amendment struck at a pillar of SPD’s accounting strategy: asking the council to leave space in the department’s budget for dozens of positions that SPD can’t feasibly fill and redirecting the unspent salaries elsewhere in the department.

The interim chief isn’t asking the council for wiggle room or a reasonable level of discretionary funding. He is apparently demanding a blank check and zero fiscal accountability or scrutiny,” González said, calling Diaz’ statement either a “gross, intentional misrepresentation” or a “gross misunderstanding” of her amendment.

A slim majority of the council voted against the amendment, signaling their wariness to engage in a battle with SPD after a year of acrimony with the police department.

In the week and a half since council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda debuted revisions to Durkan’s proposal for the SPD budget, the council has seen an onslaught of accusations from Durkan, mayor-elect Bruce Harrell, Diaz, and others claiming that the council was attempting to slash SPD’s budget and ranks. In fact, Mosqueda’s revised budget would have reduced Durkan’s proposed budget increase by $10.8 million, for a total of $6.8 million in new investments. (The overall size of the police budget would have decreased slightly under Mosqueda’s original proposal).

Most controversially, Mosqueda’s budget assumed that SPD will lose more officers in 2022 than Durkan or Diaz currently project. While Durkan and SPD estimated that just 94 officers would leave the department next year, Mosqueda estimated a loss of at least 125 officers: enough to cancel out the department’s hiring goals and leave 31 more vacant positions—and $2.7 million more in unspent salaries—than Durkan anticipated.

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The mayor’s projections are optimistic, given that SPD will lose an estimated 150 officers by the end of this year. Her estimate also does not factor in the dozen unvaccinated officers currently on leave who will likely lose their jobs in January. However, Diaz and Durkan predict that attrition will decline sharply in 2022, in part because of plans to spend more on retention programs like group therapy.

Additionally, Mosqueda suggested that the council scale back Durkan’s planned increase to the department’s overtime budget, saving another $3.2 million. Mosqueda’s budget also would have maintained, rather than expanded, SPD’s Community Service Officer (CSO) program—a civilian unit that handles outreach and some non-emergency calls—and omitted Durkan’s proposals to pay hiring bonuses to new officers in 2022 and to launch two new software projects.

On Thursday, an amendment sponsored by Councilmember Alex Pedersen to use the city’s emergency reserve funds to restore most of Durkan’s original budget failed by a wide margin; another amendment—also from Pedersen—that would have met Durkan halfway on attrition projections and overtime increases met the same fate.

The mayor’s projections are optimistic, given that SPD will lose an estimated 150 officers by the end of this year. Her estimate also does not factor in the dozen unvaccinated officers currently on leave who will likely lose their jobs in January. However, Diaz and Durkan predict that attrition will decline sharply in 2022, in part because of plans to spend more on retention programs like group therapy.

The council also narrowly voted down an amendment by Councilmember Andrew Lewis that repurposes $2.7 million from the city’s reserves to defer to Durkan’s attrition projections. “There’s an advantage to assuming less attrition so that we don’t have to go back next year to correct the budget,” Lewis said. He also raised concerns about the optics of Mosqueda’s attrition projection, adding that he “would prefer that the council not habitually predict that hiring and [departures] will be the same,” noting that the council made the same prediction last year. While the council initially voted in favor of the amendment, Councilmember Tammy Morales asked for a re-vote near the end of the session that defeated the proposal; Morales, who previously supported the amendment, reversed her vote.

Mosqueda introduced her own amendment to expand the CSO program, though her $900,000 amendment fell short of Durkan’s original $1.3 million proposal. Because SPD will likely be unable to hire the six additional officers before next spring, she said, the CSO unit will only need six months of funding in 2022. The council agreed, voting overwhelmingly to expand the program. Mosqueda added that she eventually hopes to move the the CSO program to a civilian department, but she conceded that the unit will stay in SPD for the foreseeable future. The CSOs have said they aren’t interested in leaving SPD, citing close relationships with their sworn counterparts; Herbold admitted that she had assured the unit’s supervisors that the council wouldn’t force the CSOs to leave SPD in exchange for expanding the program, and Thursday’s vote allowed her to keep her promise.

The council rejected just three minor proposals to increase SPD’s budget. Pedersen’s pitch to add more dollars to SPD’s overtime budget didn’t find traction, and nobody on the council expressed interest in supporting the two SPD technology projects that Mosqueda deemed “non-essential”: a body-worn video analysis system used to assess racial disparities in policing and a wearable biometric monitor that would track police officers’ vital signs to flag officers at risk of using excessive force or acting erratically because of stress. Continue reading “In Reversal, Council Keeps Durkan’s Expanded Police Budget Mostly Intact”

Council Considers Backing Out of SPD Funding Fight

SPD West Precinct

By Paul Kiefer

With less than a week of budget deliberations to go, the Seattle City Council will consider a trio of amendments on Thursday that could quash the ongoing battle with Mayor Jenny Durkan over the details of the Seattle Police Department’s 2022 budget.

The amendments would fully or partially walk back a plan, introduced by council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda, to reduce Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed SPD budget by $10 million. Within hours of the plan’s debut last Tuesday, both Durkan and mayor-elect Bruce Harrell condemned the plan as an outright “cut” to SPD’s budget; at a press conference the following day, interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz claimed that the council’s proposed reductions would effectively “eliminate” more than 30 officers from his department’s ranks.

Mosqueda’s initial budget proposal would not have actually resulted in layoffs or reduced SPD’s existing budget. Instead, it would have reduced the size of Durkan’s proposal by not allocating funds for salaries for positions that the council doesn’t believe SPD will be able to fill next year and by reducing Durkan’s proposed budget for officer overtime by $3.2 million.

While Durkan and SPD estimated that just 94 officers would leave the department next year, Mosqueda’s budget proposal assumed a loss of 125 officers, including at least a dozen unvaccinated officers who will likely lose their jobs by January. If Mosqueda’s assumption is correct, SPD would lose as many officers as it plans to hire in 2022, leaving the department with 31 more vacant positions—and $2.7 million more in unspent salaries—than Durkan anticipated.

The most sweeping proposal, sponsored by Councilmember Alex Pedersen, would leave Durkan’s plans untouched, re-introduce funds for hiring incentives and the CSO program expansion, and adopt the mayor and police chief’s more optimistic hiring and attrition projections.

Mosqueda’s proposal would also have maintained, rather than expanded, funding for SPD’s Community Service Officer (CSO) program—a civilian unit that handles outreach and some non-emergency calls. Her plan also nixed $1.1 million set aside for SPD to pay hiring incentives to new officers in 2022, which Diaz says are necessary to attract recruits in a region where hefty hiring bonuses are becoming the norm.

A final, less-controversial reduction would come from SPD’s technology budget, preventing the department from launching two new software projects in 2022: a body-worn video analysis system used to assess racial disparities in policing and a wearable biometric monitor that would track police officers’ vital signs to flag officers at risk of using excessive force or acting erratically because of stress.

The three amendments on Thursday’s agenda would each restore at least one component of Durkan’s original SPD budget proposal; because they are mutually exclusive, only one can pass.

The most sweeping proposal, sponsored by Councilmember Alex Pedersen, would leave Durkan’s plans untouched, re-introduce funds for hiring incentives and the CSO program expansion, and adopt the mayor and police chief’s more optimistic hiring and attrition projections, To keep the budget balanced, the amendment would remove $10 million from the city’s revenue stabilization fund and return it to SPD.

Continue reading “Council Considers Backing Out of SPD Funding Fight”

Police Monitor Raises Concerns About SPD Budget; Crosscut’s New Editor Kills Opinion Section

1. During the Seattle City Council’s Monday morning briefing, budget chair Teresa Mosqueda responded to a Seattle Times editorial published last week charging that the council’s proposals for the Seattle Police Department’s 2022 budget could plunge the city into another confrontation with the federal district court.

The editorial, which called on mayor-elect Bruce Harrell to hold a “public safety summit” soon after he takes office in January, challenged Mosqueda’s claim that the council’s amended SPD budget had been vetted by the court-appointed monitor who acts as the eyes and ears for Judge James Robart—the federal judge responsible for overseeing reforms to SPD as part of a decade-old arrangement called the “consent decree.” The Times’ source: An email to the editorial board from the monitor himself, Dr. Antonio Oftelie, who said that no one on the council had spoken to him directly about their plans for SPD’s 2022 budget.

“I understand that it must continue to be an inconvenience to the Seattle Times editorial board to acknowledge that we did indeed continue to engage with the court monitor directly, as we have done in the past,” Mosqueda said, adding that Greg Doss, the council staffer who specializes in SPD’s budget, “reached out and directly engaged” with Oftelie on behalf of the council. “The court monitor is very aware that Greg [Doss] works on behalf of all council members,” Mosqueda said.

During his meeting with Doss and a representative from the City Attorney’s Office, Oftelie did not offer direct feedback on the council’s budget proposals. A week later, he sent a memo to Mosqueda, along with public safety chair Lisa Herbold and council president Lorena González, raising concerns about the council’s plans to scale back SPD’s budget data analysis. Specifically, Oftelie described two programs—one that would identify 911 call types that could go to non-police emergency responders, and another that could identify officers with a pattern of using force during crisis calls—as vital to the department’s progress. If the council went through with plans to cut SPD’s data analysis budget, he added, the federal court might intervene. Despite his warning, Oftelie emphasized that “it is not the monitor’s role or intent to dictate City budget decisions.”

Mosqueda’s office debuted the council’s changes to Durkan’s budget proposal a day after receiving Oftelie’s memo; during the quick turnaround, Mosqueda said that she worked with the council’s central staff to ensure that the proposed budgets for the two data analysis projects Oftelie flagged would remain untouched. The council’s proposed budget now only omits funding for two of SPD’s proposed technology programs, totaling around $1.3 million.

During the council’s budget discussions last week, Mosqueda called the first—a body-worn video analysis software used to assess racial disparities in policing—a “nice-to-have” item that the council could support in the future. The second technology is a wearable biometric monitor that would track police officers’ vital statistics to flag officers at risk of using excessive force or acting erratically because of stress.

After Mosqueda’s rebuttal on Monday, Oftelie reiterated his frustration with the council’s communication style. His meeting with Doss, he told PubliCola, “was a one-hour briefing and in no way was meant or implied to be any type of ‘approval’ of the budget.” And after he raised his concerns about the council’s budget proposal in his memo, he added, “no one from City Council acknowledged receiving the memorandum or connected with me to discuss it before their Tuesday meeting.”

In the past year, the consent decree has loomed large over Seattle’s budget discussions; in June, the council abandoned plans to cut $2.83 million from SPD’s 2021 budget under pressure from the federal court. Oftelie, who advises the court about Seattle’s progress on police reforms, has argued that SPD needs to be able to rebuild its ranks after two years of record-breaking attrition in order to comply with the consent decree.

Meanwhile, the council could soon run into problems with the federal court on another front: an ordinance that the council passed in August restricting SPD’s ability to use so-called “less-lethal” weapons like tear gas for crowd control. Two weeks ago, Diaz reached out to Oftelie for legal guidance as his department prepares to update its policies to comply with the new law. In his letter to Oftelie, Diaz wrote that the ordinance may be at odds with the consent decree, setting the stage for another potential fight over the council’s power to pass police reform laws while SPD is under federal oversight.

Support PubliCola

PUBLICOLA NEEDS YOUR HELP.

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’re funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

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 of any amount, 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. Crosscut, the nonprofit news website that merged with Seattle’s PBS affiliate, KCTS, six years ago, is eliminating its opinion section, leaving Seattle with one less source of editorial views to counter the Seattle Times’ generally conservative opinion and editorial pages. Crosscut’s new executive editor, M. David Lee III, announced the decision in a memo to all staff last week. Lee replaces Victor Hernandez, who joined the site in 2018.

The section, which features Knute Berger’s “Mossback” history column along with regular opinion pieces by Transit Riders Union director Katie Wilson and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant,  will be replaced by a “new process of engaging community voices,” according to an internal memo from Lee. Berger told PubliCola he would continue writing for Crosscut and referred all other questions to Lee, who did not respond to an email Monday.

“There are a lot of priorities that need to be attended to and one of the top ones is the ‘Opinion’ section of Crosscut.com, which has been a fixture of the organization since its inception in 2007,” Lee, who joined Crosscut last month, wrote in the memo. “With the section, the goal, at the time and to this day, is to engage our community in conversation regarding important issues. Listening to the communities that we serve is one of the most important things we need to do as a non-profit public news organization. We must reflect the landscape in which we live and serve. Change is also important. Adapting and retooling how we engage with the community is what we must do moving forward and, because of that, we will be sunsetting the traditional ‘Opinion’ section of Crosscut.com effective November 30th.”

As a “project” of a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Cascade Public Media, Crosscut can’t endorse candidates or advocate for positions on issues itself, but it can run opinions by people outside the organization. In the recent past, those pieces have included opinions by former Washington state Republican Party chair Chris Vance, Republican congressman Dan Newhouse, right-wing radio host John Carlson, and Bryant. Nonetheless, board members have reportedly raised concerns over the years that the opinion page slants left. The governing board that oversees the site includes a former Seattle Times editorial board member, former Republican attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna, and Amazon global real estate VP John Schoettler.

Lee,  a former television news director and sportscaster in markets including Tallahasee and Green Bay, is also an independent filmmaker. In a post on Crosscut, Lee described himself as “a lifelong, self-proclaimed, ‘Star Wars Geek'” who was drawn to Crosscut by “the talent here” and “the commitment here to public non-profit journalism.”

“The beauty of Crosscut is that we can go deeper, offer unique insight to a story or issue that other outlets are unable to do, or just choose not to do. As I said above, this is something new for me. And I expect that Crosscut will change me, and I’m excited about it,” Lee wrote. For now, he concluded, he’ll “be exploring the city, getting to know the talented staff here and doing the work for you, our readers, while heeding words of Yoda: ‘Do or Do Not. There is no Try.”

Crosscut’s local news reporter, David Kroman, recently decamped for the Seattle Times. After a lengthy struggle to unionize, the Crosscut Union still lacks a contract, after rejecting a proposal from management earlier this fall that the union said would lower their annual pay increases provide no improvements to retirement, vacation benefits, or health care. Cascade Media’s CEO, Rob Dunlop, made more than $500,000 in 2019.

—Paul Kiefer, Erica C. Barnett