Another Wednesday, Another Budget Meeting

Update on the mayor recall, a timeline review, and where we are in the budget process, particularly as it relates to the SPD

Another long Wednesday of budget meetings!

Mayor Recall:

Mayor Durkan has filed a motion to reconsider the judge’s certification of the recall petition. This is a precursor to a probable appeal, and we’re now waiting for the petitioner to respond. If you’re interested in how this recall effort works, this is a great analysis. The key point revolves around whether Mayor Durkan is ultimately the individual responsible for the use of tear gas and other chemical crowd control agents by SPD during the pandemic, or if that responsibility resides with Chief Best. As the article states, delaying the possible recall is in the Mayor’s best interests even if she loses her appeal, both because it allows more time to pass for Seattleites to forget what happened during the protests in June, and because if Biden were to win the presidential election, she might get a new cushy appointment in DC in January.

Timeline:

After today, we have two more weeks of budget meetings, including a potential extra meeting next Thursday, and the Council hopes to vote on the revised budget on Monday, August 3. The City Council will take a vacation the last two weeks of August. The Mayor is expected to bring her proposed 2021 budget sometime in mid-September, beginning a new set of budget meetings that will probably extend until sometime in November. I believe the new SPOG contract negotiations are supposed to begin in December and can last around six months.

Today’s Budget Meetings:

The first part of today’s budget meetings were concerned with amendments on two bills, the COVID relief proposal and the Jump Start Seattle Detailed Spending Plan. If you’re interested in the details, you can see my Twitter thread here:

Aside from observing the dynamic at work within the Council, another interesting thing that came up during this part of the meeting was during a spirited discussion about tiny home villages, when it came up that money put aside in the original 2020 budget to build these villages hasn’t yet been used. Several CMs expressed concerns that the Mayor wouldn’t actually use the money allocated to building tiny home villages in the Jump Start Seattle package either. The possibility was also brought up that this concern (that the Mayor wouldn’t spend the money as allocated) might apply to the entire package.

The second part of the budget meeting was issue identification on the 2020 Proposed Rebalancing Package, which came with a huge memo from Central Staff. The section detailing the SPD policy issues and budget amendments that CMs have proposed thus far related to the police department begins on page 104, or you can look at the slides beginning on page 23. This part of the meeting involved presentations by Central Staff on a variety of subjects, as well as a panel from Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now talking about their four proposed stages for divesting from the SPD and investing in community organizations. My Twitter thread on this part of the meeting is here:

Important Points:

  • Review: the Mayor has proposed $20.3m in cuts to the SPD. Those funds have been included in the overall rebalancing of the 2020 budget and are not available to invest in community-based solutions to public safety. None of these cuts should require bargaining. Aside from $500k put aside for re-imaging the police and public safety, other aspects of the Mayor’s plan wouldn’t get funding till 2021.

  • To date the SPD has already run through their entire overtime budget for the year. This is after the Mayor made some cuts on that line of the budget to reach the $20m figure.

  • CM Herbold asked if they’d be able to get out of paying the remainder of hiring bonuses promised to recently hired officers, which was kind of shocking from a labor standpoint.

  • Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now are asking for immediate cuts from the police budget beyond the Mayor’s proposed cuts, along with funds to begin their proposed 4-Step Process, which is as follows:

  • 1. The community research phase should start right away and run through the summer and fall, and they need immediate money to start the process. CM Morales suggested the Council shift over the $500k mentioned in the first point above to do this.

  • 2. Investing in scaling up community-led organizations with technical support and capacity building. This needs to start in 2020 (ideally Sept-Dec) so the organizations can be ready to take over functions from the SPD sometime in 2021.

  • 3. Transition 911 call and dispatch under civilian control. They believe we can move to do this immediately. The Mayor doesn’t want to do it until next year. There was some discussion about potential interim first responder options while training up a CAHOOTS-style response system, and Central Staff is going to look into how quickly this transition could be implemented. There was also a brief discussion about decriminalizing misdemeanors.

  • 4. Support immediate survival needs by investing in housing. This includes dissolving the navigation team, stopping sweeps, and not requiring police referrals for homeless folks to get assistance. That last could be implemented quite quickly, but:

  • Anything having an impact on labor when it comes to these cuts gets complicated because it will have to be bargained with SPOG. Even if the Council passes amendments to lay off officers, to cap officers’ pay, etc. those provisos can’t go into effect until after bargaining, meaning the money freed up from those costs can’t be recovered to reinvest until an agreement with SPOG is reached. This doesn’t prevent the CMs from passing these amendments, but it does mean it’s going to be a tricky business for them to find the funds to invest in this four step process this year, especially given the already existing budget crisis due to the pandemic.

  • There seemed to be a general consensus that having clearly defined policy objectives in regards to defunding the SPD is important since otherwise the SPD could remove services the CMs want to maintain (for example, the Southwestern Precinct).

  • The proposed amendments to the 2020 revised budget, including those related to the SPD, are at the one sentence level of formation right now and need a lot of further development.

What does this all mean? Well, a lot needs to happen in the next two and a half weeks, unless the Council decides to delay that September 3rd vote. Because of labor issues and the time it will take to scale up organizations, I don’t know how feasible a 50% cut to the remaining SPD budget for 2020 is in practice. It partially depends on how quickly certain functions/departments can be moved from under the SPD umbrella (these sorts of changes are less likely to trigger labor issues), but while reorganization could help the Council get closer to reaching a 50% cut goal, it won’t free up any funds to reinvest in community organizations. And without the funds, those organizations can’t scale up, which endangers the entire proposal.

The Council’s challenge in the coming weeks will be to find the necessary funds to implement at least part of this four-step plan (I’m not sure how much they’d need to at least get a good start) and to figure out how to effectively signal they’re serious about divesting in the police force while navigating the thorny labor issues.

Exciting times indeed!