Let’s jump right into what we learned at the Council Briefing today, shall we?
There will be a special Council Meeting tomorrow, Tuesday September 22, at 3pm to discuss the Mayor’s veto on the 2020 revised budget bills. There will be an opportunity for you to make a public comment at the meeting; signups will be at 1pm and the public comment period will be at 3pm.
Various remarks from CMs during their meeting today signaled that they think they may have lost their veto-proof majority. Because the bills in question involve appropriations, two of the three would require a 3/4 vote to overturn the Mayor’s veto, meaning 7 out of 9 votes. In spite of CM Sawant’s repeated demands that CMs state their positions publicly today instead of blindsiding their constituents tomorrow, none of the CMs opposed to overturning the veto were willing to publicly state their positions. However, we can certainly make a good guess: CMs Pedersen and Juarez, and probably CM Lewis, who has stated more than once how important it is to make a “deal” with the Mayor. CM Strauss might also be in question.
I put “deal” in quotations above because what they’re currently discussing is…not much of a compromise at all. The Council has put together an alternate bill that they can discuss should they fail to overturn the veto. This bill was constructed specifically to be something the Mayor will not veto, therefore representing the outlines of the “deal” being struck. This bill is still being revised, but you can see the current version and its summary & fiscal note.
To summarize aspects of this new bill that were discussed this morning: In terms of community investments, there will be $1m for research and a participatory budgeting process (and possibly $2m allocated for 2021, but that will have to be in the new 2021 budget) and $2.5m allocated for community organizations scaling up to address public safety needs. Compare this to the vetoed legislation, that provided $3m for research and participatory budgeting, $4m for gun violence prevention (something Seattle is experiencing an uptick in right now), and $10m for community organizations scaling up. $3.5m is the compromise vs. $17m previously allocated, and it’s worth noting that even the $17m was a huge compromise from the initial ask by community.
All of the provisos regarding police officer layoffs (the 100 positions) have been completely dropped. The Navigation Team will remain, the “compromise” here being that the 2 FTEs for sworn officers currently unfilled will remain unstaffed, which, given the current hiring freeze, is fairly meaningless. They are also eliminating 5 civilian positions from HSD from the Nav Team, through which they are funding $500,000 for behavioral and mental health services for the rest of 2020. There is potential for more funding for this in 2021 because of these staff cuts. However, this $500,000 is prioritized for use by the Navigation Team as opposed to community partners, and there is also no language prioritizing shelter access for community service providers. In addition, there is a commitment for $3m to be spent on non-congregate shelters this year. (Even though there has been other financial allocations for this that the Mayor has refused to honor, apparently she has agreed to actually follow through this time). CM Lewis says there will be additional announcements made about the Navigation Team in 2021 to reduce its role to be more supervisory.
So, in a nutshell, there will be no layoffs in the police department, there will be $3.5m invested in community instead of $17m, and the Navigation Team will continue its dysfunctional operations largely unchanged while community partners working with the homeless population will not receive any additional funding or even tools like being able to give referrals to shelters more easily.
I don’t think I need to tell you that $2.5m will be wholly inadequate to build the capacity community organizations need to take on important roles in community safety, but since the intention is obviously not to downsize the police department in any meaningful way or allow community organizations to step in and take on some of those functions, I guess it’s a moot point. Section 20 of the proposed bill does state: “By establishing this Section, the Council expresses its policy intent for the Seattle Police Department (SPD) to reduce the overall size of the City’s sworn police force,” but this intent can be met simply by transferring some departments out of SPD and doesn’t actually require any downsizing whatsoever in the number of sworn officers employed.
Let me say this plainly: this is not actually a compromise. This is the Mayor getting exactly what she wants. And because the Seattle Times and all the major news networks back her, she gets to drive the public narrative, giving her a lot of power.
In conclusion, today is the day to email and CALL your CMs. If your CM is Andrew Lewis or Dan Strauss, this is even more important. Ask them to overturn the veto. If you already did this last week, do it again. If you can bring yourself to offer public testimony at the meeting tomorrow, do that. The vote tomorrow will determine city policy going forward, and it will define the 2021 budget session.
I’ll report back tomorrow and let you know what happened.