First split vote for the Council

At this afternoon’s full Council meeting, the nine Council members split on a vote for the first time, and there were many interesting insights into how the dynamics of the group are shaping up.

It occurred when the Council was debating a bill to release $2.26 million of emergency funding to address the homelessness crisis.  Council member Herbold introduced an amendment that would target some funds toward hygiene and sanitation at unsanctioned homeless encampments.

Well, sort of.  At this morning’s council Briefing, she distributed a draft amendment that would have re-allocated $200,000 from elsewhere in the Human Services Department’s budget toward this purpose (and ONLY this purpose, and explicitly not to be used to fund “sweeps” of unsanctioned camps). But HSD opposed that, so midday she revised it to say that the Council intended to fund it from the upcoming “First Quarter Supplemental Budget,” i.e. the legislation that moves money around at the end of March.

Normally the Council has a rule that any amendments to bills being considered on Monday afternoon need to be circulated no later than noon so that Council members have time to read and consider them in advance, and Herbold was fudging that rule by rewriting hers in the early afternoon. (update: Herbold clarified to me in email that she distributed the updated version at 12:10)  Council member Juarez openly expressed her frustration in getting the amendment so late — even though she supported the goal of the amendment.  Council member Burgess took it further, expressing two objections (and his opposition to the amendment): one, that it subverts the supplemental budgeting process in an unhelpful way to pass “intent to fund” statements like the one in the amendment since it removes the Council’s ability to weigh different spending priorities against each other; and two, that at some level providing services to unsanctioned encampments is a tacit sanctioning of those encampments — a strong policy statement that the Council hasn’t made to-date, and, Burgess argued, deserves a thorough discussion in committee before coming up for full Council approval.  To the first objection, Herbold appealed to the state of emergency which exists for the homeless crisis, which creates precedent for bypassing normal processes; and to the second, she asserted that providing hygiene and sanitation services did not, in fact, sanction the encampments.

Most of the Council members took an opportunity to comment on Herbold’s amendment, and in the end Burgess was the lone dissenter. The argument that carried the day was the need to show compassion, in tandem with a recognition that the city currently doesn’t have enough sanctioned shelter space to move everyone out of unsanctioned encampments. Council member Bagshaw, whose committee oversees the underlying bill, was the first to express support for Herbold’s amendment. Council president Harrell did voice support for Burgess’s stand for good governance practices, though he too invoked the emergency nature in order to support the amendment. And Council member Gonzalez spoke to the struggle to balance enforcing the laws with showing compassion to the homeless.  Council member Sawant argued that it would be easy to pay for the additional hygiene and sanitation services by “stopping the sweeps” and diverting the money that was paying for them; and she urged her fellow Council members to “follow your heart.”

For the record, the amended bill passed unanimously; Burgess’s objection to the amendment was not enough to make him vote against the full bill.

It should be no surprise that Burgess wore his “good governance” hat today, though it’s of note that he got vocal support from Harrell and at least some support from Gonzalez and Juarez. Herbold followed in the footsteps of her former boss, Nick Licata, in pushing a substantive amendment through at the last minute, and she got unwavering support from Sawant and quiet but firm support from O’Brien. Bagshaw and Johnson were very quiet through the debate (other than Bagshaw’s initial expression of support for the amendment), perhaps holding their cards close until they could see which way the political winds were blowing.  The Herbold/Sawant/O’Brien axis is no surprise, whereas seeing Gonzalez and Juarez speak (even tenuously) on behalf of good governance is an interesting development but certainly not out of character for either. And having Bagshaw and Johnson as potential swing votes is fascinating.