Notes from today’s Council meetings

And once again the Council shows its uncanny ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

This morning the Council had a two-part discussion of the Mercer Megablock possible sale: the first half in public session, and the second behind closed doors. In the public session, Ben Noble and Steve Shane from the City Budget Office announced that the city had received a total of 7 proposals in response to its RFP, and has deemed that 6 were responsive and worthy of consideration. The city has interviewed all six teams of proposers, and decided to ask all of them to make a “best and final offer.”

Noble and Shane were unwilling to discuss details of the proposals outside of a private executive session, for fear of putting itself in a worse negotiating position by tipping off proposers to what their competitors had offered and starting a “race to the bottom.” But they did say that most of the developers did respond to the RFP’s suggestion to provide at least 175 affordable housing units targeted at people making 60% of AMI or less.

The Council is sensitive to the fact that the secretive nature of the RFP process may lead some to believe that something nefarious is going on. There was a fair amount of debate about the tradeoff between stronger negotiating power and higher levels of confidence in the process depending on where the secrecy  is protected.

The city used an advisory board to provide guidance on what to ask for and how to interpret the RFP responses. All but one of the advisory board members were city employees; the exception was former Deputy Mayor Kate Joncas. The city asked Capitol Hill Housing, an affordable housing  provider, to join the advisory board, but they declined citing the intense workload and lack of compensation. Council member Gonzalez raised that as a larger issue for the city to consider, especially as the role of community members continues to evolve in how city government decisions are made. She pointed out that the city compensates consultants, who are in the business of rendering their expertise, but not nonprofits with equally relevant expertise.

As for next steps with the Mercer Megablock, the advisory board recommended a single proposer to move forward with, and the city is now in negotiations with them. Once a deal is negotiated, they expect to bring that to the City Council. At that point, the details will become public, and the Council will do its own due diligence before deciding whether to approve the deal. Noble and Shane expect that will happen in the first quarter of 2019.

Today is the day the city submits to Judge Robart its explanation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with SPG, the police officers’ union. The city must explain how it reads on last year’s police accountability legislation, and on the Consent Decree itself. Council member Gonzalez noted this in the morning Council Briefing that she has not reviewed a draft of the brief to be filed and has “some anxiety” on the tone and content of that brief and whether the Council’s views are reflected. She said that if they are not reflected in the final brief, the Council “may have some tough decisions.”

This afternoon, a typically routine quarterly piece of legislation went sideways and has now created a panic in City Hall. The bill in question, which formally accepts funding from outside sources, is part of a trio of quarterly legislation, including a budget update that approves spending the new funds, and an ordinance approving several new city positions.

The problem came from one line-item in the long list of funding approvals: item 1.37, representing $95,085 from the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Specifically, the funds reimburse SPD for time spent participating in narcotics enforcement activities at the Port of Seattle. But ICE is of course the organization on the front line of the Trump Administration’s most abusive immigration-enforcement practices and policies. At a committee hearing last week, Council member Mosqueda voiced her concerns about accepting any money from ICE, especially if it came attached to requirements for the city to cooperate with its immigration-related activities. Despite assurances from the City Budget Office and Budget chair Bagshaw that there were no conditions attached and that the $90,085 had nothing to do with immigration, Council member Gonzalez, in deciding to vote “no,” said that she had continuing concerns about how the “Homeland Security Investigations” group within ICE, which conducts the narcotics-related activities, also participates in immigration-related work. Gonzalez said that she couldn’t support ongoing partnership with HSI until she knows more about how its work relates to immigration.

The Council’s numbers were diminished today, with only six present for most of the meeting (Juarez, Sawant and Mosqueda had pre-arranged excused absences).  Juarez actually called in to participate in the first item on the agenda, the Q4 budget update that required a supermajority of the Council (7 votes) to pass, but then she left.

While Gonzalez had notified Bagshaw’s office that she intended to vote “no,” there was another surprise “no” vote today: Council member Herbold. She didn’t make her intentions known until she cast her vote, leaving a surprise 4-2 defeat for the bill.

That left the Council members and their staff scrambling, since there are apparently legal requirements for some of the other funding in the bill (collectively totalling tens of millions of dollars) to be accepted by December 31. Today was the last scheduled Full Council meeting of the year. The Council members slow-walked the rest of their agenda while their staff and the City Attorney’s Office huddled to determine the best options for the Council to extricate itself from the parliamentary tar-pit it had stumbled into.

Herbold has been silent, but Gonzalez said that she intended her “no” vote to be a symbolic one that didn’t prevent the bill from passing. If Gonzalez and Herbold had opted to offer an amendment stripping out the ICE funding from the bill, instead of voting “no,” then everything would be fine. But given the path that they went down, their paths to fix it are limited. Parliamentary procedure allows for a bill to be reconsidered, but the City Charter requires the prevailing party in the first vote (i.e. either Gonzalez or Herbold) to move for reconsideration, and they are not allowed to do it until the next Council meeting. So Council President Harrell needs to try to find a time to schedule an extra Council meeting before the end of the year, where enough people can be present to approve either the original bill or an amended one. But the Council and its staff — including the City Clerk staff — are scheduled to be on recess starting next Monday, and like us, many of them have booked travel to be with family for the holidays. Plus, Council meetings must be publicly scheduled and advertised at least 24 hours before the meeting occurs (as we all learned with the head tax repeal vote last June). It won’t be easy for Harrell to schedule a meeting before the end of the year, but stay tuned.

An amusing observation: if Juarez had simply stayed on the phone for another 10 minutes, everything would have been fine.


  1. Large non profit housing developers like Capitol Hill Housing are well versed in how the development process works. These agencies are usually awarded a 5% developer fee when a contract is awarded. The agency can do anything they want with that money. It isn’t restricted to any project or any activity. This is where these agencies get funding so they can move on and plan the next project. Reimbursing them for their application costs they turning around and giving them the full 5% developer fees when they get the contract appears that they would be getting paid twice for the same work. I thought the goal was to provide more low income/affordable housing. Paying twice for the same thing won’t help us reach that goal.

    1. That wasn’t the point — if they were on the advisory board, they would be barred from participating in the RFP as a bidder because of the conflict of interest. And any time the person is doing work on the advisory board, she or he isn’t doing useful work for the nonprofit. The issue also extends beyond Capitol Hill Housing: if the city wants to leverage the expertise in non-profits, it needs to figure out whether it should be paying advisory board members something for their time.

  2. Your post (correctly) points out that motions for reconsideration can only be made by the prevailing side (in this case, Gonzalez or Herbold). However, the motion in the meeting was made by Harrell and seconded by Bagshaw. Did they botch that too?

      1. The motion must be made the same day, but the vote on the motion happens on a later day.

  3. Anyone can make a mistake. However, this was rather complex, expensive (staff and scheduling time) and tedious for the people who must follow with 52 card pick up. I hope the council members involved learn from this and take their voting roles more seriously in future.

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