It happened in a blink of an eye: the bill was brought to the floor and immediately passed, and the budget was done.
Just kidding. It was six hours of tedium. But there’s a rebalanced budget now — sort of. And more problems down the road.
This morning the Budget Committee met for the final time to take up the suite of bills that make up the 2020 budget rebalancing package, apply some final amendments, and vote the bills out of committee. And with the big arguments and decisions having taken place last week, this morning was mostly dedicated to tying up loose ends and giving speeches to honor the occasion and thank everyone who helped get it to the finish line. This afternoon the same Council members gave the rebalancing package a final vote of approval and a send-off with another round of speeches
New amendments that passed today:
- The Council reversed in part its move last week to gut the pay for SPD’s thirteen command staff. Today they voted to mostly reinstate the salary of Chief Carmen Best back up to $275, only a tiny haircut below her current pay. However, they left the big cut in place for the other twelve members of SPD’s command staff, including its civilian Director of HR, Director of Strategic Initiatives, and Director of Legal Affairs. Since last Wednesday, the Council had come under fire for cutting the salary of the first black woman Chief of SPD, well below her white predecessor. Also, their proposed cut would have made Best the second-lowest paid department head in Seattle city government, while managing the largest department as measured by headcount. As part of today’s reversal, Council members committed to looking broadly at executive pay within city government as part of the fall budget process, as well as to consider whether SPD executives’ accountability can be further increased. For instance, the SPD chief’s term of office, once confirmed by the City Council, is indefinite: she or he never needs to be re-confirmed. That’s fairly unusual among department heads, who are usually appointed for a fixed term and then reappointed/reconfirmed.
- It added language acknowledging that it has obligations under the Consent Decree, without actually changing any of its process: “The Council (1) affirmatively acknowledges that the Consent Decree remains in full force and effect; (2) has every intention to comply with the Consent Decree obligations as Council rebalances the City’s 2020 Budget; (3) will endeavor to rebalance the 2020 Budget consistent with the Consent Decree requirements; and (4) will continue to work with the Court and other appropriate stakeholders to achieve Consent Decree compliance.” This is in response to U.S. District Court Judge James Robart warning the Council last Thursday not to repeat its mistake with its ban on crowd-control weapons.
- It added even more reports for SPD to deliver to the Council this fall (and consolidated all of them into a single proviso).
- It authorized SPD to convert the last two sworn positions in the 911 call center — the captain and lieutenant who manage the unit — into civilian positions, a Director and Deputy Director. However, much to Council member Sawant’s displeasure, moving the 911 call center must wait until some logistical hurdles can be overcome.
- It passed several additional provisos mostly to ensure that the Mayor spends the money the way that the City Council intends.
The Council also passed a resolution authorizing this fall’s budget process to be for 2021 only, instead of the typical two-year budget developed in even years. The belief is that with COVID-19 and the ensuing economic meltdown, it is simply impossible to predict with any accuracy what either revenues or spending will look like two years from now.
And the Council passed a resolution expressing its intent to create a new, civilian-run Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention that can serve as a home base for re-imagining how the city delivers on public safety without centering the police.
What notably failed to pass today is an amendment offered by Council member Sawant that would have prohibited SPD from assisting in the prosecution of anyone protesting in the George Floyd protests over the past two months. Last week it seemed that Council members’ issues with the draft amendment would get worked out, but apparently that was not to be; Sawant’s amendment failed today for lack of a second and so never even made it onto the table to be discussed.
On Wednesday a handful of additional budget-related bills will be approved at a special City Council meeting (by city law, bills may not be adopted by the Council on the same day they are introduced, so last-minute bills introduced today could be adopted tomorrow at the earliest). Then the package goes to the Mayor for her signature — or veto. After today’s vote, Mayor Durkan’s office released the following statement:
Mayor Durkan continues to have concerns with the City Council’s approach to cut Chief Best and her leadership team’s salaries and remove workers at the Human Services Department who are involved in outreach and engagement with people experiencing homelessness.
It is unfortunate Council has refused to engage in a collaborative process to work with the Mayor, Chief Best, and community members to develop a budget and policies that respond to community needs while accounting for – not just acknowledging – the significant labor and legal implications involved in transforming the Seattle Police Department.
This follows on a letter that Durkan sent to the Council yesterday, requesting that they address four complaints she had with the budget:
- laying off 100 officers in 2020 and the limitations of trying to achieve “out of order” rules;
- eliminating the Navigation Team without first deciding how the city should address hazardous/obstruction encampments going forward;
- cuts to the salaries of Chief Best and her command team;
- cuts and changes to SPD that implicate the Consent Decree.
And if that weren’t enough, this morning the City Budget Office distributed a memo letting it be known that its most recent forecast predicts this year’s General Fund revenue shortfall to be about $25 million worse than the last gruesome estimate: a full $337 million off the budget adopted by the Council last fall.
That will put the Council in a bind come Wednesday, when it looks to override the Mayor’s veto of its COVID-19 relief bill that withdrew $86 million from the city’s two reserve funds. According to the city’s budget director, the city will need to dip further into the “rainy day” fund to cover the increased revenue deficit, leaving even less for the Council to spend on new COVID-19 relief programs.
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