Council will vote on budget veto override Tuesday afternoon

The City Council has scheduled a special meeting for 3:00pm Tuesday afternoon to vote on whether to override Mayor Durkan’s veto of its rebalanced 2020 budget package — or if that fails, a compromise bill that would preserve some of the Council’s top priorities.


It’s said that “Politics is the art of the possible.” Today and tomorrow that will play out in City Hall. At this morning’s Council Briefing, several Council members expressed their continued support of their original budget package. However, despite demands from Council member Sawant for her colleagues to go on the record today on how they intend to vote on the veto override tomorrow, most of the Council members are holding their cards close to their chest.

Normally a veto override requires 2/3 of the Council members, i.e. 6 votes. But for budget bills that appropriate funds, a 3/4 vote is required: 7 votes.

This afternoon Council President Gonzalez introduced a stripped-down, compromise budget bill that is also on the agenda for tomorrow afternoon. Gonzalez described it as an alternative for them to consider in case the veto override vote fails, while being careful not to lobby her colleagues to vote one way or another. UPDATE: Gonzalez announced in a tweet that she intends to vote to override the Mayor’s veto.

The compromise bill is a necessity at this point. If the override vote fails, then the Council still has a responsibility under the law to enact a balanced budget — the entire reason for the summer rebalancing budget in the first place. But if the override vote succeeds, then the Council doesn’t have the power to force the Mayor to actually spend money that it has authorized. The compromise bill is a middle ground: returning to the Mayor’s proposed budget as a baseline, it includes about 20 changes that are priorities for the Council and for which Gonzalez has received the Mayor’s assent. Those changes include:

  • $1 million to the Legislative Department (i.e. the City Council) to support a participatory budgeting process for public safety in 2021. This is down from the original $3 million budgeted, but Gonzalez said this morning that given how little of 2020 is left, it would be difficult to spend $3 million anyway and most of the expense would be in 2021 (the Council begins its 2021 budget deliberations next week).
  • $2.5 million to support investments in capacity-building for community organizations that in the future could help to provide services that would contribute to public safety. The Council’s original budget included $14 million for this, but also required an interfund loan to cover it; at $2.5 million, no interfund loan is required.
  • a requirement that $3 million in the budget for addressing homelessness must be spent on non-congregate shelter.
  • $500,000 to the Department of Neighborhoods to support public outreach around community investments and reimagining SPD.
  • a proviso around LEAD funding, requiring written confirmation from the Public Defenders Association on the specific services it will provide.
  • $15,000 to the Office of planning and Community Development to provide language access and support around ADUs.
  • Prohibiting funds to be spent to remove residents or tiny houses from the Northlake Tiny House Village.
  • Prohibiting SPD from spending money on implicit bias training until the department submits a report to the Council  about the effectiveness of implicit bias trainings in shifting officer behavior. Implicit bias training is required under the 2012 Consent Decree.
  • Prohibiting SPD from spending money on training until the department delivers a report to the Council detailing the number of officers requiring training in 2020 under the Consent Decree,  and the purpose and cost of the training. There are numerous training requirements specified both in the Consent Decree and the SPOG collective bargaining agreement.
  • The Council’s budget forced layoffs in SPD, with provisos to capture potential budget savings, are removed. In practical terms, at this point they couldn’t happen this year anyway; the best estimate for the time it would take between notifying SPOG (and other unions) of layoffs and the completion of negotiations with the unions is about three months; there has been no notifications issued yet, so even if they were issued immediately the soonest layoffs would likely happen is the end of December. So the clock has effectively run out for SPD layoffs in 2020, and it has now become a 2021 budget issue. To that end, however, there are several items in Gonzalez’s bill that move the ball forward for potential layoffs, starting with with the statement, “the Council expresses its policy intent for the Seattle Police Department to reduce the overall size of the City’s sworn police force.”
  • A request for the city to “conduct a systemic review of current functions and specialty units and recommend which functions of SPD… could be eliminated, reduced, civilianized, and/or expanded. The report should include an analysis of staffing and funding needs to support these functions for 2021.” It also calls on the Joint Interdepartmental Team on Community Safety, to be established by the Mayor and City Council, to conduct the review.
  • Importantly, Gonzalez also negotiated with the Mayor a process for how out-of-order layoffs could be accomplished. The Director of Labor Relations and  the Labor Relations Policy Committee (which contains several City Council members as well as representatives from the executive branch) will develop a proposal, and should layoffs be necessary the Chief of Police will submit the proposal to the Public Safety Civil Service Commission, the body authorized to allow out-of-order layoffs. That is in itself a major breakthrough; the Mayor and Chief Best were adamant that out-of-order layoffs were not possible.
  • The Department of Human Resources is requested to do a market wage study on the salaries of SPD’s command staff positions. The bill also states, “the Council expresses its policy intent for the SPD to regularly account for paying employees over $150,000 annually in wages, overtime payments, and other premium pay,” and to that end requests monthly reports on all SPD employees earning over $150,000.
  • $500,000 is appropriated for behavioral health services, diversion funding, and rapid rehousing assistance to support the Navigation Team’s work. However, it also states the Council’s intent to reduce the Navigation Team’s by 5 FTEs with an immediate reduction of 2 sworn officer FTEs and reduction of SPD’s budget by $50,000 accordingly. The bill also states, “the Navigation Team and contracted service providers will prioritize voluntary
    relocations for encampments in the right-of-way and utilize Good Neighbor agreements when appropriate.”
  • The bill states, “the Council expresses its policy intent for SPD to publicly account for its fiscal expenditures.” To that end, it requests SPD to submit a fiscal report every two weeks through the end of the year, including overtime, travel and training. In addition, the first report will contain: information on legal expenditures related to defending the city from claims brought against SPD or individual officers; detailed descriptions of weapons and equipment purchase in 2020; and all federal grants to SPD received since 2015.

While Gonzalez is presenting this as a backstop in case the Council fails to override the Mayor’s veto (since it will still need to deliver a balanced budget), it’s easy to see this instead as an affirmative choice, a viable alternative that some Council members might find more palatable than spending the next three months continuing to fight with the Mayor or badgering her to spend money. It would also de-escalate the ongoing conflict between the Mayor and the Council, and provide a proof-point to their constituents that City Hall is not completely dysfunctional.

If detente is accomplished, however, it may be short-lived: the Mayor delivers her proposed 2021 budget next Tuesday, and the whole process starts again.

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