This afternoon, Mayor Jenny Durkan took first steps to respond to the City Council’s override of the vetoed 2020 rebalanced budget, by largely complying with the Council’s directives — while giving a “be careful what you ask for” warning. Her actions today include immediately moving forward with distributing $4 million in funding (out of $14 million allocated by the Council) for community-based programs, starting the process of “out of order” layoffs for 70 SPD officers, and shutting down the Navigation Team.
Funding for community-based programs
The Council’s 2020 rebalanced budget appropriated $14 million for community led safety programs and organizations this year. However, in a letter to the Council, the Mayor’s Office notes that this late in the year it is practically impossible for the city to disburse the full $14 million: any new contract over $53,000 must be bid out. Instead, the Human Services Department will distribute $4 million to expand existing contracts, and begin an RFP process for the remaining $10 million — which won’t be awarded until 2021. Here is a list provided by the city of HSD’s existing safety contracts, who may see some of the $4 million sent their way.
The Council also authorized a $13.1 million interfund loan to (mostly) cover the $14 million in new spending. But with the majority of it now hitting the 2021 budget instead, the Mayor’s Office will not execute the loan and will instead cover the $4 million of 2020 expenditure with existing resources. The remaining $10 million is not addressed in the Mayor’s proposed 2021 budget that was unveiled yesterday, and the letter makes it clear that it’s the Council’s responsibility to find the money to cover it.
In a separate letter, the Mayor’s Office indicated that it will begin the process of out-of-order layoffs of 70 sworn officer positions within SPD. The letter makes specific requests of the Council related to this, since the City Council is also represented on the city’s Labor Relations Policy Committee which oversees labor negotiations. Both SPOG and SPMA have made formal requests to bargain the layoffs, a process that will likely take three months or more and extend the effective date of layoffs into 2021. To that end, the Mayor’s Office will be transmitting legislation to the Council to lift the proviso it placed upon the last two months of those officers’ salaries this year.
The letter also makes two additional requests of the Council:
- Rolling back the legally-dubious cuts to the salaries of SPD command staff. This was addressed in the compromise budget bill negotiated by Council President Gonzalez and Mayor Durkan over several weeks but that in the end was never taken up when the Council instead voted to override the Mayor’s veto last week.
- Rolling back $200,000 in funding cuts for legally-obligated hiring bonuses owed to new SPD recruits. The letter notes that the cuts violate Article V Section 7 of the City Charter, which requires the Mayor to “see that all contracts and agreements made with the City or for its use and benefit are faithfully kept and performed.” This was also addressed in the compromise budget bill left on the table last week.
The letter concludes by reiterating the Mayor’s opposition to cuts to the police force “without a holistic assessment of the workloads and response times we need of our police, and how that is properly resourced with the number of officers and adequate supervision, oversight and training.”
Shutting down the Navigation Team
Finally, a third letter from the Mayor’s Office announces that the city will suspend the work of the Navigation Team “and will no longer be deploying staff to conduct outreach or address unauthorized encampments until the Council restores funding for these positions.”
The letter takes issue with the position the City Council has taken that SPD officers can address and remove unauthorized encampments that are hazards or obstructions. It argues that a recently-dismissed case, Hooper vs. the City of Seattle, set the legal precedent that the city’s full adherence to the MDAR rules — the official city policy and procedure — is required for legal removal of encampments. But without the Navigation Team, the Mayor’s Office argues, SPD officers would still be required to store individuals’ personal property and make referrals to shelters. Given the push to reduce the size of SPD and remove its responsibility for activities that don’t require an armed response, adding these responsibilities to SPD seems like a move in the wrong direction.
There is some disagreement between the Mayor’s Office and the Council on the extent to which this is an impediment, since the MDAR includes rules for emergency removals that don’t require referrals and storage of belongings (or a 72-hour advance notice). But, the Mayor’s Office argues, the city has tried to provide those services for all encampment removals, emergency or otherwise, and the Council should not be arguing to stop that.
In short, the Mayor is arguing that disbanding the Navigation Team will potentially violate the law as interpreted in the Hooper case, and it will move SPD in the wrong direction by expanding its responsibility for what should be civilian-supplied services. But the Mayor’s Office will nevertheless follow the Council’s directive and shut it down immediately.
Notwithstanding these concerns, the Executive will carry out Council’s clear intent to eliminate the Navigation Team and immediately suspend its operations effective today. Accordingly, the focus of the Navigation Team over the next 30 days will be to close out its work, including determining how to return or dispose of property currently in storage.
It appears that Mayor Durkan has decided to take the approach of giving the City Council what it demanded, and letting it take the heat for any adverse consequences that may follow.
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