It was the last full Council meeting of the year, and the City Council got a bunch of business done in what turned out to be another marathon meeting.
Plus, some notes from this morning’s Council Briefing.
The Council gave final approval to several bills this afternoon:
- An ordinance reimbursing Mayor Durkan for $240,000 in legal expenses related to defending herself against the recall petition filed against her. According to a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office, Durkan originally intended to cover the legal bills herself, not expecting the case to be appealed to the state Supreme Court (where it racked up even more attorney’s fees). The ordinance was passed unanimously by the Council today, even by Council member Sawant; she said that while she strongly opposes many of Durkan’s political positions, she believes in the right of elected officials to legal representation. That’s not surprising, since Sawant herself is currently the beneficiary of that policy; as of the beginning of December, the city had paid $60,000 to her attorney for legal representation in her own defense against a recall petition.
- An ordinance extending for another six months a waiver of interest on delinquent accounts at Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities. It passed unanimously.
- An ordinance authorizing $5 million of additional COVID economic relief for restaurants, bars and their employees (split evenly between the businesses and the employees).
- Two ordinances that are part of the Q4/2020 supplemental budget package — both of which got hung up over issues related to SPD. One of the ordinances authorizes acceptance of several grants, including a couple to SPD to pay for equipment, training, and other miscellaneous items. The Council members, on heightened alert for anything SPD-related, scoured through the details looking for anything remotely suspicious — especially for a grant from the Department of Homeland Security. Last week City Budget Director Ben Noble promised written answers to their questions, which was delivered in a memo (facilitated by the Council’s staff). I’m told by Council staff that we shouldn’t read too much into the precise wording of the Council members’ questions, since in the interest of time they were written quickly; still one can see the level that they drilled down into minute details to ensure that the funds wouldn’t be used to militarize SPD. Some Council members didn’t get all of their questions answered and intend to go one more round with the Budget Office, but with a promise that none of the money will be spent until all questions are answered, the Council approved the ordinance today (including accepting all the other non-SPD-related grants in the bill).The other ordinance changed spending authorization for several departments, including three line-items related for SPD totaling $5.4 million: staffing expenses for the city’s COVID test sites (which are reimbursable by FEMA); extra spending on officer separation pay due to higher-than expected attrition at the end of the year; and extra parental leave expenses. While little of this had anything to do with SPD overtime (other than parental leave, which required more overtime to cover for officers who were out), several Council members — led by budget chair Mosqueda — insisted that these were managerial decisions and the department should have reallocated overtime budget to cover them rather than expend all of its overtime budget and then book these overrun costs under other line-items. But faced with the possibility that Mayor Durkan and Interim SPD Chief Diaz might be held personally responsible for the extra expenses if the Council didn’t approve additional funding, the Council approved the additional $5.4 million, but also introduced a new bill today that would decrease SPD’s 2021 overtime budget by the same amount. Today’s ordinance passed with am 8-1 vote (Sawant was the sole “no” vote), and the Council will vote in early 2021 on the reduction to SPD’s budget.
- An ordinance approving a $1 million loan to Community Root Housing PDA, to help it cover its COVID-related revenue shortfall.
- An ordinance temporarily granting the Department of Education and Early Learning additional flexibility in implementing the Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Levy spending plan to accommodate changes necessitated by the COVID pandemic.
- An ordinance updating the city’s lobbying regulations. The bill, originally proposed by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission a year ago but stalled in the Council due to COVID, does three things: it requires the disclosure of lobbying engagements with city departments directors and their direct reports; it requires disclosure when a lobbyist also works for an election campaign; and it requires reports to be filed when a paid lobbyist spends more than $750 in a month or $1500 in a quarter on indirect or “grassroots” lobbying, i.e. organizing to convince individuals to contact city officials (or testify at Council meeting) to influence city legislation, rules or policies.Council member Sawant objected to the new disclosure requirements on indirect lobbying, calling it “burdensome” on grassroots movements such as the ones that she and Socialist Alternative frequently organize. She offered an amendment that would strip out those requirements, but it failed by a 1-8 vote. Council President Gonzalez, the sponsor of the bill, defended the requirements, pointing out that it only applied to paid lobbyists (Sawant disagreed with that reading of the bill).
Based on stakeholder feedback,Gonzalez offered her own amendment that exempted communications from an organization to its own membership; that passed unanimously. The final bill passed by an 8-1 vote, with Sawant the only “no.”
- A resolution, co-sponsored by Council members Mosqueda and Sawant, decrying the recent farm bill passed by the Modi government in India that would deregulate agricultural prices.
This morning there were a handful of updates on upcoming Council committee meetings.
It appears that after the Council returns from its winter recess on January 4, most of that week’s committee meetings will be cancelled, including those chaired by Council members Juarez, Mosqueda, and Pedersen.
Mosqueda’s next committee meeting will be January 19; she noted this morning that the agenda will include appointments to the Seattle Housing authority and the Domestic Workers Standard Board, as well as a briefing on the city’s efforts at strategic acquisition of affordable housing.
Pedersen will be holding a committee meeting tomorrow; following that, his next committee meeting will be on January 20.
Council member Juarez announced this morning that the Pier 58 demolition project continues to move forward, and that the southern terrace has now been removed. After the collapse of the northern terrace, the lack of structural support for the southern terrace caused the city to “red tag” close the adjacent Pier 57 for fear of collateral damage if the southern terrace spontaneously collapsed. But now, with the southern terrace safely removed, the city could reopen Pier 57 — and in fact announced this afternoon that it had done exactly that.
This morning, King County Equity Now and its partners gave a preview of the Black Brilliance Research Project preliminary report, due to be delivered to the city next Monday. Look for a separate writeup of the preliminary report next week.
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What are the ethical considerations of Sawant proposing amendments to and voting on a bill that directly affects Socialist Alternative? Feels like a straightforward conflict that at a minimum requires her to publicly acknowledge that conflict.
It’s complicated. For many conflicts, public disclosure of the conflict is an affirmative defense. She has made no secret of her affiliation with Socialist Alternative.
My quick and uneducated read of city ethics code makes it seem like there are more overt steps (filing with City Clerk) that must be take to acknowledge the “appearance” of conflict:
4.16.070 – Prohibited conduct
A covered individual may not engage in any of the following acts:
3. Perform any official duties when it could appear to a reasonable person, having knowledge of the relevant circumstances, that the covered individual’s judgment is impaired because of either (a) a personal or business relationship
It is an affirmative defense to a violation of this subsection 4.16.070.A.3 if the covered individual, before performing the official act, discloses the relationship, transaction, or activity in writing to the Executive Director and the covered individual’s appointing authority
For an elected official to receive the same protection, the official must file a disclosure with the Executive Director and the City Clerk
My amateur reading of the city code is that the public disclosure requirements:
“when it could appear to a reasonable person, having knowledge of the relevant circumstances, that the covered individual’s judgment is impaired”
is that that
“For an elected official to receive the same protection (affirmative defense), the official must file a disclosure with the Executive Director and the City Clerk.”
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