Mayor Mike McGinn's stubborn refusal to constructively negotiate with the Department of Justice is pushing the city toward a federal lawsuit with unpredictable consequences and expense.

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SEATTLE City Attorney Pete Holmes’ frustrations with his obstinate clients, Mayor Mike McGinn and the Seattle Police Department, ought to be shared by residents of the city.

In a letter to the mayor, Holmes said McGinn’s refusal to negotiate police reforms with the Department of Justice was heading the city toward a civil-rights lawsuit with unpredictable consequences and outcomes.

Existence of the confidential letter, revealed by Times reporters Steve Miletich and Mike Carter, comes as the city faces a July 31 DOJ deadline to negotiate changes, and how they will be implemented and monitored. Otherwise, the next step for the federal agency is to head into court, sue the pants off the city, and have a judge make it all happen.

Last December the DOJ issued a report that found a “pattern or practice” of constitutional violations regarding the use of force; federal investigators also raised concerns about biased policing. The impotence of the city’s police oversight mechanisms also drew attention.

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The mayor’s apparent deference to the Police Department only makes the case for having a court-appointed, independent monitor oversee changes within the department. Concerns about use of force and episodes of biased policing go to the heart of how the SPD trains, supervises and disciplines its officers and command staff.

That point is dealt with in a little-noticed June 8, 2012, report from the city’s Office of Professional Accountability Review Board. The board concluded its profile and mission is jumbled. Among the changes the board seeks in its role and authority is a name change: the Police Review Commission. Simple, straightforward, defining.

The mayor must concede that stalling has not worked. Nor has squelching the use of recommended monitors with national reputations. Maybe the pattern was set with SPD’s myopic “20/20” reform plan.

Failure to negotiate in good faith has put the city on a path toward federal court.

Listen to your city’s lawyer, Mr. Mayor.

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