With just over a week before the deadline to select a monitor, a bitter split has emerged within the city's ranks and dealt a stunning blow to the first major step of the police-reform effort.
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and four influential City Council members have rebuked Mayor Mike McGinn over the looming selection of an independent monitor to oversee police reforms, calling McGinn’s rejection of a top candidate a continuation of “obstruction and stall tactics” in carrying out needed changes.
In a blistering statement released late Wednesday afternoon, Holmes and the council members expressed their support for Los Angeles police-consultant Merrick Bobb, hours after McGinn declared he would not accept Bobb and questioned his impartiality.
McGinn said an associate of Bobb’s who serves on the board of Bobb’s consulting firm helped write the Department of Justice report that found Seattle police had engaged in a pattern of excessive force. The report led to a settlement agreement between the city and Justice Department, requiring the police department to change its practices and address biased policing.
McGinn labeled Bobb’s relationship a conflict of interest, stating he would be the one to make the city’s final recommendation for the position.
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With just over a week before the deadline to select a monitor, Wednesday’s developments revealed a bitter split within the city’s ranks, dealing a stunning blow to the first major step of the reform effort.
Bobb, one of the nation’s leading experts on police accountability, emerged as a finalist on the Justice Department’s list of top candidates. He was not included on the city’s list. The job is considered one of the most important elements of the settlement agreement, requiring regular oversight to make sure the reforms are carried out and to report on their progress to a federal judge and the public.
The four council members who joined with Holmes in the statement were Sally Clark, the council’s president, Tim Burgess, Nick Licata and Bruce Harrell, chair of the council’s public-safety committee.
The statement came hours after McGinn, Holmes and the council members met with the same mediator, Teresa Wakeen, who helped the city and Justice Department reach the settlement agreement in July. Talks that began late Wednesday morning in Wakeen’s office to try to resolve the dispute quickly collapsed.
In their statement, Holmes and the council members noted the objection of Seattle Police Chief John Diaz and his top commanders to Bobb, saying their opinions “deserve our attention and consideration” but that they should not be given “veto authority” over the selection.
Earlier in the day, McGinn said he would accept three other candidates who are finalists for the job, including one, Michael Bromwich, a former police monitor in Washington, D.C., who was the only candidate chosen as a finalist by the mayor’s office and the Justice Department. The two others are Jeff Schlanger, who helped monitor police in Los Angeles, and Michael Gennaco, the civilian watchdog of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
McGinn said he hoped to reach an agreement with the Justice Department on a single name to submit to a federal judge for approval to continue what he called the healthy collaboration that led to July’s settlement. He acknowledged that the progress the parties had made would be harmed if they couldn’t agree on a single choice for monitor.
He did not respond later in the day to the statement from Holmes and the council members. Federal officials also declined to comment.
The city and Justice Department have until Oct. 26 to submit a name to U.S. District Judge James Robart for his approval, or provide separate lists for him make a choice.
Holmes and the council members, in their statement, said McGinn had undermined the reform effort.
“Unfortunately, the Mayor’s statements today contribute confusion, doubt and mistrust, especially among our rank and file police officers who we believe are fully ready to embrace high-quality and professional improvements of the Police Department,” the statement said.
Noting it had been 10 months since the Justice Department issued its report, Holmes and the council members said they had remained patient while hoping “necessary reforms” could begin quickly.
“Unfortunately, the Mayor’s statements today reveal a continuation of the obstruction and stall tactics we have seen from the beginning,” it said. “We can no longer remain silent.”
The statement chastised McGinn for publicly questioning the qualifications and integrity of Bobb, saying the mayor’s statements “undermine the candidate selection process and are factually wrong.”
“Merrick Bobb is one of our country’s preeminent police reform experts,” the statement added. “His reputation is unblemished.”
Holmes and the council members said they had interviewed four finalists, leading them to “independently and contrary to the Mayor’s conclusion” rank him as their first choice.
“We intend to advance our recommendation favoring Mr. Bobb’s appointment,” they said, citing his experience with police practices and accountability, and ability to rebuild public trust in the police in Seattle.
McGinn said he was willing to resolve differences within the city and work with federal officials, saying the Department of Justice had raised valid concerns about Gennaco. Gennaco has come under fire in Los Angeles County over whether he has become too close to the Sheriff’s Department, which is under review over revelations of brutality and cover-ups in the county jail system. It is also the subject of a separate Justice Department civil-rights investigation.
But McGinn has serious concerns about Bobb, including that Bobb has not previously served as a federal monitor, said a source familiar with the search process.
Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter contributed to this report, which also includes information from Times archives.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org