Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan made the right move by pausing a whirlwind of budget and police changes, and preserving emergency reserves.
Particularly encouraging is that Durkan and the City Council worked together on a compromise spending plan, before Durkan vetoed the council’s major budget changes on Friday.
With an agreement in place, Durkan vetoed unworkable council budget bills that would have drained reserves as Seattle faces a revenue crisis, borrowed $14 million from city programs to give to nonprofits and reduced police staffing by up to 100 officers.
Radical change is still in store for Seattle. That will include new approaches to policing spurred by recent protests against racism and police brutality, and spending reductions forced by the pandemic and economic crisis.
That will require deliberate and inclusive policymaking, including broad input from the community, analysis of potential outcomes and collaboration between the council and city departments and executive leaders.
Such cooperation didn’t happen over the last month. Instead, the council listened primarily to a few activist groups as it rushed to gut police services with no comprehensive plan to increase safety for everyone or reduce police violence.
Police reforms must build on, not disregard, substantial work and progress done so far to identify biased policing and reduce excessive force.
As demonstrated over the last decade in Seattle and other cities where federal authorities intervened to address civil-rights problems, sustainable police reforms are costly, labor-intensive and require extensive community involvement. Symbolic budget-cleaving may cause more harm than good — especially bizarre were moves like the Seattle council cutting funds for police implicit bias training.
Durkan pleaded with the council to work with her and Police Chief Carmen Best on restructuring the police department, and the council responded by slashing the pay of police command staff.
Such petty, performative legislating contributed to Best’s abrupt decision to retire as of Sept. 2.
Losing the city’s first Black female police chief was a turning point, forcing the council to consider unintended consequences of its actions.
Key council members — including M. Lorena González, council president, and Teresa Mosqueda, budget chair — then agreed with Durkan on a scaled-down plan to modify the 2020 budget.
Their agreement should preserve more than $50 million in reserve while spending another $45 million on COVID-19 relief programs in 2020 and 2021. It includes another $8.7 million in rental assistance, $9 million for immigrant and refugee communities and $9 million to extend grocery vouchers.
Seattle has already directed $233 million in relief programs. But the city can only make a small dent in the overall need for economic relief. Only the federal government has the resources to provide substantial support, and Congress is remiss in not advancing another stimulus package.
The council is now recessed for two weeks. It’s a welcome break from the political circus over the last month.
Combined with the budget pause Durkan provided, this is also an opportunity for City Hall to reflect on how to continue its newfound spirit of collaboration and listen to the broader community as it explores further police reforms.