The Seattle City Council won’t immediately answer the political punch that Mayor Jenny Durkan threw when she vetoed the council’s attempts to start shrinking the Police Department through changes to this year’s budget.
Following the mayor’s announcement Friday, council members and their staffers are taking a break from meetings and most other work for the last two weeks of August, as they are scheduled to do every year, Council President M. Lorena González said. And Durkan is taking a three-day break this week, spokesperson Kelsey Nyland said.
González and her colleagues need time to think again about the budget bills they passed earlier this month and to reset their recently acrimonious relationship with the mayor, she said. The council president said she plans to speak with Durkan later this week about how to improve that relationship.
That doesn’t mean González and her colleagues have made up their minds to rescind actions meant to reduce the police force by up to 100 officers, disband the Navigation Team that works in homeless encampments, trim police commander wages and appropriate millions of dollars to community organizations for public safety initiatives, she cautioned.
All options will be on the table when the council reconvenes, González said, including a vote to override the mayor’s vetoes. The council took its budget cues this summer from community coalitions forged in the current uprising for Black lives and from protesters who are calling for new approaches rather than incremental reforms.
The City Charter says the council must override or sustain vetoes within 30 days, meaning there will be time to deal with the matter next month, Budget Director Ben Noble said. Whether council members vote to override or sustain, they could subsequently pass a modified package.
The bills vetoed by Durkan include some non-police adjustments necessary to rebalance a 2020 overall city budget ravaged by the COVID-19 crisis, and the delay is giving Noble a bit of a headache as he works on a 2021 budget that Durkan will propose on Sept. 28. But the pause shouldn’t actually cause Seattle any major fiscal problems, as long as some version of the bills are eventually approved, Noble said.
“Nothing is going to happen over the recess” with respect to this year’s budget, González said in an interview Tuesday, describing the council’s vacation period as “a natural opportunity to take a beat and to reflect … to recalibrate and to come back with a new perspective on how we and the mayor can move forward.”
Talks over the break should be used “not to negotiate the details of a revised budget package”, the council president said, but instead to “identify how we as elected leaders are going to engage with each other … I think there needs to be a reset.”
Potential compromises with the mayor on budgeting for policing and public safety will be taken up “after I have the opportunity to take the temperature of my colleagues and after we’ve had transparent conversations in public,” she said.
In an interview Tuesday, Senior Deputy Mayor Mike Fong agreed with González that there will be time in early September “for public dialogue.” But the contours of the conversations should already be evident to the council, Fong said.
Durkan is opposed to officer layoffs in 2020, arguing only new recruits could be let go that quickly. She’s opposed to eliminating the Navigation Team, which removes some encampments. She’s opposed to cutting command staff wages. And she’s opposed to the allocations for community organizations, partly because the dollars would come from an interdepartmental loan and the city’s rainy day reserves.
For González, a key will be “hearing more clearly from the mayor what she wants,” rather than “what she doesn’t like and what she’s unwilling to accept,” she said.
Durkan won’t get on board with patrol layoffs before more research can be done on the city’s needs and alternatives, Fong said. But there could be room for compromise on reductions in Police Department specialty units and reductions through attrition next year, he added. The mayor and council already agree that some civilian units, such as 911 dispatch and parking enforcement, should be moved outside the Police Department, he said.
“There are areas for discussion,” he said. “I don’t think (the negotiation) will be layoffs or no layoffs, 50 or 100 … There are other ingredients.”
Durkan’s recent veto of a council plan to spend $86 million from emergency reserves this year on COVID-19 economic relief has yielded a compromise: about $21 million this year and $24 million next year, Fong pointed out.
Some council members seem inclined to hold their ground on policing, as police killings of Black people continue to shake the nation.
“This council has a commitment to bring marginalized voices with lived experience to the table to make space for communities who have been historically shut out,” Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said in a statement.
“This summer, the council unanimously passed balanced budget bills with public input and acted with urgency … and it’s disheartening the bills were discarded when the mayor has … offered no alternative plan,” she added, promising, “We will again roll up our sleeves and do the hard work in September when we reconvene.”
At the same time, some council members have made overtures to the mayor since police Chief Carmen Best blamed the the council’s budget actions for her decision to step down, noted Durkan’s chief of staff, Stephanie Formas.
Councilmember Debora Juarez, who voted against the pay cuts for police commanders, called Best’s departure “a wake-up call” for the mayor and council to work together.
“I made a mistake,” Councilmember Dan Strauss wrote in a newsletter Friday, referring to his support for the wage cuts.