The Seattle City Council will act Tuesday on Mayor Jenny Durkan’s vetoes of council bills meant to reduce the police force and scale up community-led solutions starting this year — and there are signs the mayor may mostly get her way.
With seven votes, the nine-member council could override Durkan’s vetoes and cement the 2020 budget adjustments passed in August after months of debate and huge demonstrations against police brutality. That’s what Council President M. Lorena González said she personally would prefer, speaking at a Monday morning briefing.
But some other council members have indicated they are likely to side with the mayor this time, González added, not naming her colleagues with that view. For that reason, González unveiled Monday a substitute budget proposal for the council to consider in the event the mayor’s vetoes are sustained.
The substitute proposal would nix most of the public safety changes advanced over the summer by council members, who’ve been under pressure from protesters and advocates to redirect police dollars to social services. That outcome would be a major departure from the defunding aim that seven council members adopted in July.
The August bills were meant to cut only about $3 million from the Police Department’s $400 million budget this year but were described by council members as a “down payment” on larger reductions next year.
The substitute proposal, González said, would reflect “our sincere efforts to bridge past divides, to chart a path forward and to turn a page and find a way for the leadership of the city to come together.”
Council members Tammy Morales, Kshama Sawant and Teresa Mosqueda signaled they may vote to override Durkan’s vetoes, sticking with the bills that gained almost unanimous support last month. But when Sawant asked her other colleagues at Monday’s briefing to state their intentions, none did so.
In a joint statement, two community coalitions that have been pushing City Hall to defund the police described the substitute proposal as “unacceptable” and as “anti-Black.”
“This new bill represents an utter capitulation to the Mayor, who has shamelessly not moved from her anti-Black, pro-police position,” said the statement by King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle.
“The bill does not get us closer to creating true community safety. We reject this approach and question the motives behind it. We urge Council members to override the Mayor’s veto outright … to stand on the right side of history, stand for Black lives, and against the Mayor’s anti-Black obstructionism.”
Durkan is committed to “transforming policing,” she said in a statement Monday. Her 2021 budget proposal, due for release next week, will include $100 million in investments in communities of color, she added, voicing support for the substitute 2020 budget proposal.
“It reflects our work over the recent weeks to find the best path forward to finalize our 2020 budget and turn all energies to ensuring the 2021 budget truly sets us on path to dismantle systemic racism and build true equity,” she said.
Under the substitute proposal, the council would no longer pursue a 100-officer reduction through layoffs and attrition this year, nor would the council dismantle the city’s Navigation Team, which provides outreach at homeless encampments and clears them away.
There’s no longer much time for the layoffs to be completed this year, anyway, due to delays caused by the council’s protracted deliberations and the mayor’s vetoes.
The council also would no longer slash the wages of police commanders; former Chief Carmen Best cited the wage cuts, along with the layoffs, when she announced her abrupt retirement last month.
Instead, the substitute would commit interim Chief Adrian Diaz to working with the council on a plan for potential layoffs and would request that the Durkan administration conduct a study of police commander wages.
An additional $500,000 would be allocated to the Navigation Team for mental-health and rapid-rehousing services, and two officer vacancies on the team would be eliminated.
Rather than allocate $10 million for community-safety programs, $4 million for violence-prevention programs and $3 million for participatory budget research, the substitute would allocate $2.5 million for violence-prevention programs and $1 million for participatory budget work.
González described the substitute proposal as an attempt to compromise with Durkan, though the council would appear to be conceding more.
The mayor and council initially had to rebalance Seattle’s 2020 budget midway through the year to address a revenue hole opened up by the coronavirus crisis.
But the work commenced around the same time as a civil rights uprising began, responding to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other police killings of Black people.
Durkan proposed cutting $20 million in overtime and other expenses from the police budget, and the council agreed. Then seven council members, in July, pledged to support a blueprint laid out by the community coalitions that called for the department’s budget to be reduced by 50%.
Durkan and the council agreed that certain Police Department functions, such as 911 dispatch and parking enforcement, should be made independent.
But the mayor and Best fiercely opposed officer layoffs, arguing they would take a long time to bargain with the Seattle Police Officers Guild and warning a seniority rule would result in newer officers, including officers of color, being let go.
Council members had asked Best to request an exception to the rule that would allow the city to lay off officers with sustained disciplinary complaints; the substitute proposal introduced Monday would commit Diaz to collaborate with council members on a plan for how to carry out layoffs.
Durkan also harshly criticized the council’s appropriations for community-safety programs with dollars borrowed from an unrelated city account.
The budget clash spotlighted long-simmering tensions in City Hall as the mayor and council took a break and then renewed negotiations. Some business groups have been lobbying the council to sustain the vetoes.
In a statement Monday, Durkan reiterated that she viewed the council changes she vetoed as “unworkable.” She added, “True community safety comes from equitable access to affordable housing, health care, education, and economic opportunity.”
While the council has the power to allocate money, only the mayor can spend it, and Durkan has indicated she won’t spend the borrowed dollars, González said Monday.
“I continue to believe, given the options of zero dollars and $2.5 million, I’m going to choose $2.5 million,” the council president said.
During the council’s Monday afternoon meeting, several public commenters urged council members to “hold the line” against the vetoes, mentioning people hurt by officers.
“Keep those promises,” said TealShawn Turner, an organizer of regular marches in Seattle for racial justice. “Everybody seems to be under the impression [the police] are going to fix themselves. They’re not going to fix themselves.”
In their statement urging the council to stand up to Durkan, King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle said the recent uprising has “inspired millions across the country to demand a rethinking of our reliance on racist policing.”
Since the council initially passed the budget bills, “Nothing has changed except for the Mayor’s public relations machine going into overdrive … We reject the new bill,” the coalitions said.