Just so we’re all clear: Nobody is taking responsibility for the decision last summer to abandon a Seattle police precinct.
“I said, ‘Well, listen, we are not going to evacuate that precinct,’ ” former Seattle police Chief Carmen Best recounted recently. “Those were my last words … A couple hours later it’s like, they evacuated the precinct. I’m like, ‘What happened?’ It just wasn’t clear exactly what transpired.”
Likewise, nobody is owning the fact that scores of records in the form of text messages have gone missing from that period. Nor does it seem anyone is going to.
“No one has taken responsibility for the loss of the potentially key public records, and no outside authority is investigating,” this newspaper summed up.
Also: Nobody is answering for who ordered police to launch tear gas and blast balls at a crowd last summer, after a tussle over a pink umbrella. The acting police chief overruled a punishment recently against “Named Employee #1,” saying that “decisions were made at levels of command above the Named Employee.” That’s fine — except he has yet to say what those decisions were, what the level of command was and definitely not what anyone’s name might or might not be.
Nobody is taking responsibility for the fact that so many officers have quit that police say they’re in a “staffing crisis.”
“That is squarely at the feet of that City Council,” former Chief Best said. The City Council disputes that: “To date, there hasn’t actually been a single budget-related layoff,” Councilmember Lisa Herbold defended to KIRO news.
So … it seems like there’s a bit of a pattern here?
For certain, every case cited above is complex and has nuance to it. Also, leadership is hard and easy to second-guess. All that said, the amount of buck-passing and butt-covering that Seattle citizens are being subjected to is dispiriting.
What happened to: “I’m responsible for that.” Haven’t heard that in a while. It’s usually a crucial first step to solving any problem.
Consider another case, that of Broadview Thompson K-8 school up near Bitter Lake. Like Meany Middle School before it on Capitol Hill, it has a large unsanctioned homeless encampment next door that has become an ongoing source of tension.
But because the 40-tent camp is on Seattle School District property, the city has been saying it either can’t or won’t do anything about it. The feckless School Board has vacillated between bashing the city for how it handles homelessness and begging the city for help. The overall result is, say it with me now: Nobody is taking responsibility.
“Our school does not have the acute skills or resources to mediate these significant concerns,” some teachers at the school wrote in a pleading letter to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and interim SPS Superintendent Brent Jones. “The lack of adequate communication, support, and resources … is adding to a tense atmosphere that is in danger of doing more harm than good in the name of compassion.”
In a normal time, wouldn’t a mayor and a superintendent have at least put out a joint statement by now to say “we’re on it”? Isn’t that the bare minimum?
This one is no easy challenge, either, but we do already know what works. It’s the same setup of social outreach and offers of tiny homes or motel rooms that coaxed 40 people camped next to Meany Middle School into shelter last month without the need of any punitive sweep.
But first, as the teachers said, somebody’s got to own it.
I don’t know how Seattle fell into such a weird vacuum of basic leadership. I’m not talking about policy direction here, but about how the various silos no longer seem to function together — or often, to respond at all.
Even the City Council President, M. Lorena González, was bemoaning this recently, and she is one of the silos. She described how she and other neighbors had called about a homeless encampment in her own West Seattle neighborhood. But the calls went “into a black hole somewhere … I feel like nobody is responding.”
Some say this laxness about accountability is baked into our Western-style governance. Where we have birthed so many layers of crisscrossing government that it can be a little blurry who’s actually the boss of whatever issue is erupting.
But I also think we’re going through a moment. The hypertribalized nature of politics, with the fracturing events of the pandemic, combined this past year to make politicians strangely removed from the levers of accountability. Take the outlandish behavior of the Trumps and Cuomos and Gaetzes, etc. — does anybody ever resign anymore?
But also take Seattle, where nearly a year after the police station pullback, we’re still stuck at this: “It just wasn’t clear exactly what transpired.”
Well, Seattle just kicked off election season. I’m hoping this one’s not just about the ideology of the candidates, but also leadership. Not just where they’d steer the city, but the manner in which they’d grab the wheel. And maybe hold onto it, for a change.