When Bruce Harrell became mayor of Seattle this past winter, he entered office proclaiming a motto of One Seattle.

But he apparently strayed from that theme this summer, signaling in a series of meetings with the Seattle Police Department that he will work against “inexperienced” City Council members in next year’s elections, and criticizing the King County Regional Homelessness Authority. 

In leaked excerpts from the meetings with SPD, originally published by radio station 770 KTTH, Harrell reportedly said the authority was “working against” his efforts to address homelessness in the city, adding that nobody “has a right to sleep on a sidewalk.”

At a news conference introducing his proposed $115 million Seattle Park District budget Wednesday, Harrell vaguely acknowledged the remarks.  

Harrell said he didn’t know exactly what the KTTH report said, noting that he “can’t keep track of everything” he says, but did not deny the comments. He instead reworded his candid criticisms in more diplomatic language than he used in the semiprivate meetings with SPD.

He said Wednesday that he maintains the right to “criticize what he sees” as mayor, noting that he didn’t “cuss anyone out” or name individuals. 

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Harrell also admitted to doing damage control Tuesday after the comments were published, noting he had been “making calls to anyone who might have been affected” by his remarks.

Harrell’s meetings with police were part of a series of conversations he committed to having this summer about his expectations around public safety. SPD confirmed Tuesday that Harrell had been talking with officers during roll call, but could not verify when or at which precincts or during which shifts the meetings occurred.

Harrell told reporters Wednesday that regional homelessness authority was one tool of many, along with the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program and efforts by SPD, parks and other city departments working to fight homelessness, adding that he’s not content with the combined efforts.

“We put all those tools together and I’m still not happy with what I’m seeing. And you do not want the mayor who is complacent,” he said Wednesday. 

Lisa Daugaard, director of the nonprofit Public Defender Association and who oversees the LEAD program, said she talked to the administration after hearing the comments Harrell is said to have made, and believes their relationship is “in good shape.”

“We’re prioritizing what the city is asking us to, and feeding back our analysis of where the gaps are,” she wrote Wednesday. “Not sure if what was reported was accurate, but it was a good opportunity to check in, and we have a renewed confirmation that we are on the same page about what we should be doing.”

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Harrell said Wednesday that Marc Dones, CEO of the homelessness authority, was aware of his opinions. 

When asked if he was considering a cut to the authority’s funding, Harrell said that his proposed budget, to be released in September, will recognize “a lot of great work” from the authority. 

This summer, Dones proposed a budget that would nearly double the authority’s funds in its second year, adding $90 million to the $119 million 2022 budget. Harrell rebuffed the idea even then, doubling down in comments to police.

In 2022, Seattle funded over $69 million, or about 68% of the regional homeless authority’s budget. 

A spokesperson said Dones was unavailable for comment on Tuesday after Dones canceled a previously scheduled session with media. The spokesperson did provide a written statement Tuesday, indirectly addressing Harrell’s remarks.

“The Regional Homelessness Authority was designed as a communitywide effort, working together with all 39 cities, King County, businesses, philanthropy, housed and unhoused neighbors, in order to implement real solutions,” the statement said. “With our partners, we are working to create vibrant, inclusive communities where everyone has a safe and stable place to live, and we can accomplish that goal when we work together.”

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Harrell also reportedly told police that “no one has a right to camp out in a park where our children are supposed to play” and that he is “not supposed to see freaking syringes in a park.”

City Councilmember Andrew Lewis noted after the news conference Wednesday that Harrell’s proposed parks budget, which includes $3.6 million to add 26 park rangers to the city’s current two-person force, would help address these safety concerns. 

“They do a service that currently is largely done by the police,” Lewis said, noting the city is working on ways to offer alternative responses to calls that do not need to be handled by police.

“So things are moving along and we expect the budget to reflect the next steps.”

In the original comments to SPD, Harrell also criticized several unnamed members of the council for being “inexperienced,” and he said he was committed to talking to people willing to oppose them in next year’s election. He noted that only three of nine council members supported him during his campaign for mayor.

On Wednesday, Harrell softened his comments, saying he was only being realistic about the council members who are in their first term, and encouraging people who were “getting involved in civic politics.”

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“That does not mean they can’t do the work and get the work done, but we have to acknowledge experience and lack thereof,” Harrell said. 

Lewis, who is among the first-term members, said that the remarks don’t change his ability to work with Harrell.

“To be clear, I don’t really think there was anything in those comments, which would lead anyone to conclude any actual change between the mayor and council,” Lewis said, adding that Harrell’s skepticism toward council-backed programs doesn’t necessarily mean budget cuts or substantive changes. 

“I think everything is still moving forward and I don’t have any concerns about that,” he said of his relationship with the administration. 

According to KTTH, Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell, Harrell’s niece and the former court-appointed monitor of a decade-old U.S. Department of Justice consent decree mandating police reform, said in the SPD meetings that she doesn’t believe the city needs to be under the decree anymore. 

The mayor agreed with that remark Wednesday, saying he would tell a federal court that the city “will have compliance with the consent decree” and “will have systems in place to change the culture and change how we use force” when the time came to review the decree. 

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Harrell also said his administration is undergoing some reorganization, starting with former Director of Public Safety Andrew Myerberg’s recent switch to director of special projects.

The mayor said he had planned a six-month review of the roles of everyone in his office, and it made sense to shift Myerberg to a broader position. 

“We started looking at our assets and who has some energy around a certain area and we started moving people around and we will continue to do that. I believe in a learning organization,” Harrell said.

Myerberg’s shift came after Deputy Mayor Greg Wong’s appointment to replace former Deputy Mayor of External Relations Kendee Yamaguchi, who resigned abruptly at the beginning of August.

Harrell said he will fill the public safety director role around the same time as the appointment of a new police chief in September, and will prioritize a replacement who understands “constitutional policing” and is willing to look at what other cities have done successfully.