The push to recall Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is based on a policy disagreement, not a violation of any law or standard, and the petitioners leading the recall haven’t identified what steps Durkan should have taken in the wake of June’s widespread protests, Durkan argued in appealing her case to the state Supreme Court.

Durkan’s argument, filed Monday, reprises some of the arguments she made in King County Superior Court, where a judge ruled that the recall effort could move forward, but also adds some new ones.

“Following the most widespread civil unrest Seattle has seen in decades, Petitioners submitted, and the trial court approved, a charge that Mayor Durkan ‘failed to institute new policies and safety measures for the Seattle Police Department’ with regard to the use of chemical crowd control measures,” Durkan’s attorneys, Rebecca Roe and William Shaw, write in the appeal. “Remarkably, neither Petitioners nor the trial court identified the particular ‘policies and safety measures’ Mayor Durkan had a duty to implement, but failed to enact.”

“There is no evidence that any discretionary decision Mayor Durkan made in the midst of multiple ongoing civil emergencies was manifestly unreasonable,” Roe and Shaw write.

Allowing the recall to proceed, would “chill the discretionary authority of
public officials across the political spectrum,” they wrote.

The recall effort, led by six Seattle residents, blames Durkan for Seattle Police’s broad use of tear gas in early June, following widespread protests against police brutality and systemic racism.

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They blame Durkan for allowing police to use tear gas and other chemical agents during the COVID-19 pandemic and “without concern for the health and well-being of the community.”

And they say it’s not their responsibility, in the recall effort, to say what Durkan should have done.

“If you don’t know how to do your job, Mayor, you’re welcome to quit and, I don’t know, take a class in public policy?” the Committee to Recall Jenny Durkan, led by petitioners Matthew Lee Cromwell, Grace Harvey, Alan Lawrence Meekins Jr., Courtney K. Scott, Leah Michele Solomon and Charlie Jenna Stone, wrote.

Harvey, the committee’s chair, said the mayor’s claims that the recall would hamper the decision-making of other public officials was not a concern.

“There is no danger here, because even if the Mayor is correct in asserting that precedent will affect other recall cases, the consequences are an election,” Harvey said. “The worst-case scenario is a vote.”

Durkan argues, as she has before, that it was the chief of police’s responsibility, not hers, to determine police tactics, and that the city’s longstanding federal consent decree prevents her from making unilateral changes to police department policy.

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She cites two concurrent federal court cases concerning Seattle police’s use of tear gas and chemical agents. In a lawsuit filed by Black Lives Matter – Seattle & King County, a federal judge banned the use of tear gas but left an exception in certain situations at the police chief’s discretion. Another federal judge temporarily blocked the Seattle City Council’s newly passed ban on tear gas and similar agents, writing that public safety could be threatened if police do not have adequate time to train with new crowd control measures.

“In other words, a federal court order precluded Mayor Durkan from unilaterally implementing changes to SPD’s court-approved use of force and crowd management policies,” Durkan’s attorneys wrote.

The recall effort responded: “It seems important to note here that tear gas and dying are not the only options?”

The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear Durkan’s appeal, but there will be no oral arguments. All filings and arguments are due by Sept. 22, and the court is tentatively scheduled to discuss the case in private Oct. 8.

If the Supreme Court rejects Durkan’s appeal, allowing the recall to go forward, petitioners would have 180 days to collect more than 50,000 signatures from Seattle voters — one-quarter of the votes filed in the last mayoral election — before a special recall election could be held.

A recall election would be a simple up or down vote on Durkan, with no opponent on the ballot. If the recall succeeded, the City Council president, currently M. Lorena González, would become mayor.

“As her counsel challenges the legality of this petition, the Mayor will remain focused on how to provide support for small businesses and workers who have lost their jobs, preparing the City’s 2021 budget, slowing the spread of COVID-19, and working to transform policing and community safety,” Durkan spokesperson Kelsey Nyland said.