Friends and Neighbors,
Due to the COVID pandemic, revenues to our City’s treasury have dropped substantially, creating massive budget deficits (an estimated $325 million this year and $325 million next year). Last week your City Council took action to re-balance our 2020 budget and made initial changes to our police budget.
While calling for more collaboration and civility, I voted independently from the majority of the City Council on several key issues:
- I voted to protect the salaries of Chief Carmen Best and the diverse and experienced staff she hand-picked.
- I voted to support our “Navigation Team,” which offers services to those experiencing homelessness and cleans up debris.
- I voted to support the Mayor’s prudent veto of an additional spending package to acknowledge the need for fiscal responsibility in the face of budget deficits, even as we strive to deliver more COVID relief.
Ultimately, however, we had to approve the overall package to re-balance the budget. I realize some of these budget actions were unpopular. For some of my constituents, the budget actions that start to “defund” SPD did not go far enough and, for others, they went too far, too fast. Many shared my deep concern about Police Chief Carmen Best’s disappointing decision to resign after my colleagues recklessly cut her salary. The concerns I’ve been expressing to my Council colleagues were confirmed by Sunday’s Seattle Times article:
“…Amid the shock of the chief’s departure, some are asking how widely the city has sought input among African Americans. Another big question: As the city answers protesters’ call to defund the police department, does it have a plan?
A coalition of activists and community groups wants police funding cut by at least 50% immediately. Others, including African American clergy and small business owners, are still sorting through what a re-imagining of public safety might look like — and want city officials to take their time with the matter, too.
‘They don’t bring enough people to the table who actually are going to be affected by the conversations they’re having.’”
Call for Unity: Fortunately, the Mayor and several City Councilmembers seem to share the goal of a more thoughtful community engagement process going forward. I look forward to using my public and private sector experience to collaborate with our Mayor Jenny Durkan, our interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz, and several of my City Council colleagues to tackle these financial and public safety challenges.
This newsletter delves into these budget actions and highlights that even bigger decisions will occur this November and next year.
Recent SPD Budget Votes
It’s important to emphasize that I did not vote to reduce the salaries of Chief Best and her command staff, which unfortunately passed our Budget Committee 6 to 3. I also did not vote to end the Navigation Team (the City employees who engage with unauthorized homeless encampments) which unfortunately passed our Budget Committee 5 to 4.
Ultimately, in the face of massive budget deficits and the call to action from ongoing, national protests in the wake of racial injustice, I voted to rebalance our City budget and take reasonable initial steps to reimagine effective policing. This includes initial reallocations from our Seattle Police Department (SPD) of less than 10% combined with increased funding for organizations led by Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) to help the City move forward.
I have received over 37,000 emails in the last four months. Many constituents called for defunding SPD by at least 50%, some called for abolishing SPD entirely, some called for more police officers, and many agreed it’s time for systemic change — but first want a detailed and thoughtful plan from their city leaders. Nearly all pointed out this historic moment warrants action now.
I am disappointed that 7 out of 9 Councilmembers prematurely pledged to defund SPD by a specific percentage without a prudent plan. I believe that we first need a plan—the plan should determine the percentage, not the other way around—and I look forward to working with our Mayor, Chief Diaz, and my Council colleagues to craft a detailed plan that prioritizes safety and measures results. Pledges without plans tend to overpromise and let people down, especially young people who are fed up with the systems they have been protesting. I have met with many of the young leaders who have called, emailed, and marched.
We have much hard work to do.
FIX THE POLICE CONTRACT NOW: The hard work includes the hard negotiations needed to fix the police contract as soon as possible. Today’s expensive and inflexible police labor union contract is among the biggest impediments to revamping and boosting public safety in all communities. The current contract also perpetuates an unfair disciplinary system that protects bad behavior while the vast majority of police officers strive to do good work for our community. If we continue to divorce this costly, inflexible labor contract from our city budget discussions, then laying off an unreasonable number of police officers becomes one of the only ways to save or reallocate substantial dollars. But if officer layoffs negatively impact response times when the public calls about dangerous crimes, that hurts long-term public safety. To save jobs, save money, achieve accountability, and revamp community safety, the police union contract must be redone asap.
You and our neighbors should continue to offer your ideas on how we might improve how we pay for effective public safety in Seattle. In just a few weeks, we will receive our Mayor’s proposed 2021 Budget and that is when we will take up in earnest how best to deliver safety throughout Seattle.
My pledge to you is that I will be thoughtful and incorporate a wide range of views so that, together, we can craft a plan delivering equity and justice for Black, Indigenous, and people of color, while enhancing public safety and community health for all.
GEORGE FLOYD JUSTICE IN POLICING ACT
Despite disagreements on various issues, City Council unanimously passed my Resolution 31963 which I drafted to voice our support for the national legislation entitled “The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.”
That federal bill is H.R. 7120, introduced by Congresswoman Karen Bass, Democrat from California and supported by Seattle’s congressional delegation Pramila Jayapal and Adam Smith. It passed the U.S. House of Representatives but has yet to advance in the U.S. Senate. This federal bill addresses many concerns raised by protesters that are authorized by federal law, such as the need to restrict qualified immunity for police officers across the nation.
Resolution 31963, which urges immediate passage of H.R. 7120 by the U.S. Senate, was reviewed by our Office of Intergovernmental Relations.
I’d like to thank Malik Davis on my staff for working on this Resolution.
POLL SHOWS PEOPLE WANT CONCRETE PLAN PHASED IN
An independent poll of Seattle voters conducted at the end of July by the reputable firm EMC showed 53% support “a defund the police law that would permanently cut the Seattle Police Department’s budget by 50% and shift that money to social services and community-based programs.” But when drilling down, 64% wanted to either “give affected communities more time to weigh in on how we build a better police department together,” with “concrete plans” and reallocations phased-in over time (43% of voters responding) or no cuts to SPD at all (21% of voters responding). I don’t govern by polls, but the information is helpful. For more on that poll, CLICK HERE. (The online survey I attempted to send within my previous e-newsletter to District 4 residents unfortunately bounced around social media with thousands of people outside District 4 and outside Seattle responding. Therefore, the independent poll by EMC is more reliable.)
MY REMARKS AT PASSAGE OF BUDGET RE-BALANCING, August 10:
“In the middle of a persistent pandemic, ballooning budget deficits, and even the cracking of our West Seattle Bridge stranding 100,000 of our residents—in the middle of these crises—your elected officials are also striving to seize this historic moment in the wake of the brutal and wrongful killing of George Floyd and countless Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, so that we address systemic racism by rethinking policing and revitalizing community health and safety. It is not a neat and easy process. It’s messy, it’s difficult, and it’s uncomfortable, but it is necessary. We were elected not only to synthesize the various viewpoints and address the concerns of our constituents but also to craft thoughtful plans on how to do things better. We need to apply our own critical thinking and plan ahead rather than just reacting. I am cautiously optimistic that the legislation today is a prudent mix of all these goals. It leverages the few tools in the toolbelt of this City Council to make a down payment toward a bigger, broader discussion and bigger, bolder changes as part of the long, more thoughtful Fall budget process.
I thank my colleagues for incorporating my amendment to answer some basic questions: With the reasonable initial reductions approved today, what will the impact be on the ground in every neighborhood? How will the Chief choose to re-deploy her resources and what will the impact be on response times? According to the most recent data, police officers spend 29% of their time on non-priority calls – there is an opportunity there for community-led solutions. With the reductions we are making for 2020 that will likely carry on to 2021, I believe adjustments can be made so that response times do not get worse. For example, the remaining officers would respond to fewer types of non-criminal calls. This report will get those details that we need for further decision-making, along with making sure we do not recklessly jettison the good work done by our Harbor Patrol throughout Lake Union. We need plans, more than pledges…
We also need to recognize that we cannot do it all through the budget. We need to discuss what has not been discussed enough: the need to re-do the police union contact. This complex labor contract needs to be redone to encourage the good police officers to stay in Seattle, to reduce excessive salaries and costs, to fix their disciplinary system so that it no longer impedes justice. We need a good contract, rather than good slogans…
Even as this City Council partially defunds our police department, we will still have a police department as part of a broader public safety strategy that involves more community-led solutions. Are the police reforms implemented since the federal consent decree enough? No. Reforms are not enough when there is systemic and institutional racism. But should we toss aside the progress made by the Community Police Commission, the Office of Police Accountability, and the Office of Inspector General? No. We need both real reforms AND reinvestment.
And when we reinvest tens of millions of dollars, we need more black-led organizations at the table, from the Every Day Marchers to the Urban League. And we need to make sure those investments are smart and effective and that we measure results to show the general public whether we are achieving the positive outcomes that we all want.
The big picture is that we need to row together—both the executive and legislative branches—to give the general public confidence that we can function and move forward for their benefit. Let’s resolve to work collaboratively with our Mayor and Police Chief to solve problems and make progress for Seattle.”
THOUGHTFULLY FUNDING ALTERNATIVE SAFETY SOLUTIONS:
No matter the topic, some elected officials may try to give away your tax dollars with no strings attached or without demanding and measuring positive outcomes . There are plenty of politicians who can find ways to spend money, spreading it around like peanut butter to make interest groups happy, but not delivering results for the general public. I will continue to demand that your tax dollars are invested effectively — especially when it comes to public safety. I have useful experience in awarding grants to organizations while at HUD during the Clinton Administration (homelessness and economic development), in Oakland (youth programs), and in Seattle (the evidence-based Nurse Family Partnership, Seattle Preschool Program, and the original gun safety study). As I learned the hard way, not all organizations with well-intentioned, heartfelt missions actually achieve sufficient positive results.
As a partial defunding of our Seattle Police Department (SPD) makes dollars available for crime prevention and community wellness programs, we have an opportunity to put in place performance measures ahead of time, so we can make sure we actually deliver the positive results we all say we want. We can also fund technical assistance for promising community-led organizations so they can track results, measure their effectiveness, and implement continuous improvements . Performance measures also enable us as policymakers to collect and review the information needed to scale up the most successful prevention and intervention anti-carceral programs proven to work so that we help more people. To truly help people in need and improve our city, here are some of the factors I would ask my Council colleagues, the Executive departments awarding the funds, and the community groups seeking the funds consider:
- NEED: What is the specific problem we are trying to solve? Is there data that demonstrates how big the problem really is so we know how much further we need to go? (“needs assessment”). Will solving this particular problem have a positive multiplier effect to improve other aspects of society?
- PROGRAM DESIGN: Is the program clearly designed to succeed?
- Theory of Change: How does the program propose to make things better? What is the “theory of change”? Before providing money, we must ensure each program is designed with a clear and logical theory of change that explains how a particular intervention will directly result in the outcomes sought, rather than just hoping for results because the need is great or the program’s organizers have political connections to City Hall.
- Targeted Impact: Is the program targeted to those who need it the most and/or will the proposed dollar amounts proposed be sufficient to make a meaningful impact? Are we going upstream to prevent the problems from occurring rather than spending ineffectively on problems that already occurred.
- MEASURED OUTCOMES: Does the program define outcomes rather than just “inputs” and “outputs”? Rather than measuring only the “inputs” of dollars spent or the “outputs” of number of youth served, we must measure also the most relevant final outcomes (meaningful long-term goals) such as how many of those youth go on to get their high school diploma, obtain/keep a good-paying job, and/or stay out of the criminal justice system.
- BEST PRACTICE: Does the program already have a track record of achieving positive outcomes, as verified by others (rather than just self-reporting success)? Is there is evidence (yet) of it working here or in other similar cities? A “best practice” or “evidence-based” program has a greater chance of truly helping people. Potential sources for evidence-based programs proven to reduce crime and harm are highlighted by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University, and other independent, non-partisan research.
- PUBLIC REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS (RFPs): While Councilmembers have publicly named specific organizations, required by State law to deploy tax dollars using a competitive process.
- The RFP process has the benefit of having organizations think through how they would best use these tax dollars which, if successful, will give the general public more confidence to make more investments. An RFP can incorporate the other points raised here. It can also ask for things such as the budget of the organization and the proposed budget of the program(s)/project(s). This basic info helps to confirm the organization is solvent and our City dollars would not be backfilling or solving organization problems, but rather providing additive direct services to benefit city residents in need.
- An RFP would need to be affirmatively marketed so that BIPOC-led and culturally competent organizations are aware of the opportunity and have the information and time they need to submit competitive proposals.
- Those reviewing the RFP should place substantial weight on Race & Social Justice outcomes.
- PERFORMANCE-BASED CONTRACTS: Does the organization see the benefits of performance-based contracts? The contract can provide an agreed-upon framework for measuring results, feedback, and continuous improvement. If the organization does not achieve outcomes, the City could provide technical assistance or eventually move those funds to other organizations that can achieve the results for residents in need. As the funder, I believe the city government’s focus should ultimately be on achieving positive outcomes for Seattleites, rather than on sustaining the organizations with tax dollars.
- EVALUATIONS: Are there process evaluations and outcome evaluations set up at the beginning to track and report results and provide feedback? The more money we are investing in a particular, untested intervention, the more it might warrant a higher quality evaluation.
While presented in much more detail above, the approach above is consistent with my amendment on “effectiveness” approved by City Council to the JumpStart spending bill (CB 119811) and similar to the process in awarding funds for the Seattle’s Equitable Development Initiative. It’s also consistent with the funding checklist in our proposed revisions for a Fiscal & Environmental Note—a Resolution that I will work to pass soon.
Antonio M. Oftelie, executive director of Leadership for a Networked World at Harvard University who served on the Commission on the Future of Policing, wrote an Op Ed in Crosscut about why we must measure results for any new community safety programs. He wrote, “To be transparent and accountable, they [the community-led alternatives to cops] will need systems to track incidents, analyze data and report outcomes to the public. So, while we reinvent policing, we must also rebuild human services.” For the full Op Ed, CLICK HERE.
IN THE NEWS:
- “While the communications I’ve received from constituents offer a variety of views, I see common ground for rethinking and revamping what effective and equitable public safety means as we strive to achieve healthy communities,” Pedersen said.
Seattle Times about need for a plan first, CLICK HERE.
- Councilmember Alex Pedersen, one of two council members who has not committed to the 50% defunding goal, said he supports shifting duties away from the Police Department, but his colleagues were doing the process backward.
- “To do a percentage in advance is the cart before the horse, first you need a plan then the percentage will be known after that plan is finalized,” Pedersen said.
Seattle Times about SPD Budget and Chief Best: CLICK HERE.
- “Councilmember Alex Pedersen, who voted last week to protect Best and her command staff from the pay cuts proposed by Councilmember Kshama Sawant, said he objected to the choice that a majority of his colleagues made.”
Northwest Asian Weekly appreciating Chief Best’s public service: CLICK HERE.
KOMO TV News calling for unity in Seattle: CLICK HERE.
- “We’re about to go into a more robust budget discussion this fall. It’s a chance to reset with the Mayor, and to collaborate and show the City of Seattle we’re about solutions not sniping,” said Pedersen.
KOMO TV News about supporting Mayor’s Budget Veto: CLICK HERE.
- With current COVID-19 impacts to city tax revenue, Council Member Alex Pedersen expressed concern about the repayment. “We don’t know what the bottom is yet (and) it’s going in the wrong direction,” Pedersen said. “So, I’m concerned about draining down the rainy-day fund.” Pedersen and Councilman Andrew Lewis voted to sustain the mayor’s veto, saying more time is needed to work out a deal with Durkan’s office to find common ground.
Updates on COVID Pandemic
Governor’s latest orders:
- CLICK HERE for the newest guidance on indoor fitness and religious services.
- CLICK HERE for the newest guidance for long-term care facilities.
- CLICK HERE for the newest guidance for restaurants and summer camps.
- CLICK HERE to learn more.
Mayor Durkan signed an Executive Order to extend the moratorium on residential, nonprofit, and small business evictions in the City of Seattle until December 31, 2020. The Office of Economic Development (OED) has also provided an additional 72 small businesses impacted by COVID-19 with $10,000 grants through the third round of the Small Business Stabilization Fund. To date, OED has provided 469 small businesses with $10,000 grants through the fund. For the Mayor’s press release and more details, CLICK HERE.
More COVID updates:
- The Seattle City Council continues to update its COVID-19 webpage which includes resources supporting workers, childcare, small businesses, and tenants/landlords.
- You can also visit Mayor Jenny Durkan’s centralized COVID-19 webpage, as well as the Mayor’s blog for additional updates.
- Our Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs has been translating and sharing information on COVID-19 in several languages. For links to OIRA’s fact sheets and other translated materials, go to their blog.
- For the latest from Public Health Seattle-King County, you can visit their website to track our region’s response to the virus.
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU AT CITY HALL
City Council Meetings on the Internet
Listening: Even though City Council is not currently holding meetings in person in order to follow public health guidelines, you can still follow along by listening on your computer or smartphone by CLICKING HERE. You can also listen on your phone by calling 253-215-8782 (Meeting ID 586 416 9164).
Commenting: You can also submit public comment by sending an e-mail to me at Alex.Pedersen@seattle.gov or to all 9 Councilmembers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please remember to add “For City Council Meeting” in the comments. Now you can also phone into the meeting to speak directly to the Council live. For the instructions on how to register and call in, CLICK HERE. Sign up begins two hours prior to the meeting start time.
As I mentioned earlier, we received over 37,000 e-mails– an unheard-of volume– since June 1, so I ask for your patience as we try to respond to those District 4 constituents who asked for a response. Either way, we read your e-mails and they have an impact. Thank you for taking the time to contact me.
Virtual Meetings with Your Councilmember Pedersen
I continue to schedule virtual in-district office hours, so we can chat by telephone or via Skype. Please continue to sign up through my website or by CLICKING HERE so I can hear your ideas, concerns, and requests. You can also just send an e-mail to email@example.com
For previous e-newsletters, visit my blog by CLICKING HERE.
We will get through this together, Seattle.
Councilmember Alex Pedersen
Seattle City Council, District 4