The court-appointed monitor in charge of overseeing Seattle police reforms claims his team saved the city thousands of dollars in February by providing pro bono hours and taking public transit.
Merrick Bobb and his team touted their cost-savings efforts following a report by KIRO Radio that they billed several questionable items to taxpayers in November, December and January, including "alcohol and alcohol-related items," expensive meals, toilet paper and a $35 Egyptian cotton pillowcase.
The story exposed tense emails between Bobb and the City Budget Office over the expenses and sparked a public dispute between Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and City Attorney Pete Holmes over the monitoring team and police reforms.
It appears, however, that the monitor and the city have been able to sort things out.
In a February 2013 invoice obtained by KIRO Radio, the monitoring team provided the city a list of ways they have cut down on expenses.
According to the invoice, the team worked "43 pro bono hours" in February, "thus saving the City of Seattle $10,750.00." Team members also used "shared office space for meetings and conferences" and "took public transportation for the most part instead of taking cabs."
Starting in April, the team will also change the way it submits billable hours to the city.
Previously, the team did not provide a breakdown of hours because they "did not want to be subject to additional scrutiny for what they were doing with their time" while on the job. They will now provide the city with more detail for the hours they work.
"Beginning with the March invoice, the monitor will provide 'block' reporting of billable hours," said Beth Goldberg with the City Budget Office. "For each individual working on the contract they will provide the number of hours worked each day and a short description of the kinds of activities completed during those times."
The team has also changed the way it expenses meals.
Going forward, each team member will get $60 per day for meals. However, they will not be required to provide receipts, which will make it impossible to determine if they order items such as alcohol.
A spokesperson for Merrick Bobb said he is not granting interviews at this time, despite repeated requests, but provided the following statement.
The Monitor has kept costs down from the start and remains well within the budget approved by the City and the Court. We take a careful and prudent approach to how Seattle taxpayer money is spent. For example, team members take a smaller per diem than the City of Seattle offers its own employees. Multiple team members share a rented apartment when in Seattle at a cost far lower than staying in hotels. Every member of the team has contributed significant pro bono hours or billed their services at lower rates because they are dedicated to getting the work of reform done.
The city has budgeted $800,000 over the next year to pay for costs associated with the monitor, which includes Bobb's base pay of $250 per hour.
The team billed the city $52,016.28 for hours worked and sought $7,998.04 in reimbursements for February, which included travel, food, accommodations and other miscellaneous expenses.
Bobb and his Los Angeles-based firm, the Police Assessment Resource Center, were chosen to oversee a settlement between the Department of Justice and the city after a federal investigation found that Seattle police officers had a pattern of using excessive force.