Seattle council scrambles for solution after symbolic vote
Update: Seattle council votes on funding package
It all happened in about 10 minutes. The Seattle City Council held a swiftly slapped-together meeting Wednesday to fix a funding snafu from earlier in the week.
The council expected to approve a $12 million funding package Monday, but one line item was found to be controversial. What was intended to be a symbolic “no” vote ended up snarling the whole package and the city lost the full $12 million. Wednesday’s meeting aimed to fix that.
“Unfortunately, there were some concerns about one item … it was a grant relating to homeland security investigations,” Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said Wednesday. “My council colleagues raised some concerns about accepting this money, even though the services had already been provided and it would be a reimbursement.”
The council amendment the funding package to remove the contentious line item, which provided funds from ICE. They then voted to approve the amended funding. It passed 8-0.
It should have been a routine piece of legislation, but a couple of symbolic no votes and several absent Seattle City Councilmembers led to an accidental rejection of millions of dollars the city was counting on.
“I voted no on this, in part thinking that this was not going to be very controversial,” Councilmember Lorena González said. “I want to apologize to the chair. I had communicated to Chair Bagshaw that I intended to vote in this manner as a courtesy, with the understanding that there would likely be support for the underlying bill.”
But González’s symbolic vote was enough to tip the scales and sink an entire funding package the City of Seattle was relying on to cover the rest of the year. Now the Seattle City Council is scrambling to fix it.
The Seattle City Council will hold a last minute meeting Wednesday at 12 p.m. noon to address the snafu. An amended funding package will be proposed — it strips out $95,000 that a couple council members found controversial because of its association with ICE. That lingering $95,000 will be addressed in the new year.
Seattle council vote snafu
At its Monday meeting, the council took up what should have been a technical vote to approve a bill formally allowing city departments to accept outside grant money from local, state, and federal agencies. One agency is ICE, granting $95,000 for work Seattle police do in partnership with the Port of Seattle.
The funding package roughly totals $12 million. City departments aim to use it for everything from Space Needle renovations to a new Crisis Intervention Team for Seattle Fire Department. It’s funding that was included in the 2018 budget update, but the council must approve accepting and spending the money as a formality. Usually, no problem.
But at Monday’s council meeting, the single $95,000 grant from ICE derailed the entire process.
“It’s very rare that I wold vote no to reject money that is coming to us,” said Councilmember Lorena González. “But I feel really strongly that I can’t vote in favor of accepting a grant from ICE which is the overarching agency that does engage in immigration enforcement, that leads to the incarceration and detention and inhumane practice of deporting and separating families.”
The money wasn’t for immigration enforcement, however. It’s to reimburse the Seattle Police Department for drug enforcement work around the Port of Seattle.
Councilmember González was joined by Lisa Herbold. Both voted no because of the ICE connection. A total of three other council members were absent Monday — a meeting shortly before the holidays. Add up two no votes with three absent council members, and the package as a whole did not have the needed votes to pass.
That seemed to take everyone on the dais by surprise.
“So the bill passes … the bill fails, and the chair will not sign it. So … OK,” Council President Bruce Harrell said.
After conferring with staff, Harrell tried to devise a fix — the council would vote on the funding package again on Jan. 7, next year. But that too posed problems. Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said she got an “SOS” from the city’s budget office saying the money had to be approved by Dec. 31, 2018. Otherwise, the city won’t have money it needs to pay bills.
“It’s not as easy as saying ‘We’ll take it up in January,'” Bagshaw said.
González noted her vote was meant to be symbolic saying “I did not intend to derail today’s committee hearing in this fashion.”