City Hall feud grows, as Sawant committee votes to delay Durkan nomination

Feb 22, 2019, 7:20 AM | Updated: 10:03 am

A Seattle city hall feud continued Wednesday, after city council’s Human Services committee led by Kshama Sawant voted to delay Mayor Durkan’s nomination for a permanent Human Services director.

RELATED: Conflict brews between Durkan and Sawant over homelessness

Mayor Durkan recently tapped Human Services interim director Jason Johnson to permanently lead the department tasked with combating homelessness in Seattle.

Sawant in turn drafted a committee resolution to delay the nomination process, objecting to the way Durkan chose Johnson, claiming it was too secretive and didn’t included community buy-in.

“We are here because community members have spoken — how can I in good conscience vote for ‘yes’ on it, when I’ve heard from hundreds of my constituents saying that they want something different?” Sawant posited in a heated Wednesday evening meeting of the Human Services Committee she chairs.

That meeting was attended by over 100 people, many of whom expressed vocal support for Sawant’s resolution.

Council president Bruce Harrell was slightly more hesitant in his own support for the resolution, ultimately abstaining from the vote.

“Either Mr. Johnson is right or wrong for the job, and I need to know the criteria with which I will make that call,” said Harrell. “Let’s do the hard work to see how this decision was made, how this resume was brought forward, get everyone at the table to move forward, and let’s do it in a short order.”

This all comes as the latest chapter in what’s been a developing feud between Councilmember Sawant and Mayor Jenny Durkan. Sawant noted that she had asked the mayor’s office to send a representative to Wednesday’s meeting, an offer Durkan declined.

Mayor Durkan’s office issued a statement shortly after the resolution was originally introduced weeks ago. The tone of that statement was less than friendly.

While the mayor has had a thoughtful hiring process for each of her appointments, Councilmember Sawant, who fires and hires staff at the direction of an outside political committee, is refusing to move forward on confirming a qualified LGBTQ candidate who has a proven record, including over the last year as Interim Director. Jason has gone through the most exhaustive and exhausting process by actually doing his job. It’s time for Councilmember Sawant — who has been absent as chair of her committee — to do hers.

“Regardless of what one thinks about Mr. Johnson’s qualifications, it’s quite clear that your office has failed to use an inclusive approach to candidate search,” Sawant fired back in a statement of her own in early February. “Indeed, it appears you have not conducted any search at all. That is a disservice to HSD workers, human service providers, and to the most vulnerable in our community.”

RELATED: Sawant pens statement protesting Durkan appointment

With the adoption of Sawant’s resolution, Durkan’s nomination of Johnson will be delayed “until a formal search process can be completed,” mandating a search committee to expedite that process.

The city’s Human Services Department has been without a permanent director since Catherine Lester stepped down from the role last spring. HSD is responsible for investing over $130 million in contracts to more than 170 community-based providers that support the city’s homeless.

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