LOCAL NEWS

Sawant and Durkan feud over homelessness escalates

Mar 1, 2019, 3:23 PM
Mayor Jenny Durkan and Councilmember Kshama Sawant...
(Getty Images, AP)
(Getty Images, AP)

A growing feud between Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant and Mayor Jenny Durkan continued to grow this week, culminating in a scathing editorial published by Sawant in The Stranger Friday.

RELATED: Sawant committee votes to delay Durkan nomination

To understand all of this, a little background first:

Mayor Durkan recently nominated interim Human Services Director Jason Johnson to assume the role permanently. Sawant then drafted and subsequently passed 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.

Durkan has yet to respond publicly to the resolution now that it’s been moved out of committee, but new developments indicate the flames of this rivalry are still burning hot.

First, the aforementioned op-ed from Sawant in The Stranger. It reads:

Mayor Durkan has chosen to disregard this reality as well as the city’s workers and community members in her search for a new director of the city’s Human Services Department (HSD), which is ground zero for allocating public funds to social services. She has systematically ignored those voices, nominating interim director Jason Johnson without a public search for candidates. The city should not move forward with this nomination without engaging the community, which is why I am opposing the appointment of Mr. Johnson.

This comes after a move earlier this week from Mayor Durkan, that shortened Seattle’s contract with homeless shelter operator, SHARE/WHEEL.

Sawant — who has advocated in the past for funding SHARE/WHEEL, despite the organization’s history of controversy — saw that move from Durkan as a shot across the bow.

“It really seems like it’s out of retaliation, because SHARE and WHEEL activists have spoken in solidarity with the Human Services Department employees who are demanding that the mayor hold a transparent and equitable search committee to find the new director,” said Sawant on Thursday.

SHARE/WHEEL’s own response was equally as pointed.

“Our WHEEL and SHARE communities again are threatened by political punishment and de-funding,” the organization’s website reads. “Mayoral [and] Human Services Department mistreatment of WHEEL and SHARE — and disregard for the City Council’s authority — is shameful and wrong.”

RELATED: Conflict brews between Durkan and Sawant over homelessness

SHARE/WHEEL’s relationship with the city has been steeped in controversy over the years.

Most recently, the city voted in September to shut down SHARE/WHEEL’s Licton Springs tiny village when its permit expires in March, claiming that there weren’t enough people being moved into permanent housing and they were staying in the village too long, more than a year in many cases.

In the past, the organization has been accused of encouraging its shelter residents not to seek permanent housing.

SHARE/WHEEL then pulled out of Licton Springs in October, a full five months ahead of the end-date set by the city.

Concerning Johnson’s delayed appointment, Durkan and her office’s own frustration can be seen in correspondence with Sawant’s office in letters released by the council member on Wednesday.

“It is disappointing that Councilmember Sawant has ignored the Council’s own practice and rules regarding confirmations and abdicated a core responsibility required by the City Charter,” one letter from the mayor’s office reads.

Sawant’s committee resolution to delay Johnson’s nomination will go before the full council on Monday, March 4 for a final vote. The city’s Human Services Department has been without a permanent director since Catherine Lester stepped down from the role last spring.

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Sawant and Durkan feud over homelessness escalates