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Mayor Durkan withdraws Human Services nomination, cites ‘deeply unfair’ process

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. (File photo, Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

After a contentious confirmation process, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Monday that interim Human Services Director Jason Johnson would be withdrawing from consideration to permanently fill the role.

RELATED: Seattle homelessness in-fighting pits Sawant vs. Durkan
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In a written statement, Mayor Durkan cited a failure on the part of the city council, to “follow its own procedures or give Jason a fair confirmation process,” and that the saga has “impaired our effort to respond to the homelessness crisis.”

Johnson’s nomination was initially delayed by a resolution from Councilmember Kshama Sawant, that was eventually struck down. From there, the process continued to stall.

“After 112 days and no clear forward to even a vote, this never-ending ‘confirmation’ process needs to end,” Durkan’s statement said. “I have heard directly from HSD employees that it has been divisive and a distraction to the work of the Human Services Department on issues like homelessness, supporting LGBTQ youth, and serving seniors.”

Mayor Durkan had recently nominated Johnson to assume the HSD director role permanently. Sawant then drafted and subsequently passed a committee resolution to delay the nomination process and convene a full search committee, objecting to the way Durkan chose Johnson, claiming it was too secretive and didn’t include community buy-in.

That resolution was summarily voted down before the full council by a slim 5-3 vote.

That was over a month and a half ago, and the process to confirm Johnson hasn’t moved much since, for a saga that Durkan labeled as “deeply unfair.”

Last week, Councilmember Sally Bagshaw canceled a committee session where Johnson’s nomination was supposed to be brought up for consideration. That session was not rescheduled.

It’s unclear what the next steps to permanently fill the position will be, but for the time being, the city said Johnson will continue to lead HSD while that process plays out.

Durkan’s office released a statement on Monday. In part:

Mayor Durkan, our office, and Jason respect the Council’s role under the Charter in the confirmation process. That’s why, she has met with service providers, HSD employees, and Councilmembers to hear any concerns and answer any questions. In the last 112 days, Jason has:   

  • Answered dozens of confirmation questions submitted by Council, more questions submitted to any other department director in recent memory;  
  • Appeared before the Council at one confirmation hearing to date;   
  • Met with Councilmembers individually to discuss his qualifications, as well as offered additional meetings to hear any concerns; and  
  • Appeared at multiple committee meetings to brief councilmembers on HSD issues such as 2018 Performance Data and an update on regional governance efforts.  


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