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Is the tension easing between Seattle City Council and Mayor Durkan?

Protesters rally outside City Hall in support of defunding police on August 5, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Is there a glimmer of compromise inside Seattle City Hall? The council finally appears to be willing to work with the mayor on emergency COVID-19 funding, while not emptying the emergency bank accounts.

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As you have probably noticed, things have been very nasty between the Seattle City Council and the mayor recently, whether it’s over police reform, the police chief, or the budget. But a small ray of sunshine appeared on Wednesday as the council appeared willing to work with Mayor Jenny Durkan on COVID funding.

To reset the stage, the council voted unanimously to spend $86 million in emergency funds for COVID relief. The money would be paid back by a new big business payroll tax. Durkan vetoed the bill, calling it irresponsible to spend almost all of the city’s reserves during a global pandemic and recession.

Councilmember Andrew Lewis spelled out the toxic relationship inside city hall.

“I don’t think I am personally shocking anyone from the viewing public or anyone on this council by saying there is very real friction between this virtual second floor and the virtual seventh floor in the running of this city, and that is spilling over into everything we are doing as a city government,” he said.

Lewis told the virtual meeting that he is not happy working with this kind of relationship. He was one of two councilmembers to vote against the overriding of Mayor Durkan’s veto of the spending plan. The override passed 6-2, with Councilmember Debra Juarez absent.

This procedural move allowed the council to immediately amend the earlier legislation, which the council did. It will no longer spend $86 million in emergency funds. It has lowered that number to $57 million.

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“Given the crisis that we are in, we understand the realities of the changing revenue forecast, the trying times that we are in,” said Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda.

The city found out Monday that the revenue forecast took another $26 million hit. Mosqueda said lowering the emergency spending reflects that new reality.

“All of this is in our joint interest,” she said. “That we work together to provide immediate relief and to close this revenue gap.”

The vote to pass the reduced spending plan was 7-1, with only Councilmember Kshama Sawant voting no. She wanted to fill the revenue gap with more taxes on businesses.

Mayor Durkan has not decided what to do with this latest plan, and she could issue another veto. She issued a statement after the council’s action.

“For weeks, I have been asking to collaborate with the City Council to provide relief, acknowledge our worsening financial situation, and ensure we had an honest and transparent spending plan of resources that we could actually deliver in the weeks and months to come. To date, the needed collaboration has not occurred, though I was grateful Council reached out to explore compromises this week.”

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