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Seattle City Council votes to override mayor’s veto of cuts to police budget

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

City council voted to override Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s recent veto of cuts to the police department’s remaining 2020 budget by a 7-2 vote, with the mayor issuing a statement after the fact indicating she might not adhere to all of the provisos laid out in the council’s proposal.

“We cannot look away from this and we can no longer accept the status quo if we truly believe that Black lives matter,” said Council President Lorena Gonzalez after expressing that she would be voting to override the mayor’s veto.

Councilmembers Alex Pedersen and Debora Juarez were the two dissenting votes in the special session and key vote Tuesday.

City council originally approved the cuts in a 7-1 vote in early August. Mayor Durkan vetoed the legislation shortly thereafter. The council’s now-finalized cuts include:

  • Eliminating up to 100 sworn officer positions across various teams via layoffs and attrition (including 32 patrol officers), beginning in November 2020
  • Capping command staff pay at $150,000 (not including the chief’s salary, which was reduced to $275,000).
  • Ending the Navigation Team

Although the council’s budget is now officially passed, it may need to make modifications in the days ahead. The proposal necessitated serving layoff notices to affected SPD staff three months ahead of the effective date in November.

“Because we are now in mid-September, that effectively doesn’t leave enough time to recoup the salary savings that would flow from those layoffs in 2020,” central staff told the council on Monday.

“We are not going to be able to effectuate the intent of these provisos, because it’s the middle of September, and we need at least three months to get an understanding whether this will come to fruition — it does not appear like we’ll be able to realize that,” Gonzalez confirmed.

It’s unclear at this time how the council plans to handle layoffs for 2020 detailed in the bill.

The mayor responds

Mayor Jenny Durkan issued a statement shortly after the council voted to override her veto, stating that part of her “overwhelming concern” about the council’s budget “was a lack of a plan,” and insinuating that her office has no plans to eliminate the Navigation Team as laid out in the legislation.

“[There’s] a lack of plan on addressing encampments across the City if we eliminated the Navigation Team, a lack of a plan regarding the specific source to repay a loan, and a lack of a plan to legally reduce our force while not jeopardizing a 9-1-1 response. While Council may not be concerned about the details, I am. And they actually do matter,” Durkan said in a written release.

That being so, she vowed to invest $100 million “in BIPOC communities in the 2021 budget,” while putting together a plan “that expands outreach in better coordination with the Navigation Team while expanding shelter capacity.”

“Our community is demanding that we work together,” Durkan said. “Even when we disagree, I have always believed we could work together on actual solutions that can be done and make the change we want to see.”

The council can’t technically force Durkan to spend money it appropriates in its approved budget, setting the table for more conflict between the mayor and councilmembers in the days ahead.

An alternate proposal falls short

To mitigate the possibility that a veto override would fall short of seven votes, Gonzalez also had an alternative budget proposal on the table that had reportedly been negotiated with Mayor Durkan.

Gonzalez’s alternative would have scaled back the council’s cuts to the SPD’s budget on a number of levels, including reducing promised community investments in public safety from $14 million to $2.5 million. It would also walk back most of its previously-approved reductions to the city’s Navigation Team, cutting two full-time positions from the team (which at this time remain unfilled), rather than eliminating it entirely.

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While Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda — who heads the council’s budget committee — remained “hopeful” that the veto override would have enough votes, Councilmember Kshama Sawant expressed concerns over the alternative proposal on the table.

“For those of us who are willing to override the veto, I don’t understand the bargaining strategy to say ‘here’s another bill that capitulates on many things if the override doesn’t succeed,” she noted during Monday morning’s briefing. “That doesn’t present any incentive for the council members who may be intending to not support the override of the veto.”

The council’s original proposal approved in August was considered a down payment on its pledge to defund SPD by 50%, now expected in 2021. Councilmember Kshama Sawant was the lone “no” vote at that time, but voted in favor of overriding the mayor’s veto on Tuesday. Debora Juarez was not present for the early August vote.

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