Mayor Durkan’s staff pushes back on rights group claims, resignation call

Oct 7, 2020, 1:48 PM | Updated: Oct 8, 2020, 1:23 pm
Durkan recall petition...
A person holds a sign on their balcony as Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan meets with protesters. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Mayor Jenny Durkan needs to resign or the city council must start the process to remove her from office for willful violation of duty under the city charter.

That was the gist of a letter issued Wednesday from the Seattle Human Rights Commission to Mayor Jenny Durkan and the city council.

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It claimed that the mayor “has failed to uphold her duty to serve and protect the rights of Seattle citizens.”

The city’s Human Rights Commission is made up of 21 representatives who serve in “an advisory capacity” to city leaders in the mayor’s office, city council, the Office for Civil Rights, and more. Eight members are appointed by the mayor, another eight are chosen by city council, and an additional four are appointed by the commission itself. The 21st member changes each year, and is selected through a leadership development program for 18-to-29-year-olds.

The commission details a variety of reasons to call on the mayor’s resignation in its letter, including recent clashes between police and protesters, the use of tear gas during demonstrations on Capitol Hill over the summer, and Durkan’s objections to “proposed reductions to SPD’s budget.”

The mayor’s office had a different take. A spokesperson sent the following statement to KIRO Radio’s Hanna Scott late Wednesday:

Mayor Durkan has been leading the city at an unprecedented moment through a pandemic, civil rights reckoning, climate crisis, and the worst economic crisis that Seattle has faced in generations. We have been showing real progress on every front, but the urgency remains and more needs to be done.

The Mayor and former Chief Best disagreed with City Council’s pledge to defund SPD by 50 percent and the cuts to the Chief of Police and their team’s salaries. While the Seattle Human Rights Commission may disagree with the Mayor’s veto and her position that we cannot defund SPD by 50 percent, Mayor Durkan believes we must get beyond slogans to work towards solutions on these immense challenges.

Understanding the complexity of these issues facing our City, the Mayor has offered her vision, plan, and path forward on each of these challenges including reimagining policing and investing in BIPOC communities with an unprecedented $100 million. The Mayor has worked to find a common path forward  on each of these challenges and will continue to do so.

The Mayor continues to be focused on how provide support for small businesses and workers who have lost their jobs, transmitting the City’s 2021 budget, slowing the spread of COVID-19, making real investments for BIPOC communities, and changing Seattle’s approach to policing and community safety. She welcomes a conversation with the Human Rights Commission to find common ground and policy solutions, even when we disagree.

Many of the claims in the commission’s letter appear easily disputable.

For instance, the commission writes that Durkan “has failed to adequately address Seattle’s growing homelessness crisis,” while failing to “find and fund progressive revenue streams promised in her campaign for Mayor.”

The mayor’s 2021 budget proposal includes a record $152 million for homeless response, including adding hundreds of new beds and 600 new permanent supportive housing units, on top of continuing to fund the 2,300 existing shelter beds.

When Durkan took office in 2017, the homeless spending sat at roughly $71 million, compared to last year’s $147.5 million. She also shifted spending on the more successful enhanced shelter models, and lobbied for a more regional approach to the homeless crisis.

As far as claiming the mayor has refused to adopt a budget, she has definitely adopted several, starting with the 2018-2019 spending plan, as well as the 2019-2020 budget. The mayor and council have not always agreed on spending, but that’s part of legislating.

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If Durkan refuses to resign, the commission asks that city councilmembers “begin removal proceedings for willful violation of duty.”

This comes amid a campaign from a separate, independent group to recall Mayor Durkan for a similar set of grievances. That effort is currently tied up in court proceedings, with a ruling from the state Supreme Court on whether signature gathering can move forward set for sometime in the next few weeks.

Durkan is up for reelection in 2021, although the commission noted that it believes the city “cannot wait until November of 2021 to remove her from office and replace her with a servant-leader who will uphold their duty to protect the rights of all citizens.”

KIRO Radio reporter Hanna Scott contributed to this report.

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Mayor Durkan’s staff pushes back on rights group claims, resignation call