Exclusive: Seattle police monitor blasts city for ‘humiliating’ him

Feb 21, 2013, 4:04 AM | Updated: 9:23 am
The city budget office told police monitor Merrick Bobb it had an issue with certain items being put on the city's tab, including "alcohol and alcohol-related expenses," expensive meals, toilet paper and a $35 Egyptian cotton pillowcase. (Photo: patterico.com)
(Photo: patterico.com)

The court-appointed monitor in charge of overseeing Seattle Police Department reforms sent a pointed email to city officials after they questioned expenses he and his team billed to taxpayers.

Documents obtained by KIRO Radio through public disclosure show an ongoing discussion between the mayor’s office, the City Attorney’s Office, the city’s budget office, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC), which is the Los Angeles-based consulting firm headed by monitor Merrick Bobb.

Bobb and his firm were chosen to oversee a settlement, or “consent decree,” between the Department of Justice and the city after a federal investigation found that Seattle police officers had a pattern of using excessive force.

The city has budgeted $800,000 over the next year to pay for costs associated with the monitor, which include Bobb’s base pay of $250 per hour.

As part of the settlement, Bobb and his team are authorized to bill expenses to the city in the course of their work. Such expenses include rent at an apartment in Seattle, furnishings for the apartment, travel and a daily allowance to cover food.

But in January, the budget office told Bobb’s firm it had an issue with certain items being put on the city’s tab, including “alcohol and alcohol-related expenses,” expensive meals, toilet paper and a $35 Egyptian cotton pillowcase.

Overall concerns included a lack of itemized receipts, missing or incomplete receipts, charges that exceeded set limits, possible double charges, charges for items not allowed under city travel policies and charges on days when the team was not scheduled to work.

On Jan. 17, the city called a meeting with Bobb and his staff to address the items, during which the team was reminded that items they expense are subject to public disclosure and could “paint the Monitor or City in a bad light.”

The city also questioned why the team did not provide a breakdown of their work during hours they billed to taxpayers. A member of Bobb’s staff told the city that they “did not want to be subject to additional scrutiny for what they were doing with their time” while on the job.

Several hours after the meeting, Merrick Bobb sent an email to the city to express his frustration with what had occurred.

” … we decline in the future to go through the humiliating, time-consuming, and obstructionist process we went through this morning where we were required to justify each pillowcase in the Seattle apartment, a toolkit to put together furniture bought at IKEA, or a $5.99 corkscrew, among other trivialities,” Bobb wrote in the email, which was sent to the budget office, the City Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice.

“Although we are happy to answer legitimate inquiries, we cannot abide being treated as if we were suspects being grilled about theft from the city,” he continued. “We are professionals and expect to be treated as such.”

Bobb wrote that a delay in approving the team’s December invoice would put “unnecessary roadblocks and obstacles” in his path.

He went on to say that the city was putting its agreement with the DOJ in jeopardy.

“I’m not certain that we can currently say we are getting cooperation from the city regarding the monitoring or movement toward full and effective implementation of the consent decree,” he wrote.

Read the full e-mail from Merrick Bobb (PDF)

That line in particular concerned a source within the city, which is why they brought the email to KIRO Radio’s attention on the condition of anonymity.

Bobb is in charge of reporting the city’s progress to the DOJ and could put the city at risk of federal penalties if he decided they violated the settlement agreement by questioning his expenses.

The city sent Bobb an email the following day to respond to his concerns.

“We approached this conversation and the one on the previous bill as a discussion of which items in the bill might be problematic for any City consultant,” the email read. “We hope we can continue to respectfully raise issues without jeopardizing your view of the City’s overall cooperation and movement toward compliance with the Agreement.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Seattle city attorney said any issues between Bobb and the city have been resolved and that their office was simply “educating the Monitoring Team about City guidelines on expense reimbursement.”

Reached by email, Merrick Bobb sent KIRO Radio a statement. In it, he said he and the city were still “feeling their way” through the monitoring process.

“We each took a tone we later regretted, followed by mutual apologies,” he wrote.

Bobb said his team has taken a “careful and prudent approach to how Seattle taxpayer money is spent,” and called the conflict a “small dust-up.”

The Justice Department declined to comment on this story.

The police department declined to comment on this story.

The mayor’s office declined to comment on this story.

A second source who works for the city told KIRO Radio that city officials are afraid to speak openly and honestly on the matter. The source was “paralyzed with fear” about potential repercussions for speaking badly about the monitor.

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Exclusive: Seattle police monitor blasts city for ‘humiliating’ him