Rantz: Seattle mayor privately blasts homelessness groups, ‘inexperienced’ council

Aug 29, 2022, 6:15 PM | Updated: 6:28 pm

Mayor Bruce harrell...

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell. (Seattle Channel)

(Seattle Channel)

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell blasted homeless activists, county groups, and “inexperienced” city council members in meetings with police officers. He argues they’re getting in the way of his plan to remove encampments, implies he may pull funding from the regional homeless plan, and plans to back certain challengers to current councilmembers.

Both Harrell and his deputy mayor and niece Monisha Harrell spent time meeting with police officers at various roll calls in different precincts. The intent was to help boost morale and slow the mass exodus of officers. It also allowed officers the opportunity to ask questions to the mayor. It comes on the heels of Harrell pushing through a plan to address police recruitment and retention.

The speeches followed the same general outline. He discussed union contract negotiations, explained that he knows what it’s like to be constantly attacked, and name-dropped relationships with the governor and the Biden administration.

But it also included blunt criticisms of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA), the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, and two city council members.

Harrell says he’s angry about homelessness, and places blame elsewhere

The mayor repeatedly explained that he was not happy with the homelessness crisis in the city. He spreads the blame around, taking aim at groups that the city funds and some council members.

“Some of the same people that were talking about defunding are now saying, ‘Well, we understand that we have to be aligned with the Harrell administration,'” Harrell told officers. “They still take shots at me on my homelessness strategy, because I, quite frankly, I don’t think anyone has a right to sleep in a public space. I don’t think anyone has a right to sleep on a sidewalk and I don’t think anyone has the right to sleep in the park.”

Harrell also criticized the bureaucracy. He said he personally experienced the hassle it created when he hoped to sweep a sidewalk downtown. He complained that he had to go from department to department to get a solution. It took too long, and departments weren’t all working in unison.

Harrell: KCRHA is ‘working against me’

The mayor has increased the number of encampment sweeps since becoming mayor, despite criticism from the KCRHA.

“I’m funding them 70%, over $118 million. And I have no control over them. I’m one of nine on the board,” Harrell said.

While he says he’s used to being criticized by the press, he complains that KCRHA leadership stands in his way. Given the financial support, the city of Seattle offers, he expects some support. He hinted that the group may not receive the same level of funding in the future.

“I didn’t set this stuff up. I get one vote out of nine, and they criticize my removal efforts. So I’m funding an organization that seems to be working against what I’m trying to do,” Harrell said. “So now we’re looking to revisiting that because my public safety strategy that I’m funding … they criticize that. So why would I then, as mayor, invest $118 million into a group that’s really working against me? That’s the hand that I’ve dealt.”

Harrell said he is trying to lobby the KCRHA to start conducting more sweeps. He vowed “to hold them accountable,” while wishing he had the investments back to spend on his own plan.

“No one has a right to camp out in a park where our children are supposed to play. I’m not supposed to see freaking syringes in a park,” Harrell said.

A KCRHA spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

‘It’s still a mess’

Harrell is also angry with the revolving door of criminal suspects that keep going back to the same spots of their previous arrests. And he doesn’t only blame KCRHA.

“It’s still a mess, not through [any] fault of yours. Not through [any] fault of mine. Opioids, fentanyl, sex trafficking. It’s like this revolving door,” Harrell explained. “We’re looking at booking policies. We’re looking at a contract with the jail. We’re looking at people who provide services, LEAD service downtown. See what’s working, what’s just BS. We’re really trying to rewrite the script.”

The LEAD program is an arrest diversion program primarily used on suspects who may have untreated mental health issues or addiction problems. Its lead architect is Lisa Daugaard. Critics argue the program does not work and has created the prolific offender problem the city is experiencing.

“Quite candidly, although I have all due respect for Lisa Daugaard, I’m just not convinced that that is creating the outcomes we want,” he said.

Similar to his criticisms of the KCRHA, the mayor asked why he’d fund LEAD if they’re criticizing his approach. Daugaard could not be reached for comment.

Calling out — and replacing — the Council

Harrell reiterated that he does not support the defund movement and was working hard to invest in the department’s new recruitment and retention plan. He said his position on policing made it harder for him to win the election.

“You should know that when I ran for office, six council members of nine, six did not support me, and if that weren’t bad enough, I didn’t get the support of one colleague in a Democratic legislative district. If that weren’t enough, Pramila Jayapal, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, AOC… they all loaded up and supported my opponent,” he said.

Harrell believes he won because he “led with the fact that we’re going to have the best police department in the country.” He notes that he’s working hard to get council members to support his agenda.

“A couple of them… their resumes are quite thin. I say that as a nice way to say they’re inexperienced,” Harrell said while noting they’re now “smart enough to realize what the city wants” regarding the police.

Even though he credits the council for passing his recruitment and retention plan, it doesn’t mean he wants to keep the council the way it is.

“Quite frankly, I’m working on the city council races. Seven are up next year. I’m looking at people running for office. I’m talking to the judges about some of their policies, and we’re looking at those races. Like I say, politics, I know politics, and this is not child’s play. In order to get the city on the right track, I have to be that tenacious. You don’t see mayors doing that. I’ve already talked to two potential candidates for city council. There’s nothing unethical about that. That’s what I can do. I choose to do that.”

Is a contract coming?

The Seattle Police Officer’s Guild is currently negotiating a contract with the mayor’s office.

Officers say Harrell didn’t share many details about the contract negotiations. Harrell did say he expects to have something done by the end of the year. But the deputy mayor made clear that the administration does not believe the SPD should remain under a consent decree.

“It is very clear that this is not a city that needs the consent decree. That the improvements that have been made… that this department is a world-class department. And that the federal government knows it. All of our monitoring teams know it. And we’re just trying to cross the T’s and dot the I’s to make sure that we can get out of this so we can move beyond that phase.”

She promised to work closely with the department to see how they can move forward in the city.

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General reception

Officers speaking with the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH shared similar sentiments about the mayor’s visit.

They appreciated that the mayor came down to speak with them. The previous mayor did not make a habit of visiting officers and hoping for dialogue. But many question the mayor’s recruitment and retention plan. They do not think sign-up bonuses will make a difference and they believe the only thing to retain officers would be a fair contract.

One officer said Harrell sounds “out of touch” when he chides officers who have left.

Still, Harrell’s message is one that generally has not come out of City Hall in the last several years, and he expressed support for cops in ways other Seattle lawmakers are unwilling to.

But his office did not respond to multiple requests for comment. His silence raises questions as to whether or not he’ll only be this blunt in private. That could undermine the support with officers that he’s going for.

Politically, the messaging would likely connect with Seattleites who elected Harrell to support the police and handle crime and homelessness. But he’s been somewhat reluctant to go on the offensive when his critics slam his plans. The language he used in front of cops is not the language he used publically.

He admits he doesn’t like to publicly criticize colleagues in the press, but if they’re truly getting in the way of progress on issues the public care about, being more vocal with his concerns could lead to the public pressuring the council to better embrace his agenda.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3–6 pm on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Check back frequently for more news and analysis.

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