As the city's police guild prepared to enter top-secret contract negotiations, Seattle City Council President Nick Licata took two potentially far-reaching actions. First, he held a public hearing on police accountability, the first time such a hearing has been held before contract negotiations have commenced. (Details available at www.thestranger.com/blog). Second, he proposed legislation that would effectively rewrite the rules for the group that oversees the police accountability office, the Office of Professional Accountability Review Board (OPARB), by giving OPARB two concessions it has been seeking for years: access to complete copies of complaints against cops (currently, all files OPARB receives are heavily redacted), and legal protection by the city if an officer sues. OPARB chair Peter Holmes says unredacted files will allow the board to detect patterns of abuse, and that legal protection will free the volunteer board to release reports—something it hasn't done since 2003.
But the legislation, which faces a wall of opposition from the city attorney's office and the Office of Professional Accountability (the group the OPARB oversees), is reportedly not being backed by some of its most stalwart early supporters: the Public Defender Association and the Minority Executive Directors Coalition, whose director, Dorry Elias, says the coalition "still stands 110 percent behind" its nine suggested changes to the police-oversight process, only two of which are included in Licata's proposal. "To the degree with which the legislation includes those elements, we would support it, and to the extent to which it does not include them, we would not support it," Elias says.
The future of the homeless-service organization SHARE/WHEEL, the city's largest shelter provider, seemed uncertain, even grim, until last Wednesday, when Mayor Greg Nickels announced that the group had agreed to "participate in Safe Harbors," a database of information about the homeless, giving SHARE access to about $200,000 in city funding and averting the threat of two new tent cities in Seattle parks. That's how the mayor likes to characterize it, anyway. In truth, the agreement with SHARE/WHEEL was more a victory for the organization than a coup for the mayor. The group objected to participating in Safe Harbors, a requirement for city funding, because of philosophical objections to computerized data-keeping on the homeless. Under the mayor's "compromise," the group won't have to provide computerized information, and it can tell clients that they don't have to participate in the system—exactly, in other words, what SHARE/WHEEL was requesting. As Licata, who was closely involved in the SHARE/WHEEL negotiations, puts it: "The mayor says they're participating in Safe Harbors, but you could argue that we broadened the definition of Safe Harbors" to include SHARE/WHEEL.