First-year Councilmember Andrew Lewis made an out-of-left-field motion at the end of a pretty standard Seattle City Council meeting Tuesday. Lewis is the chair of the Select Committee on Homelessness Strategies & Investments. There's a highly anticipated meeting tomorrow where the council will hear legislation from Councilmember Tammy Morales that will restrict homeless encampment sweeps during COVID-19.
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Lewis has been trying, unsuccessfully, since last week to get Seattle & King County Public Health Director Patty Hayes, who is already listed as a panelist on the meeting's agenda, to show up to speak tomorrow, he said.
He described to the council the email tag he played with public health, the non-responses, the follow-up emails, and the response he got today saying that they'd be able to provide written answers if he emailed them over. "I do not believe that would be adequate," Lewis said, about providing written questions. Welcome to my world, Andrew.
"Given those efforts," Lewis said, "I'm requesting to issue a subpoena for Director Patty Hayes to appear." While I couldn't see the council, I could only imagine the blood draining from their faces. Did Lewis just... invoke a power pursuant to the council under the city charter that none of them had any memory of being used before? Yes. Yes he did. Fucking metal.
Lewis's rationale is that any legislation around the issue of homelessness—especially one that is specific to a public health crisis—demands the perspective of public health officials.
"It is certainly an extraordinary request," Council President Lorena González said cautiously. She then added that she supported his intent.
Then, the scrambling. The city clerk needed a minute to find more answers. Morales jumped in to commiserate about a "frustrating situation [since] we’re here to talk about public health issues but we can’t get an answer or the participation of the public health department." Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda started filibustering so someone could find a solution. While she was talking, she got word that someone from public health would be present at the meeting tomorrow.
"For the record," Lewis said, "This was absolutely not something I did lightly nor wanted to do and it would never be a first resort."
He withdrew his motion.
"To simply brush us off as not being a priority is not going to be something that is acceptable," González concluded, "certainly not during a pandemic and not during any other period of time."