Mayor Jenny Durkan finally announced the members of her controversial "Equitable Communities Initiative Task Force," which will meet to determine how to spend $100 million allocated for investments in communities of color.
The task force members include 29 people from a slew of different communities and organizations. The Black Farmers Collective, Muslim Housing Services, and two unions are represented. The president of Seattle Central Community College is on the team, as is Beto Yarce, former city council candidate and executive director of Ventures. Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County (BLMSKC) was listed as well. Councilmember Debora Juarez will serve as an ex-officio member.
But, in the latest hiccup for Durkan's task force, BLMSKC emailed out a press release saying its inclusion on the task force was a mistake.
Hours after the task force was announced on Wednesday, Chris Nelson, a spokesperson for BLMSKC, said in a statement that "the city erroneously said BLMSKC is a member of the task force," and that "BLMSKC was invited to join the task force, but declined the invitation."
In another press release issued this evening, BLMSKC said, "Once the Mayor identified chairs and focus areas for the Task Force, the Black community had already been relegated to assistant player. A new body with the specific aim of meaningfully supporting the Black community should be designed and led by the Black community."
UPDATE: Later Wednesday evening, BLMSKC released a statement clarifying that "it was not the city’s error" for including BLMSKC in the task force. The group cited a "miscommunication" with the mayor's office. It's unclear what the miscommunication was, but BLMSKC is still not participating on the task force. Additionally, the statement walked back claims that the Black community will not be the focus of Durkan's task force. BLMSKC cited multiple conversations with the mayor's office where Durkan reiterated that the task force "will have the resources and agency necessary to accomplish a Black-led effort."
Kamaria Hightower, a spokesperson for the mayor's office, said BLMSKC rescinded the invitation only after the press release about the task force was "spread broadly."
BLMKSC, Hightower said, wants to create a "third process separate from both the Equitable Communities Initiative and King County Equity Now (KCEN)." That third process would be a "Defund Task Force and an interim Black Commission" jointly appointed by Durkan and the Seattle City Council to "conduct a needs assessment" plan for the $100 million and to allow the Black Commission to "participate in the SPD bargaining."
BLMSKC did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A representative for the Seattle City Council did not clarify whether a Defund Task Force or an interim Black Commission were plans either entity would consider, or how those could fit into the process as it stands now. Hightower answered after the original publication of this story. She said that Durkan hasn't been able to review all of BLMSKC's requests.
Durkan's task force is overseeing how to invest $100 million in community funds while KCEN is conducting a participatory budgeting research project around racial justice and policing. Durkan's task force was met with criticism, much of it from KCEN, as soon as she announced the funding source.
The main controversy with Durkan's task force is that it will take the $100 million for communities of color out of the new JumpStart Seattle payroll tax. Organizations such as KCEN would like to see that $100 million removed from the Seattle Police Department budget and reinvested into the community. Over 50 local organizations so far have signed on to a solidarity budget that opposes using JumpStart funds for this $100 million investment.
Complicating the optics is the fact that Durkan was opposed to the JumpStart tax, going so far as to veto the spending plan this summer, which the Seattle City Council later overrode. Durkan is leaning on JumpStart to fill 2021 budget holes and to satisfy these investment commitments.
On top of everything, the task force is drenched in the Seattle Process. Meetings will begin this year, but the task force won't submit any recommendations until spring. It seems to run parallel with Durkan's plan for SPD's budget, which—beyond removing civilian teams such as parking enforcement officers out of SPD's budget—requires months of analysis with a report not due until, you guessed it, next spring.
Meanwhile, KCEN is already conducting a community-led research project. With $3 million allocated from the council for a participatory budgeting process (which Durkan vetoed this summer but the council overrode), KCEN and around 100 researchers will research specific issues around racial equity and policing. The goal is to use this research to advocate for specific budget priorities directly.
As Daniel Beekman at the Seattle Times reported, KCEN views their approach as more valuable since "the mayoral task force is bound to advance Durkan’s priorities, rather than new ideas."
It's not clear how BLMSKC's new plan will fit into these processes if the city green-lights it.
Here's the rest of Durkan's task force, sans BLMSKC: