LéTania Severe spoke about the Black Brilliance Research Projects community-based priorities at a Monday press conference.
King County Equity Now's LéTania Severe is part of the research project leading the Seattle City Council's participatory budgeting process. Shitty Screenshot of King County Equity Now press conference.

King County Equity Now (KCEN), a Black-led coalition at the forefront of Seattle's movement to defund the police and invest in Black communities, still doesn't support Mayor Jenny Durkan's attempts run the city funds she promised to communities of color through the Seattle Process.

The task force is one of the ways the city is attempting to engage people from more diverse backgrounds in the budgeting process. The other way is the Seattle City Council's still-evolving participatory budgeting process, which KCEN is currently involved in. The two strategies take different approaches to investing in communities of color, but KCEN isn't confident that Durkan's task force will make a significant impact.

"We believe the budget needs to reflect Black leadership, Black expertise, and Black experience," said KCEN's LéTania Severe in a press conference on Monday. "We don’t want a task force that is picked by wealthy white people."

Back in September, Durkan created the "Equitable Communities Initiative Task Force" to decide how and where $100 million of reallocated budget money should be spent. The task force has 28 people on it. According to a report from The Urbanist, 19 people declined invitations to join.

According to a KCEN spokesperson, the task force is an example of "old normal tactics that have chronically and consistently failed our communities."

According to a late October council memo originally reported on by PubliCola, this task force is just the most recent time Durkan has created a task force or a work group to address concerns from marginalized communities. Erica Barnett from PubliCola argued that the task force "duplicates work that the city has already done, perpetuating the City’s practice of asking members of marginalized communities to provide recommendations again and again without ever taking action on those recommendations."

Just last week, the council redirected 70% of the $100 million Durkan identified for task force dollars. The council chose to plug funds into projects that low-income and vulnerable communities will directly benefit from, like restoring the $30 million of Mercer Megablock money earmarked for affordable housing development, which Durkan proposed using to fill budget holes in the general fund.

While Durkan's task force still has $30 million left to allocate to communities of color, the council attached a proviso to those funds that states no money can be spent until the council approves a spending plan for the $30 million. That work won't be done until sometime next spring. In the meantime, the council plans to spend around $30 million of that redirected task force money on beefing up the participatory budgeting process, which they're standing up right now.

Though the council has yet to define the full scope of the participatory budget process, the process right now consists of a Black-led research project. During the summer budget rebalancing session, the council used $3 million from a COVID-19-stricken budget to fund the Black Brilliance Research Project spearheaded by KCEN and Decriminalize Seattle. The point of the project was for Black researchers to gather data on issues within their communities and share the results with the council in time for it to impact 2021 budget decisions.

Over the last few months, "seven community organizations and over 100 researchers" created the Black Brilliance Research Project. The project's methodology, as described by Seattle City Council Insight, involves researchers engaging in "local and digital community events, teach-ins, surveys, and interviews." At the KCEN press conference, Anthony Powers, from the group Bridging Cultural Gaps, said he helped host barbershop discussions to gather data from the community.

KCEN's process differs from the mayor-facilitated task force, which only "mimics real community involvement and input," a KCEN spokesperson said. Part of the criticism around the mayor's task force, according to the city council staff memo, is that many of its members are established community leaders who already have power and influence, and who may not be impacted by some of the issues regular people face.

Still, Select Budget Committee Chair Teresa Mosqueda said in a press conference last week that she hoped the council's participatory budgeting process and Durkan's task force "could work together."

While KCEN won't be filling another seat at another one of Durkan's tables, KCEN members invited members of the task force "to join us in this visionary work" and to "move towards a new budgeting process that includes everyone in our city."

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"In a world where a task force continues to exist," Severe said, "We call on such a task force to put their recommendations through the community process, adding strength to community voice, and rejecting the status quo that pits us against each other."

The Black Brilliance Research Project submitted its preliminary recommendations to the council at the beginning of November. Their current priorities include creating a new Black-led "holistic crisis response," addressing digital inequity, and divesting from SPD by 50%. The latter demand includes urging the council to push for an SPD officer hiring freeze.

Councilmembers Tammy Morales and Kshama Sawant sponsored last-minute proposals ahead of Wednesday's budget meeting that would cut another $9 million from SPD's 2021 budget and freeze SPD hiring in 2021. The council will vote on amendments to the 2021 budget package starting on Wednesday. You can watch that here.