Durkan gave the cops a lil goodbye kiss by letting them ignore the council
Durkan gave the cops a lil goodbye kiss by letting them ignore the council. TAKA4332 / GETTY IMAGES

In a 8-0 vote, the Seattle City Council retroactively approved $220,000 worth of bonuses for five police officers and fourteen 911 dispatchers who the city hired in January 2022. Though the council voted to end the bonus program for those positions on Dec. 31 2021, former Mayor Jenny Durkan defied the order and stuck them with one final “fuck you” on her way out of office.

“This legislation is not something that was council-driven. This is just the council trying to be responsive to a situation that's been forced upon this council yet again by the previous mayor,” Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said in the Tuesday meeting.

Because the council limited the way SPD could use its salary savings, the department needed council approval to dip into those funds to pay for $50,000 in unauthorized bonuses for five new cops. The Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC), however, did not need similar approval to pay for its 14 unfunded bonuses.

Though the council decided to clean up Durkan’s mess and relinquish some of its control over how SPD spends its money, its hand was not completely “forced.” The council could have voted not to allow SPD to spend its salary savings for the bonuses, but Councilmember Lisa Herbold said in an email that the new hires could sue the city to get the bonuses and "they’d probably win." She added, "Not the way we’d want to treat new public employees."

While Mosqueda agreed this would be unfair to the new cops, she also said the situation was unfair to the council, though, and so she floated the idea of amending the ordinance to hold Durkan financially responsible for the cop bonuses. Central staff pumped the brakes on that plan, saying they would need to do more work to see if it was legislatively possible.

To prevent this kind of mess from falling onto the council again, it looks like the council will rely on the new mayor, Bruce Harrell, who is politically similar to Durkan, to respect the council’s decisions.

In an email, Councilmember Lisa Herbold said, “The best prevention is to make sure that we always elect a Mayor who understands the powers vested in the City Council.”

One last dunk from Durkan

Last October, pro-cop and anti-council Durkan issued an emergency order to provide hiring bonuses for officers and dispatchers. The council let the order sit for a month until it voted to limit the bonus program to a total of $500,000 until the end of 2021. Rather than fund the program through 2022, the council wanted to see which other departments might need money to attract candidates. (In Tuesday’s meeting, Herbold said the council can expect a report on a citywide bonus program this month.)

Everything was hunky dory for the council until, in the last days of her term, Durkan sent SPD and CSCC a directive to keep offering hiring bonuses despite the council’s decision.

“Based on consultations with legal Counsel, it has been concluded that the City Council’s actions to limit the Emergency Order were not effective,” Durkan wrote.

That's all those departments needed to hear. Under Durkan’s direction, they kept offering hiring bonuses to cops and dispatchers until the Harrell administration put the practice to a stop in early February. Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell said that she, the Mayor, and the whole Harrell administration did not know that SPD and CSCC were still offering incentives, even though Durkan had sent Mayor Bruce Harrell the directive to ignore the council.

So far, no lawyer has admitted to giving Durkan advice to ignore the council. That's probably because it’s wrong. A spokesperson for the former Mayor told The Seattle Times that the council needed to act on the emergency order within 48 hours, or else after that act by ordinance. However, the Seattle Municipal Code says the council “shall endeavor to act” on an order within 48 hours but isn't required to actually act.

To the council, Durkan 2.0 is a whole new Mayor

It’s no secret the council and the former Mayor had a tense relationship. Scorned by Durkan, in her 2021 pursuit of the Mayor’s seat former Council President Lorena González positioned herself as the candidate that could best collaborate with the council, citing her political alignment with the progressive majority.

Even though Harrell and Durkan shared a base and many funders during their respective campaigns, the council has been open about its preference for the current Mayor.

In this debacle over bonuses, for instance, Herbold praised Harrell for his "collaborative approach to governing."

“It is a relief to have a Mayor and administration that recognizes Council's authority as we work to resolve this together," she said.

Aside from the fact that Harrell hasn’t completely dunked on them yet, there are a few additional reasons that council members may be willing participants in Harrell’s One Seattle vision. For one, with re-election on the horizon for the district council seats, it would not be wise to make an enemy of the Mayor who just won in a landslide. For two, the power dynamics have shifted away from the progressives somewhat after losing González’s citywide seat to Councilmember Sara Nelson, who votes with the council’s conservative bloc.

I asked Mosqueda's office about the council’s relationship with the new mayor and I will update if I hear back.