During Sara Nelson’s campaign for her at-large seat on City Council, she said she was not afraid to take an unpopular route, especially in her efforts to increase SPD’s measly $355 million budget. She fulfilled at least part of that promise during Tuesday’s Public Safety and Human Services meeting, when her recently proposed resolution to support hiring bonuses for the Seattle Police Department pulled focus away from more senior council members’ monthslong deliberations on the topic of hiring incentives across a broader swath of city agencies.
At the meeting, Seattle Department of Human Resources (SDHR) Interim Director Kimberly Loving and Talent Acquisition Director Keith Gulley joined the council to present the department’s report on citywide hiring incentives, which the council requested last November. Before the department could present on the topic, Committee Chair Lisa Herbold said the meeting would focus on the citywide bonuses report, and then next week’s meeting would focus on Nelson’s resolution supporting cop bonuses specifically, though Herbold anticipated Nelson’s resolution would come up.
The report exemplified the typical “Seattle Process.” SDHR surveyed the stakeholders – in this case, department heads and city recruiters – to figure out which departments struggled to attract and retain candidates. SDHR found that the city struggled to hire cops, truck drivers, and cashiers, among other positions.
Overall, SDHR found inconclusive results regarding the efficacy of hiring incentives. But Gulley cautioned that these bonuses do not address the larger issue the city faces in retaining employees, which, according to the report, include noncompetitive wages, unsupportive work conditions, and limited promotion opportunities. Gulley added that signing bonuses for newly hired external talent could cause other employees to feel undervalued.
To bring in new employees, he suggested departments take advantage of internship-to-employment pipelines and the city’s LinkedIn page. To retain existing employees, he suggested promoting job opportunities cross-departmentally within the city so that employees do not stagnate in one role.
After the SDHR detailed its findings, Nelson felt comfortable bringing up her own analysis on hiring incentives, as half of the report (or, as she calls it, the “two-page document”) covered incentives for cops. “This is one area where we don't need a consultant, really, to study the benefit of incentives,” she said. Instead, she believes the council can “implement right away” the program because Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz said other cities offer these bonuses.
Herbold, who has dealt with the hiring bonus issue since the former Mayor first dropped it on the council’s plate at the end of last year, reminded her colleague that the SDHR report could not conclude that hiring incentives help to attract and retain more police officers. She noted the lack of a correlation in 2019, when SPD offered incentives and only 1 in 5 applicants said the bonus drew them to the job.
Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda took Nelson’s criticism of the report and presentation even worse. She even apologized to Gulley on behalf of the council because she felt Nelson “impugned” and “reduced” his work to that of a consultant.
“[The surveys] yield very important not only quantitative analysis but qualitative analysis that should be taken to heart and weighed against one individual's comments that is not steeped in this work,” she said.
Mosqueda further slighted Nelson by pointing to the single-mindedness of her resolution to support SPD hiring incentives, especially when the council did not fully fund staffing plans for many other departments the way it fully funded SPD’s.
Dismissing the SDHR’s report is the latest instance of Nelson disregarding process allegedly for the sake of “get shit-doneism.” She jumped the gun and proposed her cop bonus resolution before the long-awaited report came back from the SDHR, undermining the work of the committee’s chair. Nelson also stepped on Herbold’s toes when she hosted a roundtable with business owners to complain about crime in her own committee. Perhaps to reinforce the norm Nelson violated with that business grievance session, Herbold made it a point to thank Mosqueda for allowing SDHR to present to the Public Safety and Human Services committee when it was supposed to go to Mosqueda's committee.
For now, Nelson’s strategy doesn’t seem to be working too well to move things along. As expected, the council has slowed her roll on her hiring incentives resolution, and the committee will not hear it until next Tuesday.