Nelson, proposing a counter-proposal to a counter-proposal on a meaningless resolution.
Seattle City Councilmember Sara Nelson, proposing a counter-proposal to a counter-proposal on a meaningless resolution. Screenshot from Seattle Channel

Things got a little heated during Tuesday’s Public Safety & Human Service Committee meeting after Councilmember Sara Nelson repeatedly pushed forward a resolution to signal support for hiring bonuses for cops.

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More than once, Committee Chair Lisa Herbold told multiple council members to save comment on the resolution for the next committee meeting, but Nelson plowed ahead anyway, asking central staff to read a counter-proposal to a counter-proposal.

“With all due respect, this should be the job of the Public Safety Committee,” she said sharply.

“I am requesting, as the chair of this committee, to move on. So, with that, I am closing debate on this issue and I am asking the clerk to read the next item in the agenda. Thank you,” Herbold replied, ending over an hour of discussion on competing proposals from both members.

Since March, Nelson has been pushing the idea of allowing the Seattle Police Department (SPD) to offer hiring incentives. But, believe it or not, the Public Safety & Human Service Committee only just heard the proposal this week, alongside a counter-bill sponsored by Herbold.

Nelson’s resolution would do three things: State the council’s support for “some kind” of staffing incentive program, state the council’s intent to lift the proviso implemented last year on SPD’s salary and benefits savings to pay for the incentives, and approve whatever the Mayor wants to do to sweeten the deal for prospective cops.

Nelson called on her colleagues to take action, saying that “we’ve heard a lot of numbers,” but what really matters is that “people are dying.”

Her arguments for the first part of her resolution rely on ideology rather than facts. Maybe a month ago, the council would have taken her impassioned position more seriously – Herbold never spoke against hiring incentives, and she remained open to the possibility since the former Mayor first dropped the issue onto the council. But, ever the fans of stakeholdering and task forces and moving basically as slowly as possible, the council asked the Seattle Department of Human Resources (SDHR) to figure out if hiring bonuses would actually work to bring in and keep more cops. Using a brief period of unauthorized hiring incentives at the beginning of the year and a long-term 2019 program as reference, SDHR found that putting a few thousand dollars on a fishing line does not necessarily lure new applicants to SPD.

Nelson also emphasized that she was not asking for any new dollars to go to SPD, but rather for allowing the department to spend the money that they begged the council for but ended up not being able to use.

During budget negotiations, Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda thought SPD’s plan to hire 125 officers in one year sounded ambitious, but the council decided to fully fund the pipe dream anyway. According to a presentation by central staff, Mosqueda was right. Instead of hiring a projected 125 new cops, a central staff presentation revealed that SPD will likely only hire 98 cops this year, which could mean the department will end up with $4.1 million to $4.5 million in salary savings.

Nelson wants the cops to take that money and go nuts trying to get more officers on our streets, but the council does not allow the department to do whatever it wants with city money it doesn’t spend. She proposed the council do so anyway, but Mosqueda countered that the council slated salary savings to feed into the general fund at the end of the budget year, so letting the department spend would potentially take money from other programs in the 2023 budget.

On top of that, Nelson’s resolution would promise money to whichever hiring incentive program the Mayor wanted, but Herbold pointed out that the Mayor has not suggested hiring bonuses for cops despite the council giving him the opportunity.

Nelson and the committee clashed over her proposal, but still the council won’t completely dismiss the hiring incentive strategy. After all, most council members would love to hire more cops.

Herbold presented a counter-proposal in the Tuesday meeting that would modify the proviso, freeing up $650,000 in salary savings to hire a recruiter and pay for relocation expenses for new hires. Herbold also noted that her proposal is a bill, and so, unlike Nelson’s resolution, it would actually do something instead of virtue-signaling. (Nelson sometimes takes a hard stance against resolutions, like when she did not vote for a resolution to support Starbucks workers in their efforts to unionize, or just after the committee meeting when she did not vote on a resolution calling on the Biden administration to stop privatizing Medicare.)

Nelson didn’t like Herbold’s “over-limiting” proposal. After hiring an apparently extremely well-paid recruiter, she said the department would be left with around $400,000 to cover relocation expenses for new hires. She started to make one of her trademark poignant arguments (“relocation might be too limiting of might be a uh I’m for that” [sic]) before Herbold cut her off for sake of time. The committee will meet again to further discuss and vote next week.

“I would like to close this conversation now,” Herbold said, telling Nelson she could take the week to propose amendments to the resolution or the ordinance.

Nelson spoke over the Chair, trying to propose a counter-ordinance to Herbold’s counter-ordinance with no luck. If Nelson had the chance to share with the class, she would have showed off an amended version of Herbold's proposal, which basically turns her resolution into an ordinance. That ordinance would free up all the salary savings for hiring incentives, allow the department to spend the money on more than just relocation, and name the mayor as architect of the program. Next week should be fun!