After the mayor vetoed an aggressive-solicitation bill at City Hall this afternoon in front of an audience of hundreds of supporters, the question pivoted to what the mayor will do about hiring more police officers—despite a budget shortfall that may prevent it—and other measures to increase public safety. One idea on the horizon: a bill addressing “disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace” that’s being discussed by a nightlife advisory group, said City Council Member Tim Burgess.
The crux of the debate right now: Whether we can accomplish our community policing goals without hiring more cops. The council sent a letter to mayor Mike McGinn yesterday that calls on him to hire the 20 police officers that the council budgeted for last year. Today, the mayor says that the city is taking in less money than projected, and he can’t determine if we actually have the money for those cops until he assesses the mid-year budget. "We can look at how to meet our public safety objectives and we may conclude that is by hiring more police officers," he said. "Rather than reach a decision in a advance, we decided to have all the information in front of us.” But McGinn insists the city can pursue its community policing goals ahead of schedule—“it’s not determined by the number of officers,” he said. Burgess responds that it's just not possible.
Still stinging from a veto of his centerpiece legislation a few minutes before, Burgess said that better policing requires devoting 30 percent of officer hours to proactive work with communities, and setting shifts over the weekends. Without 20 more officers this year, Burgess insists, "those two components are at risk." McGinn's staff says that's not true.
Backed by a phalanx of city leaders, McGinn signed a letter (.pdf) to the city council explaining why he was vetoing a bill passed on Monday. “Using physical contact or verbal abuse to cajole someone into giving money is already against the law,” McGinn writes, “and the proposed ordinance won’t do anything to address this beyond what current law already allows.” He added that enforcement of the law could be “uneven” and that “the due-process questions it raises are troubling.”
McGinn and a host of speakers all said they were committed to improving public safety—but the took issue with the bill.
Burgess confirmed that the bill, which appeared ready to pass one week ago, is now dead. “It is all over in the sense that the mayor’s vetoed it, and I don’t think the council is going to override that veto.”
Council member Nick Licata said that Burgess’s bill “ended up bringing more divisions and dividing our community.” McGinn said the measure “was divisive.”
Though City Council member Bruce Harrell had the strongest words, particularly for the mainstream media. “I continue to believe the debate is a dishonest debate. I was portrayed as someone who didn’t have the sympathy of women or people who are smaller,” ha said, referring to editorials written by Joni Balter and the Seattle Times editorial board, which pushed hard for the bill. “This is dishonest,” Harrel continued.
Harrell appears to think the Seattle Times is—as I wrote earlier this week—spinning the story largely to oppose the mayor.
“Mayor McGinn could cure cancer tomorrow and the headline would read, ‘Mayor Mcginn cures cancer too late,’” Harrell said at the veto ceremony.
For his part, Burgess blames the bill’s loss on other people’s dishonesty. “I think what happened is that process played out, and some of the misrepresentation and misunderstandings about the ordinance created confusion.” For instance, he says that—contrary to the mayor’s letter, the findings of the ACLU, NAACP, and Seattle Human Rights Commission—it does not circumvent state-authorized rules for due process.