Today, the independent monitor charged with overseeing the Seattle Police Department's slow, painful metamorphosis from gun-wielding caterpillars to gun-wielding butterflies filed his reform plan in US District Court. You can read about it over here.
I haven't read the document because it's Tuesday and we've been a bit busy nursing the paper and putting it to bed. But concurrent to the release of monitor Merrick Bobb's reform plan, Mayor Mike McGinn released his own statement today on how the city should proceed with reform implementation.
And predictably, it included very explicit instructions for City Attorney Pete Holmes. McGinn has accused Holmes of ethical violations during the police reform process, culminating in a request last week that Holmes recuse himself from the negotiations. (Holmes refused and categorically denies any ethical breach.) Now we come to this: "The mayor will give the City Attorney a written authorization when the City agrees to a monitoring plan and the City Budget Director will give written approval for future invoices from the Monitoring Team," McGinn noted in a press release this morning.
This is to say that, in McGinn's eyes, the city attorney must beg the mayor's permission to do even the most basic work to reform the police department. That's obviously impractical.
So, after a very public fight, the mayor is effectively castrating our city attorney. Does McGinn have any faith in the City Attorney? McGinn's office wouldn't answer directly. McGinn's spokesman, Aaron Pickus, would say only, "We're asking the city attorney to represent the city here and speedily respond to our requests. We want to follow the [settlement agreement's] timeline as speedily as possible."
But it seems that McGinn's lack of confidence in Holmes goes further back than recent police reform negotiations. In a lengthy letter obtained by The Stranger (.pdf) and sent to Holmes this morning, McGinn's legal counsel, Carl Marquardt, wrote:
This is not the first time we have had these sorts of disagreements. In 2011, you asserted that you had independent authority to bring a lawsuit on behalf of the City in City of Seattle v. Protect Seattle Now. The court ruled that you had no authority to initiate the action, without direction from the Mayor and City Council, because you had no client. You have since asserted that the court was wrong. In 2012, as we were in the midst of sensitive negotiations with the Department of Justice, you issued a letter denouncing the Mayor's approach, with the apparent goal of undercutting his ability to negotiate effectively on behalf of the City. Throughout our dealings with the DOJ, you have engaged in private communications with representatives of DOJ, and now, with Mr. Bobb, without sharing the content of these discussions. There is no doubt that you are working to advance the objectives of these parties, even (and especially) when they are contrary to the positions of your City clients.
In other words, the mayor is accusing the city's chief lawyer of going rogue, undermining his agenda, and failing to act in the interests of Holmes's client: The city. But this touches on the larger question of who our city attorney is accountable to—the voters who elected Holmes or to other elected officials like the mayor? McGinn's camp seems to be accusing Holmes of picking and choosing who he's accountable to based on his own whims.
Holmes responded to McGinn's actions today in a brief statement released this afternoon. “Now is the time when City leaders should be working together to achieve lasting reform of our Police Department. Under the rules of ethics and my personal concern for the City’s best interests, I cannot comment in detail on the mayor’s counterproductive statements, except to say that this is a sad day for Seattle. It is especially sad for the women and men of SPD who want us all to move forward, together.”
At this point, it's hard to say if we're watching a Perry Mason rerun or a Days of Our Lives rerun, which is embarrassing.
But it's about to get even more embarrassing next week. On Tuesday, March 12, city representatives and Bobb are scheduled to appear before a federal judge for a status report on the Department of Justice settlement process. Instead of showing a united front, here is what we have: A police reform plan submitted by our independent monitor; a counter reform plan proposed by the mayor and police chief (who seem to really resent our court monitor); a counter-counter reform plan proposed by our city attorney; accusations from the mayor that our city attorney is working in secret cahoots with our court monitor; a city attorney all but forbidden to do his job.
What the fuck is US District Judge James Robart to think? How can we hope to have any bargaining power in the negotiations when the city acts like this? What are we to think? Certainly not that we're dealing with professionals, because this is clearly a slow-motion shit show that could supremely hobble the very real progress that must be made to reform our police department.
At least we know once and for all that the city was truly incapable of reforming our police department without federal intervention. Hell, at this point I wouldn't trust them to hug their children without federal intervention.