Week in Review: January 26th, 2024 - with Daniel Beekman

Week in Review: January 26th, 2024 - with Daniel Beekman

On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Seattle Times politics and communities reporter, Daniel Beekman!

Crystal and Daniel discuss the unsurprising Seattle City Council vacancy appointment and what we might see from a business-backed, Harrell-picked legislative body as they navigate a hiring freeze, a large budget deficit, and upcoming important policy decisions. Next, they turn to the Office of Police Accountability’s conclusion that SPOG Vice President Auderer’s comments about Jaahnavi Kandula’s death were “derogatory, contemptuous, and inhumane” and speculate how Chief Diaz and Mayor Harrell will handle disciplinary action.

The conversation then covers Daniel’s recent story about a Snohomish County school’s travails with a neighboring gravel yard and seemingly unconcerned local government. Finally, in the wake of the City of Seattle settling with 2020 protesters for $10 million, Crystal and Daniel wonder whether there will be any meaningful change in how the Seattle Police Department responds to protests.

About the Guest

Daniel Beekman

Daniel Beekman is The Seattle Times politics and communities reporter.

Find Daniel Beekman on Twitter/X at @DBeekman.


The Raise the Wage Renton Campaign with Maria Abando and Renton City Councilmember Carmen Rivera from Hacks & Wonks

In "Foregone Conclusion," Council Appoints Tanya Woo to Citywide Position” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola

Total Corporate Takeover of Council Now Complete” by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger

Harrell Issues Hiring Freeze as New Council Members Vow to "Audit the Budget"” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola

SPD cop’s comments on Jaahnavi Kandula’s death were ‘inhumane,’ biased, watchdogs say” by Mike Carter from The Seattle Times

Snohomish County school seeks relief from gravel yard sited next door” by Daniel Beekman from The Seattle Times

City of Seattle settles BLM protesters’ lawsuit for $10 million” by Mike Carter from The Seattle Times

Find stories that Crystal is reading here

Listen on your favorite podcast app to all our episodes here


[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Tuesday topical show and our Friday week-in-review delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.

If you missed our Tuesday topical show, I chatted with Renton City Councilmember Carmen Rivera and Raise the Wage Renton Steering Committee member Maria Abando to learn more about the citizen initiative to raise Renton's minimum wage. Ballots got mailed out this week, so keep an eye on that and make sure all your friends and family in Renton vote by February 13th.

Today, we're continuing our Friday week-in-review shows where we review the news of the week with a co-host. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show and today's co-host: Seattle Times politics and communities reporter, Daniel Beekman.

[00:01:28] Daniel Beekman: Thanks for having me on.

[00:01:30] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Well, there is a good amount of news to discuss this week. Starting off, Seattle got a new councilmember. Tanya Woo was appointed by the council to fill the vacancy created by Teresa Mosqueda's election to the King County Council. What was the lead up? What happened here? How did this happen?

[00:01:53] Daniel Beekman: Well, it was an interesting situation where so soon after actual elections, we had this appointment process for the City Council because Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda jumped to the King County Council in the same election that elected an almost all-new Seattle City Council, so there's some kind of whiplash there with so much change so quickly. And we saw the new-look City Council appoint someone who narrowly lost in November, which was interesting to see. They sort of had an option of, in theory, choosing someone who fit the profile politically of Teresa Mosqueda, the outgoing councilmember, to fill that citywide seat, or of choosing someone who had just run, or going a whole other direction. And there was a lot of politicking ahead of the appointment. And I think that the new City Council President Sara Nelson said we're not doing anything else until we have this appointment. So we're not going to get down to actual business, which to some extent makes some sense in that you want to sort of have everything set before you start doing the work. On the other hand, it sort of laid down a marker of - this is our first new thing that we're doing as a city council. It's going to be significant, which it is - choosing someone to represent the whole city, at least until November, late November when the election results get certified. But yeah, it was interesting. What did you make of it? Were you surprised that they picked Tanya Woo?

[00:03:32] Crystal Fincher: I was not surprised at all. In fact, this seemed like it was a foregone conclusion for quite some time. Part of this was telegraphed publicly - it looks like with about a week before, there was a letter from Tim Ceis - who was a former consultant to Bruce Harrell, may currently be a consultant to Bruce Harrell, and business lobbyist - who had sent a letter to some of his allies talking about their success with the independent expenditure effort, referring to the money that they spent in support of electing candidates in this last election in Seattle, which was very successful for them. And saying that they had the right to voice their opinion and state that they wanted Tanya Woo picked. They named her by name and said - She is our person, you should pick her. Also telegraphed from a prior meeting where they narrowed down and selected the finalists where several councilmembers from the dais said - Since someone else already picked Tanya Woo, I'll go with a different person. So it looked like she was the favorite anyway. I think that the relationship that had been established between them was clear. They were all similarly ideologically aligned. They spent a lot of time together during the campaign trail.

But as you said, it was a controversial pick because Tanya Woo was just unsuccessful in that election and just lost to Tammy Morales. And so having a portion of the City opt not to have Tanya Woo represent them to vote for Tammy Morales - and I personally am not someone who feels that someone who lost an election should never be appointed, but I do think that the will of the voters does make a difference here. If Tanya would have had similar ideological preferences to Tammy Morales and lost, you could say - Well, they're saying similar things. The voters seem like they would be fine, too. They didn't just reject this. This seems like it could be a pick that does represent what Seattle residents feel best represents them. This is not that case, and so we will see how this turns out. But there's been a shift in ideology on the council now.

Interestingly with this, it's not like even if they didn't go with Tanya Woo, the majority of the council wouldn't still be in the same place. But this provides almost an extra insurance vote for them, as they consider the things that are facing the city, whether it's a budget deficit - Sara Nelson already signaling a desire to cut business taxes. They're going through an audit - they're saying right now - with the City and seeing where they can cut spending basically to address this $250+ million dollar deficit that's coming up that may be even bigger because they're also signaling that they want to further increase the police budget. So we'll see how this turns out, but it's going to be really interesting to see them negotiate the challenges that are facing them. What do you think this sets up for the council over the year?

[00:06:23] Daniel Beekman: Yeah, it was interesting. I haven't been the reporter covering most of this in the last couple of weeks for us. And going forward, it'll be my coworker, David Kroman, who is doing a great job and will do a great job. But I did just dip in for a minute when the new councilmembers were sworn in - This was early this month. And I remember that Councilmember Tammy Morales made it a point in that swearing in, getting started meeting - and talking about this appointment that they had to make - of mentioning some of the big ticket items and running down the list of what this year might look like. And it was striking to think about what they have coming up. There's a Comprehensive Plan update due by the end of this year, which sounds kind of wonky, but is important. It's basically redefining the growth strategy for the city for the next 20 years. There's a transportation property tax levy up for renewal. There's this potential budget gap that you mentioned. And there's the issue of the contract for the police officers union due. So those are some big ticket things all in this year. And I think it may be the budget, like you were mentioning, that turns out to be the one that's the hottest politically with this new group and where you sort of see the imprint of the new politics to the extent that it is a shift. But I'm sure other things will crop up as they always do.

[00:07:55] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Well, we will continue to pay attention to what happens with this council. Also, because this has been an appointment, this person who did get appointed has to stand for election in the very next election - they don't serve the full term after an appointment. So this seat will be on the ballot in November 2024. So that is going to be an interesting dynamic. Robert Cruidkshank talked about last week - this is going to be interesting to see. Given how there was controversy surrounding this appointment, how is that going to impact Tanya Woo, who is assumed to be running for this seat? And how many other people we see who applied for this appointment are also going to be on the ballot? Is anyone new going to be there? So certainly a lot to pay attention to politically here.

[00:08:40] Daniel Beekman: I was just curious to know what you thought about that, because I listened to what Robert was saying, listened to your show last week with him - and I think he was saying that he thought the new guard on the City Council is maybe overestimating their political momentum. And that the way this appointment process happened with Tanya Woo being backed by the independent expenditure sort of business types, there could be a backlash in November, which I could kind of imagine in the sense that people don't love the idea of behind the scenes - big business picking their leaders. And it's in a presidential election year, so that could factor into things. But also Councilmember Woo now obviously has support and name recognition and all that and will benefit from being there at City Hall. And support not just from business leaders, obviously. And so I'm curious to know what you think - I understand where he was coming from when he was making that backlash prediction, but I'm not so sure about it. What do you expect? Do you think it'll hurt or help her or what?

[00:09:46] Crystal Fincher: It could hurt. The potential is there. And it really depends on how things play out, I think, with the budget, primarily - with some of the real visible issues that they're going to be dealing with this year. I do think that it was notable and novel to have Tim Ceis send out that letter. Now, I don't think that penetrated immediately to the general public. I don't think 80% of people are aware that Tim Ceis sent any communication, or who Tim Ceis is realistically. Kind of same with how many people are really paying attention to the City Council right now. But as you hear these things being talked about, they do know that Tanya Woo lost. And this did make broad news - people are getting news alerts about it. And it's a name that they wouldn't expect to be there. So it's kind of like - Huh, that's different. And didn't she just lose? - which I think is an odd thing.

I do think that there has been a - you could characterize it as brazen - that business has a big voice here and that there is a close alignment. And whether or not you view it as them being in the pocket or being a puppet of big business, or that they're just aligned and view it as an extremely important constituency that they're prioritizing that there does seem to be a much closer alignment there. And Seattle voters have explicitly rejected that before. They are uncomfortable when it comes to corporate control. Seattle residents are taxing themselves to institute a small property tax for the Democracy Voucher program. And I really do agree with Robert's point about Seattle voters being uncomfortable with austerity - cutting services is just not what Seattle residents are necessarily comfortable with. And Seattle, to a greater degree than just about any other city in this state, prioritizes services for its residents - those that cost - and they want library services, they want housing provided, they want these different things. Now they want action and they want to see improvement on the ground on these issues, but they don't expect an absence of these services or - Okay, we're just wholesale slashing programs and services that you've been used to and that Seattle is known for providing.

So I do think that a number of these issues would be easier for them to run on, for them to implement had they mentioned that while they were running for election. But I think the other complication is while they were campaigning, they bent over backwards - these candidates that won, for the most part - to not talk about - Okay, there's a big budget deficit. What would you cut if you're not going to raise revenue? Where do you find revenue to provide more money for more police? And that's a conversation that many of them didn't want to have. I think Bob Kettle was probably the one who most explicitly talked about that. A few just didn't. A few threw out ideas like - Well, we need to find out what's happening with the City. But there wasn't anyone who said - You know what, we are going to be cutting programs. We are going to be cutting services. We are going to be providing business tax breaks. Not one said that one. So that's going to be interesting to see - in a deficit, when they're cutting services for residents and then seeing tax breaks for businesses, how that's going to fly.

[00:13:02] Daniel Beekman: Yeah, I think that it's not surprising or out of bounds for the new councilmembers and the new council president to feel like they have a kind of mandate. And I think voters can feel to some extent like they were installed in office being business-friendly candidates, and the voters knew that - that's not a total surprise. And I think it's understandable that they would say - OK, well, we got put here, this is who we are, and we're going to try to do what we want to do. We'll have to see how the budget actually plays out and the deficit, because there can be updated forecasts and new money comes in - and it's hard to know what that will look like. But I do think what you mentioned about - if there start being cuts to libraries, that might not be a politically savvy thing in Seattle - hands off our library. So I think to that extent, that's where the rubber could meet the road to see how much political juice folks have, if that's the direction it goes. I can see both angles here.

[00:14:05] Crystal Fincher: A lot is still up the air. Interestingly, it wasn't a unanimous vote by the council. One or two votes for this appointment - Joy Hollingsworth, Tammy Morales, and one other councilmember -

[00:14:18] Daniel Beekman: Dan Strauss.

[00:14:19] Crystal Fincher: Dan Strauss, that's right - did not have Tanya Woo as their choice. So there was some difference. So we'll see how these alliances play out. Even though there are ideological differences, councilmembers may still find things that they share, issues that they want to pursue - maybe on not the big headline issues, but other ones. And how those relationships build and progress - maybe that can provide some hope for how things play out with the City.

Also, speaking of the budget, Mayor Bruce Harrell just announced a hiring freeze. As the new council sets out on their quest to audit the budget, Harrell instituted a hiring freeze across all City departments except police, fire and the 911 response division known as the CARE Department. PubliCola covered this - everybody covered this - but this is going to be a significant freeze. Certainly not the first freeze. Hiring freezes are not unprecedented - in fact, with big budget deficits, we have seen this before. It'll be interesting to see how this results and how much money this could potentially save. What do you see? Do you think a hiring freeze makes sense at this point in time?

[00:15:30] Daniel Beekman: I wouldn't weigh in on whether it makes sense or not. It's interesting to see. And obviously, the idea is that we'll save some money leading into the budget season and maybe make some decisions easier, or get rid of some of the hard decisions that might otherwise be there. But also, it's a political signal - I would assume - to say, this is the situation we're in. This is really serious, and we're going to have to make some tough calls coming down the line. And the idea of exempting these public safety positions from that also sends a signal. Again - hiring freeze is one thing, cutting services is another thing - and if it starts to blur into cutting as the year goes on, then that's where you could imagine the average voter starting to get concerned. So it'll be interesting to see how it evolves and also how the relationship between the mayor and this new city council evolves too on something like this, as councilmembers get pressure from various advocacy groups or stakeholders with the budget - and employees - and as the mayor does too. Do they work in lockstep together - the mayor and the council, or the council majority to the extent that there is a clear one - or do they start playing off each other. I'm really curious to see how Mayor Harrell handles the new council - does he see himself as the leader, or is he going to play off what they're doing and position himself as different from whatever tack they're taking. And this hiring freeze and how it continues to play out could start to show what that relationship might be, I think.

[00:17:09] Crystal Fincher: That is going to be interesting to watch. This hiring freeze was not a surprise to me. Again, it's not unprecedented. The City is facing a very serious budget deficit with some major structural issues. Over the years, there have been several short-term, or shorter-term, sources of funds that have been used to plug holes, get us through some challenging times - and that's all coming to roost now. There are several needs for permanent funding that don't currently have permanent funding sources attached. Also, it's going to be interesting to see what they end up doing with the JumpStart Tax and the revenues from that. That certainly has been dedicated to a number of issues that have provided some very important services to people who need housing assistance, small business assistance, eviction assistance - just really plugging some of the real critical gaps for folks and businesses in the city. But this is being eyed as a source of revenue for some of the other priorities or things that they're looking to shift to. And they have signaled that that may be a source of revenue that they look to divert or repurpose.

And you're right - how the relationship develops between the mayor and council is going to be interesting to watch, especially since Bruce Harrell played a big role in recruiting and helping to elect these councilmembers - the majority who were elected, the new ones. He had talked about for a while, other people had talked about - Well, there needs to be more alignment between the mayor and council to get things done. Bruce talked about he wanted a council that would partner with him and that was loyal to him, really. And he has that now. And so from that perspective - okay, the barriers that you said that you had to being able to move forward on the priorities that you've set forth have seemingly been removed. So now we can expect to see, or we should expect to see, action on some of the priorities that have seemingly lagged or that there hasn't been as much progress on over the past two years since he took office. So it's going to be interesting to see what they set as an agenda, how aggressive they are with addressing priorities that residents have had when it comes to public safety - making everyone safer in the city, which they are taking steps to do. And some of the things that they've talked about with the CARE Department that is now rolling out a co-response kind of partial model for some mental health calls. Tammy Morales did make a point in some of her remarks to remind the colleagues that Bruce Harrell is not their boss. They don't work for him. They are partners with him. He's a colleague. He isn't a superior. And so it'll be interesting to see if - on the flip side, they view themselves as a check to some things that may come out of the mayor's office. We'll see how that turns out. It looks like there is broad alignment right now and a culture of positivity that they're trying to enforce - wanting to not have any negative comments, to get along and be really collegial. And we'll see if that results in some significant progress on homelessness, on public safety, on economic development, on just help for the people who need it most in the city.

[00:20:25] Daniel Beekman: Yeah, I think you're right that - in terms of the mayor, he's halfway through his term now and now has this friendly city council. So yeah, you would think that now would be the time to do the things that he promised to do on the campaign trail and that people want to see City Hall accomplish. So what are those things? It'll be interesting to see what comes out of his office this year. Is it just going to be taking care of those must-dos? We talked about the Comp Plan and Transportation Levy renewal and the budget. Or is there something more proactive that's going to come from his office on housing and homelessness? The voters just passed a new Housing Levy last year. But yeah, what's going to come out of his office - if anything - that's a big ticket item this year now that, like you said, in theory, there shouldn't be any barriers to him getting done what he wants to get done.

[00:21:18] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. I also want to talk about news this week about the comment that we heard from an SPD police officer mocking, really, Jaahnavi Kandula’s death - she was killed by a police officer who was responding to a call - killed in a crosswalk, hit by his cruiser while he was driving it. And those comments made international news for how just grotesque and callous they were. I don't think anyone, besides perhaps the police union, is arguing that they weren't absolutely detestable. But it's been quite some time, but there was just an Office of Police Accountability finding at a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday where they found that the vice president of Seattle's police union acted unprofessionally and showed bias when he made callous comments downplaying the death of Jaahnavi Kandula. What did you think of this finding and this incident?

[00:22:24] Daniel Beekman: Yeah, well, I don't think it's surprising that the watchdog agency, the OPA, would come down with this finding, although I don't think they released what their recommendations for discipline were - it just goes, they sent it to the police chief, Adrian Diaz, for him to decide whether he wants to concur with those unknown recommendations for discipline or he has to justify doing something else. So yeah, I don't think it's surprising that the OPA would come down on it this way, given what their role is as a watchdog agency and given what happened and all the uproar locally, nationally, internationally. I think the big question is what the police chief is going to do and what the mayor, his boss, is going to do. It seems like a major moment for, again - what is the relationship between the mayor and the police chief and the police union? We'll be waiting to see what happens. And a little bit interested that - I could imagine a world in which the police chief and the mayor, knowing that this recommendation was coming down from the OPA, would get their ducks in a row. Let's say, if they were sure they were going to concur - this is kind of speculation - but if they were sure they were going to concur with the recommendations and kind of be ready right away to say - Yes, we agree with this and here's the action we're taking now, boom. And the fact that that didn't happen concurrently with this coming out from the OPA and that the police chief apparently is taking time to take a look at it is interesting. And then, of course, there's the ongoing investigation into the incident itself and the officer who was involved in the fatal collision. So that's a whole other thing that's still waiting out there as well, and whether he - what kind of consequences he might face.

[00:24:17] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and I think that's where the rubber is really going to hit the road here is - so what are you going to do about it? And like you said, the OPA investigator did not make his finding public. The police chief will have to decide whether he's going to fire this officer, whether he's going to discipline him in any way. But that's going to be really interesting to see, especially in an environment where they are really supportive of police - they do have plans to hire more officers - they are trying to signal it's a new day in our relationship with the police department. At the same time, the mayor has at least given lip service - and I think some of the other new councilmembers have - saying that, But we do want to take accountability seriously. This looks to be perhaps their first test of this under the new council. And especially with something that there doesn't seem to be much ambiguity on where the general public is on this - it is pretty detestable. And even in the findings from the OPA director, it was pretty stark what they said. They said his comments were "derogatory, contemptuous, and inhumane" - that's a quote from Betts' summary. Said - "For many, it confirmed, fairly or not, beliefs that some officers devalue and conceal perverse views about community members." This is not something where it's anywhere close to acceptable. It said the investigators concluded that his comments did in fact violate SPD policies - that the department prohibits behavior that undermines public trust, including any language that is derogatory, contentious, or disrespectful towards any person. The policy also prohibits prejudicial or derogatory language about someone's discernible personal characteristics, such as age. They directly violated those, and at a time where I think everyone acknowledges there needs to be trust rebuilt between the police department and the community - that those are really serious violations. And if we're serious about creating a culture that is different than this, then can this remain in the police department? So a decision coming up that hopefully - I certainly would hope - that they find this is not compatible with the police department or its culture. But we'll see how this turns out.

[00:26:33] Daniel Beekman: Yeah, and I guess what raises the stakes - and of course the stakes are so high for the family involved and all of that. But what also raises the stakes here for the city is that this isn't just any police officer, but this person is vice president in the police officers' union, SPOG, and the guild. So right up at the top of the officer hierarchy and embedded in the culture of the force.

[00:27:01] Crystal Fincher: Now, I do want to talk about a story that you wrote this week that I think is really important to cover. It's about a school in Snohomish County seeking some relief from a gravel yard sited next door. What is happening here and who's being impacted?

[00:27:20] Daniel Beekman: Sure. This is an interesting one. So basically what's happening - this is an elementary school in the Mukilteo School District, but it's not in the city of Mukilteo. It's in this wedge of unincorporated Snohomish County between South Everett and Mukilteo. And next door on the same campus is a big kindergarten center that serves as the kindergarten for a larger area - so there's maybe close to a thousand kids on this campus. And there's this piece of property right next door to the school, closest to the south wing of the school - and some portables and the asphalt playground - that was a vacant lot until a couple of years ago. A company bought it that's involved in mining and gravel and sand and other construction materials with a mine up in, I think, Granite Falls, Snohomish County. And they bought this property to use as basically a gravel yard, sort of a distribution hub. So they'll bring stuff down from the mine and put it in piles there with big trucks. And then trucks will come get the material to take out to job sites. And for at least a while, they're also using it to bring in, I believe, construction debris from job sites and then to be taken elsewhere.

And especially starting last spring, the school started noticing - at first, they said they didn't get any word about what this was or that this was happening in advance - they just saw construction activity happening on this property. And then last spring started realizing - Well, this is a permanent thing. They're not building something. This is just what it is. And it's going to be like this for the foreseeable future. And they say they've been dealing with dust from these materials and with lots of noise from the trucks rumbling around and the construction vehicles' buckets slamming against the sides of the trucks as they're unloading and loading. They say it's really disruptive to classes - some of the classes, especially closest to the property - and also they're concerned about health impacts in terms of the dust. It's hard for them to know exactly what to attribute or not attribute to the dust, but they've talked about more bloody noses and black snot and headaches and stomachaches among students and teachers. So that's kind of what's going on.

And where government comes in is that it turns out that this gravel yard operation hasn't had any permits since the start. And there were some complaints filed last spring about this, and the county basically has taken the stance of - Yeah, they don't have any permits. There was some kind of mix up, perhaps, but we're going to work with them to bring them into compliance. What they're doing is, in theory, allowed under the zoning of this property. So yes, they need permits and they need to do various things to get those. But we're going to give them time to do that and work with them to do that to see if they can. And the school district and people at this school are saying - Why are you continuing to allow them to operate when we say it's disruptive to our classes and our kids learning, especially if they don't have the permits? So that's what I wrote about. It's a weird situation.

To the bigger picture about why it matters - obviously, it matters to the kids and the teachers there. But the bigger picture - there's a question about priorities of Snohomish County government that's being raised. Even one teacher wrote in a letter to the county council something along the lines of - what's worth more, kids or dirt? So there's sort of a question of priorities there and what the handling of the situation says about those. And then also - what I found interesting was the principal and others raising a question of environmental justice or equity and saying - Look, this school, it's on unincorporated land. There isn't a city hall to look out for us in this case. The school serves - I think, about 70% of the students qualify for free lunch, about half are multilingual learners, which means they speak a language other than English at home. There are a lot of immigrant and refugee kids. And the principal just said straight up - If this was happening in different neighborhoods or with a different demographic of students, I don't think the powers that be would be putting up with it. So that's the story, and we're going to keep following it and see what happens.

[00:31:55] Crystal Fincher: This was disappointing for me to read - just because that did seem to come through. It does seem to be a question of priority. When you talk about bloody noses, stomachaches, headaches, black snot - I mean, that is alarming to think of as a parent. If you see that going on with your kid, you know something's wrong. If you see that happening with your students and it wasn't previously happening, you know something's wrong. Again, like you said, it's hard to know exactly how to attribute it. But if this is a newer occurrence, you're going to ask questions and want a remedy. I think in the story you talk about - they can see the dust and there have been studies recently talking about how harmful particulate matter can be for developing lungs and hearts and brains - and for everyone, kids and teachers there. It's a big challenge. And for this to be happening suddenly - no notice, not current or appropriate permits for what they're doing - and the remedy to be, Well, we'll just let them keep doing it. Who knows what's going on at the school and we'll work with them to make sure they get up to code so they can keep doing this, instead of working to ensure that the kids are safe just seems backward.

And it really does stand in contrast with so many other issues that we see people talk about when it comes to keeping kids safe, keeping schools safe. We restrict several activities around schools - really common ones are you can't have guns in school zones, you can't have any weapons, you can't have alcohol - that kind of stuff. We restrict, and some cities have sought to restrict, whether homeless people can be in vicinities of schools - which I personally think is misguided, but there have been cities that have done that. And so why is it so important to keep kids safe in those situations, but not this one? Why is it in this particular situation that the health of these kids doesn't matter? And not just the health impacts, but that this has been very disruptive to their learning - they've had to restructure their days. Extremely loud and disruptive, which studies have shown does impact, does hinder learning. So why is this allowed to continue unpermitted without any kind of approval or exploration about whether this is an appropriate and compatible use? I do hope the Snohomish County government does better. I hope they engage more actively in this. I hope that they do track down what is happening with these kids and that they are able to mitigate this. But it does seem like these stories often go unreported, so appreciate you servicing this. We're used to hearing - we think of a place like Magnolia or Laurelhurst and how much process there is around anything new that happens. And that this is allowed to just up and happen in a different area, in a poorer area, just seems really disappointing and a reflection on priorities that need to change.

Also want to talk this week about the City of Seattle settling with Black Lives Matter protesters from 2020 for $10 million. What happened under this settlement?

[00:35:09] Daniel Beekman: Well, the City Attorney's office in the city made a calculation and said - We're going to cut our losses here, in terms of the money that we're spending on the case and the money that we could end up paying at the end of it if we continue. And that's what they do is - they make a calculation, and they negotiate - and say $10 million is what it's going to take to make this case go away, but we might have to pay more if we continue. And it wasn't a case where the City said - And we're admitting fault. Sometimes - I think rarely - but sometimes the city, public entity will say something like that with a settlement. That wasn't the case here. They said this is a straight up calculation of risk for tax dollars and that's why we're settling this case. But that's what happened. And it's the latest in a now pretty long series of settlements of lawsuits related in one way or another to the May, June, July 2020 timeframe. And it will be interesting, actually, to try to tally them all up and see what the final number would be. But this is, I think, the biggest - but there have been a whole bunch of settlements in the six-figures and over a million dollars related to the protest summer of 2020. I think there still is some litigation hanging out there, so we may continue to see more. And I don't know how much closure this will bring to the city and to the plaintiffs involved here from this time, but definitely a big settlement.

[00:36:45] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, this is already - as you said, City Attorney Ann Davison reiterated the City was not admitting any fault here. This lawsuit was filed about three years ago, has already cost the City in defense and expert witness fees. Among the plaintiffs were a woman who had a heart attack when she was struck in the chest by an SPD blast ball, and a man who was hospitalized in a coma after his arrest, a veteran who uses a cane and was gassed and tackled because he didn't retreat fast enough - because the cane was viewed as a weapon - there were lots. The police indiscriminately fired tear gas and blast balls in this neighborhood - not only impacting protesters, but also impacting the entire neighborhood. There were people who were just in their homes who were impacted. by this. It was quite a significant event. Even though the City did not admit any fault, there was a finding by a federal judge saying officers had used excessive force and had violated the free speech rights of thousands of residents who were legally gathered. It really was a stain on the police department - another thing that most people looked at and said, This is not right. This should not happen. This is a violation of trust, and really just harmful to residents in the city. Police are supposed to be there, philosophically, to protect people. And seemingly the opposite happened here.

The attorney for the plaintiffs, along with some of the plaintiffs, did have a press conference yesterday and said - Hey, the City's not admitting fault, but they really should be. And there was so much that was troubling that happened here. The attorney cited other incidents, including a hoax perpetrated by the department to scare protesters into thinking armed members of the Proud Boys extremist group were in the area. The City hired an expert, University of Liverpool Professor Clifford Stott, who's among the world's foremost crowd policing experts. And I thought this was pretty jaw-dropping - Stott reportedly concluded that, particularly during the early days of Seattle's protests, he had not seen the level of violent aggression by police against unarmed protesters "in any democratic state." That's just a pretty stark, horrible conclusion - saying that this doesn't happen in democracies. We don't see this kind of reaction in free societies. And so this is a really significant payout. And once again, we're seeing a large payout because of police violations and misconduct. We're now seeing this happen while we're hearing - There's not much money to go around. We're trying to figure out what to do with the shortfall, yet we're still paying out this extra money. And it just seems like this should be a signal that - Hey, there is a reckoning that needs to happen within the department, within the city that perhaps hasn't happened yet. And maybe the insistence that - Hey, there's no fault here seems a bit out of touch. How did you see this?

[00:39:56] Daniel Beekman: I'm not sure about the admitting wrongdoing aspect of it and what reasoning is behind that decision. But I think a bigger picture question is - okay, so there's this big payout for the plaintiffs. It's a headline. It's meaningful in those ways. But the bigger question is - okay, well, if something happens and there are big protests - what if a decision comes down that people don't like in that other case we were talking about, the fatal collision? And there are protests on the street and the police department is sent out to handle those protests. Are we going to see the same thing happen again? That's the real question, right - is what's been put in place in regulation and policy and law and culture to ensure that things are done the right way the next time? And I think there's an open question about would things be different again, or not? So I think that's the thing that it would be helpful to hear from policymakers and from City leaders on. The look back is important, but there's that question of - what about next time? What do you think about that?

[00:41:14] Crystal Fincher: No, I think you're exactly right. I personally would love to hear from the police chief, from the mayor - who are directly responsible for the police department - what about next time? I think that's the right question to ask and what they should be asking themselves. What is going to change? How have we responded to this? Have policies changed in response to this? Has training changed? Has any guidance changed? Have they responded to this with any criticisms, with any - Hey, I would like this to change. This is under their purview. This is under their control. So how are they asserting their leadership? How are they affirmatively trying to shape this culture? Or are they just kind of taking a hands-off policy and hoping this doesn't happen again? - Hey, we'll deal with something if it directly lands in our lap, like we need to make a disciplinary decision on the one case that we talked about earlier that you just referenced. But when it comes to culture, when it comes to how things are looking moving forward - what is their vision for that? What are they setting forth? How are they leading? It's their responsibility. How are they handling that responsibility? Are they handling that responsibility? And I think residents are interested to hear that. They want to know that there are plans in place and that there is a response. Or are we setting ourselves up again for harm against residents of this city, and lawsuits that drag on that are really expensive - that take time and money? And here we go again. So I do hope they address that. And maybe, this new council can help prompt some of those questions - maybe as these conversations take place and as there are more press conferences, we can hear more about that, hopefully.

And with that, we thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, January 26th, 2024. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today was Seattle Times politics and communities reporter, Daniel Beekman. You can find Daniel on X, also known as Twitter, at @DBeekman. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter at @HacksWonks. You can find me on Twitter - all platforms - at @finchfrii. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review shows and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.