Week in Review: September 8, 2023 - with Robert Cruickshank

Week in Review: September 8, 2023 - with Robert Cruickshank

On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, long time communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank!

They discuss a poll showing that Seattle voters want a more progressive City Council, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction overseeing more and more school districts in budget crisis, gubernatorial candidate Mark Mullet getting financially backed by charter school advocates, and Bruce Harrell’s ethnic media roundtable not going very well. The conversation continues with the possibility of a $19 minimum wage for unincorporated King County, internal drama within top brass of the Seattle Police Department, and reflection on a consent decree ruling that ends most federal oversight of SPD.

About the Guest

Robert Cruickshank

Robert Cruickshank is Chair of Sierra Club Seattle and a long-time communications & political strategist.

Find Robert Cruickshank on Twitter/X at @cruickshank.


Ending Youth Incarceration with Dr. Ben Danielson of AHSHAY Center” from Hacks & Wonks

Poll: Seattle voters want new direction on City Council” by Josh Cohen from Crosscut

State will keep fiscal tabs on three cash-starved Washington school districts” by Jerry Cornfield from Washington State Standard

WA Supreme Court sides with state in suit over school building costs” by Dahlia Bazzaz from The Seattle Times

Big checks for a pro-Mullet PAC” by Paul Queary from The Washington Observer

Harrell asks for better relations with ethnic media” by Mahlon Meyer from Northwest Asian Weekly

King County looks at $19 minimum wage in unincorporated areas” by David Gutman from The Seattle Times

King County Councilmembers propose $19 minimum wage for Skyway and White Center” by Guy Oron from Real Change

Seattle police chief's alleged relationship with employee prompts inquiries, roils department” by Ashley Hiruko & Isolde Raftery from KUOW

Judge ends most federal oversight of SPD, after 11 years and 3 chiefs” by Mike Carter from The Seattle Times

Find stories that Crystal is reading 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 welcomed Dr. Ben Danielson, director of AHSHAY (Allies and Healthier Systems for Health and Abundance in Youth) Center for an important conversation about ending youth incarceration. Today, we're continuing our Friday week-in-review show 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: Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, long-time communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank.

[00:01:19] Robert Cruickshank: Thank you for having me back again, Crystal. It's always a pleasure to be here reviewing the week with you.

[00:01:23] Crystal Fincher: Always a pleasure and I wanna start out talking about a poll that came out this week, sponsored by Crosscut - an Elway Poll - showing that voters seem to want a more progressive City Council. What did this poll reveal?

[00:01:38] Robert Cruickshank: It's a really interesting poll. Crosscut's headline says - Seattle voters want a new direction on the City Council - but if you dig down with the poll itself, it's clear that there's strong support for a more progressive direction. One of the questions they ask is - Who are you more likely to vote for? A progressive candidate, a centrist candidate, or no opinion. The progressive candidate, 49%. Centrist candidate, 37%. And no opinion, 14%. That actually matches pretty closely some of the results we saw in key City Council primary elections last month. In District 1, for example, District 4, District 6 - you saw pretty similar numbers with a progressive candidate getting close to or around 50% and a more centrist candidate getting somewhere between the upper 30s and low 40s. We have a poll, we have the actual election results from the primary - now that doesn't guarantee anything for the general election. But evidence is starting to pile up that - yes, Seattle voters do want a new direction and it's very likely they want to be a more progressive direction.

We've lived for the last three years - certain media pundits and media outlets, like KOMO or The Seattle Times, pushing really hard this narrative that Seattle wants a right-wing turn, Seattle's fed up with a progressive City Council, we're fed up with homelessness, we're fed up with crime - we want to turn to the right, darn it. The poll results and the election results last month just don't support that argument at all. Yes, voters are unhappy and voters are looking at what the progressive candidates are saying and thinking - Yeah, that's how we want to solve this. Yes, we want to solve homelessness by getting people into housing. Yes, we want to solve crime by having all sorts of solutions - including alternatives to policing, alternatives to armed response - to help address this problem. And I think that some of the media outlets and Chamber of Commerce and others, who keep pushing this Seattle-wants-to-turn-right narrative, are just trying to will a story into existence, try to will that reality into existence - but voters are making it clear they're not going along with that.

[00:03:28] Crystal Fincher: It really does make some of the rhetoric that we hear over and over again sound like astroturfing, sound like a marketing project - because like you said, over and over again, these election results and these polls just repeatedly tell a different story. For example, we've talked on this show before about stopping with just - Hey, are you happy with the way things are going or are you dissatisfied? And if people say they're dissatisfied, there's been this assumption - that means that they want to get rid of progressive councilmembers and progressive policy. And that has never borne out in the data. One of the questions - On the issue of homelessness, if you had to choose, what approach should have the higher priority for city government resources? One option is: Moving the tents out of parks and public areas and moving their occupants into temporary shelters - which is a nice way to say sweeps - 41%. The other option: Developing permanent housing and mental health services for people experiencing homelessness - 55%. This is not controversial - we've been talking about this on this show for quite some time, lots of people have - these are serious policies backed by evidence and it just makes sense, right?

And it makes you question how deeply invested are people in the narrative that Seattle is fed up and they want a really punitive law and order, harsh lock-'em-up approach to things - that just doesn't play out. What we're gonna see in this general election, as we've seen before - it looks like we're anticipating some of the same type of communication, same type of commercial, same type of mailers trying to use those same tired depictions of homelessness as if the people who are homeless are the problem and not the fact that they don't have homes to live in. And Seattle sees that. They see that over and over again. And what we see is there is this attempt, especially around public safety rhetoric, to make it just very flat. Either you want more cops and you support cops and Blue Lives Matter and all of that, or you hate safety and you love crime and you don't want anything. And just making it either you're defund or this Antifa radical, or you're wanting more law and order on the streets. It just doesn't turn out that way. People want serious solutions. We've been doing the same things over and over again. And the public is begging these people to keep listening, but it just doesn't work. Like you said, a plurality here prefer a progressive candidate - 12 points higher than a more moderate candidate, as they put it - conservative wasn't a choice in here. Centrist and progressive - as is the way in Seattle - the way things are usually discussed.

Also, when they asked about priorities - How are they evaluating candidates for City Council? It's really interesting. The top answers were: Do they support creating a new department for non-police emergency response, Do they support city funding of substance abuse treatment for people in public housing - both of those at 72%. If you're in the 60s, that's automatic win territory. 72%, it's - how wild is it that this is not on the top of everybody's agenda? Then we move down to - looking at the lower end - the lowest, actually, was: Supporting a three-year moratorium on the Jumpstart tax - that actually made people more likely to vote against someone for voting against a moratorium on that tax, which we've seen the Chamber float and other allied business interests trying to siphon some of that money or reduce the tax that they're paying. And voters are clearly saying no. And people who advocate for that are going to be hurt by taking that position in this general election. So this is just really interesting. One of these questions: Support for Bruce Harrell's agenda. One, I want someone to define what that agenda is - great to ask that in a vague way - what does that mean? And I would love for people to talk - when they talk about the mayor's agenda, Bruce Harrell's agenda - define what that is. I think that's a tougher task than many people might assume at first glance. What else did you see here?

[00:07:38] Robert Cruickshank: There are a couple of things that stood out. You talked about taxes. They asked - How should Seattle cover a budget shortfall? 63% want a new business tax, 60% are willing to tax themselves - this just bolsters the point you just made that, contrary to what the Chamber wants, there's no support out there for slashing business taxes. We want to tax the rich more. And so that's another reason why progressive candidates are going to do well.

Something you said resonated about the astroturfing. And you see these efforts to try to create outrage about different public safety issues. We saw some of that this week, where Sara Nelson had a stunt press conference in Little Saigon - which is facing issues, and the community of Little Saigon deserves to be heard and deserves to have their needs addressed. That's not what Sara Nelson was there to do. She was there to have a press conference stunt where she could stand there with Tanya Woo and say - Where's Tammy Morales? Why isn't Tammy Morales here? The answer is, as Tammy Morales explained, Tammy wasn't invited because Tammy was also at the Transportation Committee hearing in City Hall doing her job and asked where's Sara Nelson? The answer is Sara Nelson's out grandstanding. She's also the same person who's floating things like moratorium on the JumpStart Tax, floating things like sweeps and crackdowns on visible drug use. Sara Nelson somehow snuck into office in 2021 and thinks somehow that the City is supporting her agenda - whatever that might be, whatever right-wing cause she has at the moment - that's not where the electorate is right now. And I think that's all they have - are stunts - because their actual agenda is unpopular.

And I think you're going to start seeing - as a campaign heads into the heat of the general election, the same playbook we've often seen from more centrist candidates. And Jenny Durkan was an expert at this - of just bear-hugging progressive positions, making themselves sound more progressive than they truly are - to try to get elected because they know that's what the electorate in Seattle wants. And then once in office, the mask comes off and they turned out to be the Chamber candidate that they always were. So that's something that the actual progressive candidates are gonna have to watch out for. And voters are going to need to be very careful in discerning between these candidates. Who's just mouthing the rhetoric that they think is going to get them elected? And who's a genuine and proven commitment to these ideals? - Who's really fought hard for taxing the rich? Who's fought hard for affordable housing? Who's fought hard to get services and shelter to people who are unhoused? - rather than people who are just maybe grandstanding on it because they think that's how they're gonna win.

[00:10:00] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and I think you bring up a really important point. It is that discernment. Some of the justification I've heard for people who are very invested in the "Seattle has taken a right turn" try and retcon the justification - well, voters wanted a conservative business owner and they really want that perspective on the Council. They want someone who's gonna knock heads and get tough. But people so easily forget - that's not at all how Sara Nelson ran. Sara Nelson ran as an environmentalist, as someone who wanted to reform the police department - those were her top-line messages in her communications. She wasn't talking about being a business owner, she was not talking about being tough on crime - she initially started that in the very beginning in the primary and that fell flat. And so they switched up real quick and all of the communication looked like it was coming from a progressive. They used the word "progressive" 72,000 times - Oh no, we're the real progressives here. And it didn't turn out that way. And as you said, once she was elected, the mask came off and we continue to see this over and over again. The moderate playbook, the conservative playbook is to mimic progressive. It's to use that same language. It's to talk about issues in a similar way. Leave yourself a little wiggle room to not commit, to not give a hard and fast answer to something so that when you are elected, you can say - Well, I didn't exactly say that - or - I didn't take a position on this.

And we see this over and over again. I hope it doesn't happen again this time, but there's going to be a lot of money spent to try and do this again. And at some point we just have to say - We've seen this before and we've had enough, and we want people who are seriously engaging in how to solve the biggest problems that we face. Because Seattle voters are really frustrated - they are fed up, but fed up with not being listened to. I do congratulate this poll for going beyond just the - Are you happy and unhappy? - and asking the why - What direction do you want to go into? What policy solution do you prefer? And as I suspected, the answers are very enlightening and give you an eye into what voters are really thinking and considering. And I hope all of the candidates - and the electeds who aren't even on the ballot - take heed.

I also want to talk about school districts - right now, just as school is starting over again - facing budget crises and just a world of hurt. What's happening here?

[00:12:28] Robert Cruickshank: As schools are starting across Washington state this year, there are some schools where teachers have gone out on strike, mostly in Southwest Washington - places like Evergreen Schools in Vancouver, Camas in Clark County - and that's worth watching and we're supporting teachers. In addition, we're starting to see an even more ominous trend of districts needing the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, OSPI, to actually oversee their budgets. They need OSPI monitoring because they're in such deep financial straits, primarily because this Legislature continues to underfund our schools. The Legislature doesn't give schools enough money to cover their basic operations, especially in an era of inflation. And so you have at least three school districts that we know of so far, Marysville, La Conner, Mount Baker - these are all in Northwest Washington - are under OSPI oversight for budgets. It's the most, at any one time, in several years - since at least a great recession. OSPI is quoted as saying this is unprecedented. And they don't think it's gonna stop there. It's just the tip of the iceberg - as more and more districts face problems, as federal stimulus money goes away, as levy equalization dollars start to drop, as regionalization money - which is designed to help districts afford to pay teachers what it actually costs to live in their community - that starts to go away from the state. The state continues to underfund special education.

And just this morning before we went on air, we saw the State Supreme Court ruled against the Wahkiakum School District in Southwest Washington, their case where they were trying to get the state to be held responsible for the cost of school construction. The Supreme Court said - No, the state and local governments, local districts are gonna have to share that - even though it takes 60% of voters to approve a school bond for construction, those often fail. And small communities like Wahkiakum, small logging community on the Columbia River, don't have the property tax base to keep their schools in good repair. So what we're seeing is the Legislature, and now the Supreme Court, continue to hand blow after blow to local school districts. And this is alarming, not just because it leads to cuts and even school closures - something they're considering in school districts like Seattle - that's bad enough. But when you start to see state oversight in management of districts, that's when I think red flags should really go up. There's things like appointing emergency fiscal managers - in the state of Michigan and other states where Republicans took over - that led to huge cuts to schools, where these emergency fiscal managers would come in and turn schools over to charter school operators, they tear up union contracts, they would make all sorts of cuts to libraries and music and other important services.

Now, we're not seeing that in Washington state yet, but that architecture is now in place. And if the wrong person gets elected governor or the wrong party takes over the Legislature, all of a sudden these school districts could be losing local control over their basic dollars and spending to the state. So this is a unfolding crisis that the State Legislature and the Democratic majority there continue to ignore, continue to not take seriously - even though it remains in the Constitution, literally their paramount duty, to provide ample provision for funding, not just enough. The open dictionary says more than enough. No one can look at a public school district anywhere in Washington state and say schools are getting ample funding. They're just not. And this crisis is only going to grow worse. We're only going to see further cuts to schools, further closures, larger class sizes, teachers leaving - unless the State Legislature steps in.

[00:16:00] Crystal Fincher: We do have to contend with the fact that this is happening with the Democratic majority, right? Even more frustrating where - this is another issue voters support in such huge numbers - adequately, amply funding education and raising the revenue because revenue is needed to amply fund education. It's really frustrating. And so I guess my question for you, because you do pay such close attention - I do recommend people follow Robert for a variety of things, but his insight on education policy is really valuable - how do we fix this? Is it all on the Legislature? Where is the fix here?

[00:16:39] Robert Cruickshank: The fix is at the Legislature. Local school districts can only do so much. A 60% threshold has not been changed by the Legislature - they have the ability to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to change that, that never happens. But even more, the Legislature has also capped a local operating levy. Seattle, which has a very pro-tax population, would happily tax ourselves a lot of money to have amazing public schools. We can't do that because we're prevented by the State Legislature. And the obvious reason, of course, is Seattle has such valuable property because we have Amazon, Vulcan, other large corporate property owners here who will ensure that the Legislature doesn't do that. So we have a State Legislature and a Democratic majority that is just unwilling to take on the big corporations and the wealthy to fund our public schools. They point to the capital gains tax. And yes, that was an important victory in 2021. And it's raising almost double what was expected. But of course, there's a caveat there. They cap the amount of money that goes to the Education Legacy Trust Fund - anything above that is supposed to go to school construction, which is great - we just talked about the Supreme Court decision and how local governments and local districts in rural Washington definitely need help funding schools. That's great. But what happens when you don't have the ability to pay the teachers to go into those buildings? When you don't have the ability to provide the books, materials, the music classes, the arts classes, the small class sizes that we voted for in 2014?

The Legislature proposed a wealth tax last year - 20 out of 29 Senate Democrats, 43 out of 58 House Democrats supported it as co-sponsors. Surely there were many more who weren't sponsors who were on board. The bill never even made it out of committee in either chamber. At some point, we have to look at the State Legislature and the Democrats, even the progressives - even the Democrats we like and support strongly - haven't stuck their necks out for education, haven't stepped up to say we're gonna fix this. They aren't recognizing the crisis that's there and that's what we have to do. We have to point the finger at the Legislature and go to them at their town halls, to their offices, committee meetings in Olympia, testify virtually if that's possible again in January and make it crystal clear - this is a crisis, it is dire, and you have to fix it. And the only possible source of the fix is the Legislature.

[00:19:02] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Thank you for your insight on that, and we do have to get involved. We have to make sure they hear our voices, demanding that this happens. And while they're at it - to provide free school lunches for all school kids. Also several other states - I think we're at 11 so far - are doing the same, putting us to shame. All states should have this and so we have a lot of work to do.

Also wanna talk about a candidate for governor - Mark Mullet, current sitting senator out of the 5th legislative district, being backed by charter school money. What's happening here?

[00:19:42] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, Mark Mullet, a very right-wing Democrat - he probably would have been a Republican if he didn't realize that being a Democrat would get him elected more easily out there in Issaquah. He's been hostile to teachers' unions for a long time, notoriously hostile to other unions - very nearly lost his reelection in 2020 to Ingrid Anderson, a progressive nurse. Mullet only prevailed by 58 votes, but continues to act as a very right-wing Democrat. And he's always been in love with charter schools - he's been a major obstacle to getting the Legislature to fully fund our public schools. He sits on the Senate Ways and Means Committee. He works with centrist Democrats, corporate Democrats, and Republicans to try to block bills that would fund our schools. And in return, he's now gotten at least $25,000 from a charter school PAC to help fund a super PAC in support of Mark Mullet's run for governor. Polls continue to show so far that Mullet is trailing pretty badly here in the governor's race - Ferguson still has the lead, but it's early. We're well over a year away from the general election for governor. But Mullet clearly is staking his claim as the right-wing Democratic candidate, and the candidate of now folks who wanna privatize our public schools and spread charters everywhere.

And as we've seen in other states, charter schools are really problematic. They don't really meet student needs on the whole. Their outcomes aren't better for students. And they're often fly-by-night operations - they'll close in the middle of a school year and then leave students just high and dry. But it's really revealing that Mullet is taking, or at least getting supported by, so much money - that's not a direct donation to his campaign, but it's clear that they are running a super PAC explicitly in support of Mark Mullet. It's a real sign - that's where his bread is buttered - by big corporations and school privatizer money. So something that I think voters are gonna wanna pay pretty close attention to as the campaign for governor starts to heat up next year.

[00:21:33] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and I do have to tell you, it is very concerning how unstable charter schools seem to be. How many - we see openings and then we see closings. And that just hardly ever happens with public schools. When it does, it's under financial duress and usually over the objections of all of the parents. But this has been something that we've seen with frequency with charter schools here in Washington. But yeah, definitely worth paying attention to that - and what that agenda is by the folks who have that super PAC and what other interests they're in-line with are really troubling. So we'll continue to pay attention to that.

I also wanna talk about a story that came out - I actually think it was late last week, this is a short holiday week and so kind of trickled out - but it was a story about Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell's roundtable with some of our local ethnic media outlets. We have wonderful, rich ethnic media outlets here in Washington State - all throughout the state, definitely here in King County. And the mayor's office seemed troubled by the lack of positive stories coming out, and so invited a number of these journalists to - it looks like City Hall - to have a little roundtable conversation. How did that turn out?

[00:22:56] Robert Cruickshank: Well, it's interesting. Many mayors have met with our local ethnic media - it's a good thing for them to do in and of itself - Mike McGinn did a great tour of them back when I worked with him in 2011. So it makes sense for Harrell to try to reach out, but it doesn't seem to have gone very well. And according to at least one of the reports that was there, the mayor wasn't happy about the meeting being recorded - said he could speak less freely. But I think when you're dealing with journalists, any public official should know that's how journalists like to operate - they wanna record everything. And it just seemed like the mayor wanted to make it very personal and wanted to get good coverage out of these outlets. And that's just not how you actually should be approaching these media outlets to begin with. These folks want respect, they wanna be treated as serious journalists - which they are. And I think that for a mayor to come in the way it appears Mayor Harrell did, I don't think it's gonna serve his needs and certainly not the needs of those ethnic media outlets.

[00:23:49] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, this was covered in Northwest Asian Weekly and it was really a jaw-dropping read because it does seem to start off - Bruce Harrell is a charismatic guy and there's nothing wrong with that, there's nothing wrong with wanting to open lines of communication, to air out any challenges - I think that's a positive thing. Where I think this took a bad turn was this assumption that they should put aside their professionalism, put aside the obligation they have to report - and to seek information and accountability - and just play along, go along with what he says.

And the one thing that caught my eye, which maybe it didn't - well, a few things caught my eye - but one thing that I found troubling in here, which may not be an overt red flag and who knows what he actually meant by that, but there was an allusion to - Hey, there's Comcast money - anyone who works in the City of Seattle is aware of how much Comcast money there actually is in the City. But he said - Hey, the city might be able to facilitate ethnic media getting involved in Comcast channel 21, while also him saying that they were dying - which those ethnic media outlets directly challenged and he seemed to not accept or be willing to do. But dangling - Hey, there's more access, there's more information here for you if you play along. And that's the unspoken part of this. And even if that wasn't intended - I don't know what he intended - but as a public official, you have to be aware of when you're holding that much power, when you have that much control of resources and influence over people who are wielding those resources, and you have access to a bigger platform, and you're saying - Hey, I can help you out with this - there's the implication, if you aren't explicit and careful, saying - If you scratch my back too, if you ease up on the criticism, if you stop asking troubling questions. It seems like they heard that in this meeting and seemed to react - one, just mischaracterizing where they're at and they're not sitting here asking for handouts, they're not asking for anything unearned - they are professionals who put out great products, who many of us consume regularly and they're a part of our media ecosystem that too many people just leave out. And they're saying - No, we're not dying, we're here and we're thriving and we just want answers to our questions. We just want invitations to invites that other reporters are getting invites to.

And there seem to be questions with that, as well as some offense taken to them asking just regular general questions. One reporter, a Black reporter from a Black media outlet, brought up - Hey, we're having a really hard time getting straight answers from your police department. Bruce Harrell is literally the executive to talk to for that - they answer to Bruce Harrell, he is in charge of the police department. And his response - You're the only one who's had that problem. I think everyone listening knows that they're not the only ones who have that problem. We've seen that across the ecosystem in various places, particularly to people who don't cover City Hall sympathetically, and that's just really troubling. You're there and you're not listening to the reporters who are reflecting their communities and trying to get information that is really important to the communities they serve. And the dismissiveness was just really troubling.

[00:27:27] Robert Cruickshank: It really is. And I think it goes to the concerns that those media outlets have had for a long time. They wanna be taken seriously and deserve to be because they're serious journalists - doing serious journalism that is read and respected, not just in those communities they serve, but around the City. And yet they struggle to get invites to press conferences, they struggle to get responses from City departments, they struggle to get included in stories, they struggle to get their basic inquiries addressed. And they understand that a lot of the City's media relations folks, whether it's the mayor's office or City departments, don't always take them seriously. So to have the opportunity to sit down directly with the mayor is hugely important for these outlets - not only to show that they matter, but to get answers and to get things fixed that need to be fixed in the way the City is interacting with those media outlets. And yet for it to go this way, it just, in their minds, likely justifies a lot of concerns they had all along. It's not going to assuage them at all.

And from the perspective of supporting local media outlets, it seems like this should have been handled better. Even from Bruce Harrell's own perspective, it could have been handled better. 'Cause now he's got a story that makes him look bad and raises questions about the way his office is responding to some of the most important media outlets in the City. I think it's - to insinuate that they might be dying goes right to the heart of the problem. These media outlets have been thriving for decades. And it's not easy for any media outlet to survive these days, large or small, no matter what community they serve. And the last thing they want is to be dismissed again - in this case, dismissed as potentially just on the brink of death. I mean, who knows how many of the TV stations are on the brink of death, right? Seattle Times - who knows how long the Blethen family is going to want to keep running it until the family decides to sell it out to Alden Global Capital, which will just gut everything for parts. It's important to treat these media outlets and their reporters with respect, no matter who it is in elected office or whatever City department you're in. And so I hope that the mayor's office puts that right.

[00:29:29] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely agree. Also want to talk this week about a potential $19 minimum wage coming to unincorporated King County. What's being proposed?

[00:29:42] Robert Cruickshank: King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay is proposing a $19 an hour minimum wage for unincorporated King County - so that's outside of a incorporated city. So cities like Seattle, SeaTac have obviously raised minimum wage. Tukwila has raised it, Renton - which is on the ballot this year - likely to pass. But there are about a quarter million people in King County who are not in a city. They live in a community, sometimes, or maybe they don't live in a formal community, maybe they're out in more rural parts of the county - but they're part of King County. And what Girmay is recognizing is there's an opportunity to help them. So what he wants to do is raise the minimum wage for those parts of King County, for those 250,000 people - which is a substantial number of people - to make sure that they can also benefit from a higher minimum wage and raise it to $19. We all know how inflation is hitting people, especially the rise in cost of housing - and Girmay's done a great job trying to address housing as well in his role on the King County Council. But this is a great step forward for the King County Council to not just sit by and say the minimum wage is a city issue or it's a state issue. No, they have a quarter million people they can help right now. And to step forward and propose this, I think, is the right thing to do. I hope that all candidates for King County Council embrace it. I hope that the current councilmembers embrace it and pass it as quickly as they can, because I think this is an important step for folks living in those communities.

[00:30:58] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And they shouldn't be left out of the progress that many of the people who've been able to live in cities have been benefiting from. And sometimes we think unincorporated King County and people just think - Oh, it's just a few people living out in the boonies. You talked about how many people there are, and these are places like Vashon Island, Skyway, White Center - where there are a lot of people - these are our neighbors. They just happen to be in an area that wasn't formally incorporated. And so I see this as definite progress. We have a ways to go to get wages to a place where they're really funding people's lives today. Rents are so high. The cost of living has increased so much. Rents, childcare, these massive costs that are so huge and that are preventing people from being able to fully participate in society, to be upwardly mobile, to live the life that they choose. We know we can do better. We know we owe this to the residents. And I think this starts for businesses that employ more than 500 people. This is [not] burdening small businesses. It just seems like this is really the logical thing to do. Medium-sized businesses with 16 to 499 employees would be given a four-year transition period, but it's really important to get this on the way. This is a very popular policy also, fortunately. And so I am optimistic that this will pass and hope it has the unanimous support of the council.

[00:32:25] Robert Cruickshank: I hope so too. It should be unanimous. I'd like to see Dow Constantine come in strongly for it as well and help use his power and influence to get it done. It should be an issue in the council races - between Teresa Mosqueda and Sofia Aragon, for example. I think it's a really important contrast that can be drawn.

[00:32:40] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. I wanna close out talking about a couple of stories revolving around the Seattle Police Department. The first is a story that broke - I think it was KUOW reported on it - but there have been rumors dogging Seattle Police Chief Diaz about an alleged affair or rumored affair. However, lots of people are really wondering whether to question this because it also may be rumors intended - falsely made up - intended to de-credit the chief and speed his way out. And people are trying to weigh which one of these this is. What happened here and what do you see going on?

[00:33:26] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, this is a sadly typical situation that we've seen in SPD over the years - where different elements of the command staff start sniping at each other and trying to take each other down, rather than focus on their jobs. It's unclear and we don't know - and I don't really care - what Chief Diaz is doing his personal time. Obviously, if it's an employee, then you gotta make sure all rules and ethics are respected - but if people are also throwing around insinuations, that hurts the woman in question. You don't wanna make a woman who's working in SPD subject to these rumors - not just that makes Chief Diaz look bad, the department look bad - you're sullying someone's reputation here. It shouldn't be sullied.

But the bigger question here is - what does it say about SPD and what does it say about how it's being run? We're in the middle of a wave of burglaries that people are complaining about, and complaining about slow SPD response time, people complaining about safety on our roads. And I will say just yesterday near my home in Northgate, I saw a driver go right through a red arrow, turning into an intersection - it wasn't like it turned red right as they were entering, it had been red for some time when they entered - in front of a police car. And the officer did nothing - just let it happen and no enforcement at all. People complain about the number of homicides that are happening. It's a real crisis out there, and concerns about is SPD really doing all it can do to investigate these? Is it doing all it can do to close burglary cases? And yet what do we see SPD doing? Their command staff are sniping at each other and spreading gossip and rumor, whether there's any truth to it or not. And I think it's just a sign of how dysfunctional SPD has become. I think it's also a sign that we need strong leadership to reform this department. We'll talk about, I know, about the consent decree in a moment, but it's clear that there are ongoing management problems. And it raises the question - do we need a external chief to come in, who isn't part of all these rivalries and gossip and jealousies, to come in and put a stop to a lot of this?

But it's just a sign - that these rumors are reaching the media - that SPD's commanders are not focused on the job they say they're focused on. They're happy to blame the City Council, which has no operational control over SPD, which hasn't said a word about defunding the police since they - for a hot minute in the summer of 2020, very gingerly cut a piece of SPD's budget, ever since then they've been showering as much money as they can on the police department - trying to ply them with recruitment bonuses and making it very clear - Oh no, we're not gonna defund you anymore. Sorry, forget about that. The City Council is not the problem here. There's a real problem with how SPD is managed. There's a problem with the command staff. And Council doesn't run that department - as you said earlier, the mayor does. And so we need to see how Bruce Harrell's going to respond to this too, because it's becoming increasingly clear that SPD isn't getting its job done.

[00:36:11] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and it's not getting its job done in any way - people are suffering - and the most cynical thing is there've, no surprise, been SPOG communications in various places literally touting - Detectives haven't been able to respond to this commercial burglary for two weeks and it's 'cause we were defunded. As you said, defunding did not happen. In fact, their funding has increased. They keep giving money to these people despite staffing shortages in other departments too. If that would help, that would be one thing. But even police officers are on record saying - Yeah, these hiring bonuses are not gonna get more people in the door, keep people. Retention bonuses aren't gonna keep people. That's actually not the problem. The problem is not financial anymore.

But it's really troubling just that everyone's eye seems to be off of the ball. And everyone's eye seems to be in a different place than where Seattle residents can see they need to be. As we talked about earlier with those poll results, Seattle residents want a more comprehensive response. They want responsiveness from the police department and they want to shift out responsibilities, assets to manage things in a way that does ensure they can get the service level they expect from the police department - and get other community violence interventions, diversion programs, other community safety initiatives up and running. And they just seem to be focused on literally everything but that. And at a time where everyone is facing this challenge of trying to manage, whether it's crime or behavioral health crises or everything that we're dealing with, they need to do better. We need Bruce Harrell to get this under control - what dysfunction and what disarray - he needs to get a hold of this.

[00:38:01] Robert Cruickshank: He really does. Again, the mayor runs the police department. The mayor has operational control. It's not the City Council. And I think we need to see that leadership from the top to really fix what's gone wrong at SPD.

[00:38:12] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Now I wanna talk about big news that broke last night - that a judge just ended federal oversight of SPD after 11 years. Now you were in the administration that saw the consent decree established. What is the legacy of this consent decree, and where do we go now that federal oversight is largely ending?

[00:38:34] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, the consent decree has its pros and cons. The upside is, and always was - and this is why many in the community demanded it and went to the DOJ in the first place in 2010 and 2011 - they felt they needed a federal judge, a federal monitor and the US Department of Justice to come in and force SPD to improve its use of force policies, to address concerns about biased policing, and ultimately also added in were - later in the process - concerns about how it manages demonstrations. So it's a pro - is that you get an outside body that is widely trusted, certainly when Obama ran the DOJ and now that Biden does, to come in and force the changes that SPD wasn't willing to make and the City wasn't able to make. The downside though is it's a federal legal process that is fairly limited in what it can cover. You're at the mercy of the federal judge, the federal monitor - who wound up stepping in the summer of 2020 to undermine some of the efforts that were taken to reform the department, including cutting SPD's funding. So its coming to an end doesn't mean that SPD has been fixed. What it means is that in the eyes of this judge, the specific conditions laid out in the 2013 consent decree, in his mind, have been achieved. And what does that mean for people here in Seattle? It doesn't necessarily mean that SPD is a clean bill of health and is now operating in a much better place than it had been before. And in fact, the federal judge did retain jurisdiction over use of force and of how discipline is managed. He cares a lot about the contract - having raised significant concerns about the previous SPOG contract that was done in 2018.

But it goes back to something that I remember Mike McGinn saying a lot in 2012, 2013 during this whole negotiation process around the consent decree - pointing out correctly that lasting reform isn't gonna come from the federal government, it's gonna come from the community, and it's going to depend on the ability of City Hall to make change in SPD and make it stick. And he took a lot of heat for saying that. People thought he was trying to keep the DOJ out - he wasn't. He welcomed the DOJ, he was always honest about that, direct about that. But I think he was right. He was right then and right now that with the federal government largely stepping back - not completely, but largely stepping back - bringing an end to much of the consent decree, it's now up to us. It's up to us as a city, as a community, and especially our elected officials in City Hall to actually make sure that what we want done at SPD, what we want done with public safety more broadly happens. As we talked earlier in this podcast, there's a lot of support out there in the public for non-armed response to crime. People want it, it polls off the charts. We still haven't seen it. The mayor's office keeps promising and promising, keeps getting delayed and delayed. This mayor has been in office a year and a half now, and it's time to see it come to fruition - that's going to be another important piece of how we handle policing and public safety in the City - is to have armed officers doing less of it or focusing on the things they need to focus on and not the things where they don't need to be focused on. But we'll see what happens there because as we've seen all along, this is really up to the community to make these reforms stick. The DOJ had its role and we can ask how effective was it really - again, the ending of the consent decree doesn't mean SPD's fixed, it just means certain boxes got checked. But I think we have to see what happens out of City Council elections this year and what the mayor's going to do to address ongoing problems with the police.

[00:41:59] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. All with the backdrop of negotiations happening now for the Seattle Police Officers Guild contract - and that will set the tone for so much moving forward. It's going to be interesting to see how this proceeds.

[00:42:16] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, it really will. And I think that SPOG contract is going to be crucial - and who gets elected to the City Council this fall will play a really big role in how that negotiation winds up.

[00:42:26] Crystal Fincher: It absolutely will. And with that, we'll conclude this week-in-review. Thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, September 8th, 2023. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Shannon Cheng. Our insightful cohost today was Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, long-time communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank. You can find Robert on Twitter - and multiple platforms, I think - @cruickshank. We're all around. You can find Hacks & Wonks on Twitter. You can find me on most platforms as @finchfrii. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, 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.