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Council vs. mayor on panhandling, adding officers

City Council accuses mayor of holding on new police officers. But mayor says he will veto the council's aggressive panhandling ordinance.
Mayor Mike McGinn leaves a discussion with Seattle City Council

Mayor Mike McGinn leaves a discussion with Seattle City Council Crosscut photo

It's a duel via press offices between Mayor Mike McGinn and the Seattle City Council over public safety.

Awaiting a veto by Mayor Mike McGinn of a new ordinance on aggressive panhandling, the Seattle City Council has sent off a letter questioning the mayor about whether he is following through on hiring 20 new police officers. The council letter says that members have heard that the hiring of the officers has been put on hold.

The letter expresses concern about a hiring hold because the new officers, a plan for more neighborhood-oriented policing and new housing efforts, as well as the panhandling ordinance, were all part of a larger package to improve public safety. "While we appreciate the budget difficulties we face in dealing with lower than expected revenues, public safety is a core city service," the letter says. "We remain firmly committed to the full implementation of the Neighborhood Policing Plan. We are troubled by the halt in hiring net new officers and that this decision was made without consulting the council."

All nine council members signed the letter. But when it comes to the likely veto, numbers are the council's problem, not its strength. The panhandling measure passed only 5-to-4, meaning the council will have a hard (read: impossible) time standing up to the mayor to override a veto.

Shortly after the letter went out, the mayor's office sent an announcement that he will sign a veto letter on the panhandling ordinance at 1:30 pm Friday. And he played his own numbers game, with the statement saying he would "be joined by community leaders."

Unless somebody on the council wants to switch positions — and do so in the face of the mayor's having rounded up a group of leaders to support him — McGinn is likely to come off as the victor in the first round with a supposedly re-energized council.

The Seattle Times notes that McGinn talked about the hold on a police increase as a budget matter this week. But the council had also stressed in a January letter that all members wanted additional officers on the streets, and the new letter points out that the issue came up again earlier in the month during a committee meeting with police officials without the council being told of the hold.

While the council-passed budget for this year included money for additional officers, the mayor has the authority to decide against expenditures. Politically, a city council wanting to assert itself would be expected to retaliate by cutting money for McGinn-favored items in the 2011 budget if he doesn't come around on the hiring. More immediately, though, the council's complaints could bring community pressure to go ahead with the hirings. But that won't occur in any organized fashion before McGinn has the chance to make a public show of receiving support for his veto.

Joe Copeland is political editor for Crosscut. You can reach him at Joe.Copeland@crosscut.com.


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