Who speaks for Seattle? In responding to the court-appointed monitor's plan for the Seattle Police Department to avoid violating the constitution and federal law, Mayor Mike McGinn said it was the mayor. City Attorney Pete Holmes said it was the city attorney.
McGinn made the issue temporarily moot on Friday when he stopped objecting to the plan and said that after talking with the monitor, Merrick Bobb, he had told Bobb he accepted "the monitoring plan submitted to the court with the mutual understanding that the plan is a living document." The court will presumably approve the plan on Tuesday.
Seattle's municipal charter, article XIII, section 3, says that "[t]he City Attorney shall have full supervisory control of all the litigation of the City." That's clear enough. But does approving the monitor's plan under a federal court order qualify as litigation? McGinn clearly thinks it doesn’t. The mayor’s spokesman, Aaron Pickus said, "we're not in litigation. We have settled this." Period.
Others disagreed. Holmes' office wouldn't comment on the dispute, but Holmes was clearly among those who thought that since it was happening in a court of law, it was indeed litigation.
"This is not a new issue," Pickus said. It was basically the latest round of an old disagreement. In 2011, when Holmes sued to keep a referendum on contracts for the deep-bore tunnel off the city ballot, McGinn questioned his authority to bring the case. The court said he lacked authority.
This time might have been different. Then, the issue was a last-ditch attempt to stop the tunnel. Now, even before McGinn caved, it seemed clear that no one was going to stop the monitoring or make the agreement to monitor go away. In December 2011, the Department of Justice announced after an investigation that it had "found that [the Seattle Police Department] has engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force that violates the Constitution and federal law. Our investigation further raised serious concerns that some SPD policies and practices, particularly those related to pedestrian encounters, could result in discriminatory policing."
The DOJ and the city negotiated a memorandum of understanding and a consent agreement that was filed in U.S. District Court. (The city never conceded it had done anything wrong. It has agreed to solve a problem without acknowledging that the problem exists.)
The Department of Justice quickly filed a notice of approval, signing off on the monitoring plan. The plan "complies with the requirements of the Settlement Agreement," said U.S. Attorney for Western Washington Jenny Durkan. It "does not impose new obligations on the parties, and avoids unnecessary delay." McGinn disagreed, saying in a press release that it did go beyond the bounds of the agreement and also changed some of the timelines. Holmes did not object to the plan.
"Do not represent to the Court or the monitor that the City has approved a monitoring plan," McGinn told Holmes in a leaked memo, "until you have received written authorization from me."
Holmes replied, "I cannot comment in detail on the mayor’s counterproductive statements, except to say that this is a sad day for Seattle." Presumably, a succession of sad days followed, but Holmes office wouldn't talk about the details.
Pickus said the police department "is ready to go," but the monitor's "initial drafts ... significantly extended the timeline for review” of proposed policies and training curricula, stretching it from 45 days to six to nine months. There were also "a few other issues where it felt like the monitoring plan was out of compliance " with the consent decree. In some areas, the plan seemed "much broader." Pickus said the mayor's office was "continuing to meet with the monitor, the city attorney's office, the Department of Justice."
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!