Clarification: In the original version of this story, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office said $100 million for BIPOC communities would not come from new revenue and specifically not from a business tax recently passed by the City Council. Durkan’s office later retracted that, describing the mayor’s budget as too complicated to answer unequivocally whether new revenue would be used for the $100 million.
The $100 million that Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has promised to invest next year in response to the movement for Black lives will come from the city’s general fund and the spending will be guided, to some extent, by a new task force of community members, Durkan said Friday.
Durkan initially shared the details Friday in an interview on Converge Media’s Morning Update Show and in an op-ed in the South Seattle Emerald about what she’s calling an “Equitable Communities Initiative.”
“Millions have taken to the streets across our country to demand change. We must heed their calls,” she wrote.
The mayor didn’t disclose how she intends to carve $100 million from a general fund ravaged by the COVID-19 crisis, nor did she name the members of the task force, stirring some questions and concerns about representation and budget moves.
Some community members have turned down invitations from Durkan to serve on the task force, skeptical that the panel will lend real power to the grassroots movement, they said Friday.
“This isn’t a true participatory budgeting,” with community members deciding where the dollars should come from and go to, said Sean Goode, who directs a South End youth program and said he declined an offer to serve as the task force’s co-chair. “This is like putting the cake in the oven and inviting you to put the frosting on top.”
In an email, Durkan spokesperson Kamaria Hightower said the task force will have wide latitude in recommending approaches, such as participatory budgeting, for how the $100 million should be distributed.
“BIPOC communities are represented by a wide range of organizations and our office is in ongoing conversations with many who are excited about the task force,” Hightower added.
Michelle Merriweather, president of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, said she hadn’t been invited to serve on the task force but would be interested.
“I have questions, but I come from (the tradition): ‘Nothing about us, without us,'” Merriweather said, calling $100 million a “down payment” on systemic changes that are needed to combat institutional racism. “I just hope the table is inclusive of people that don’t always agree and that all voices are heard.”
The money will be reserved for Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities, Durkan said. When she first made the $100 million pledge, in early June, as protests against police killing and racism surged, she said it would benefit programs for Black people in particular.
City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who chairs the council’s budget committee, said she worries the $100 million could involve slashing funding for other services — robbing Peter to pay Paul. The council recently passed a new tax on large businesses, over the mayor’s objections, to bolster city programs.
Durkan will release more information about the fund and name the members of the task next week, she said. Tuesday is when the mayor is scheduled to unveil her plan for the city’s 2021 budget and send it to the council.
It will be a crucial day for Durkan, who repeatedly pointed to her $100 million pledge and the 2021 budget this summer as she opposed demands from many protesters to move 50% of the Police Department’s $400 million annual budget to community solutions and services.
The mayor last month vetoed council bills meant to start shrinking the police force and scaling up community solutions as part of a 2020 budget rebalancing process; the council overturned her vetoes this week.
“Many believe we should defund the police by 50% or abolish the police altogether. I have been honest in saying I do not agree,” Durkan wrote in her op-ed Friday.
“But I do strongly believe we must significantly redefine community safety by reimagining the role of police, build up community-based alternatives and most importantly, actually invest in parts of the system that have failed our communities for far too long,” she added.
The mayor’s Equitable Communities Initiative task force, with technical assistance from city employees, will “help make policy and programmatic recommendations” on how the $100 million should be spent and what the money should achieve, according to a new website for the initiative. The group will deliver those recommendations by December, allowing Durkan to advance the investments with a budget proposal next spring, her office said.
The task force’s work won’t include recommendations to invest in specific programs and organizations, though, and Durkan already has decided what the group’s four focus areas should be: Building Opportunity and an Inclusive Economy; Community Wealth Building and Preserving Cultural Spaces; Community Wellness; and Climate Justice and Green New Deal.
“We need to repair centuries of racism and discrimination that have perpetuated harms against Black communities,” the mayor wrote in an email to all city employees Friday. “History is demanding that we fundamentally reshape our budget priorities to invest in BIPOC communities in a new way.”
By announcing only some details about the $100 million Friday, Durkan ensured questions would linger over the weekend, and some community organizers already have doubts about the initiative.
Goode initially accepted the mayor’s task force invitation because he wanted to “be a bridge” to City Hall, he said, but changed his mind after conferring with other organizers who have for months been pressing City Hall to adopt a participatory budget approach in which community members develop and vote on programs.
He said he was surprised to see Durkan announce the task force without mentioning concerns he and others have raised. “This is a task force picked by the mayor,” he said. “The funding categories are pre-designated.”
TraeAnna Holiday, a community organizer with the coalition King County Equity Now who co-hosts the Morning Update Show, also declined to serve on the task force for similar reasons, she said. King County Equity Now, which Goode also has supported, has advocated for shifting Police Department spending to other efforts.
“We want to be open to the community for a participatory process,” said Holiday, also an organizer with Africatown Community Land Trust, and she is wondering what the task force will look like. “You’re going to be left with the same old cronies you’ve been doing business with … and not the people on the ground.”
Both Goode and Holiday said Durkan should be held accountable for pledging $100 million on June 7 to “community-driven programs for Black youths and adults.”
“We need major investments in the Black community to bring about real equity, and that will bring equity for other people as well,” Holiday said.
Goode said broadening the scope of the investments to all people of color will “dilute that $100 million.”
In her Morning Update Show interview, Durkan said she didn’t want to limit the $100 million to programs serving Black people, mentioning the toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on Latino people as an example. But the task force could recommend that most of the money be spent to help Black people, she said.
Mosqueda, the council budget chairperson, is eager to know how the mayor has scraped $100 million from the general fund, considering the Durkan administration pegged Seattle’s budget gap at $300 million heading into 2021.
“We support moving money into BIPOC communities, but services like child care and education and libraries and community centers disproportionately assist BIPOC communities and shouldn’t be cut,” she said, noting the business tax revenue is supposed to boost services.
Durkan has said she intends to preserve existing services. “This funding will be in addition to existing programs that are crucial to building opportunities and community health,” she wrote in her op-ed.
In a sense, the council’s votes this week to override Durkan’s vetoes wrapped up City Hall’s 2020 budget battle. But skirmishes could drag on.
The mayor has yet to say how she intends to move ahead (or not) with provisions in the council bills meant to result in dozens of police officer layoffs, reduced wages for police commanders and a transfer of funding from the city’s homeless encampment Navigation Team to contracted outreach workers.
Durkan opposed those moves, warning the layoffs would require union bargaining, the wage reductions could violate contracts and the funding transfer would hamper encampment removals.
The mayor did commit Friday to disburse as soon as possible $14 million allocated by the council for community-based public safety programs. Durkan objected to the loan the council used for the allocation but supports such programs, she said on the Morning Update Show.
An additional $3 million allocated by the council to jump-start community-led public safety research and participatory budget work will be disbursed directly by the council, without Durkan’s involvement.
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