Turmoil surfaces in Seattle City Council’s push to reimagine public safety

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Turmoil surfaces in Seattle City Council’s push to reimagine public safety

Last fall, Seattle City Council awarded a $ 3 million contract to a community coalition to find new ways to ensure public safety.

That coalition, King County Equity Now (KCEN), was a leading organizational force behind the protests against systemic racism and police brutality last summer, and one of the most prominent voices behind the push to disappoint the police.

But the city-funded research project is now in turmoil. Leading researchers said they are separating from King County Equity Now on charges against the KCEN leadership of “improper communications,” late paychecks and “layoffs of the living” experiences of some black community members. “

“Many research teams have completed and will continue to complete this work, and we will continue to adhere to the highest standards of research ethics, community accountability and transparency,” said Shaun Glaze and LéTania Severe, the research project co-directors said in a public letter Monday. “Doing this work with KCEN while meeting these commitments has become untenable because the environment created by the KCEN leadership no longer makes it easy to do the job in a responsible and well-managed manner.”

In an interview, Glaze said their work will continue and they will complete the project with the aim of redefining public safety.

The city’s contract to conduct the research, known as the Black Brilliance Research Project, does not actually exist with King County Equity Now. To get around the requirement that the contract be tendered, it was awarded to Freedom Project, a Seattle nonprofit, which then outsourced much of the work to King County Equity Now, Seattle City Council Insight reported.

This contract is currently being reviewed by Washington state auditors, Crosscut reported.

Glaze said that not much would change in the end, but that Freedom Project would now hire subcontractors directly instead of subcontracting King County Equity Now.

Glaze, who uses the pronouns they and they use, said they worked without a contract but expects to be “compensated for this work from the city contract” or some other source of funding.

Councilor Tammy Morales, whose office manages the contract, said Monday night she was not yet aware of the specific grievances in the letter, but “the work itself remains crucial in informing policies that affect black and brown communities . “

The city council commissioned the appeal of Mayor Jenny Durkan, who vetoed the $ 3 million, saying she supported the concept but it was too expensive.

“I support community-based organizations leading some important parts of the research and the process. However, some of the work can be done by the executive and legislative branches for much less money, ”Durkan wrote. “Also, I disagree with what the council’s financial report says that the community-led process” should “work towards a goal of making the city live a life without a police presence.”

More than 100 people, some paid, some volunteers, contributed to the research, leaders said.

The study aims to develop a “participatory budgeting” process in which the member of the community will determine how the city will spend up to $ 30 million on funding. The preliminary report has hundreds of pages of responses to a survey seeking opinions on how community members would spend money.

Glaze, along with King County Equity Now executives Emijah Smith and TraeAnna Holiday, presented preliminary results to the city council last week.

“There are people on the ground who are the experts, and King County Equity Now has really created a sense of connectivity between us all by bringing all of these experts together,” Holiday told the council.

But these tensions boiled beneath the surface. In Monday’s letter, Glaze and Severe write that they are “referring specifically to KCEN’s three-person executive team and board of directors who would not hold the leadership accountable”.

The three-person executive team consists of Smith, Holiday and Isaac Joy, the group’s President and CEO.

In a written statement Monday, King County Equity Now said, “We take our responsibility to manage resources very seriously.”

“As we move from a volunteer initiative to a formal not-for-profit, we take the time necessary to slow, create, and implement expanded, improved structures and processes with many more community members talking to them,” the group wrote.