Jan 28, 2022
On today’s week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Seattle political reporter, editor of Publicola, and author of Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery, Erica Barnett. They discuss Mayor Harrell’s pitch to incorporate technology in Sound Transit fare enforcement, a bill that would force state agencies to improve access to DSHS benefits, new legislation that would create more housing density, a book ban at a Kent middle school, and a proposed retention bonus for Seattle police officers.
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
Sound Transit Fare Enforcement thread by @EricaCBarnett https://twitter.com/ericacbarnett/status/1486834701964697601
“Bill Would Force State Agency to Improve Access to Services or Stop Cutting Off Benefits” by Erica C. Barnett from Publicola: https://publicola.com/2022/01/26/bill-would-force-state-agency-to-improve-access-to-services-or-stop-cutting-off-benefits/
HB 2075 - Establishing service requirements for the department of social and health services: https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=2075&Year=2021&Initiative=false
HB 1782 and SB 5670 - Creating additional middle housing near transit and in areas traditionally dedicated to single-family detached housing: https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=1782&Initiative=false&Year=2021
“Let’s Make #Homes4WA” sponsored by The Urbanist: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/lets-make-homes4wa/
“LGBTQ+ Books Quietly Pulled From Washington State Middle School” by Kelly Jensen from Book Riot: https://bookriot.com/lgbtq-books-quietly-pulled-from-washington-state-middle-school/
“Talk of Seattle Police Department offering $5k retention bonus to keep officers” by Matt Markovich from FOX 13 Seattle: https://www.q13fox.com/news/talk-of-seattle-police-department-offering-5k-retention-bonus-to-keep-officers
[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. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. Today, we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show and today's co-host: Seattle political reporter, editor of PubliCola, co-host of the Seattle Nice podcast, and author of Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery, Erica Barnett.
[00:00:56] Erica Barnett: It's great to be here.
[00:00:58] Crystal Fincher: Great to have you back - always an interesting show with you. Well, today I want to start off talking about Sound Transit - more conversations about fare enforcement, about their budget. What is going on with Sound Transit now?
[00:01:15] Erica Barnett: Well, for the last year or more Sound Transit has not really been enforcing fare non-payment. So when people walk through - we don't have turnstiles here in Seattle - so when people walk through without paying the $3 for light rail, there is a program called Fare Ambassadors. And the Fare Ambassadors are sort of a friendlier version of fare enforcement officers - and they come out to you, they check your ticket, and if you didn't pay, they give you a warning and they take down your information. At a Sound Transit Board meeting yesterday, the outgoing CEO, Peter Rogoff, sort of doubled down on stuff he's been saying for a very long time now - about the need to basically amp up fare enforcement, to get more farebox recovery, which is the amount of money they get from actual fares. Sort of warning of this very dire situation where he says that the agency will potentially be insolvent if they can't figure out a way to collect more fares from people.
Fares have gone down a lot since the beginning of the pandemic, largely because ridership has also been depressed for all the obvious reasons, but Rogoff also said yesterday that people are just increasingly not tapping their cards. He cited the example that he was at a Mariners game and I guess apparently saw a lot of people not tapping their cards and getting on the trains. Now, I would say that's sort of a situation where you don't necessarily want a huge backup with people tapping their cards because there are always crush loads, but he used that as an example of how people who can totally afford to pay the fare are just not paying the fare because there isn't enough of a penalty.
[00:02:58] Crystal Fincher: Okay. And this was Bruce Harrell's first meeting on the Sound Transit Board?
[00:03:05] Erica Barnett: It was. And he made a few comments. As he said, he came in hot with the suggestion that maybe there could be some kind of technological solution to fare enforcement. One of the criticisms of fare enforcement, particularly at Sound Transit, has been that it has way disproportionately targeted Black and Brown riders, particularly Black riders. And that it's all out of proportion to the percentage of Black riders versus white riders on the trains and Asian riders as well. And so Harrell was basically suggesting that maybe there could be a technological fix that would not be racially biased, but that would somehow increase the number of people paying fare and/or increase the number of people being penalized for not paying fare. It wasn't really clear.
Rogoff, the CEO, jumped to, "Well, we don't want to do facial recognition." And Harrell said that's not what he intended, but he didn't really say anything specific about what sort of technological fix there could be. I mean, as we all know, it's not like algorithms are an anti-racist tool. In fact, they're often quite racist. So I would be skeptical personally of any such fix, but again, he wasn't very specific about what it would be.
[00:04:30] Crystal Fincher: Okay. So there are two things in this story that I continue to come back to that just have me in a confused place. One is, okay, let's talk about fare recovery. So they're estimating 40% of their budget should be covered by riders paying fares, correct?
[00:04:58] Erica Barnett: Right.
[00:04:59] Crystal Fincher: How does that compare with other agencies? Does that seem to be a realistic number?
[00:05:03] Erica Barnett: Well, other agencies are generally - always, in almost all cases - lower - nationwide and also in this region. I mean, farebox recovery ranges from 2% for inner city transit to, I believe, King County Metro has a goal of 25% - they might have lowered that. But 40% is incredibly high. And it sort of has set the agency up for a constant cycle of failure, when you define failure as getting all this money back from fares. And as Rogoff pointed out, fare payment has gone down, but it's, I believe, almost always been lower than 40%. So you have to look at the metrics and you have to look at sort of what the values of the agency are. If it's a money-making agency, if the purpose of transit is to constantly be churning money back into the system so as to provide more service and to build more stuff, then that's one thing. But if the value of the agency and the purpose of the agency is mobility and equitable mobility for everyone who needs to get from one place to another, that's another thing. And I think it would - if that was the value - it might cause the agency to deemphasize this idea of a farebox recovery and getting as much sort of profit out of riders as it can.
[00:06:34] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, definitely. It just seems like they're setting themselves up for failure and setting themselves - we have this conversation, it seems like every year. Sound Transit is coming up short - what needs to happen? The other thing I find confounding - and ridiculous to be plain-spoken - is that when we have these fare enforcement officers, Fare Ambassadors, and they find someone hasn't paid a fare and they give them a ticket, I think most people assume that, hey, well, now you're paying a fine, and that fine is going to cover the costs of you not paying your ticket and hiring these Fare Ambassadors or officers, and that is back filling the money in the system. However, with Sound Transit, it's true that the fines that people pay don't go to Sound Transit, correct?
[00:07:25] Erica Barnett: That's right. The fines go to the court system. I mean, right now the maximum fine is $124. And they're looking at a system that would reduce the fine in a lot of cases - probably most cases to $50 - but that money doesn't go to Sound Transit. The whole purpose of the fine is to be punitive and to discourage people essentially from jumping the virtual turnstile and not paying for fear of having to go to court and pay a $50 fine. And then ultimately maybe pay a $124 fine. So yeah, it's a system that doesn't make a whole lot of sense from a financial perspective, because the only thing that Sound Transit is trying to recover is literally just the $3 that you did or didn't pay as you walked onto the train.
[00:08:17] Crystal Fincher: So the cost of fare enforcement officers or ambassadors is purely a cost. It's not how some other agencies sometimes justify it - saying, "Well, the fines end up paying for the officers, and we end up coming out ahead." That's purely a cost and a system that has shown to repeatedly fail to intimidate people into paying a fare when they're not paying, to backfill a budget that was already set unrealistically so that its goal, which has not been attained, continues to not be attained. It just seems like we're going around in a circle and nothing is making sense, and no one's pointing out that nothing is making sense.
[00:09:02] Erica Barnett: Well, people are pointing out that it doesn't make sense, but just nobody at the agency is sort of making the pointed, or at least effective, case that we need to find another way to fund transit. I mean, transit does cost money. When people don't pay fares - in complete fairness to Peter Rogoff and others, Bruce Harrell as well - there is a financial consequence to thousands of people not paying that $3 at the door, right? But the fact is we could also fund our transit system in another way, or in many other ways. There are other systems that fund their transit systems differently. Right now we pay for ours with a combination of fees and motor vehicle licensing and things like that. A lot of employers pay into the system, but we could have an employer tax, for example, that would cover the system more equitably than expecting individual riders to shoulder the cost, including a lot of riders that really can't afford it.
I mean, Rogoff said yesterday, and I thought this was a very telling comment. He said, "Well, we even have these ORCA cards, which are for people of modest means." Well, ORCA cards are only available to people making up to 200% of the poverty line on the federal level, which is actually below our local minimum wage and is way below poverty wages in this incredibly expensive city. And it just felt like, I don't know if - I mean, I assume that Peter Rogoff knows what the federal poverty level and knows a little bit about the cost of living in Seattle - but it felt like such an out-of-touch comment to me that - it felt like, very telling. Yeah.
And so I mean, we are not even near the point of talking about alternative ways to fund this system that we do need funding for and that does need to be expanded. I ride the Light Rail - it's very useful, but I don't think that funding it on the backs of people who can't pay is going to be a great, sustainable, long-term way of funding it.
[00:11:18] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. And for me, I would rather invest money that is currently being invested in this kind of punitive system of trying to intimidate people and fine people into paying - which is not working - into something that is going to move us closer to a more sustainable system. I don't know what the budget line item is for the Fare Ambassadors, but it seems like if we're not recovering that money, if it is purely a cost, that maybe that money can be better invested in a way that could more efficiently help people pay their fares or subsidize those fares in a way that helps the people who actually need it. But we'll see. What is coming next from Sound Transit? I guess, where did things leave and what are the next steps?
[00:12:06] Erica Barnett: Well, they are considering - so they've had this Fare Ambassador program, which is, as I said, is basically just issuing warnings and taking people's information. They are discussing a new sort of system of enforcement that would have up to five warnings. And to me, I mean, again, I don't want to just sort of belabor the Peter Rogoff of it all, but his exasperation at the idea that people would just after warning, after warning keep "refusing to pay" - he was like, "And we can do a first warning, and then a second warning, and then a third warning, and then a fourth warning, and then a fifth warning." And, I mean, it's not like 27 warnings are going to make somebody who can't pay or who is not paying for whatever reason. It's not like any number of warnings is going to be the magic trick. So at any rate, that's what they're discussing - up to five warnings. On the fifth, you would have a penalty of up to $124 fine. Think on the fourth, it would be that $50 fine. So it's just kind of moving the goal post a tiny bit, but still kind of the - basically the same system that we've always had.
[00:13:21] Crystal Fincher: Okay. Well, we will continue to pay attention to it. We've had conversations with you about Sound Transit here before. I'm sure we will in the future. Always interesting. Well, I also wanted to talk about a bill raising an important issue about how people are able to access state benefits and our safety net - like TANF, food stamps, housing and essential needs. And how that's been limited because of DSHS offices being closed. And in an attempt to remedy that, what is happening there?
[00:13:55] Erica Barnett: Yeah, there's legislation being heard next Tuesday that would essentially require DSHS, which is the Department of Social and Health Services, to respond to calls within 30 minutes. So right now, just to back up, their offices have been either completely or partly closed since the beginning of the pandemic. So people seeking services for the most part have to call in or access services online. So when you're talking about people who are low income or maybe homeless, or you don't have internet fluency or access, they're usually calling. So this bill would respond to wait times that are right now - reportedly - sometimes three hours, four hours long, just to get somebody on the phone to tell you that they'll call you back. And it would require 30 minute wait times - no more - and it would set a bunch of standards for sort of levels of service that DSHS would have to provide.
Or if they can't provide them, which seems like a good possibility because the bill does not include funding - it's not a budget bill in this short session - they would not be allowed to penalize people for essentially not meeting deadlines, not getting through. In some cases, for benefits, you have to check in with somebody at DSHS on a regular basis. And people are finding that they simply cannot do that. So this would just say, okay, you can't lose your TANF benefits, you can't lose your food stamps, you can't lose your housing and essential needs benefits that you are receiving because you are a person in extreme poverty simply because you couldn't stay on the line for three hours because your phone didn't have minutes, because you had to get to work, or for any of the many other reasons that anybody can't stay on the phone for three hours.
[00:15:58] Crystal Fincher: Okay. So you say this has a hearing coming up next week.
[00:16:02] Erica Barnett: That's right. On Tuesday.
[00:16:04] Crystal Fincher: Is there any idea who is lining up to support or oppose it?
[00:16:09] Erica Barnett: I am not aware of opposition right now, which is not to say that there will not be opposition. DSHS itself told me this week that they were still looking at the bill and sort of trying to figure out what the ramifications would be for them. The sponsors are Strom Peterson, who's from Edmonds, and Nicole Macri, who is from Seattle and works for the Downtown Emergency Service Center, which is a homeless provider. And the actual - I should say that the drafters of the bill were the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness. So it is a bill backed by homeless service advocates.
One thing Peterson also mentioned to me though is that there's a lot of other folks who use DSHS benefits who are not necessarily homeless - including, he mentioned people with traumatic brain injuries, and also people who've served overseas and have PTSD, people who don't speak English as their first language. One thing I discovered during my reporting is that if you don't speak English and you call the hotline, you are told to leave a message in your own language and someone will call you back. So it's just another little hurdle that is sitting in your way if you want to get services right now.
[00:17:30] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. And I think it's hard for some people to conceptualize, but if you are at the point where oftentimes you need these services, you're already dealing with so many hurdles and barriers in your own life. And just getting to the point where you can ask for help or go through the steps to receive help - you have to overcome several barriers just to do that. And putting barriers in the way of people who are already struggling and - for a variety of reasons - may not be able to sit on the phone for three hours to wait, or have that time available, or not be able to work, or not be able to focus or concentrate or sit in one place for that time - like just putting those barriers in front of this population - we know - so many studies support and looking at the population, we know that is cutting people off from being able to receive the benefits they're entitled to and the benefits that we've decided as a society benefit us all to provide.
It weakens our entire society if we allow people to fall through the cracks and have problems worsen, and then try and address those problems as they present as homelessness or different things. If we can intervene and help and get people back on their feet before problems get that bad, that is the goal and that benefits us all. There is a return on investment there, and it is the good thing to do as humans. So this is really talking about just kind of fundamental needs. And I think there is a need for it. I know that they - DSHS, I think, is dealing with staffing shortages as so many organizations were before the pandemic hit and now are dealing with that being even more of a challenge as people are out with COVID and various things.
So I'm sure, in a bill especially that doesn't address funding, that a big question is going to be, okay, so who are these people going to come for? But the remedy of that is okay, well then you can't penalize someone and cut them off from benefits because they did that. We'll certainly be keeping an eye on it. Do you know what the bill number is for that?
[00:19:47] Erica Barnett: It is 2075. House Bill 2075.
[00:19:53] Crystal Fincher: House Bill 2075. So we will monitor that and keep it on the list. I also want to talk about another bill in Olympia in terms of zoning. What's going on with that?
[00:20:07] Erica Barnett: Yeah. There is legislation in Olympia that is very exciting to people who support more density in cities, that has support of Governor Jay Inslee, that would - it's very complex. I'm just going to dumb it way down and say that it would allow more density in cities. And the main difference that this bill would sort of effectuate across the state - in cities of more than 20,000 people - is that in single family areas, areas that have been historically exclusively for detached homes, developers could build duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, and in some cases, sixplexes and town homes. It's pretty modest as far as density goes. I mean, we're not talking about huge apartments. There was a bill that does not seem to be going anywhere this year, that would've allowed much taller buildings near transit stations.
But it's really remarkable, in a way, how far this conversation has come just in the last 10 years and even 5 years - the idea of even allowing duplexes and accessory dwelling units. I recall very well when that was like anathema. I mean, that was a third rail in Seattle and certainly in other cities. And now you've got Jay Inslee saying we need to allow more density and particularly around transit stops and frequent bus stops and light rail stations. Even though I don't think that the ultimate impact is going to be particularly dramatic, it's a step in the direction of a dramatic impact which is badly needed, particularly in the Seattle region where we just have so much growth and we don't have commensurate housing development, which is obviously contributing to our incredibly high housing costs.
[00:22:04] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, definitely. We will keep an eye on that. What bill number is that one?
[00:22:10] Erica Barnett: Oh, after you asked me the first time, I knew you would ask me this and I don't have the bill number memorized. I will look it up and I'll mention it in a second.
[00:22:21] Crystal Fincher: No, no worries. There are so many bill numbers to keep track of. I don't know the bill number off the top of my head. I've looked at it before. So what we will do is definitely put it in the show notes so you can see that - just in that text that comes along with the podcast and on officialhacksandwonks.com.
[00:22:37] Erica Barnett: Oh, it's HB 1782, Senate Bill 5670, if you want to follow along at home.
[00:22:43] Crystal Fincher: SB 5670. And then lots of calls to action from both urbanism and environmental groups have been spread on that. But these are going to be really important to make sure that you let your legislator know how you feel. This is an area where there are a lot more people in the public who support this than is assumed - just because a lot of times NIMBY groups who are notoriously vocal and always mobilize to oppose stuff are the ones who they are used to hearing from and who make themselves always very loud, both on municipal and the legislative level. So it's really important just to let your legislators know that you strongly support this, that you want them to support that, that it's actually critical for having an equitable and inclusive society and just to be able to afford to live near anything that people want to live near now and in the future. So hopefully everyone gets involved with that. And again, we'll put that in the episode notes. Also, want to talk about an issue - another issue in Kent that's - and today we're not talking about a Nazi cop who has not resigned.
[00:24:04] Erica Barnett: Just taking a breather from that.
[00:24:06] Crystal Fincher: Yes. I wish that was hyperbole - it is not - that's a literal statement. But we're talking about banning books, which sometimes people are like, "Well, that only happens in "backwards areas" and other states and not anything we would have to worry about in blue, progressive Washington - blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." It's everywhere. It's everywhere. If you think we're protected from something because we're in supposedly a blue, progressive Washington, please reconsider everything you have ever considered because everything is here, including a principal at Cedar Heights Middle School in Kent, which I'm very familiar with, taking it upon herself to ban some books - some LGBTQ books - what is happening here, Erica?
[00:24:56] Erica Barnett: Well, so the main book that has been banned and I don't have all the details of where we're at in terms of other books right now, but the first book that came to the attention of this principal - it's called Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts). It is a book that is - it's about a young man who is a sex advice columnist, anonymous sex advice columnist - he is gay. And the book is - it's somewhat explicit - it is sort of rated at a 14 year old reading level, which does not mean appropriateness or non-appropriateness, but that's one of the things that the principal has apparently seized on in saying that this book is not appropriate for seventh and eighth grade students.
I mean, it's fascinating because sexual explicitness - that's sort of the reason being given for removing this book from the middle school library - is really a moving target, as I think some of the critics of this policy have pointed out. There are many other sexually explicit books that are available to middle school students, including, I mean, one example of course, is the Bible - in which there's a story about a prostitute being hacked up into pieces that is quite explicit. And that's not banned, but this LGBTQ book that is somewhat explicit was banned. And so I think it speaks to a double standard for what types of sexually honest and straightforward literature we consider appropriate for children and what kind we don't. And yeah, I mean, Crystal, I don't know, what do you think about Kent? Is this the kind of thing that could only happen in Kent? Or is -
[00:26:53] Crystal Fincher: Very much not the kind of thing that could only happen in Kent. I mean, I feel like we just got done with a School Board race in Bellevue that got some coverage with a candidate that had some very racist and backwards views - that caught the attention of a lot of people. Kent, who - I happen to pay attention to very acutely - has had a number of issues in the school district. Kent has a very extreme, conservative contingent of the population - not a majority of the population, but like there's been an organized Republican - and conservatives who feel like Republicans are too soft - Party organized here. And in school board elections, geez, almost 10 years ago now, I mean - one, was just a very small forum that I went to where one candidate who was running against a woman of color at the time, talked about the problem with students these days coming from "Taliban hell holes". And being -
[00:28:05] Erica Barnett: Wow.
[00:28:08] Crystal Fincher: Yes. So like, sound all the alarms - that kind of kicked me into gear to in-kind some help to that candidate, his opponent, to make sure that he didn't get on because of just blatantly racist beliefs. Kent is known as one of the most diverse cities of the state now - it was not always that way. That demographic shift started in the Nineties - before that, it was an extremely white city. A lot of those residents still here - a lot of people very uncomfortable with change and blaming every conceivable problem that could be on that. And we see that in a lot of suburbs, rural areas - we see that everywhere.
And there's also a concerted conservative nationwide strategy to engage in local school districts and in municipalities, which are traditionally overlooked by most people - the turnout for those elections is lower than any other kind of election. People just don't pay attention. And so these conservatives - we've seen a ton of video online, if you're very online like I am, where you see these people railing against masking and testing and anything like that in school districts. That's a strategy. And so this book banning that we're now seeing is another tactic in this overall strategy to get control of school districts for a couple of purposes. So no, this is not something that can only happen in Kent. It's happening in Kent. It's happening in a lot of other places and people are going to have to get engaged in their local cities and in their local school districts and speak up in opposition to this. Because if all that happens is people go, "Oh, this is too bad," and they stay silent. And the only vocal people are the ones that want to ban books, then these books are going to get banned.
And as much as people want to be like, "Well, it's only going to make these books more popular in the underground." - the underground is underground for a reason because most people are not accessing it. And especially if someone's in a more conservative environment, if their parents are not open-minded, this is really cutting people off from books. And to that point, I mean this librarian who, when the principal, who had not read this book - when she decided to ban it, came to the meeting, had brought other books that had been accused of being sexually explicit. One was a book on pregnancy, another was a book by Maya Angelou, another was The Hate U Give, another - Are You There God it's Me Margaret - certainly the Bible. This becomes very, very subjective.
And I think part of the bigger issue is there is a process that is supposed to be followed when a book might not be appropriate. Because it's not like that can't happen, right? But there is a process dictated by the district which this principal did not follow. And so that's also another part of the issue is that - how subjective are we making this process and if we're not going to stick by given process and some visibility into this, how many books are disappearing that we know nothing about?
[00:31:30] Erica Barnett: Well, I think too, I mean, the fact that the list that you gave includes books that are perennially or have perennially been banned or that people have attempted to ban - I mean, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Are You There God It's Me Margaret. I mean, frequent targets in the past. I think that this particular book and the sort of focus on LGBTQ books in general is a wedge. I mean, it is an easy-ish thing to convince conservative parents that it is bad for children, or teenagers in this case, to be exposed to "sexually explicit, LGBTQ+ literature" and then kind of go from there. And this particular book is - Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) - has been a target in other school districts across the country.
So there is an effort to target specific books and specific books that are aimed at queer students, but I don't think that once it starts there, that it ends there, right? And so, this list of books, I mean, I could see some of those books being targeted again, because it hasn't been that long that some of these books were considered inappropriate for "young people" on all kinds of grounds. I mean, I remember reading a lot of these books when I was this age. I grew up in another time of frequent book bans. And there's nothing age inappropriate about them. 12 to 14 year olds are having sex. It is absurd to suggest, as this principal has, that the only appropriate thing for kids of that age is books that go up to hand-holding and pecks on the cheek and mild kissing and no more, because that is just not in keeping with the reality of teenagers that age.
So I feel like this LGBTQ focus right now is very much just the kind of wedge that conservative ideologues have identified as potentially being most effective to get their foot in the door and then move on to other stuff.
[00:33:55] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And to be clear, this hasn't even stopped with this book at this school. On a subsequent day when the librarian arrived to work, they said the most recent book order was waiting for them, but the boxes were already opened and one book was missing, All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson. And when they were in the office later that day, they spotted the book sitting on the vice principal's desk. They never sent any notice about taking the book. So this has already started down the path. The principal said that she was going to be putting together like a parent advisory board to determine which books were appropriate or not, which again is not part of the district policy. So this is an extremely slippery slope.
And again, like you made reference to, we both come from a time where book bannings were en vogue. And so here we go again, but I just hope people engage - whether or not you have kids in your local school system, you need to be very vocal, contact your school board members, make sure that you are talking to your local school administrators, that you expect there to be books in the library that represent a variety of perspectives and a variety of identities and people, and that there should be the strictest scrutiny for removing something and some very clear guidelines. Because these vague guidelines are how they get away with just removing anything that they want to remove for whatever reason they feel like that day. We will continue to keep an eye on that and continue to talk about that.
The last thing I wanted to talk about today, as we're coming up on a little bit of time here, was just news that broke this morning that Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and interim police chief, Adrian Diaz, are discussing the possibility of a $5,000 retention bonus for every SPD officer - over a thousand officers there. This is different than the $25,000 or $10,000 signing bonuses for experienced or new officers. This would just be for existing officers - "Hey, we'll give you $5,000 if you stay." What are your thoughts about this?
[00:36:32] Erica Barnett: Well, if you look at what police officers make in Seattle, it is - I mean, it's certainly a starting salary of quite a bit more than I make - with overtime, easily into the six figures. And I mention that - not to say that police officers make too much or too little or anything - just to point out that if you're making six figures, $5,000 is really not that much money. It is not nothing, but as you pointed out, there have already been pretty large signing bonuses offered and all sorts of incentives for people to come to the department. And yet that has not worked, and we still have a net loss of officers year over year - just as I would add - many, many, many other cities are experiencing right now. There's a workforce shortage in all kinds of industries and the police departments of America are not exempt from that.
So it's hard to picture this strategy of offering what amounts to a small bonus working to retain people who are already making plenty of money. But more importantly, I don't think that they have defined where the money's going to come from. So I am curious what funding source, or what budget cut, are they proposing to make in order to pay for this. I mean, there's lots and lots of other departments and lots of other things the City pays for - including social service workers, outreach workers for encampments - all kinds of things that no one is proposing these kind of bonuses for. So where are the cuts coming from? Where's the money coming from? And why is this the priority - of all the City departments that are losing workers and of all the things the City funds - that deserves this extra funding on top of the extra funding that we've already provided?
[00:38:37] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. That mirrors my concern - like, I would be interested - is this something that came from officers? I mean, just purely looking at - could this achieve what they're hoping that it achieves, given that the amount represents a lower percentage of their take-home pay than it does for most other City employees? Is it something that they're saying, "Hey, you know what? For folks considering leaving, we are looking at this - but this $5,000 - that would actually make us stay." Where did that number come from? Has that been like validated?
And to your point, has this been considered? I mean, we have talked extensively, have a show coming up where we're going to be talking about - especially frontline workers who are working with the unhoused population and the strain that's on that infrastructure - the staffing shortages, and even for the staff that's there, the poverty wages that they're making and that being a significant barrier for just - in trying to get people housed and needing people to engage and provide support and services - we are paying those people who provide support and services pennies, and they're already overworked and understaffed. So it seems like this would make a much bigger percentage of that pay and perhaps make a bigger difference. Are we looking at these bonuses for other departments, other frontline workers who we are counting on who make lower wages and who are tied to more marginalized populations to see that? Is this under consideration from anything else? And definitely, where is this money coming from? So we'll keep an eye on that and continue with that.
I want to thank all of you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, January 28th - it is January 28th, we're almost in February - 2022. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler and assistant producer Shannon Cheng. And our wonderful co-host today was Seattle political reporter and founder of PubliCola, Erica Barnett. You can find Erica on Twitter @ericacbarnett and on publicola.com. You can buy her book, Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery anywhere where you enjoy buying books. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, and you can now follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Just type "Hacks & Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. While you're there, leave a review, it really helps us out. 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. We'll talk to you next time.