Tag: Human Services Department

Navigation Team Switches Gears During Storm, More Homelessness Funds on Hold? And Speculation on KC Exec’s Political Future

Left: HSD director Jason Johnson; right: Mayor Durkan

1. UPDATE on Thursday, Jan. 16: According to HSD, the Navigation Team made 41 referrals to shelter on the first two nights of the winter storm—14 on Monday and 27 on Tuesday. Additionally, HSD spokesman Will Lemke said that there was no shortage of mats or other supplies at any of the emergency winter shelters. “The City is not low on supplies,” Lemke said. “Far from it. The City has strategic caches of supplies placed around Seattle for events like this. These supplies include supplies, cots, mats, sleeping bags, blankets, and first aid-kits.” A source who works for the Salvation Army, which staffed the downtown shelters, said people were sleeping on the floor or in chairs at the Seattle Municipal Tower on Tuesday night with only “thin blankets” to protect them in the chilly lobby, which has a revolving door.

At a briefing on winter storm response on Tuesday, officials with the city’s Human Services Department emphasized efforts by the city’s Navigation Team to get people living in encampments into shelter during the freezing weather, noting that members of the team—which ordinarily removes encampments—were out “from 7 am to midnight” on Monday making contact with encampment residents. What they weren’t able to say was how many people actually accepted an offer of transportation or shelter from the team, whose job ordinarily involves removing encampments and telling their displaced residents about available shelter beds, typically with few takers. HSD director Jason Johnson would not answer followup questions about the Navigation Team’s success rate, pointedly ignoring calls of “Jason!” from several reporters as he rushed out of the briefing room at the city’s Emergency Operations Center.

In a followup conversation, HSD spokesman Will Lemke said he would not have an exact number of shelter referrals, contacts made, or the number of people who received transportation from the Navigation Team until the city had crunched the numbers and entered them into the Homeless Information Management System. “I just haven’t been able to verify those numbers yet. Everything is very much in flux because everyone’s out in the field right now,” Lemke said when I asked for more detailed information. The number is reportedly in the single digits.

Last year, the city did publish the numbers right away, and did not issue any subsequent corrections to indicate their early numbers were wrong. On the first major snow day last year, February 8, the Navigation Team reported getting 18 people into shelter. On the 9th, 50. On the 10th, 67.

At the briefing, Durkan said that the city “saw greater uptake [on offers of shelter] last year on the second or third day of the storm. … We had a great deal of success with the Navigation Team going out to encampments and saying, ‘Hey you should come inside. It’s a good place. It’s safe.'” 

Johnson said that none of the shelters were over capacity and denied that there were any issues providing enough mats or other supplies to its severe weather shelters, which include space at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall, in the lobby of the Seattle Municipal Tower, and at the Bitter Lake Community Center. There is also space for men only at the King County Administration Building. All shelters are operated by the Salvation Army.

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2. Last week, I reported on the fact that Mayor Jenny Durkan has hired an $86,000 consultant to evaluate the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program and make recommendations that will inform whether LEAD will receive funding approved in last year’s city budget to reduce caseloads and expand into new parts of the city. But LEAD isn’t the only human services program that might not receive operational funds that were approved last year. At least two other programs are under review by the mayor’s office.

One, a $700,000 pilot program called Homes for Good that would provide small “shallow” rent subsidies to people who receive federal disability payments and are at risk of homelessness, is under review because Durkan is reportedly cautious about funding a pilot program without a plan to continue paying for it in the future. David Kroman wrote several stories about this issue for Crosscut. Continue reading “Navigation Team Switches Gears During Storm, More Homelessness Funds on Hold? And Speculation on KC Exec’s Political Future”

New Hires and a New Draft of the “Compromise” Homelessness Plan

The Seattle Public Library has rented its downtown auditorium to a controversial group that works against the civil rights of transgender people. Image via Pixabay.

1. Learn to trust the Crank: As I reported she would on Sunday night, Mayor Jenny Durkan has hired a new deputy mayor to replace David Moseley, who is leaving the city on January 15: Casey Sixkiller, who’s been the chief operating officer for King County since last year. Sixkiller has spent most of his career as a DC-based political consultant working for a variety of clients, some of which lobby the city and state on issues such as homelessness, deregulation, and privacy. He also worked for several years as a legislative assistant to US Sen, Patty Murray.

According to FEC records and his LinkedIn profile, Sixkiller started a firm called Sixkiller Consulting in 2010. According to his LinkedIn profile, Sixkiller is still a managing partner at the company, along with his wife Mariah Sixkiller, who is still active as a consultant. Last year, Sixkiller Consulting had eight clients who paid the firm a total of $650,000, including Microsoft, the Software Alliance, Noble Energy (a Houston-based oil and gas firm), Motorola, and Virgin Hyperloop One.

Mayoral spokeswoman Kamaria Hightower says Sixkiller will recuse himself from working on issues involving Sixkiller Consulting’s clients, in compliance with rules saying “that City personnel are ‘disqualified from acting on City business’ where an immediate family member of the covered individual has a financial interest.” Moseley, who is married to consultant and sometime city contractor Anne Fennessy, officially recuses himself from issues Fennessy is working on.

According to an internal email from senior deputy mayor Mike Fong, Sixkiller will take over Moseley’s portfolio, which includes housing and the city’s response to homelessness. Fong’s email to staff touts Sixkiller’s “collaborative leadership approach” at the county and his “unique blend of public policy, business, and management experience.”

Asked about Sixkiller’s experience working on homelessness , Hightower pointed to his work “coordinating the delivery of [the county] Executive’s initiatives as it related to increasing shelter capacity in King County,” including the new shelter in the west wing of the downtown jail, a new day center in Pioneer Square, and “accelerating conversion of Harborview Hall into a 24/7 enhanced shelter.” (Harborview Hall, which was originally supposed to be an enhanced shelter, opened as a basic shelter in 2018 and was just upgraded to an enhanced shelter late last month.) Hightower also said Sixkiller advised Murray on housing and transportation “As such, he’s familiar with federal programs and funding streams supporting housing and homelessness, and the complexities around financing of affordable housing projects,” she said.

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2. As the city prepares to merge its homelessness efforts with the county’s, Seattle’s Human Services Department has a new spokesman: Will Lemke, a member of HSD’s communications team, will replace former spokeswoman Meg Olberding, who left last month. Lemke will make about $116,000. The job posting for the position, which called for a person who “value[s] the opulence of a diverse workforce with authentic perspective,” lists a starting salary of $95,000 to $142,000. Lemke will make around $116,000.

3. Speaking of the homelessness reorg, the city council posted the latest amended version of legislation establishing a new regional homelessness authority on Monday, but the proposal will likely be amended further on Thursday, when the council’s special committee on homelessness takes it up again.

As I’ve reported extensively in this space, Durkan, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and most members of the King County Council agreed late last month to toss out a plan developed over the past year, which would have put a board of experts in charge of the new agency’s policies, budget, and executive director, and replace that structure with one governed by a board of elected officials from across the county. (The 12-member board would include three people with “lived experience,” but their votes could be overruled in all cases by the elected supermajority). The new “governing board” would have ultimate say over the direction of the authority. Continue reading “New Hires and a New Draft of the “Compromise” Homelessness Plan”

“All Good” or “Backroom Deal”? New Regional Homelessness Plan Goes Under the Microscope

King County Council member Rod Dembowski, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and King County Council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles

UPDATE: I’ve posted a brief update to this morning’s post on Twitter, including details of more changes that grant additional power to suburban cities.

A new regional homelessness plan that would give elected officials, including representatives of suburban cities, more direct control over the new authority has been moving forward rapidly over the past week—so fast, in fact, that several Seattle City Council members indicated they wouldn’t mind (gently) tapping the brakes. On Monday, as council member Sally Bagshaw laid out a two-week timeline for the council to approve a plan that many of them hadn’t even seen, several of her colleagues protested that they felt pressured to rush the proposal through without thoroughly considering what’s in it.

“While I appreciate the desire to try to avoid avoidable delay, I also don’t want us to … unnecessarily rush our decision-making process and our review of whatever it is the King County Council is considering this week,” council member Lorena Gonzalez said. Debora Juarez added that the plan “has changed at least four times in the last week, and so I’m a little bit concerned as well.”

While that discussion was going on, the union that represents staffers for the city’s Homelessness Investment and Strategy division, PROTEC17, was also getting up to speed. On Monday, PROTEC17 union rep Shaun van Eyk sent an email urging HSI staffers to flag concerns about the new proposal at upcoming meetings of the county’s Regional Policy Committee, the King County Council, and the Seattle City Council. “Each one of these hearings are opportunities to comment and/or attempt to delay this move,” van Eyk wrote.

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“There has been months and months and months of work—constituency-building, engaging with community, engaging with service providers, and all of that engagement was filtered into the proposal, and now, at the 11th hour, the city’s going to cut a backroom deal with the county to completely upend all that coalition building,” Van Eyk told me Monday. “And for what? It’s a political move.”

As I reported last week, the latest proposal to create a consolidated regional homelessness authority differs significantly from the plan King County Executive Dow Constantine and Mayor Jenny Durkan rolled out in September. Under the original plan, all major budget, policy, and hiring decisions would have been made by an 11-member “governing board” of experts with no connections to elected officials or organizations that receive government funding. A 7-or-8-member “steering committee” would oversee the governing board, but their duties would be limited to appointing the initial members of the board (which would become self-perpetuating after five years) and approving or rejecting budgets and policy plans without amendment. Continue reading ““All Good” or “Backroom Deal”? New Regional Homelessness Plan Goes Under the Microscope”

Help Wanted at City Hall: “Discretion” and “A High Level of Tact” Essential

 

OLS director Martin Garfinkel is sworn in on April 12, 2018; image via city of Seattle.

1. Less than two years after he was sworn in, Office of Labor Standards director Martin Garfinkel is leaving. His position was just posted on a government jobs listing site. According to the listing, leading applicants will “have a reputation for exercising a high level of tact, good judgment, discretion, and diplomacy and have cooperative working relationships with diverse groups of people.”

OLS, which investigates businesses accused of violating the city’s labor laws, was in the news most recently when city council president Bruce Harrell called the entire office “extremely unprofessional” in the way it handled allegations of wage theft by businesses. Suggesting that small, minority-owned businesses accused of wage theft were guilty of nothing more than “good-faith disputes” with their employees, Harrell proposed spending $50,000 for the Office of Economic Development, which promotes businesses, to survey businesses investigated by OLS for violations to see what they thought of the agency. Council member Lorena Gonzalez, a labor attorney who has frequently clashed with both Harrell and Mayor Jenny Durkan over labor and other issues, pointed out that labor laws are about results, not intent, and noted that any survey of businesses targeted for enforcement will yield predictably negative results.

A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, Kamaria Hightower, said Garfinkel was leaving “early next year following his two year commitment to the City. … While Marty will certainly be missed, in his absence OLS will continue to chart a path forward of strong and proactive outreach and engagement with workers and businesses, to develop laws and rules for the more than 54,000 employers and 580,000 employees throughout Seattle.”

In the last year and a half, a number of department leaders and high-level staffers have left their positions, including the heads of the city’s homelessness office, the Finance and Administrative Services Department, the Office of Housing, the Parks Department, the Office of Economic Development, the Seattle Department of Human Resources, and Seattle City Light.  Deputy Mayor David Moseley will leave at the end of the year.

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2. Mayor Jenny Durkan’s policy shop—the in-house staffers the mayor’s office relies on to do policy and planning work on big issues such as transportation, labor, and housing—is losing two more staffers. Technology advisor Kate Garman (Durkan’s tech policy advisor) and Julia Reed (a policy advisor with a broad portfolio) gave their notice earlier this month.

The departures come just three months after policy director Edie Gillis and advisor Kiersten Grove left in August. Gillis was replaced by Adrienne Thompson, who had been the mayor’s labor advisor.

Policy advisors aren’t mere seat warmers—they craft legislation, draft (and sometimes steer) executive policy, and impart their own expertise and institutional knowledge to the executive branch. Inadequate or understaffed policy offices can lead to half-baked proposals that don’t hold water politically or legally, so having a fully staffed policy shop is critical to a mayor’s success at converting ideas into law that will stand up to legal challenges.

Mark Prentice, the mayor’s communications director, provided a list of staffers in the policy shop that includes two listed as “position TBH.” Besides Thompson and Helmbrecht, they include a housing advisor, a staffer on loan from the city’s early learning department, a new hire from Washington, D.C., and an executive assistant. In contrast, previous mayoral policy shops have had between 10 and a dozen staffers, according to current city staff.

“All these people play important roles in the policy development process,” says Prentice. His last day is later this year.

3. The city’s Human Services Department is under a spending moratorium for the rest of the year after discovering a financial “shortfall of over $1 million for the department,” according to a memo sent to all HSD staff by deputy director Audrey Buehring last week. The shortfall, Buehring’s memo says, impacts new programs that were not yet implemented as of November 20 (when the moratorium went into effect), changes to contracts that use money from the city’s general fund, and “travel, training, equipment, and supply requests that require General Funds.” 

HSD took on a number of employee coaching contracts in mid-2019 or later. Several involve what the mayor’s office calls “culture work,” such as a peacekeeping circle training and Undoing Institutional Racism seminars; others involved “results-based accountability” and “coaching for results.”

HSD spokesman Will Lemke told me, “It is not uncommon for HSD to ask divisions to monitor resources as the end of year approaches, and pointed to a list of items that he said “contributed to the shortfall,” and which adds up to just over $1 million, including $250,000 for a midyear expansion of the Navigation Team; $145,000 to respond to the February snowstorm; and $193,000 to plan for the proposed new regional homelessness authority.

Durkan’s Comms Director To Depart; Mayor’s $250,000 General Submits One-Pager on What He Does All Day; and HSD Expects Long Contract Delays

Buried in paper: A screen shot from one of several PowerPoints and memos provided to city council members in response to the question, ““Please provide the official job title, job description, salary and source of funding for the Director of Citywide Mobility Operations. Please describe the position’s responsibilities, accomplishments and anticipated deliverables.”

1. Mark Prentice, a spokesman for Mayor Jenny Durkan who served as her communications director for the past year, is leaving Durkan’s office before the end of the year to “explor[e]opportunities to elect Democrats in 2020 and continue advocating for the issues we all care about,” according to an internal email from Durkan’s chief of staff, Stephanie Formas.

Prentice joined the mayor’s office after working for the developer Vulcan; prior to that, he (like Formas) worked for various Democrats in Washington, D.C. “Anyone who has worked with Mark knows it’s a 24/7 job that has meant countless early mornings, late nights, and weekends. I can’t think of a dull moment or a slow week, and Mark and the entire Communications Team have been critical to our major accomplishments,” Formas wrote.

The city has already advertised Prentice’s job, which pays between $102,458 and $169,023, on the Government Jobs hiring website.

Many of these departments have little or nothing to do with traffic management, and the job of reforming the city’s overall management strategy appears nowhere in Worden’s official job duties.

2. As the city council debates Mayor Durkan’s budget, one very specific line item has sparked several council members’ interest: The $200,000 position of “mobility operations director,” created for retired Air Force general Mike Worden, who was one of the runners-up for Seattle Department of Transportation director. (Worden, whose salary is partly funded with SDOT dollars, reports directly to Durkan.) Late last month, several council members asked for more details about what Worden (whom city staffers have been instructed to call “the General”) actually does; as I reported in August, his official schedule consists largely of “out and about time” during which the mayor’s office told me Worden is riding transit and talking to riders and drivers. “Not to say that work is not happening, but I am not aware of any of the work,” council member Mike O’Brien said.

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During that meeting, city budget director Ben Noble said the executive had provided O’Brien with a memo describing some of Worden’s specific duties, prompting council members Sally Bagshaw, Lisa Herbold, and Lorena Gonzalez to ask for a public discussion of that information, which they had not seen. Since then, I requested and received copies of what the mayor’s office provided as evidence that Worden’s position is a full-time job that merits his $200,000 salary ($250,000 when benefits are included). For reference, here is Worden’s job description:

And here is the memo Worden produced with examples of his work so far, along with PowerPoints and other documents related to the items on his list. The one-page list—which does not purport to be comprehensive— includes the following four items:

• Writing a memorandum of understanding for traffic incident and congestion management that “updated, sharpened and expanded to other Departments who respond to incidents, to ensure they all get necessary training” in traffic incident response;

• Co-writing a grant with the state Department of Transportation and the University of Washington for a statewide “Virtual Coordination Center” aimed at improving responses to traffic incidents.

• Implementing a “Lean/Six Sigma initiative throughout the city,” starting with SDOT, the Parks Department, Seattle Public Utilities, Seattle City Light, the Department of Information Technology, the Department of Finance and Administrative Services, and Human Resources, according to a PowerPoint included with the memo. Many of these departments have little or nothing to do with traffic management, and the job of reforming the city’s overall management strategy appears nowhere in Worden’s official job duties. In a memo included in the PowerPoint,, deputy mayor Mike Fong says Worden was tapped for this job because of his “considerable private sector and governmental experience in process improvement techniques.”

Buried in jargon: A screen shot from a PowerPoint about Gen. Worden’s “Lean/Six Sigma” training for eight city departments, which is not listed in his official job description or duties as the city’s Director of Mobility Operations.

• “Informal activities” related to the “Seattle Squeeze,” including “government wide debriefs and prebriefs with the City’s Private Sector” and meeting periodically with representatives from other government agencies.

Also included on this “informal activities” list: Riding transit throughout the city, an activity that made up the plurality of his official schedule.

3. According to an October 3 memo from the risk manager for the Human Services Department, “2019 review of contracts are and will be significantly delayed,” after the departure of the last remaining member of the HSD’s contract review unit, which ensures that contracts between the city and nonprofit service providers are legally compliant and accurate. “We are hoping to have a plan in place very soon,” the memo says.

The department decided to dismantle the office that reviewed provider contracts earlier this year in an effort to reallocate funding to  “reducing operational burdens on providers.” With the departure of the contract review specialist Joanna Armstrong, whose last day was Friday, the department has no one left whose full-time job consists of reviewing contracts and ensuring that they’re ready to go out the door.

The contract review unit (known as the Leadership and Administration Contracts Unit, or LADCU), was put in charge of contract compliance after a scathing state audit in 2014 concluded that HSD lacked “adequate controls” to monitor how contracts were being written or how human service providers were spending the money they received from the city. The audit found that the city did not “consistently verify the information it receives” from nonprofit human service providers or keep records adequate to ensure that public dollars were being spent appropriately by providers.

Long-term, the city plans to devolve the job of ensuring contract compliance to various department staffers who are already working other jobs, including contract specialists who write—but don’t currently review—contracts as well as others who have not been trained in contract compliance. Short-term, the lack of contract reviewers will likely mean funding delays for human service providers who rely on city funding to pay their staff and serve their clients.

Most Navigation Team Referrals Don’t Lead to Shelter, Previously Unreleased City Data Shows

Overall, just 30 percent of Navigation Team referrals to shelter in the first half of 2019 resulted in a person actually accessing shelter. Referrals represent only about a quarter of the total number of people “engaged” by the Navigation Team. Overall, only about 8 percent of Navigation Team “engagements” this year resulted in shelter—a number the city says is a reflection of the fact that they are now recording every contact, however brief, in their new NavApp system.

The director of Seattle’s Human Services Department told the city council last week that he was unable to provide data that would back up his assertion that the Navigation Team, which removes unauthorized encampments from public spaces, is successfully connecting people to shelter, saying there was still a lot of work to do before a “dashboard” including this data could be made available.

In fact, the dashboard is already live, and it shows that the vast majority of people who receive “referrals” to shelter—70 percent in the first half of 2019—never actually show up at those shelters. And those referrals only reflect a fraction of the total number of individuals “engaged” by the Navigation Team as it removes encampments. If all those individuals are included, only about 8 percent of people the Navigation Team contacts when they’re removing encampments—128 out of 1,583—actually end up in shelter.

According to council member Lisa Herbold(who, along with her colleague Teresa Mosqueda, has been asking HSD to provide the number of shelter enrollments, as opposed to referrals, for months), the the city requires nonprofit homeless service providers to meet a much higher standard than the Navigation Team—60 percent of their referrals are supposed to result in actual shelter enrollments, or twice as many shelter enrollments as the Navigation Team’s current average. And the nonprofit providers are hitting that higher number—according to data provided by the mayor’s office, nonprofit providers funded by the city made a total of 246 referrals and 147 enrollments in the first half of this year, an enrollment rate of 60 percent.

“My focus [in asking the Navigation Team for its results] has been ensuring that the Navigation Team is having success in our shared understanding of what the outcomes should be and accountability in meeting those outcomes,” Herbold says. “So I ask myself, Why are the referrals to shelter so much lower than what we expect of the outreach providers, and what could make them better?”

I started calling the mayor’s office and HSD about the website, which had not been publicly disclosed to council members who were requesting it, on Friday. HSD sent out a memo to council members providing a link to the site, which has apparently been live for weeks, late this afternoon, shortly after I talked to them and three days after I asked them directly about the website.

“We’re happy with the fact that we’re seeing conversions of [shelter] referrals to enrollments increasing, and the information pushes us to continue to try to do better.”—Tess Colby, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office

In the memo, HSD interim director Jason Johnson draws a distinction between “contacts” made by the Nav Team and “referrals to shelters, which is the result of relationship building, time, conversations, and matching an individual (or sometimes groups of individuals) to a unique shelter resources.” In other words, Johnson is saying that the 8 percent number isn’t as bad as it looks, because the Navigation Team has to make a record of every single “contact” with people they encounter in encampments, effectively diluting the number of successes. In contrast, HSD says, nonprofit outreach providers aren’t required to (and don’t) track every single contact—so their numbers look better.

The city has acknowledged that the Navigation Team is now dedicated primarily to removing tents and people from public spaces, rather than providing referrals to shelter or services. But the new numbers confirm that even when the Navigation Team does make what it considers  a successful “referral,” most unsheltered people never actually access the shelter they’re referred to.

Tess Colby, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s chief homelessness advisor, says the mayor’s office is “happy with the fact that we’re seeing conversions of [shelter] referrals to enrollments increasing, and the information pushes us to continue to try to do better. We want to continue to see that upward trend moving forward.”

The new numbers confirm that even when the Navigation Team does make what it considers  a successful “referral,” most unsheltered people never actually access the shelter they’re referred to.

Homeless advocates say that the Navigation Team, which is made up primarily of police officers, works under protocols (such as a mandate to remove many encampments with no prior notice) that makes it impossible to build relationships or engage in meaningful outreach to unsheltered people. “The Navigation Team is more and more evidently about policing than about providing needed and effective service interventions to human beings, and that is really concerning,” says Alison Eisinger, director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness. “A good referral is a referral that results in someone being able to accept it.”

Herbold added a proviso to last year’s budget requiring the Navigation Team to provide quarterly reports on various issues, including a staffing assessment to determine whether the Navigation Team has the proper mix of police officers and outreach workers. That assessment was never done. “In essence, they just said they weren’t going to do it,” she says.

Earlier this year, the nonprofit that used to outreach during encampment removals, REACH, stopped participating in most “cleans” after the Navigation Team shifted its focus to removing encampments deemed to be “obstructions,” a designation that exempts the team from the usual requirements to provide outreach and prior notice to residents. However, REACH is still technically part of the Navigation Team, and the referrals they make as part of their ongoing Navigation Team-related outreach work gets counted toward the Navigation Team’s successful shelter referrals.

Currently, the Navigation Team does not transfer most clients to shelter directly; when they do, it’s in the back of a police car,  because system navigators are not authorized to give rides to shelter residents in their own vehicles—another potential barrier to converting a shelter referral into an actual shelter stay.

REACH director Chloe Gale says the Navigation Team’s low rate of actual shelter enrollments, as opposed to referrals, “really indicates that it takes more than just a referral to move somebody into shelter. You have to make sure that it’s a good fit, that they’re eligible for the shelter, that they really want to go and don’t just feel pressure to go and that they provide basic assistance such as help with transportation.” Currently, the Navigation Team does not transfer most clients to shelter directly; when they do, it’s in the back of a police car,  because system navigators are not authorized to give rides to shelter residents in their own vehicles—another potential barrier to converting a shelter referral into an actual shelter stay.

Eisinger says that because the Navigation Team only counts people who happen to stick around on the day of an encampment removal in their list of official “contacts,” even the 8 percent shelter rate, which the city says is the result of carefully tracking even the briefest engagements, may be high.

“What I have observed, what others have observed, and what I think continues to be the story is that the Navigation Team shows up and some people simply leave. They do not expect to offered anything that is actually useful to them,” Eisinger says. “And so there is some question about the number of engagements compared to the number of people actually living in public spaces.”

The mayor’s office is requesting a total of $8.4 million for the Navigation Team, which includes $362,000 for new positions that were paid for in 2019 with one-time funding from unspent revenues. (This is the second budget in a row in which Durkan has funded Navigation Team expansions with one-time funding and asked the city council to backfill those positions with general-fund dollars in the next year’s budget.)

The Navigation Team will be one of the only major homelessness-related efforts to stay at the city when King County and Seattle merge their homelessness agencies into a single regional body. Herbold says she’ll be asking pointed questions about the Navigation Team’s results and composition during the upcoming budget discussion.

Questions About Local Autonomy and Cost-Sharing at Homelessness Authority, SPD Hires KOMO Cop Reporter, and More

Emoji org chart: What staffing at the new regional authority homelessness will look like, as depicted by the consultant who helped design the plan

1. Two meetings about the proposed regional homelessness authority last week highlighted new potential fault lines between the city and county in negotiating the structure and funding of the new authority—one concerning the kind of services the new authority will provide, and one having to do with who will pay for it.

Suburban King County cities that would become a part of the authority have made it clear they’re concerned that the new body will be too “Seattle-centric”—an understandable concern given that just one member of the steering committee that oversees the body will be from a to-be-determined member of the Sound Cities Association, a group of suburban King County cities. (Under the proposal, another suburban representative could join the board once 20 suburban cities join the regional authority). A related but distinct concern is that suburban cities may not want to handle homelessness the way Seattle does, by offering services for as long as it takes and providing harm reduction as an alternative to mandatory treatment and imposed abstinence for people with addiction.

From the perspective of a city like Kent, where outreach workers say police have a zero-tolerance policy for sleeping in visible public areas, the tactics of  Seattle’s Navigation Team—which removes encampments but doesn’t arrest people for living on the street or force them to “accept” services, treatment, and housing—may seem like mushy-hearted liberalism at its worst. At last week’s King County Board of Health meeting, King County Council member Kathy Lambert, whose district includes Duvall, North Bend, and Snoqualmie, said she won’t support the regional authority “until I see a plan that acknowledges that each part of of this county has a very different idea of where they want to be and what they want to look like, and I’m not seeing that yet.”

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On the flip side, at a meeting of the Seattle City Council’s special committee on homelessness last Friday, city council president Bruce Harrell asked whether the Navigation Team, which (as I reported earlier this month) is not moving over to the new authority, will expand its operations outside the city or otherwise coordinate with other cities who have employees doing similar encampment-clearing functions. (In reality, the Navigation Team is fairly unique regionally and the equivalent agency in most other cities is the police). “I assumed we were trying to model some consistency overall—am I missing something?” Harrell asked.

Tess Colby, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s homelessness advisor, responded that the charter creating the new authority will allow for “subregional planning, which is a way for the regional authority to engage in the various regions across the county and be in dialogue about what homelessness looks like in different parts of the region and how it’s being addressed.” Specifically, the charter says that the kinds of services each sub-region of the county can vary depending on “local needs, priorities, and solutions.”

2. The other issue that came up this week was whether the city of Seattle might be paying more than its fair share of the cost to set up and, at least initially, fund the authority. The numbers HSD director Jason Johnson and National Innovation Service consultant Marc Dones presented to the council committee on Friday showed the city spending $1 million in startup costs next year (and $282,000 in “ongoing costs” beginning the year after that), including more than $800,000 in moving and office costs and $130,000 for a headhunter to find the $217,000-a-year executive director for the new authority. The city would also be responsible for paying that director’s salary, plus the salaries of his or her chief of staff ($166,000 in 2021), two deputy directors ($189,000 each), and a human resources manager ($163,000).

“I’m concerned that city paying all the costs in that first year is going to create an expectation” that the city will continue to pay all the costs in the future, city council member Lisa Herbold said. “You say that there’s an expectation that there’s going to be future cost sharing around the costs of personnel, and I don’t see that indicated anywhere.

The county, in contrast, would contribute tenant improvements in the county-owned Yesler Building, where the new authority will be located, and provide free rent, at a total value of about $1 million for “tenant improvements” and $455,000 for the use of the sixth floor of the building, which has been vacant. (Seattle Department of Human Resources director Bobby Humes described the tenant improvements as “wifi, new paint, a conference room [and] an ample restroom environment,” among other things.)

“I’m concerned that city paying all the costs in that first year is going to create an expectation” that the city will continue to pay all the costs in the future, council member Lisa Herbold told Johnson on Friday. “You say that there’s an expectation that there’s going to be future cost sharing around the costs of personnel, and I don’t see that indicated anywhere. I think that’s something that would be important to memorialize.” Council member Sally Bagshaw added that she wasn’t sure the city should be spending $130,000 for a headhunter to do a national search for the director of the new authority. “I have to say that I would rather have somebody local,” she said. “I would frankly rather have a team that knows people who are already working in our city, county, and region.”

Other issues that came up Friday included the need for human service provider representation on the board that will actually govern the new authority, the fact that capital funding for permanent supportive housing is supposed to stay with the city while operating funds for that same housing move to the new authority, and when people can actually start moving into the new building—Johnson said it will be “ready” in December, but that because “December is a heavy month for many of our employees” the actual move won’t happen until March.

3. KOMO police-beat reporter Jennifer Sullivan, who previously covered the police department for the Seattle Times, has taken a job as a strategic advisor in the  Seattle Police Department, The C Is for Crank has learned.  An SPD spokesman would not comment about how the department decided to hire the former reporter, and a mayoral spokeswoman told me the mayor had nothing to do with the hire—even emphasizing in a followup email, “the Mayor’s Office was not involved in the hiring of Jennifer Sullivan.” According to the most recent Seattle employee salary database, Sullivan is making just under $120,000 a year.

Sullivan’s recent stories for KOMO have included pieces on slow 911 response times, recruitment problems at SPD, and police officers’ efforts to get raises in their recent contract, which some reform advocates now want to reopen. Sullivan’s husband, according to a 2018 Seattle Refined profile, is a police officer in Lynnwood .

Sullivan did not respond to a request for comment; her LinkedIn and Twitter pages still identify her as a KOMO reporter.

4. 

More City Hall Churn, Council Staffers Organize, Farewell to a “Feisty” Neighborhood Activist, and More

Seattle City Hall

Image via OZinOH on Flickr.

In keeping with how quickly news piles up the moment after Labor Day ends, here are a few quick-hit items—in two parts!—from City Hall and beyond.

Round 1, City Hall edition:

1. This week, the city’s Human Services Department posted an announcement for a new deputy director overseeing homelessness, HSD spokeswoman Meg Olberding confirmed. The position is separate from the job of homelessness division director, a job filled by Diana Salazar last month after the former director, Tiffany Washington, left for a job in the city’s Department of Education and Early Learning. Asked why HSD needed to hire two new high-level employees to oversee homelessness at a time when the city plans to hand most of its homelessness programs over to a new regional agency, Olberding said that the city will continue to oversee homelessness until at least 2021 and that the position would be temporary.

2. Barb Graff, the longtime director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management, is retiring at the beginning of next year after 15 years in that position. OEM oversees disaster and emergency preparedness for the city, including physical disasters such as earthquakes and declared emergencies like the homelessness crisis, which prompted a nine-month activation of the city’s Emergency Operations Center. The city posted the job publicly yesterday.

Support The C Is for Crank
Sorry to interrupt your reading, but THIS IS IMPORTANT. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation, supported entirely—and I mean entirely— by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going. I can’t do this work without support from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

3. The Seattle City Council’s central staff—the policy shop for all nine council members—is trying to unionize. Protec17, which represents other city employees, filed a petition to represent the staffers to the Public Employee Relations Commission this week after central staffers submitted enough signatures to form a bargaining unit. The staffers’ exact grievance is unclear, but it reportedly relates to concerns that their work—providing unbiased and apolitical advice and analysis to all nine council members, regardless of what they want to hear—has been politicized. Central staffers make between about $58 and $64 an hour, putting them among the highest-paid workers at the city.

In response to questions about central staffers’ organizing efforts, council spokeswoman Dana Robinson Slote provided this statement: “Council recognizes employees’ right to seek representation and is aware of the petition to represent Central Staff Legislative analysts in the Council Central Staff division. A Labor Relations negotiator has been assigned the matter.  Out of respect for the process, Council has been advised against making any public statements at this time.”

4. Faye Garneau, the North Seattle businesswoman, Aurora Avenue Merchants Association leader, transit funding opponent, district elections advocate, antagonist to urbanists, and “feisty” neighborhood fixture for many decades, has died. Garneau—a garrulous, strong-willed, and committed advocate to the causes she believed in—was 85.

5. Learn to trust the Crank: As I reported last week, city council member Mike O’Brien is proposing legislation to ban new natural gas hookups as of July 1, 2020. O’Brien plans to discuss the legislation in his Sustainability and Transportation Committee this Friday, September 6.

 

City Shuts Down Unit Charged with Fixing Contract Compliance Problems Identified in Scathing 2014 Audit

The city’s Human Services Department has quietly dismantled an office that monitors how grants to nonprofit providers are written and spent. According to a June 10, 2019 email from HSD deputy director Audrey Buehring, the office “will be dissolved after March 31, 2020 and will cease full review of contracts for the 2020 Contract Season.”

The office (full name: Leadership and Administration Contracts Unit, or LADCU), was put in charge of contract compliance after a scathing state audit in 2014 concluded that HSD lacked “adequate controls” to monitor how contracts were being written as well as how human service providers were spending grant money. The audit found that the city did not “consistently verify the information it receives” from nonprofit human service providers or keep records adequate to ensure that public dollars were being spent appropriately by providers.

The main problem with HSD’s tracking and compliance system, the audit found, was “the way that the service provider monitoring responsibility is assigned to Department employees,” with the same employees in charge of choosing providers, negotiating contracts, and then “self-monitoring” to make sure the contracts stayed in compliance throughout the year.

The audit found that the city did not “consistently verify the information it receives” from nonprofit human service providers or keep records adequate to ensure that public dollars were being spent appropriately by providers.

After the audit, those duties shifted to the contracts unit, and since then, the unit appears to have lived up to its charge. In the past year alone, LADCU’s four contract reviewers caught dozens of errors in contracts before they went out, including one contract that went through several layers of review before a staffer with the unit caught an error that would have cost the city $2 million, according to an April memo from all six LADCU staffers raising alarms about the change. (The memo was obtained by The C Is for Crank.) LADCU staffers also caught the fact that an HSD staffer had removed mandatory language designed to protect immigrants in multiple contracts, as well as language committing the city to pay “an unlimited sum” for rodent control in several contracts, according to the memo.

The 2014 state audit calling for stricter monitoring of HSD contracts found that in many cases, a single employee was assigned to analyze community needs, pick a provider, negotiate a contract, and ensure that the provider complied with the contract requirements—duties that the auditor called “incompatible.” Under former interim HSD director John Okamoto, the contracts unit began to serve as an extra layer of review by experts whose only job was to ensure that contracts were “accurate, consistent, and compliant” with federal, state, and city requirements, including labor laws passed at the city level.

Once the unit is completely dismantled, starting with next year’s contracting season, their responsibilities will revert to HSD’s various divisions—essentially the same system that led to compliance issues in the first place.

HSD will also create a new “Continuous Quality Improvement” unit to check contracts for compliance after they’ve been signed; but there will no longer be any city staffers exclusively dedicated to ensuring that contracts are compliant with every city, state, and federal requirement before they go out. If errors are caught after the fact, contracts will have to be amended, costing time and money.

Support The C Is for Crank
Sorry to interrupt your reading, but THIS IS IMPORTANT. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation, supported entirely—and I mean entirely— by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going. I can’t do this work without support from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

According to an internal HSD memo from June, the department decided to shut down the contracts review unit because human-service providers that receive funding through the city “are asking more and more of us, and rightfully so, including better wages for their workers, an annual cost-of-living increase that matches the actual inflation rate in Seattle, fewer barriers in applying for our funding, and simpler contracts. We are years behind schedule in giving this to them because no one ever has the capacity to work on this.” The funding freed up by eliminating contract review jobs, the memo continues, will go toward “reducing operational burdens on providers.”

Ironically, one of the errors the contract review unit reportedly caught last year was a provider that failed to provide the 2 percent wage increase the city required in its 2019 budget. (HSD and the mayor’s office did not respond to repeated requests for confirmation or comment on this question, which I initially asked them about more than a week ago).

“Although we will make our best efforts to support the divisions in this transition, at this time there is no added capacity. We also realize that staff doesn’t just write contracts, there are many other duties they perform that these changes will impact.”

The June memo goes on to explain how the city will get by without the additional layer of oversight that was added in response to the state audit just four years ago: “This change will require every person who touches a contract to have a high level of individual accountability in order to make this work. … If each individual holds themselves to a high level of accountability, then we can operate more efficiently without additional resources.”

“Although we will make our best efforts to support the divisions in this transition, at this time there is no added capacity. We also realize that staff doesn’t just write contracts, there are many other duties they perform that these changes will impact.” Continue reading “City Shuts Down Unit Charged with Fixing Contract Compliance Problems Identified in Scathing 2014 Audit”

Morning Crank Part 2: Homelessness Division Loses Another Key Player; Burgess Can’t Quit the Council

1. As I mentioned on Twitter last week, Navigation Team outreach leader Jackie St. Louis announced his resignation last month and his last day was last Friday. St. Louis did not return my calls asking about his decision to leave the city back in June, but he had recently been reassigned to a new position as “manager of unsheltered crisis response” in the Homelessness Strategy and Outreach division—a reassignment that could be interpreted as a demotion. Tiffany Washington, the erstwhile director of the homelessness division, also quit recently to become deputy director of the city’s Department of Education and Early Learning.

“So, this is where this part of my story ends. Not how I would have intended it to. Not how I would have envisioned it, but I accept that this is the way that it is supposed to be. Because a good name is worth more than any earthly reward, and integrity should never be entrusted to those who it is a stranger to.” – Former Navigation Team leader Jackie St. Louis, whose last day was last Friday

St. Louis told homeless service providers about his departure in a brief email. It read: “I wanted to take the time to thank you for your partnership over the years under what have been trying circumstances. I also want to wish you well and offer well wishes as you forge ahead with your respective missions. Though differing, they all help to try and create a better community for all those who call it home. Today will be my last day at the city.”

His departure letter to colleagues was significantly more dramatic. “To live is to wage war: war with the external forces that threaten our existence but even more so the war we wage with our own selves,” it began. “They tell us that history is told from the perspective of those who survive to recount that which has transpired. I challenge that assertion, because amongst us live and toil those who bear the scars of battles long since waged.

“It is not those who survive who tell those stories as much as it is those who still retain the desire of sharing the morbid details of things which they have most likely experienced as an observer. …

“The jury is still out on whether my ‘work’ here resulted in any significant impact for those whom it was intended. Yet, I am certain of the fact that I have been deeply impacted by your word and deeds. They have moved me toward being a better, more humble, more courageous, and resilient version of myself. …

“So, this is where this part of my story ends. Not how I would have intended it to. Not how I would have envisioned it, but I accept that this is the way that it is supposed to be. Because a good name is worth more than any earthly reward, and integrity should never be entrusted to those who it is a stranger to.”

St. Louis concluded by thanking a long list of colleagues. They did not, notably, include either Washington or Johnson.

Support The C Is for Crank
Sorry to interrupt your reading, but THIS IS IMPORTANT. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation, supported entirely—and I mean entirely— by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going. I can’t do this work without support from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

2. The Navigation Team also came up in a recent mailer from former mayor Tim Burgess’ PAC targeting city council incumbent (and Burgess’ former colleague) Lisa Herbold, who is running for reelection. In the mailer, Burgess’ group, People for Seattle, accuses Herbold of “vot[ing] to cut funding for the Navigation Teams tasked with reducing homeless camps.” This is inaccurate—as I reported at the time, although Herbold joined other council members in seeking a smaller permanent increase in the size of the team than Durkan initially requested, they ultimately gave the mayor everything she wanted, finding funds to marginally increase human service provider pay while preserve the increase in funding Durkan requested.

Burgess, who retired in 2017, has remained unusually active for a former elected official. Burgess’ PAC, which has raised more than a quarter-million dollars, has also sent out mailers accusing Kshama Sawant challenger Zach DeWolf of offering “more of the same” in an effort to boost Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce-endorsed candidate Egan Orion through the primary. This week, Burgess also sent an email to council members admonishing them directly for defying Durkan with their vote to create a dedicated fund for the soda tax, providing the language of the original bill establishing the soda tax, and suggesting four things the council “could have” done instead of creating the dedicated fund.

Burgess’ attempts to influence not only council votes, but the makeup of the council itself, have prompted some on the council to joke that he should probably just run for council again.