The Seattle Human Rights Commission is calling on Mayor Jenny Durkan to immediately resign or be removed from office, accusing Durkan of “failing to uphold her duty to serve and protect the rights of Seattle citizens.”
In a letter Wednesday to the mayor and the City Council, the commission cited actions related to police brutality, homelessness, income inequality and city governance in arguing that Durkan should no longer lead Seattle.
“It is our duty to speak up and speak out for our least privileged community members and not to be complicit in the harm done to them by City leadership,” the commission’s letter said.
“Given this, it is our belief that we cannot wait until November of 2021 to remove Mayor Durkan from office and replace her with a servant-leader who will uphold their duty to protect the rights of all citizens,” the letter added, referring to next year’s mayoral election.
Eight of 15 commissioners were present at a meeting last week for a vote on the letter, which commissioners worked on for about a month, co-chair Liz Pachaud said.
“Mayor Durkan has been leading the city at an unprecedented moment through a pandemic, civil rights reckoning, climate crisis, and the worst economic crisis that Seattle has faced in generations,” Durkan spokesperson Kelsey Nyland said in a statement. “We have been showing real progress on every front, but the urgency remains and more needs to be done.”
Nyland added: “The Mayor continues to be focused on how provide support for small businesses and workers who have lost their jobs, transmitting the City’s 2021 budget, slowing the spread of COVID-19, making real investments for BIPOC communities and changing Seattle’s approach to policing and community safety. She welcomes a conversation with the Human Rights Commission to find common ground and policy solutions, even when we disagree.”
Durkan was elected in 2017, defeating Cary Moon with 56% of the vote. Established in 1963, the commission is a city-sanctioned body of volunteers who advise the mayor, City Council, Office for Civil Rights and other departments on matters related to human rights.
The Office for Civil Rights provides staff and support for the commissioners, who can make recommendations on budget, policy and legislative decisions but wield no decision-making authority. Commissioners are appointed by the mayor, by the council and by commissioners themselves. At the moment, there are five mayoral appointees, six council appointees and four commission appoints, with six vacancies.
In Wednesday’s letter, the commission cited Section 10 of Seattle’s City Charter, which says a mayor can be removed from office by a two-thirds vote of the council “for any willful violation of duty, or for the commission of an offense involving moral turpitude.” The charter says the mayor must be allowed, with legal representation, “to offer evidence and to be heard” by the council, which acts as a court of impeachment.
In June, as many Seattle residents spoke out against the Police Department directing tear gas and blast balls at Black Lives Matter protest crowds, three of the council’s nine members said Durkan should resign or consider resigning.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant called on Durkan to resign or be removed, promising to introduce articles of impeachment, while Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Tammy Morales said the mayor should think about stepping down.
A petition launched by some Democratic Party leaders collected more than 11,000 signatures calling on the mayor to resign, and UCFW 21, which represents supermarket workers in Seattle, also called on Durkan to resign. Several local Democratic Party groups passed resolutions calling on the mayor to resign, as well.
Durkan didn’t step down, Sawant didn’t introduce articles of impeachment and Mosqueda and Morales stopped pressing the issue.
Durkan has described the efforts to push her out as distractions, vowing to concentrate on Seattle’s many challenges. Meanwhile, she called in July for the council to investigate alleged misdeeds by Sawant; the council declined.
The commission’s letter alleges the mayor has committed “violations of constitutional and human rights” partly by repeatedly authorizing “the use of police violence and tools of military force against peaceful demonstrators, civilian bystanders, legal observers and members of the media.” The letter notes that tear gas and similar weapons “are so toxic that they are currently banned for use in warfare.”
The City Charter, Durkan’s office responded Wednesday, delegates management of the Police Department to the chief, not the mayor.
The letter also alleges Durkan has “failed to adequately address Seattle’s growing homelessness crisis.” Housing is a human right, according to the United Nations, and that right “is being actively denied to thousands of Seattle citizens under the Mayor’s neglect,” the letter says.
Under Durkan, Seattle’s annual spending to address homelessness has grown from about $71 million in 2017 to $148 million this year, and the city has made most shelters available 24/7, the mayor’s office said Wednesday. Durkan’s 2021 budget plan would support 425 new shelter spaces and 600 new units of supportive housing, her office said.
The commission’s letter alleges Durkan has “obstructed the ability of the Council to govern” by vetoing legislation passed by the council, “despite overwhelming support from the public,” such as cuts to the Police Department’s 2020 budget.
Polls have indicated split views on major cuts. The mayor has authority to veto bills and the council has authority to override vetoes. Several Durkan vetoes have been overriden recently.
“While the Seattle Human Rights Commission may disagree with the Mayor’s veto (on Police Department cuts) and her position that we cannot defund SPD by 50%, Mayor Durkan believes we must get beyond slogans to work towards solutions on these immense challenges,” Nyland said.
Criticizing the mayor for not proposing new, progressive taxes to boost social services, the commission’s letter claims Durkan has “willfully obstructed the rights of Seattle citizens to receive elected representation that supports their health, wellbeing and ability to thrive.”
The mayor advocated for a state bill early this year that would have allowed King County to tax big businesses and still supports the idea, Durkan’s office noted. She proposed a tax on Uber and Lyft that was recently enacted.
A deputy mayor met with the commission last month about the commission’s concerns and the mayor was willing to do the same, Nyland said.
Pachaud, the commission co-chair, said she and other commissioners took “no pleasure” in writing Wednesday’s letter and “would have liked to let the mayor’s term play out.” They decided to speak out when the mayor attempted to stop a united council from enacting 2020 budget changes.