News Notes from Last Night’s City Council Candidate Debate
posted by August 17 at 15:39 PMon
In a rare one-on-one debate last night between City Council incumbent David Della and challenger Tim Burgess, held at the Calvary Church at 70th and NW 23rd in Ballard, Burgess said something I haven’t heard many candidates dare to say: He thought the recent police accountability scandal showed that our system works. I’ve been saying the same thing—and nobody seems to agree—so Burgess’s response jumped out at me.
After the debate (more city candidates should do one-on-ones, by the way … good on the 36th District Democrats, who hosted), I asked Burgess to explain what he meant. “The [job of the] OPA is to be the civilian eyes on the police department and on allegations of misconduct,” he said. “And the [OPA] review board wrote a report. And it was made public. That’s a good thing. In that sense, the controversy about how discipline is handled by the chief came to light. From my perspective that is an indication, at least at that level, the system of civilian oversight is working. Beyond that the question becomes how can we make it better. How do we introduce measures for more transparency and more accountability? Those are legitimate questions.”
So, does Burgess support the idea that City Council should have reconfirmation authority over the chief? Burgess said he did not. “I’m leery of that,” he said. “I’m leery of making it political.”
Isn’t the mayor’s solo authority also politicized—which explains why the mayor isn’t getting tough with the chief? Burgess nodded, but said that with nine council members it would be worse. “Public officeholders have multiple agendas,” he said. He was suspicious that their decision making process about the chief would be “less than objective and independent.”
So, what does Burgess recommend? First, he says the council should require the chief to document his conclusions and findings on OPA investigations (such as when he overturns them.)
Burgess also says the council already has the authority to make the chief come before the council to answer questions about things like how he’s administering discipline. I told Burgess that in fact, Council Members Nick Licata and Burgess’s opponent David Della have asked the chief to do just that, and the chief has been vague about his commitment to appear (says he has to check to see if that was kosher with the union.) Burgess said, “Well, he should [meet with council],” and added that the council also has subpoena power and could use it to call the chief before them if he refuses to do so voluntarily.
“The city charter grants council subpoena power,” he says. “It’s rarely used and I’m not suggesting it needs to be, but that authority is there.”
Burgess himself was a police officer from 1971 to 1978.