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Seattle mayor names task force to guide spending $100M on communities of color

By Daniel Beekman Seattle Times

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on Wednesday named the members of a task force that she says will help guide a proposed $100 million set of undetermined investments next year for communities of color.

Durkan announced the concept of the task force last month, when she sent her 2021 budget plan (including the $100 million earmark) to the City Council for review and potential changes.

The 28 members named Wednesday include two pastors; two union leaders; the president of Seattle Central College; representatives from the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle and the Seattle-King County NAACP; and representatives from other nonprofit organizations, such as the Seattle Indian Health Board, El Centro de la Raza and Muslim Housing Services. City Councilmember Debora Juarez will serve as an ex-officio member, and more members may be added.

The task force and Durkan’s budget plan have drawn criticism from other community organizations, including King County Equity Now, a coalition of Black-led organizations that’s been pushing City Hall to redirect resources from the police to other needs.

Meanwhile, the Durkan administration intends to pay a consultant up to $200,000 to facilitate the task force’s work between November and June, with the consultant expected to help the group gather input from Seattle residents. The Department of Neighborhoods is accepting bids from consultants this week.

In a news release Wednesday, the mayor described the $100 million Equitable Communities Initiative and the associated task force as “a significant step to recognize and address the generational impacts of systemic racism … and to build a more just and equitable city.”

“I am grateful to the community leaders serving on this task force, who collectively have hundreds of years of experience working in and making systemic change in our community,” Durkan said.

The investments “will mark the city’s next step toward … rooting out the injustices that plague our collective communities,” task-force member Steven Sawyer said in the news release. Sawyer is the executive director of the People of Color Against AIDS Network.

King County Equity Now, which is leading a community-based research project on public safety and racial equity solutions for Seattle, has objected to the mayor’s approach. The task force is bound to advance Durkan’s priorities, rather than new ideas, the coalition has said.

Some community leaders active with King County Equity Now declined invitations to serve on the mayor’s task force. In total, 19 invitations total were declined, with some people citing capacity issues and others not wanting to be involved, said Kamaria Hightower, a Durkan spokesperson.

“We and many others oppose this task-force process that mimics real community involvement and input,” King County Equity Now said in a statement Wednesday.

The mayor has proposed reserving $100 million in new spending for “Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities” as part of her 2021 budget plan, having promised that sum over the summer in response to the uprising for Black lives. When she first made the promise, as protests against police killings and racism surged, she said money would benefit Black people in particular.

The mayor’s budget plan would use proceeds from the City Council’s new tax on big businesses to help close a pandemic-related revenue gap and cover the $100 million. King County Equity Now and other critics say the $100 million should instead come from the police and the criminal legal system and should be allocated through a participatory budgeting process that involves people not usually included in conversations at City Hall.

King County Equity Now’s research projects involves more than 100 Black community members, the coalition said. “We invite task force members to join us in this visionary work. To move away from old normal tactics that have chronically and consistently failed our communities, and instead move towards a new budgeting process that includes everyone in our city,” the coalition said.

Dozens of community organizations — such Columbia Legal Services, OneAmerica, Solid Ground, YouthCorps and the Sierra Club’s Seattle chapter — have taken a stance against Durkan’s plan.Some City Council members also have raised concerns; it’s not yet clear what the council will do about the mayor’s $100 million proposal before approving a budget next month..

The mayor has said the task force, with technical assistance from city employees, will make recommendations on how the $100 million should be spent and what the money should achieve. In accordance with city and state rules, the group won’t select specific recipients, the Durkan administration has said.

“Dismantling systemic racism starts with a shift in funding priorities to be more equitable, investing more in services led by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) leaders designed for and accessed by their communities,” said task force member Christina Wong, director of public policy and advocacy at NW Harvest, which runs food banks and meal programs.

“COVID-19 has nearly doubled the number of people in our state who struggle to put food on their table, disproportionately impacting Black and Latinx communities,” Wong added in Wednesday’s news release.

The task force will deliver initial recommendations in December and additional recommendations next spring, the administration has said, allowing the mayor to make a supplementary budget proposal at that time.

The group’s members will be paid for their time; the amount has yet to be decided, the mayor’s office said.

The Durkan administration previously said the task force’s focus areas would be: Building Opportunity and an Inclusive Economy; Community Wealth Building and Preserving Cultural Spaces; Community Wellness; and Climate Justice and Green New Deal. Those are suggestions and the group will be able alter the list, the mayor’s office said Wednesday.

These are the Equitable Communities Initiative Task Force members named by the mayor’s office Wednesday:

  • Pastor Carey Anderson, First AME Church
  • Sean Bagsby, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 46
  • Sophia Benalfew, Ethiopian Community in Seattle
  • LaNesha DeBardelaben, Northwest African American Museum
  • Maggie Angel Cano, Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition
  • Andrea Caupain, Byrd Barr Place
  • Mahnaz K. Eshetu, Refugee Women’s Alliance
  • Ollie Garrett, Tabor 100
  • Lynda Greene, Southeast Seattle Senior Center
  • Chris Lampkin, Service Employees International Union 1199NW
  • Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange, Seattle Central College
  • Paulina Lopez, Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition
  • Esther Lurcero, Seattle Indian Health Board
  • Michelle Merriweather, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle
  • Trish Millines Dziko, Technology Access Foundation
  • Donna Moodie, Marjorie Restaurant
  • Estela Ortega, El Centro de la Raza
  • Carolyn Riley-Payne, Seattle King County NAACP
  • Rizwan Rizwi, Muslim Housing Services
  • Victoria Santos, Young Women Empowered
  • Steven Sawyer, People of Color Against AIDS Network
  • Michael Tulee, United Indians of All Tribes
  • Ray Williams, Black Farmers Collective
  • Sharon Williams, CD Forum
  • Pastor Lawrence Willis, United Black Clergy
  • Maiko Winkler-Chin, Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority
  • Christina Wong, NW Harvest
  • Beto Yarce, Ventures
  • Debora Juarez, Seattle City Council member (ex-officio)