Monday was chock-full of Seattle civics excitement as the City Council voted in the first female chief of the Seattle Police Department and approved a universal pre-K plan to appear on the November ballot.
Following the council vote, Chief Kathleen O’Toole walked down the hall to take the oath of office, administered by the fellow Irish-blooded Mayor Ed Murray. Murray nominated O’Toole for the post in May.
O’Toole comes into the position with a wealth of experience following decades of police work in Boston, where she rose to commissioner, and more recent work in Ireland. More notably, she comes into the post with no experience at SPD, where the public and elected officials have called for major shake-ups among the department’s highest ranks.
Council member Kshama Sawant cast the lone “no” votes to O’Toole’s confirmation and her $250,000 salary. Sawant said she wasn’t convinced O’Toole would bring the deep reform needed at SPD and that no public official should make over $100,000.
For the first time, the SPD chief will be allowed to bring in top brass from outside the department. O’Toole should find a City Hall and populace sympathetic to her cause in reforming a department that’s faced heavy criticism and remains entangled with a powerful union. One of the first political battles O’Toole will need to rise above will be the renewal of the city’s contract with the powerful Seattle Police Officer Guild.
O’Toole will also be tasked with continuing to carry out the 2012 consent decree with the Department of Justice to curb biased policing. SPD’s continued overhaul also includes a DOJ-approved use of force policy that lists guidelines for all department weaponry and requires all officers to carry at least one non-lethal weapon at all times.
Prior to O’Toole’s confirmation, the City Council unanimously approved Mayor Ed Murray’s universal pre-K plan, paving the way for a $58 million property tax levy to appear before voters on November’s ballot. Murray has frequently said that implementing universal pre-K would be the most important thing he’ll ever do as mayor.
Council members considered a handful of amendments to the plan on Monday. Among the most important passed was one that expanded free preschool to families at or blow 300 percent of the federal poverty line. The cutoff had been at or below 200 percent.
Despite the unanimous approval of the plan, there was some frustration in the room as the council also voted to send Initiative 107 to the ballot — a union-backed measure that would, among other things, raise the minimum wage of pre-K teachers and workers at a schedule faster than the citywide $15 an hour minimum wage law implemented last month.
Supporters of the signature-backed I-107 hoped their measure could complement the mayor’s universal pre-K plan, but the council decided voters would only be able to vote for one or the other come November. Over the past six months I-107 supporters gained enough signatures to place the measure on the November ballot. The council rejected passing the measure as on ordinance on June 16th.
Council president Tim Burgess, who has championed the universal pre-K plan and rejected I-107, hailed the vote as a historic day for the council.
“What we decide today and the voters decide in November can change our city forever,” he said.