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City View Newsletter

Volume 2, Issue 19  • September 30, 2009
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Budget Edition

We’re moving into the busy season here at City Hall. We have started to review the Mayor’s proposed budget for 2010 and 2011, closely analyzing his recommendations and considering additional cuts or additions. This process will demand our full attention until we adopt the final budget on November 23.

The Council sent a letter to Mayor Nickels in August outlining our budget priorities, particularly for public safety and human services. The Mayor heard us and has maintained critical funding in these areas.

Here is my short list of additional areas I will follow closely and ask my colleagues to support.

Prostituted Children. King County recently cut funding for a pilot project I proposed that would have taken prostituted juveniles off the streets and placed them in safe housing with specialized mental health and chemical dependency treatment services. Despite this cut, I am not giving up on these kids. Several individuals and organizations in the private sector have contacted me and made pledges to financially support this vital project. My goal is to match a small amount of city money, perhaps $150,000, with private pledges so this program can begin early next year. Read the Boyer report for a detailed examination of the 300 to 500 children involved in street prostitution in King County; it’s a horrific accounting of violence, coercion, fear and abuse by predators who sexually exploit children. (You can read my personal blog postings on this subject here.)

Youth Mentoring. We have spent a lot of time and millions of dollars to curb youth violence since I joined the Council in January 2008. I’ve been to all corners of our good city talking with community groups, parents, school officials and young people about what our city government can do to stop the violence. I’ve heard one consistent message: start early with prevention efforts.

Numerous studies show that when we give children strong role models they are less likely to engage in anti-social behavior and more likely to graduate from high school. One particular study revealed that children with an active mentor were 32% less likely to hit someone, 46% less likely to start using illegal drugs and 52% less likely to skip school. We can create lasting change by starting in the early elementary grades with strong mentorship programs that focus on literacy. I will propose that we spend an additional $500,000 next year to mentor children.

Graffiti and Litter Clean Up. As part of my Safer Streets Initiative, I would like to direct $400,000 to a unique program designed to clean up graffiti and litter in our business districts, including downtown. This isn’t simply an aesthetic issue; it’s about preventing crime and creating safer, more lively and enjoyable streets. Late last year I read a fascinating study which showed that people were more likely to steal or litter when there was already graffiti on the wall or trash on the ground. Disorder leads to more disorder.

What will make the program unique? Those employed to do the work will be low-level offenders who are given this opportunity to work in the community in lieu of harsher alternatives. This might be one way to address the increasing problem of aggressive panhandling throughout Seattle.

Crime Prevention Programs. Beginning in 2006, two years before I joined the Council, the City launched three anti-crime programs designed to reduce criminal behavior among chronic offenders or potential first-time offenders with histories of homelessness, chemical dependency or mental health challenges. The programs have operated on shoestring budgets and experienced some administrative problems. An evaluation of program effectiveness completed last month was inconclusive, but offered hints of potential for success, particularly in reducing jail bookings once clients entered a program. I will seek continued funding for the programs—approximately $1 million—along with more explicit objectives, much stronger performance measures and increased administrative support and controls. (Read a press release about these programs here.)

While one could be critical of how these programs were established and their lack of specific performance measures, they are exactly the type of effort we need to continue experimenting with. Why? Because our traditional approach results in a cycle of arrest, prosecution, and jail, followed by more offending. It has created a staggering prison population in this country that is far higher per capita than any other industrialized democracy in the world. One of every 100 adult Americans is in prison, a rate that is alarmingly higher among sub-groups of our population, for example African Americans. Our current law enforcement approach to non-violent, non-trafficking drug offenders is broken and that’s why I will continue to press for more creative approaches that address root problems and causes, approaches that focus on alternatives to jail.

Thank you for your continued interest in civic affairs. Our city is strong because people choose to engage, debate the issues and work on solutions. I’m grateful for my job representing you here at City Hall. What an honor!

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