City council member Tim Burgess, who faces only nominal opposition from an unfunded opponent, architect David Schraer, sat down with PubliCola yesterday to talk about his campaign, police accountability, his disastrous panhandling ordinance, and whether he plans to run for mayor against Mike McGinn in 2013. This is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Your opponent, David Schraer, told PubliCola that he considers you a friend. Do you know David? I went out and had coffee with him. I talked to him several times as he was starting his campaign against council member [Jean] Godden. And at one point he called me and said, "I don't think I'm going to make it through the primary," [several candidates had lined up to challenge Godden], and I said, "David I think you're right," and he said, "So I'm running against you." [pullquote]"Some have suggested that the [police oversight] review board have subpoena power. I ask them, what do you think we're not getting today that we should be getting? And they don't really have an answer."[/pullquote]I asked him why he was running and he said, 'To get my message out." So I asked him, "What's your message?" And he said, "I don't like the mayor."

It's kind of a weird choice, to run against the guy who's seen as the main anti-McGinn guy on the council. That's what I thought.

Your proposed panhandling ordinance seriously backfired: It was vetoed by Mayor McGinn, a veto the council ultimately upheld. Do you regret proposing it, and would you consider proposing a similar ordinance in the future?

I don't regret bringing that up. That was a very deliberate, well-thought-out, and ineffective strategy to shift from what some view as overly severe criminal penalties for that kind of misbehavior in public to lesser, but quicker and more certain, penalties. I have a philosophy of crime prevention that focuses on immediate sanctions, but not necessarily severe sanctions.

Jean Godden suggested the other day that she would vote for the ordinance again if you brought it up a second time. Are you considering that option?

I don't have any plans myself to bring it up. I don't think any of the players have changed their minds, so I think the results would be the same.

What are the next steps the council should take on police accountability?

Police accountability is both a process and a culture, and that culture is set by the chief of police and the mayor, and it's carried out by first-line patrol supervisors. And I think the police department has undervalued the role of the sergeants. They are getting ready to institute some new training for sergeants, and I think that's great. They will be the ones that set the tone and set the culture of the police department. Training is always good, but that is not a panacea, and it is often used as an excuse for not taking other actions that should be taken.

Do you think the current police accountability system, in which the main investigative body, the Office of Professional Accountability, is part of the police department, is working?

We have a very robust civilian oversight of police accountability here in our city. I personally think it's second to none in our country. Legislation that we passed in 2008 greatly increased the authority and scope of responsibility of our civilian auditor [who acts as a check on OPA], so that, for example, in the old regime, the auditor could recommend that the chief of police take certain further investigation or steps. Now, [OPA Auditor] Anne Levinson can just investigate ... and monitor investigations that are underway.

Some have suggested that the review board have subpoena power. I ask them, what do you think we're not getting today that we should be getting? And they don't really have an answer.

Should the police chief have to go through reconfirmation by the city council, like the heads of almost every other city department?

I'm kind of agnostic on that right now. I've not spent a lot of time looking at it. It's complicated. Many major city police chiefs today around the country actually have contracts that say the police chief can only be fired for cause. In Seattle, the police chief can be removed by the mayor at the mayor's discretion. [pullquote]"This vote won't stop the project."[/pullquote]

The traditional argument that one hears against reconfirmation of a police chief is that it politicizes the role of a police chief beyond what we want to see in the city. The police chief can be removed right now on the order of the mayor of the city. What more check do you want? Maybe do you want nine more people jumping in there, but it would be very unusual among major cities.

Are you running for mayor?

People bring that up and I tell them I'm running for reelection to the city council. It's all speculation. Who knows what will happen? That's a long ways away---two and a half years, that's an eternity in politics. Does the thought ever cross my mind? Sure, but it crossed my mind during my first year in office, and I concluded that I wasn't ready, I wasn't prepared. But if I conclude that the city needs new leadership at some time in the future, we'll see.

But two years in to McGinn's administration, surely you have an opinion of how he's doing and whether we "need new leadership."

I get along well with Mike. He endorsed me during my first campaign, he contributed to my campaign, and he helped me win the Sierra Club endorsement back in 2007.  We communicate well. There are some issues that we've worked incredibly well on together---the Families and Education Levy is an example of that---and obviously we disagree on some things. ... I think in the area of public safety, crime prevention and reduction, and direct, core public safety services, both police and fire, we're not doing as well as we should be. I think in some of our neighborhood initiatives we're not doing well.

What do you think about how the mayor and his Human Services Department director, Dannette Smith, handled the reorganization of HSD and the elimination of the domestic violence and sexual assault division?

It was not handled well at all. The council and the mayor, for years in Seattle, have said that domestic violence prevention and sexual assault prevention are right at the top of our list of public safety priorities. And then to see that basically swept away and go for five or six months without clear leadership [of the city's DV and sexual assault programs] was a problem for many of us.

Where are you on the current paid sick leave ordinance?

In principle, I'm fully supportive of the idea. [But] there are two things. One goes to issue of the economy, and is this the right time to create a new obligation, and what does that do to Seattle's competitiveness? Number two is where's the threshold where it should be imposed? Right now, it's two employees. Should it be three, five, ten, 15? I don't think it's 50---that's way too high. It's somewhere in the 5 to 15 range.

If the voters reject the tunnel referendum, what's the council's next move?

Well, I think we're going to win, because people are sick and tired of the delay and procrastination, and I think Seattle voters are smart and they recognize that this is one element of a much larger transportation and downtown revitalization plan. It's pretty clear that if our position does not prevail, that we can't just pass a resolution or send a letter---we'll have to do an ordinance, and i'm sure we will, which then will be vetoed. So we will start the whole process over again. [Tunnel opponents] will go out and collect signatures, and the first time they'll be able to get it on the ballot will be 2012. The boring machine will be in the ground when we vote again, so this vote won't stop the project.
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