(The Center Square) — The Seattle City Council voted 7-1 Tuesday to pay the legal expenses of council member Kshama Sawant as she prepares to challenge a petition recalling her from office.
The petition contends that Sawant abused her authority by inviting hundreds of protesters into Seattle City Hall during on the night of June 9.
Sawant has hired several private lawyers whose cost will amount to $75,000, city council staff reported.
Council member Alex Pedersen, who has clashed many times with Sawant over police budget cuts and transportation, stressed that access to legal defense is the right of every Seattle leader.
“Councilmember Sawant was reelected less than a year ago,” Pedersen said. “Adequate legal council should be available to a duly elected official defending a recall petition whether or not they can afford such representation.”
This is not the first time Seattle has paid for a city leader’s court battles.
In 2011, Seattle paid for the legal expenses of former Council President Richard Conlin when petitioners attempted to recall him over his support of the Highway 99 tunnel project.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan still faces a recall petition of her own, which she is appealing in the Supreme Court of Washington. The petition argues Durkan failed to implement sufficient police procedures protecting demonstrators protesting police brutality over the summer.
The Seattle Police Department faces a slew of lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union and activist groups who claim officers used excessive force on protesters.
On Monday, Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County sent a letter to Seattle’s Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) asking it to investigate a variety of issues, including whether council members “followed appropriate policies in opening City Hall to protesters.”
BLMSKC also requested that the SEEC look into what city leaders knew about federal law enforcement agents deployed to the city months ago.
Further, BLMSKC also called on the SEEC to determine if the city council “excised due diligence on budget proposals that appear discriminatory or unduly influenced” when it approved cuts to the Seattle police budget.
“This investigation is essential for the community’s understanding of government conduct and it adds much needed transparency to the critical budget process that’s underway,” BLMSKC board member Livio De La Cruz said in a statement. “The government works for the people. The people must understand what it’s doing and why.”
The group has been highly critical of the city’s efforts at police reform, which it has described as “performative action that solely suggests the appearance of change.”
It further called Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best’s resignation in August as “a loss” for the city and will have little effect on police procedures.
In August, the city council approved about $4 million in cuts to Seattle’s $400 million police budget, or 1 percent. BLM activists have joined other groups in the city calling for cutting the police budget by as much as 50 percent.
Groups such as BLM contend that the police budget’s hundreds of millions of dollars would better serve Seattle’s marginalized communities if used for affordable housing and social services.
Sawant was the only council member to vote against the August police budget cuts on the grounds that they did not meet the demands of protesters against police brutality.
The recall petition against Sawant will need 10,700 certified signatures to get onto the November ballot.