EDITOR’S NOTE: This post was revised on Aug. 23, 2017 at 10 a.m.:

Safe injection site stalled; Council approves plan to hire human services director 11

By Jack Mayne

The Burien City Council dodged a quick decision on banning safe drug injection sites in the city, but told City Manager Brian Wilson to research hiring a human services manager “to handle health and human services,” as well as oversee the assessment of the city’s homeless issue.

The Monday (Aug. 21) Council meeting also included a move by City Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz to have an ordinance written to prohibit landlords from discriminating against to rejecting or not accepting housing vouchers or other public sources of income. The motion is still open.

Councilmembers also honored some local heroes, as well as longtime Police Chief Scott Kimerer on his retirement.

Injection sites on ballot

At the outset of the meeting, Councilmember Debi Wagner moved to add to the night’s agenda “a timely item” – the consideration of banning safe drug injection sites in the city. King County has said that it would not place a site in any city that does not want them.

Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz objected to adding the issue to the agenda. She suggested other long-standing items already on the agenda should be considered first but the Council voted to consider the issue.

Safe injection site stalled; Council approves plan to hire human services director 12City Attorney Lisa Marshall said there is a potential problem because Initiative 27 is already certified for the November ballot. If passed, that measure would ban such sites in the entire King County.

Marshall also said any discussion of the subject by the Council without prior public notice could “be a risk” to raise a Public Disclosure Commission complaint, even though the Burien-only issue is “somewhat different” from the initiative which would ban all such sites in the entire county.

A several minutes-long squabble over Council rules affecting the proposed ban occurred between Berkowitz and Wagner before a 4-3 vote that moved the issue to a later time.

Marshall said she will have a proposal that the Council either support or oppose Initiative 27 at the Sept. 18 meeting. City staff are still working on how the issue of safe injection sites will be presented to the Council, since there is also a county-level initiative (I-27), along with growing interest in Burien for Council to weigh in on this matter.

Mayor Krakowiak did allow four people who previously signed to talk against the issue for and against to speak.

Human Services Commission
In a number of Council meetings earlier this year, the Council addressed the topics of health and human services funding and homelessness in Burien, then delayed further discussion on homelessness and put it up for discussion in August.

Laura Crandall, city management analyst, told the Council in a memo that city “staff have begun reviewing how organizations that receive City funds are providing services, whether they meet standards, are compliant with state and local laws, and if their location is compatible with their mission.”

Last June 5, the Council approved Ordinance 669 to form a Human Services Commission and established this new advisory body to provide advice and recommendations related to human services issues.

The Council also voted in June to change the city’s human services funding formula from a percentage of the general fund to a per capita funding method, starting at $6.50 per capita for the 2019–2020 budget.

Crandall said Monday night (Aug. 21) that the council “may want to consider having a “human services needs assessment performed,” and said City Manager Brian Wilson will be recommending hiring a human services manager “to handle health and human services,” and oversee the assessment. That person would also seek additional sources of income.

Berkowitz asked if the city manager was now asking for the authority to be human services manager and Wilson said the Council had not given “clear direction” to proceed “in a particular direction.” He sought “Council authorization to explore this opportunity and present this at a future date,” probably at the year-end midterm review of the city’s biennial budget.

Safe injection site stalled; Council approves plan to hire human services director 13Berkowitz says do it now
Berkowitz moved to give Council approval to hire a human services manager and conduct a needs assessment of the homeless issue.

She and Councilmember Tosta said the issue had been talked about “many times” and indicated she supported Berkowitz’s move.

Councilmembers Austin Bell, Debi Wagner, Stephen Armstrong and Mayor Krakowiak said they did not have enough information and were not ready to go forward immediately. The mayor said she would be “more comfortable” discussing it in context of the city budget.

Berkowitz said she “cannot believe we are moving too fast” after all discussions on the subject. Bell said it was not right to hire a new position without some consideration of what the position would do, or how they would work – “we don’t just do something from a motion from the dais.”

Safe injection site stalled; Council approves plan to hire human services director 14Berkowitz’s motion failed 5 to 2, with she and Tosta voting for it.

Wilson said he would come back in the future with a full plan on how such a department would work, how much it would cost and what accomplishments would be envisioned.

Landlord discrimination
During comment period, resident Irene Danysh said the Council had the power to forbid potential landlords from discriminating against people who have county-issued housing vouchers or other forms of government income.

City Manager Wilson said many cities have enacted Source of Income Discrimination, or SOID, to protect prospective tenants using Section 8 housing vouchers from income discrimination when applying for rental housing.

In May 2017, King County had a waiting list, which is now closed, of 3,500 for vouchers. Once an applicant receives a voucher, it is valid six months; after that time, it becomes invalid.

Laura Crandall said that so far this year, 533 families in Burien applied for vouchers and 111 were placed on the waiting list by a lottery.

Berkowitz moved to have an ordinance written to prohibit landlords from discriminating against rejecting or not accepting vouchers or other public sources of income. She was supported by Bell and Tosta.

Mayor Krakowiak opposed the Berkowitz proposal because of unintended repercussions and held open the prospect of more solutions. Edgar agreed with Krakowiak as wanted more information on “what can be done and what can’t be done.”

Wagner said there seems to be a “pot of money for every ill that is out there” and she was not ready to more forward on the issue immediately and wanted more information on whether it is fair to landlords and numbers of people potentially involved.

Armstrong said the law was not working in Seattle and he wants more information and that the Council should slow down on spending for such issues.

Berkowitz’s proposal was not voted upon and the Council adjourned.

Safe injection site stalled; Council approves plan to hire human services director 15

Heroism and retirement
The Council also presented Heroism Awards to Burton Powers, Marc Anderson and Natasha Stapp for their fast work giving CPR and aid to Christopher Smith who had a seizure, but recovered fully due to the work of the individuals (read our previous coverage here).

Council also honored retiring longtime Police Chief Scott Kimerer for his “commitment to community involvement and outreach with diverse populations as an essential law enforcement philosophy” and thanked him for “his dedicated service to the community” since his initial appointment as chief in 2003.