Holmes Prioritized Hiring Spokeswoman, Chief of Staff Over Precinct Liaison Program In Budget

In less than a week, the two remaining City Attorney’s Office Precinct Liaisons will pack up their desks at the Seattle Police Department’s West and South Precincts and relocate downtown, rejoining the City Attorney’s office as criminal prosecutors, potentially signaling the end of the liaison program for the foreseeable future.

The liaison program, which embedded city prosecutors at each of the Seattle Police Department’s five precincts, streamlined communications between police and prosecutors over neighborhood issues—such as nuisance properties like the Inman motels on Aurora, troubled nightlife venues like V-Bar in Belltown, liquor license issues, and other crime hotspots. “It’s a valuable relationship. It allows our officers to interface directly with the city attorneys office on a variety of issues,” says SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb. “Direct access equals quicker results.”

Unfortunately, the liaison program has been decimated under Pete Holmes’ term as city attorney. Holmes is now seeking nearly a half-million dollars to restore the liaisons, but he may have a tough time getting the city to cough up another half-million.

According to city budget records, last year Holmes used money previously allocated to the the liaison program to hire a spokeswoman and chief of staff.

A city source also says the mayor’s office is not planning on giving Holmes the extra money because they believe he can fund the precinct liaison program with money in his current budget. [pullquote]Holmes used $276,000 from staffing pools, which previously funded the liaison program, to hire a chief of staff—a first for the office—and a communications director.[/pullquote]

Mayor Mike McGinn’s spokesman Aaron Pickus says “These are difficult budget times. We’ve asked all departments to make reductions.”

Upon taking office in 2010, Holmes cut East Precinct liaison Tienney Milnor who, during her time at the East Precinct, was frequently at odds with the same nightlife groups that stumped for Holmes during his campaign. West Precinct liaison James Kenny absorbed much of Milnor’s workload, handling issues with bars and clubs in two of the busiest nightlife districts in the city.

Former North Precinct liaison Ed McKenna left the program to become a municipal court judge, former South liaison John McGoodwin returned to the city’s criminal division and was replaced by current liaison Henry Chae, and former Southwest Precinct liaison Beth Gappert is now handling vice and narcotics cases.

Because the liaison program shrunk from five attorneys to just two, Kenny and Chae are covering issues across the entire city. Kenny primarily handles nightlife issues, while Chae focuses on neighborhood crime.

After McGoodwin, Milnor, and McKenna left their liaison posts, money from their positions was absorbed back into the criminal division budget.

In a statement last month about the current state of the precinct liaison program, Holmes said “’Right now it’s more appropriate to call them circuit-riding liaisons,’ because the remaining two liaisons travel among the North, East, West, South and Southwest Precincts.” Holmes is now seeking $470,000 to return the precinct liaison program to its full complement of five assistant city attorneys.

According to Law department budget documents, this year, Holmes reallocated the money for two liaison salaries to his criminal prosecution division. One other liaison position was  moved into the department’s civil case division. Holmes then took  $168,000 civil division position to create the Chief of Staff, and $108,000 from the criminal division to staff his office with a spokeswoman.

To simplify that even further: Holmes used $276,000 from staffing pools, which previously funded the liaison program, to hire a chief of staff—a first for the office—and a communications director.

When contacted about Holmes’ apparent decision to prioritize hiring a spokeswoman and chief of staff over the liaison program, Holmes’ spokeswoman, Kimberly Mills, blamed the cuts to the liaisons on a loss of federal grant funding and said her office has “proposed what we believe is the best model…we will implement if it is funded by the budget.”

“The scope of the liaisons’ work was different before Pete took office than it is now,” Mills said in an email. “[L]iquor license objections and nightlife issues have become much more centralized.”

Mills says the new liaison program would “cover a much broader array” of issues, like “land use, street use and transportation, nuisance, animal control, medical marijuana regulation, other business licensing and regulation[.]”

“We can do the legal work the old liaison program did without attorneys in the precincts,” Mills said, “but given the public support for a fully restored liaison program, we’ve proposed what we believe is the best model for a new, five-attorney program we will implement if it is funded by the budget.”

Mills could not immediately address the fact that money previously used to fund the liaison positions appears to have been spent  on her position as communications director and Holmes’ chief of staff.

We’ll have more on this later today after we talk to Pete Holmes.

UPDATE @ 3:06: Holmes’ spokeswoman, Kimberly Mills, called a few minutes before we were scheduled to speak with Holmes to say we “can get our explanation when we take our budget to the city council…in about six weeks.”