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Originally published Monday, October 22, 2012 at 9:06 PM

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Bowing to City Council, McGinn agrees to L.A. monitor for SPD

Shortly after the Seattle City Council voted 8-to-1 to press for the hiring of Merrick Bobb to monitor police reforms, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn reluctantly agreed to the recommendation.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn reluctantly agreed Monday to recommend Los Angeles police consultant Merrick Bobb as the independent monitor to oversee police reforms, shortly after the City Council voted 8-to-1 to join with the Department of Justice in submitting Bobb's name to a federal judge.

McGinn reversed his stance less than a week after he publicly objected to Bobb's potential appointment on grounds a board member for Bobb's nonprofit had helped write the Justice Department report that found Seattle police officers had engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force and displayed troubling evidence of biased policing.

McGinn had backed Seattle Police Chief John Diaz and other police officials in resisting Bobb's selection, drawing a sharp rebuke from four City Council members and City Attorney Pete Holmes, who expressed their support for Bobb as the top candidate.

In bowing to the council's vote, McGinn chose to avoid a potential court fight after finding himself standing virtually alone among the city's elected leaders. Councilmember Mike O'Brien cast the lone dissenting vote, saying he wasn't judging Bobb but had not interviewed him.

The council's resolution, coming five days before the deadline to reach a recommendation, instructed Holmes to advise U.S. District Judge James Robart, who is presiding over the reforms, that the city agreed Bobb would be the best choice in accordance with the Justice Department's support of him.

Bobb, if appointed by Robart, would oversee the city's July settlement agreement with federal attorneys, which calls for changes to curb unnecessary force and address discriminatory policing.

Within hours of the City Council vote, McGinn's spokesman issued a statement, saying, "We know from the experience of other cities that reform efforts are successful when the police force buys in to the effort. Our office and others expressed concerns that Mr. Bobb would not be seen as an impartial monitor. ... "

"We are disappointed that the Council did not listen to those concerns and that our reform efforts may prove more difficult as a result of their vote," the statement added. "We believe that their vote was a mistake, but respect that this is now the City's position. Going forward, the mayor will roll up his sleeves and continue to work with all stakeholders to implement reform in our police force."

Councilmember Tim Burgess, in a statement Monday night, said, "Reform will be especially more difficult if the mayor keeps saying it will be difficult."

In urging Bobb's selection, council members, who interviewed four finalists, noted that Bobb had overseen law-enforcement agencies for more than 20 years, developing a reputation as one of the nation's foremost leaders on police accountability and reform. The resolution said Bobb led the development of national guidelines for police monitors, and it cited his recent report critical of the King County Sheriff's Office that prompted swift changes to bolster oversight. "We can't pass it up," Council President Sally Clark said during discussion of the resolution, which was introduced by Councilmember Bruce Harrell, the chair of the council's public-safety committee.

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said she had spoken to Diaz and police officials and honored their views, but she was swayed in part by the opinion of the city's ethics chief that Bobb's hiring would not present a conflict of interest.

In an exchange of emails with Burgess on Sunday, Wayne Barnett, executive director of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, said he found no conflict as long as Bobb disclosed his relationship to his board member before accepting the job, and as long as the "appointing authority" does not object. Barnett had been informed by Burgess that the board member was hired by the Justice Department as an independent contractor, and that Bobb's nonprofit, Police Assessment Resource Center, had no involvement.

McGinn and the Police Department objected to the arrangement, according to a source familiar with their thinking, because the board member had been involved in the Seattle report, which had the potential to award a lucrative contract of up to $1 million to Bobb and his staff.

Burgess, speaking after the council vote, called the claim of a conflict a "red herring."

During the council's discussion, Councilmember Nick Licata called the monitor job the key position in evaluating the progress of the settlement agreement.

Justice Department officials on Monday declined to comment on the developments. Federal attorneys and the city have until Friday to submit a mutually acceptable name to Robart, who, according to city officials, has said he wants to conduct his own interview of the candidate and decide by Nov. 12 whether to accept the recommendation.

Had there been no agreement on a candidate, Robart would have chosen from separate lists submitted by the city and Justice Department.

Also interviewed by city officials were Michael Bromwich, a former police monitor in Washington, D.C.; Jeff Schlanger, a former prosecutor who helped carry out court-ordered police changes in Los Angeles; and Michael Gennaco, the civilian watchdog of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

The council also on Monday approved legislation for a 15-member Community Police Commission, whose creation was part of the settlement agreement.

Seattle Times reporter Mike Carter contributed to this story.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com.

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