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Originally published March 11, 2013 at 8:32 PM | Page modified March 11, 2013 at 8:41 PM

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Outsider eases feud at City Hall

Los Angeles civil-rights attorney Connie Rice was credited Monday with helping to end a deadlock between Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and City Attorney Pete Holmes over a police-reform plan.

Seattle Times staff reporters

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A nationally recognized civil-rights advocate played a key role in persuading Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn to accept an independent monitor’s first-year plan for reforming the Police Department, the City Council was told Monday.

At a special briefing, the federal monitor, Merrick Bobb, credited Connie Rice, a Los Angeles attorney whom McGinn hired as an adviser in August, with changing the tenor of acrimonious discussions that preceded McGinn’s decision.

In response to a question from Councilmember Tim Burgess, Bobb said the talks had become more collaborative in recent days.

“People of goodwill worked to bring about a rapprochement,” Bobb said. “Connie Rice, who is a dear friend of mine and a friend of the mayor’s. The willingness to talk developed on both sides. We talked, the mayor approved the monitoring plan, and we’re off and running.”

Rice, speaking after the briefing, said she held separate discussions last week with McGinn and City Attorney Pete Holmes as the two were battling over the city’s response to the monitor’s proposals.

McGinn contended that Holmes, who had urged a collaborative approach, had unethically interfered in negotiations with Bobb and sought final authority over legal decisions

Holmes invoked his role as the city’s chief litigator, but has denied he demanded final authority.

Rice said both men determined it was important to “clear the way” and get off to a “good start” in carrying out the terms of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to address excessive force and biased policing.

“No. I’m not instrumental. They were instrumental,” added Rice, who served for years in the Los Angeles office of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and is now co-director of a civil-rights organization called the Advancement Project.

As a civic leader in Los Angeles, Rice helped bridge divides between that city’s police officers and gang members. The second cousin of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Rice also played an instrumental role in guiding Los Angeles through a consent decree with the Department of Justice that was hailed for changing community perceptions of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

McGinn, who had objected to elements of Bobb’s plan, reversed course on Friday, saying his concerns had been allayed after holding discussions with Bobb. Holmes filed the city’s approval of the plan with a federal judge later in the day, joining the Justice Department in accepting the proposals.

Bobb, who heads a Los Angeles police-assessment center, described Rice’s role while laying out his proposals and answering questions from the council. His monitoring plan, which details specific steps to carry out reforms, is to be considered by U.S. District Judge James Robart on Tuesday.

Even before Robart rules, the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild and Seattle Police Management Association filed court papers Monday asking for protection of their collective-bargaining rights.

A complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief naming the city and Bobb was filed in King County Superior Court. The guild represents officers and sergeants; the management association represents lieutenants and captains.

“This is about the rights of workers and should not be construed in any manner as opposition to police reforms,” the two labor organizations said in a joint news release.

While federal and city officials have expressed their respect for collective-bargaining rights, Bobb’s monitoring team has indicated it does not intend to follow the bargaining process set forth in Washington state law, the labor organizations said.

Rice, citing similar actions by police unions in other cities, said federal courts are the final arbiter of what is required under such agreements.

“This isn’t going to stop the process,” Rice said. “We’ll just keep our eye on the prize.”

During Monday’s council briefing, Councilmember Bruce Harrell — who along with Burgess is running against McGinn in this year’s election — asked about the cost to the city of the monitoring plan, drawing an emotional response from a member of Bobb’s team, Seattle attorney Ron Ward.

“I think if you look at what the city, i.e. the taxpayers, have had to spend on legal defense, settlements and verdicts as against the cost of training, the latter becomes de minimis,” Ward said, referring to legal actions over police conduct.

Ward quoted Rice as saying “safety in the minds and the perceptions of people out in the community is the first civil right, not just for those people but for the police themselves.

“It is only by achieving that safety and the relationship that we’ve talked about that ultimately we’re going to get to what is our collective salvation as a community, as a state, as a region, and a global economy, and that is education and employment,” Ward added.

Ward said it was also the only way to create an environment where kids don’t have to continue to live on a day-to-day basis looking over their shoulder.

“Where they don’t have to live with the reality of their friends and their family and the losses they suffer week in and month out and year in and year out,” he said. “Where they don’t have to live — a number of them — for a significant part of their lives in cages before they end up at the ultimate holding cell which is the gravesite.

“That is the cost-benefit analysis we’re talking about here when we’re talking about policy and training that needs to be measured.”

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

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