Jim Pugel

Q1. What are you hearing from voters as the most important issue facing Seattle?  In your view of that issue, what is working and what would you do differently?

Without a doubt, the issue I hear most about is homelessness. I’ve lived in District 7 since 1991, I was the precinct commander for the West precinct which has the same geographic footprint as the district, I’ve raised my family here, I’ve seen our community change and grow and I’ve seen the rising homeless population along with my neighbors who tell me about this crisis while I’m knocking doors. I’ve seen unbelievable generosity from neighbors, public servants and community members, and also seen fear and anxiety over rising rates of property crime. This is the issue that EVERYONE tells me about at the doors, and everyone wants a solution today.      I believe that the City’s role in addressing the homeless crisis — thus far unfulfilled and not working— is to offer clear and unwavering leadership and a clear plan toward resolving the homeless crisis, all the while respectful of the fact that homelessness also impacts communities and businesses.  We do fund fragmented approaches to address chronic homelessness and its co-occurring conditions, specifically mental illness, emotional and substance abuse disorders, but have not consolidated these fractured approaches into a comprehensive solution. The bottom line:  We do not have a clear plan.  While there are important, data driven assessments at our disposal, we lack a comprehensive and courageous approach which balances the objective to stabilize the lives of homeless people with public safety and humanitarian objectives.    I have always been a strong supporter of preventing homelessness, rapid re-housing and the philosophy of ‘housing first.’ I’m a supporter of low-barrier housing, and supportive housing with on-site addiction and mental health services. Downtown Emergency Service Center and Plymouth Housing are two local examples of this gold standard. Much evidence shows that a relatively small amount of money invested in this type of housing will prevent  a large portion of people from becoming homeless. These are overwhelmingly people who want to work, want to send their kids to college, and want help — it’s a matter of connecting folks to the resources they need and providing a place to recuperate and live.    I’d like to mention two additional proposals I will prioritize to address the homelessness crisis — the first would be to work with the rest of the council to develop a school loan repayment program to attract more case managers to work with the numerous human service provider agencies that contract with the city.  Certain amounts of student loans would be paid for based on the commitment the case manager makes toward working with our vulnerable populations. This kind of incentive has been effective with limited teaching programs throughout the country, and shows that we will put our money where our mouth is regarding our homelessness crisis. If we are serious about actually solving this challenge, and providing the necessary services to help people out of the cycle of poverty and homelessness, then we need the staff and capacity to bring those services to the folks who need them where they need them. If we are burdening social workers, mental health providers, and case managers under exorbitant piles of student debt, paying them less than a living wage, and not doing close to enough to ensure they can live in the city they work, how can we reasonably expect people to go into this field? We need to make it just a little easier for Seattleites who want to help, who want to dedicate their careers to helping fix our homelessness crisis and bring critical services to the most vulnerable Seattleites, to get there and help our city. This is also an investment that will pay off with a more professionally trained workforce and engendering an emphasis on service.     The second piece of concurrent legislation I will introduce is to expand the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) initiative throughout the city and county to help reduce crime and incarceration. As an Assistant Chief of Police, I helped found LEAD in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle.  The program focused predominantly on people who were homeless, addicted, had co-occurring physical and mental disabilities and were mostly unemployed.  The scientific based study showed a recidivism reduction of 66%, a significant increase in housing, significantly improved psycho/social qualities and no increase in cost compared to the ‘trail, nail and jail’ approach used for the previous 3 decades.

Q2. Please provide your perspective on how the current city council conducts its business with the public.  How would you conduct yourself as a council member?

I believe the current Council has been mostly ineffective due to a perception that they are un-transparent and needlessly divisive. Regular people have no need for unnecessarily partisan pandering or a rigid Sawant-style subscription to some national platform — they want solutions to the issues we all see. This view may be right or wrong, but the bottom line is that when ordinary people view their government in that way, they are less and less likely to add funds for that government to spend. We need to work to restore real trust and legitimacy by ensuring procedural justice by creating legislation through the same coalition-building process that made other progressive priorities successful, like raising the minimum wage and passing I-1639. When activists, ordinary Seattleites, community groups, and local businesses work together, we will be able to find creative solutions that actually stick.    The passage of the Head Tax and its almost immediate repeal is an example of what happens when leaders don’t listen to their constituents and do not allow for open forums for citizens and businesses to discuss proposed legislation with the policy makers making the proposals. This is why I have pledged to hold office hours and regular discussions with my constituents when I am elected to sit down and talk with members of our community about the issues that matter most to all of us.  Not everyone will agree with me, but they will absolutely be listened to and their voices will be a fundamental aspect of my legislative decision making.

Q3. In your view is the current City Council mostly on the right track in addressing Seattle’s problems.? If yes, what do you like about the current Council’s approach? If no, what would you do differently?

I think if the City Council was on the right track, more of the Councilmembers would be running for re-election!    To continue on the theme from the previous question, the mantra of my campaign, and a philosophy seemingly opposite to the current Council’s workings, has been to listen, listen, and listen some more. Then take what I have heard and gets facts and use common sense and collaboration to craft a solution.  And that is exactly what I will do once elected. We have so much work to do, we cannot afford to alienate the voters, we need to make collaboration and an open process just as important as the policy proposed. If we lose buy-in from the public, neighborhood groups, local businesses, we’ll never get anything done regardless of how fantastic an idea is. Additionally, closed-door policymaking cuts out voices of experts and folks with lived experiences who can actually help and provide ways to improve legislation. This Council made mistakes, primarily losing the trust and connection of the electorate, and that has made them ineffective and unable to solve our problems. I will be open, honest, and actively engaged with the people of my district, as well as prioritize collaboration, effectiveness, and data-driven performance over loyalty to pet projects.

Q4. Please comment on the city’s approach to unsanctioned encampments.  Would you change anything about the current policy?

Simply allowing homeless folks to cycle from one unsanctioned encampment to another is a wrong response that brings us no closer to a solution to this crisis and the City must do more to provide the mental health and addiction treatment, employment services, and supportive housing necessary to get homeless Seattleites the services they need and keep our communities safe.     Allowing homeless encampments, car camping and other laissez faire approaches is not a ‘Program,’ nor fair or effective to either the businesses and residents impacted, or the homeless folks themselves. As a police officer I personally witnessed that allowing homeless encampments is unhealthy and unsafe for both the inhabitants and those residents and business owners whose lives are detrimentally impacted by them.  I have always been a strong supporter of preventing homelessness, rapid re-housing and the policy of ‘housing first’.  I believe that the gold standard to address homelessness is permanent supportive housing. While we invest a lot of tax dollars in this great city, we must better scrutinize and measure these investments and, unlike the current approach, they must be smart, effective and data driven. It is only then that we can achieve what my friend David Wertheimer articulated so well:  Make homelessness ‘rare, brief and one time.’

Q5. A recent study found a that a group of offenders with dozens of arrests, who regularly cycle through the courts and back onto the streets account for a significant amount of the property and violent crime in downtown and the neighborhood business districts. How should city government respond to these findings?

As a law enforcement officer for 35 years, the immediate response must be enforcement of our laws, regardless of housing status. Public safety does not work if the public doesn’t believe their city government has that safety in mind, and the combination of rising property crime rates and seeming inertia amongst the current Council to address the homelessness crisis and its co-occurring consequences has led to a total erosion of that trust between the City Council and the people who elected them. This does not mean we should go about criminalizing homelessness, but we do need to be prosecuting serious crimes regardless of homeless status. Allowing the status quo to continue is not a sustainable policy and it is actively hurting the homeless folks who are not receiving the care and services they need, as well as the businesses, neighborhoods, and communities impacted. Seattleites deserve more decisive action and less divisive bickering from their elected leaders.  I would also look at how the city attorney’s office is currently configured, (number of criminal attorneys compared to civil attorneys) and how cases are actually prioritized and managed.  It appears that some change there would be beneficial.

Q6. Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities with small businesses as the backbone of our local economy. However, as the city grows the cost of doing business has also increased. As a council member what is something you would do to help businesses survive and prosper in Seattle?

My number one effort to continue stimulating our economic growth will be to ensure a fair, transparent and predictable regulatory environment so businesses can make a reliable business plan without constantly being ‘re-regulated’.  Secondly, there has to be affordable housing for those employees who choose to live in the city, along with reliable and affordable transportation and education access.  We also need to maintain the high quality of cultural, civic and entertainment environment that we currently have that makes Seattle such a livable and diverse city.  Lastly, there must always be a sense that the city is ‘healthy and safe’ with adequate police and fire services and public order maintenance.    What we cannot afford is to destroy partnerships through partisan attacks and alienating those same businesses we need to be working with and encouraging to stay and grow in our city. We need to work as a region to develop policies that continue encouraging our economy while benefiting workers and employers — working across the public-private line to find solutions that will be efficient and effective rather than demonizing different perspectives and alienating any group of Seattleites. Microsoft’s commitment to invest $500 million in homelessness services or partnerships with the Downtown Emergency Service Center are practical ways of combating one of our toughest issues while also working with businesses and private partners.

Q7. As the city has grown so has the cost of housing making Seattle unaffordable for many people in the workforce. What strategies do you support to increase the supply of affordable housing in Seattle?

King County Assessor John Wilson has already identified many publicly owned, surplus property in the city that can be converted to public housing at little or no cost.  This would be a huge step forward in creating adequate affordable housing for all Seattleites.  I also support increasing housing along transportation routes and near employment centers in consultation with the communities and neighborhoods affected.    We should return to the practice we had long ago of neighborhood planning where those in the neighborhood have a legitimate voice in future plans for their neighborhood.  Construction of more affordable housing can only occur by working with ethical developers and non-profit service providers that specialize in leveraging public and private dollars and with the communities impacted.

Q8. Being on the City Council is a challenging job. Please describe your specific experience or skills that qualifies you to serve as the representative of your district.

I am running because I want a City Council that is transparent, listens and responds to constituents, and to bring my proven problem-solving skills to working on our city's challenges.  I have 35 years experience in government work, specifically law enforcement.  I worked at all levels/ranks In the Seattle police department and was the second highest person at the King County Sheriff's Office.  At the executive level I worked closely with agency heads and mid-level managers on long-term and short-term city challenges.  I understand the workings of the city and I understand the budget.  I also worked with non-traditional partners of the police services, including the ACLU, the Defenders Association, the Racial Disparity Project and was a member for 3 years at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government session on community corrections.  These partnerships led to real improvements in the communities we served, and I know I can bring that same type of collaborative leadership to City Hall.  I will also bring back a sense of civility to city government, where all views are listened to respectfully and there is no demonizing of people for opposite views and ordinary folks are encouraged to bring their good ideas to the City Council.    Experience, service, and collaboration matter. Most likely, I will be the oldest voice on the City Council. I’m not in this dreaming of running for higher office and I have no plans on ‘moving up.’ I am doing this because I love the city where I was born and went to school, where I raised my family, went to work, and walked my dog. And I want my kids and grandkids to be able to have that same life, where they can live and play in the city where they work, buy an affordable house, and send their kids to the highest quality public schools. I want to use my career of experience working directly with homeless folks to find better, effective solutions for all of us. We need a Seattle that works for everyone, whether we are facing the homelessness crisis or discrimination in schools or a transit system that isn’t fully wheelchair accessible, and I promise I will work every day to be that voice for unity and problem-solving, not petty bickering.     The bottom line is that we all know the issues: homelessness, affordability, our aging infrastructure and transit. But we need a City Councilmember who can walk the walk and follow through for our district.    I am the only candidate with the experience, proven leadership, established partnerships and common-sense solutions to get to work on day one.