Councilmember Rod Dembowski
I would like to share a few thoughts regarding some tangible steps I believe King County should take to institute needed changes in the County’s law enforcement and criminal justice system. These are issues that have been a high priority for me during my time on the Council, and I’m excited about the opportunity to make big progress now. You can learn more about my past work to address the inequities in our criminal justice and law enforcement system here.
Looking forward in the near term, here are some of the things I’m working on in partnership with my colleagues.
As a member of the County Council‘s Law and Justice Committee, I have introduced two pieces of legislation to implement recommendations from the Charter Review Commission to help build public confidence in our justice system. The first ordinance would help add accountability to, and take politics out of, the Sheriff’s Office by returning the Sheriff to an appointed position with strong community input. The 2018-2019 King County Charter Review Commission’s final report makes a strong case for this reform.
The second ordinance will give the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) subpoena power. I co-sponsored the implementing legislation which includes this authority, but putting it in the Charter, with voter approval, will help bring it to life. OLEO must have the tools it needs to conduct its mission. I have worked for several years to empower this office. Without real oversight authority and the tools to implement it, it’s fair to question whether we have a system that truly ensures authentic, holistic public safety. As the Charter Review Commission said in its final report, “a decade is long enough to wait for effective civilian oversight.”
I am also asking the Labor Policy Committee of the County Council to take action to direct the County Executive to immediately re-open negotiations with the Sheriff’s Guild to empower OLEO with individual use-of-force review investigative authority. I strongly objected to the current contract when it was adopted by the Council for lacking this authority, and I believe we must not wait for the next contract to get it. It is long overdue. Use-of-force reviews should not be conducted by an “Internal Investigations Unit” in the Sheriff’s Office.
Additionally, as the Budget Committee Vice Chair and a member of the budget leadership team, I will be taking a very hard look at the balance between the criminal justice system budget and our health, human services and housing investments. I firmly believe we must invest more resources upstream and reduce allocations to our costly and ineffective criminal justice system.
Efforts to address our long-standing institutional structures that impede equity and justice for all won’t come easily or quickly. It will take a broad coalition and consistent and persistent focus to modernize and reform our centuries-old system to be more fair and more just. If the Sheriff’s Office will not partner with the community we all serve, I am committed to advancing reforms that reflect our shared values over objections, no matter what it takes.
I pledge to continue this work and to work toward a more just and inclusive society for all, but especially for those in our nation that have not had the equal opportunity to pursue its promise. I hope you will join in that work.
Financial Help During the COVID-19 Outbreak
With the recent closures and event cancellations, the financial burdens of the COVID-19 outbreak can be felt throughout all of King County. We’ve put together some resources that may help you and your family stay afloat during these tough times.
These resources contain information on how to file for unemployment or workers’ comp; help with paying utilities, rent, and mortgages; issues with insurance; food assistance; and much more.
Senior Property Tax Relief
Rod and his 91 year-old father Al Dembowski at an Armistice Centennial Ceremony. Al still lives in his longtime home in Renton and loves the independence and peace of mind living in his home affords him.
"Too many senior homeowners struggle to pay their property taxes. That’s why for years I’ve advocated for a change in the state’s senior property tax exemption law to allow more seniors to qualify for relief."
Taking action on climate change
Global climate change and the impact of harmful emissions are some of the most pressing issues facing the world today. Locally, we see the impacts on our environment, economy and quality of life. Acidification of Puget Sound and warming in the seas, for example, are already impacting shellfish and seafood and the industries and communities that rely on those harvests. Increased frequency and intensity of adverse weather events and forest fires adversely impact our health and safety. While no single community or initiative can address this monumental challenge alone, local action and continued strategic work is essential in combating this serious risk to humanity.
King County has long been a leader in working to reduce carbon emissions. Our Strategic Climate Action Plan guides our work. We are on a path to reducing emissions from County operations to a net zero. We are leading the nation in converting our bus system to a zero emissions fleet. We are conserving farms and forest land and planting 1 million trees to capture carbon. But we all recognize that there is more work to do and that we must pick up the pace.
$318 Million for New Early Learning Facilities, K-12 Programs, College and Career Support for Underserved Youth in King County
The King County Council passed legislation allocating roughly $318 million in education funding to be spent over the next 15 years on improving educational outcomes for underserved populations in King County.
The Council identified three priority educational areas for the future allocation of proceeds from the Puget Sound Taxpayers Accountability Account (PSTAA): early learning; K-12 education for vulnerable and underserved youth; and college, career and technical education. The Motion also prioritizes improving educational outcomes for the following underserved populations:
Promoting safe, welcoming, and inclusive communities for all
Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles and I unfurled a Pride flag from the top of the King County Courthouse for the first time ever this June. I am proud King County is committed to promoting safe, welcoming, and inclusive communities for all.
Dembowski named Chair of the King County Council
On January 8, my fellow councilmembers elected me as the new Chair of the King County Council for 2019. My colleagues Reagan Dunn and Claudia Balducci will serve as Vice Chairs.
We live in times of increasing economic disparity, where the middle class and our most vulnerable residents face unprecedented challenges. King County has a tremendous opportunity to improve every community in our region and the tools to make it happen. I appreciate the trust my colleagues have placed in me to guide that work and Chair the council in 2019.
To find out more about the reorganization of the King County Council, please read this recent press release.
Highlights from 2018, looking forward to 2019
Putting your County Budget to work on our shared priorities
Every two years, the King County Council analyzes the Executive’s proposed biennial budget before adopting a final County Budget in November. The budget is the story of who we are, our priorities, and how we respond in times of need and crisis. A priority for me is, and has always been, to address economic inequality and poverty in King County.
With my colleagues, I secured $330 million for thousands of new housing units and shelter beds, funding to begin implementation of low/no-cost transit fare for low-income riders, investment from the Mental Illness and Drug Dependency sales tax to fund the successful Mental Health Navigator and Response, Awareness, De-escalation and Referral (“RADAR”) program, and much more.
To find out more about the 2019-20 budget, including investments for North King County, please read my recent e-news.
Councilmember Dembowski and Shoreline Mayor Will Hall, with Chiefs of Police, City Managers and School District leaders from Shoreline, Lake Forest Park, Kenmore, Bothell and Kirkland, working to secure funds for the RADAR & Navigator Programs.
Promoting environmentally friendly & healthy dry cleaning
Cancer prevention has been a top priority during my tenure as Chair of the King County Board of Health. In addition to passing tobacco-free parks policies this year, I have also worked closely with the County’s Local Hazardous Waste Management Program (LHWMP) to help local businesses switch to an environmentally safer dry cleaning method that reduces exposure to dangerous chemicals.
Approximately 70 dry cleaners in the county are using perchloroethylene (PERC), an identified carcinogen, to clean clothes. This summer, King County awarded $20,000 grants to five family-owned dry cleaners to support the transition to wet cleaning. Going forward, the agency anticipates helping 10 local dry cleaners per year with $20,000 grants, with the goal of eliminating the use of PERC in all King County dry cleaners by 2025. Learn more about the program here.
Sun Drive-In Cleaners owners Mr. and Mrs. Park, Board of Health Chair Rod Dembowski, Board of Health member Jeanne Kohl-Welles, and Lynda Ransley, Program Director for King County’s Local Hazardous Waste Management Program.
Voted against public funding for Safeco Field
King County receives significant funds from a lodging tax on hotel, motel, and short-term rental stays occurring countywide. The funds are restricted in use by state law to one of four purposes: (1) Arts & Heritage programs, (2) Affordable housing, (3) Services for homeless youth, and (4) Tourism promotion. Earlier this year, acting on a proposal from County Executive Dow Constantine, the County Council voted to divert $135 million in lodging tax revenue to support improvements to Safeco Field over 25 years.
I opposed and voted against this ordinance, as I believe we should prioritize our most pressing community needs like housing and services for homeless youth, and avoid asking homeowners to raise their taxes when existing revenues like the lodging tax are available.
To read more about my position, please read my recent e-news.
As the Chair of the Board of Health I was proud to sponsor a new county-wide regulation prohibiting the use of smokeless tobacco at all professional sporting events in King County. The regulation completes the full ban of tobacco use of any kind at Century Link and Safeco fields, as well as Key Arena.
I was moved by young Mariners fans who testified before the Board of Health and honored that they joined me at the official signing ceremony at Safeco Field. They made perfectly clear that watching their heroes chew smokeless tobacco conflicted with their understanding of the dangerous substance, effectively persuading the Board of Health that is was time for action.
The regulation received support from both the Seattle Mariners and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a national advocacy organization. The new regulation makes Safeco Field the 15th Major League Baseball stadium to become completely tobacco-free.
On May 15th Rod signed Board of Health Rule and Regulation 18-02, officially making all King County stadiums tobacco free.
Councilmember Dembowski awarded Public Official of the Year by the Municipal League
The Municipal League Foundation of King County awarded Councilmember Rod Dembowski with their prestigious Public Official of the Year award on May 10, 2018. Councilmember Dembowski was presented the award by the Executive Director of Mary’s Place, Marty Hartman. Ms. Hartman highlighted Councilmember Dembowski’s leadership in opening the new Mary’s Place shelter in Kenmore that is offering a home to more than 60 women and children.
The Municipal League Foundation has been leading nonpartisan civic engagement in King County for over 100 years. Each year the organization highlights, “both long time and unsung heroes in our community,” with their annual Civic Awards. More information can be found here.
Rod was honored to receive the Public Official of the Year award at the 59th Annual Municipal League Civic Awards.