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SGN exclusive interview: New Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes
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SGN exclusive interview: New Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

New Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes swept into office in a landslide, winning 62% of the vote against incumbent Tom Carr.

Once in office, Holmes lost no time in reorganizing the City Attorney's department to suit him. Holmes took office on January 1, and was formally sworn in on January 4. By January 15, he'd fired 14 people - two division chiefs, the police-precinct liaison, Carr's personal assistant and 10 assistant city attorneys.

As might be expected, the changes didn't go over well with the 14 who lost their jobs.

"I have never seen a more inept, disorganized and, quite frankly, vindictive transition than this one in 30 years of public life," said Bob Hood, who headed the criminal division since 1998.

Holmes had informed Hood by phone last month that he would not be re-appointed.

Twenty-one-year veteran attorney Ted Inkley speculated to reporters that some of the attorneys who lost their jobs were fired because they were involved in controversial cases.

Speaking with SGN in his fifth-floor office in City Hall, Holmes denied any vindictiveness.

"Of the 14," he said, "I only knew one personally - that was Ted Inkley - and I bore no grudge towards any of them."

"We have a 170-person department," Holmes explained. "Only two are union. All the ACAs [Assistant City Attorneys] are exempt, at-will positions."

"None of the decisions was made lightly," Holmes continued. "I know there's a recession and I didn't want to fire people."

According to Holmes, he spent many hours before assuming office talking with city officials, attorneys, and others to determine how the City Attorney's office had performed under his predecessor.

"I talked to everyone," Holmes told SGN, "prosecutors and defenders, Nickels and McGinn - what did the office do right and where is there room for improvement? I spent hours with [former Deputy Mayor] Tim Ceis and [Seattle City Light Superintendent] Jorge Carrasco."

"We ran into some things we didn't expect," he continued. "No incumbent has been ousted for 30 years. There was a lack of performance evaluations. It had been deferred for years."

Holmes says his fact-finding discussions revealed serious flaws in the department.

"There were internal performance issues," he says. "It's ironic - I can't disclose the personnel reasons - if the election had gone the other way, there would still be people out of work."

Holmes says he found flaws, but also outstanding employees who he's retained or promoted.

"In the employment division, [new division chief] Jean Bowler was a standout," he says. "She told me things I didn't want to hear, but I needed to hear. I created one new position. Darby [Ducomb], my chief of staff. We're philosophically simpatico."

"I come from the private sector where customer service is the rule," Holmes says. "I want to be much more outward looking, and the chief of staff will help me do that. I already have been; we'll see if I can keep up the pace."

One of the issues in his campaign against Tom Carr was Carr's perceived hostility to the city's nightclub and entertainment industry. While no specifically Gay club was targeted in Carr's "Operation Sobering Thought" nightclub sting, Holmes says he is aware of concerns among Gay club owners and managers.

"I want to be much more engaged in negotiating good neighbor agreements," he says. "We really have to engage all parties - the clubs and the surrounding homeowners and businesses - and I want to be personally involved."

"I will give priority to liquor license reviews," he adds. "I think we'll be more successful if we put more time and more energy into it."

Asked about reports that Gay bars and clubs are subjects of occasional police harassment often focused on soft-core porn videos, Holmes replied that he shared the community's concern.

"You know," he said, "I was at R Place. I had a great time, and I asked about the videos. That's not a normal law enforcement function. I can't see how that would not be a First Amendment issue."

As city attorney, Holmes will have to build a working relationship with the city's police department. As chair of the SPD's Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), he often clashed with police, and with his predecessor, Tom Carr.

In fact, Carr and his supporters in the Seattle Police Guild (SPOG) accused Holmes of violating SPOG's collective bargaining agreement with the city by seeking to disclose information covered by existing confidentiality agreements.

"That was an unfair and scurrilous charge by my opponent," Holmes shoots back. "The confidentiality agreement conflicted with [OPA] reporting requirements."

"There has to be a balance," he continues. "I believe in transparency, but I also believe in the right to privacy which is guaranteed by our state constitution."

Holmes believes he has already overcome many concerns on the part of the police.

"We're building a really good working relationship with the SPD and the two unions that represent them," he says. "I've already had three meetings with [Interim] Chief Diaz."

Asked what other issues are on his plate in the near future, Holmes mentions the Alaskan Way viaduct and the possibility of building a new city jail.

"We have a team advising the city on the tunnel and seawall," Holmes says. "I call it the SR99 Team. I don't want to imply that this office is for the tunnel or for the surface option - that's not my job. We provide legal advice and support but we don't make policy."

"We will be involved in deciding whether the city builds a new jail," Holmes promises.

Asked how he stands on the controversial project, he replies, "My obligation is to do everything in my power to prevent it. We just don't have the quarter-billion dollars it will take to build it."

"We may have bought ourselves a little extra time," he adds. "Dow has given us a one-year extension [on use of King County jail] and the new mayor is talking to South King County cities [about jail space]."

Holmes says he looks forward to leading his newly reorganized department.

"The cuts are done," he says. "Now it's all about team building."

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