Nikkita Oliver and Corruption
Nikkita Oliver (they/them) has been implicated in a corruption scandal involving the Black Brilliance Project and King County Equity Now.
In 2020, the Seattle City Council awarded a $3 million no-bid contract to conduct the Black Brilliance Project, a research effort meant to identify public safety spending priorities. The Washington State Auditor found the city used “only the bare minimum of accountability and transparency”. The contract, awarded by the City Council over the veto of Mayor Jenny Durkan, was among the most expensive consultant contracts the city has given out in recent memory. Durkan, in her veto message last fall, wrote that much of the work in the contract could be done for “much less money.”
The contract was awarded without being put out for bids, as the Seattle City Council moved quickly last year to cut police funding in the midst of protests. It was initially intended to be awarded to King County Equity Now, a coalition of community groups that helped lead the summer’s protests and lobbied hard for the money. But because it was a new organization and not yet technically a nonprofit, King County Equity Now did not meet contracting guidelines. To get around this requirement, City Councilmembers Tammy Morales, Lisa Herbold, Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena González chose, in November, to award the contract to Freedom Project, without putting it out for bids.
State Auditor Pat McCarthy’s office faulted the City Council for not specifying, in detail, what the contract should deliver. “The City did not specify how the money would be spent, including requirements on administrative costs; a method for compensating community participants; research methodology requirements; and details on how the City would use the results,” McCarthy’s office wrote in a letter accompanying the audit.
What Did $3 Million Buy?
The resulting BBP report KCEN delivered was underwhelming. A regurgitation of activist talking points and priorities bereft of actual metrics, assembled from a sample group the organization admitted was biased towards young, activist voices. Budget analysts uniformly concluded that the report’s recommendations could have been created for vastly less cost, probably 10% or less of the $3 million.
In addition, Seattle City Council Insight reported that “there are many yellow and red flags on this project. It’s a very large amount of money, being handed to an organization that lobbied hard for it, and contracted through a dubious loophole that bypasses standard processes guaranteed to ensure that the city is getting a good deal. The contract itself is weak on the details of schedule, deliverables, and tracking the money…[and] it’s not at all clear that the $3 million will be spent well, or that generating the same or better results couldn’t be accomplished with a much smaller amount of money.”
King County Equity Now
KCEN was formed in 2020 to “identify and uplift powerful equity solutions that would bring the Black community to equity across all measurable metrics.” KCEN has demanded $300 million in direct investments to the Black community. While KCEN has had some positive impact, such as acquiring the decommissioned Central District Fire Station 6 for a community center, much of its energy appears to be spent supporting efforts to defund the police and block new jails, as evidenced by it’s equal-level partnership with Decriminalize Seattle, and other groups that work to decriminalize drug misdemeanors and felonies.
Pinning down exactly which people and organizations are a part of KCEN is difficult. One researcher found that “Many of the other groups in the coalition have broken or non-functioning URLs, locations in apartments, are non-existent in any records or have the same people in leadership while some are not even in King County, let alone Seattle and yet millions of dollars of taxpayer money is being given to these groups.”
A Payoff to Stop the Violence?
Nikkita Oliver is one of the founders of KCEN. While KCEN does not list it’s members and it is difficult to know Oliver’s direct financial benefit from this back-channel, no-bid $3 million awarded to their group, the fact that Oliver spent 2020 working hard to encourage violent riots in an effort to put pressure on the city council, raises the appearance of a payoff for them to cease agitating. If this is the case, the likely conclusion Oliver and their fellow financially-rewarded, pro-violence radicals reached, is that more fires in the street means more city checks in their accounts.