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Just so ya know: my official duties include working on legislation and by providing oversight of the various departments you interact with directly. But my job is also to listen to you, the people, businesses and organizations of Des Moines. So if you have questions, concerns or suggestions about how we can make this a better place for you, your family, your business or your organization, I urge you to contact me.

Some quick notes:

  1. Des Moines City Council positions are at large, which means that I represent all of Des Moines, from North Hill to Redondo, Pacific Ridge to Zenith and Woodmont. No matter where you live, I’m here to serve.
  2. Please Subscribe to my mailing list (at the top of every page) so I can keep you updated on what I’m doing and important City-related events.
  3. Check out my Weekly Updates (which you’ll get if you Subscribe)
  4. I also post lots of interesting things and events about Des Moines on my Facebook Page.
  5. Please check out the Links page, which has all kinds of useful stuff, like a Community Services Directory, important phone numbers and information about the City’s Budget and planning.

Half-Weekly Update: 07/01/2020

Posted on Categories Engagement, Neighborhoods, Policy, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesTags Leave a comment on Half-Weekly Update: 07/01/2020

Just a quick note: Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. After thirty three ‘Weekly Updates’, I finally missed my deadline. So consider this a half-assed weekly update.

This Week

Monday: I attended a very good meeting hosted by our State Representative Tina Orwall to try to move forward on her HEPA Interior Air Quality Study. Also in attendance were Mayor Matt Pina, officials from Highline Schools as well as State Senator Karen Keiser. There have been several encouraging studies now that seem to indicate that better air filtering in schools can lead to not only healthier kids, but also higher test scores. This study will provide valuable information on how we can improve air quality in public buildings and our homes–and what benefits that might yield.

Tuesday: I gave testimony at the Port Of Seattle’s Special Meeting on Policing. Here is the letter I sent to the commissioners. I think their willingness to have a meeting where the public could vent a bit is important and it’s something we should do here as well. I’m also pleased to report  receiving personal replies from two commissioners.

Tuesday: I attended a Highline Good Neighbors Group meeting in Burien. This is the group Melissa Petrini started last year to try to unite residents from all our communities to discuss issues of public safety, homelessness, drugs, etc. The group had made great progress until COVID-19 made things impossible. She’s starting up again with a group of twenty and we’ll see if we can get the ball rolling again. I really think this is the sort of community work that needs to happen in order to make the area safer and–and also tamp down on some of the polarization. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, just email Melissa with “Highline Good Neighbors” in the subject line.

Wednesday: come have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

Wednesday: I’ll be speaking with Mark Finstrom the Chief Technology Officer of Highline Schools. The school district intends on a levy to provide better Internet services for students.

Thursday: a briefing from King County Metro on the fiscal challenges facing Metro, and the service changes you can expect this fall.

Saturday: I may (or may not) be doing a 10K run with the Destination Des Moines/Rotary Running Of The Flags fun run (or in my case, dignified stroll. :D) If I do, my route will be the same fairly straight shot I used to do during my campaign: start from the northern most point in DM on Des Moines Memorial Drive and head down to 272nd and 16th Ave. That’s just about 6.2 miles (and 10k). But whether or not I punk out miserably? I’m counting on you to sign up and take your place in history, glory, etc., etc…. 😀

Last Week

Tuesday: Association of Washington Cities (AWC) ‘virtual’ annual conference.

Tuesday: Another one of those darned Port Of Seattle meetings.

Wednesday: An AWC training class. Plus one on one meetings with members of the Puget Sound Clean Air Advisory Committee.

Wednesday: Lunch at the Senior Center. Got me an EATS voucher!

Wednesday: Sea-Tac Airport Advisory Roundtable (StART) Meeting. It’s less of a roundtable nowadays–more like a semi-circle, since Des Moines, Burien and Federal Way left. But it still matters.

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) General Assembly. Some time soon I gotta do an explainer on the PSRC. Like I say over and over, it’s the most important government agency no one’s ever heard of.

Thursday was the first Committee meetings of the year. Woo Hoo! Municipal Facilities, Economic Development. (More below.)

And a City Council Meeting to boot! (Agenda and directions on public comment)  Public Hearing on Transportation Plan (2021-2040)

The Committees essay

So, last week was the first City Council committee meetings. And I just want to remind everyone (including the City) that these are public meetings. Which means that you can attend (or watch them in the case of Zoom) by signing up just like any other City Council meeting. Now currently, the City is not accepting ‘live’ public comment, which grinds at me, but you can (and should) be aware of the members of each committee on issues you are interested in. And you should reach out to them by phone or email because it is at the committee level that policy is actually made. That’s important: by the time an issue has made its way to the full council it’s usually a ‘done deal’; the full council is simply approving the actions created by the committee. The time to make your voice heard is when things are being formulated in committee, which is months and months ahead of the full council.

Overview

So, as per usual, I’m gonna get yelled at for ‘over-simplifying, please go here for more on the constant struggle to keep these things short.

There are five main Council committees in Des Moines:

  • Economic Development: Jeremy Nutting (c), Traci Buxton, Matt Pina
  • Municipal Facilities: Jeremy Nutting (c), Luisa Bangs,  Matt Mahoney
  • Public Safety: Luisa Bangs, Anthony Martinelli, Matt Mahoney
  • Transportation: Matt Mahoney, Matt Pina, JC Harris
  • Environment: Matt Pina, Luisa Bangs, JC Harris

There is nothing special about these committee names or their functionality. Other cities have other names for similar functions. And many cities have waaaaaay more Council committees. Eg. Burien has an Airport Committee. SeaTac has a Finance Committee. The full City Council could decide to create a new Committee at any time if it felt the need.

The members of each committee are decided by the Mayor at the beginning of each year. Usually Councilmembers present their choices to aid his decision-making. This process does not thrill me, but to be fair Mayor Pina did give me the choices I told him were most important to me.

Speaking very broadly, the process of each committee is similar: The group works to create one or more short term and long term plans of some sort and then spends the rest of the year fleshing out those goals (schedule, cost) and getting them ready to bring to the full Council for a vote as part of a budget. It’s that annual budget that actually drives pretty much everything. You don’t just pass laws here and there in an ad hoc fashion. You pass them as part of that one main budget process. So the committees are constantly interacting with other teams (eg. Finance) so that all the needs/wants/desires are balanced. Remember: we have to present a balanced budget every year so no committee works in isolation.

A very different year

As it has been in so many ways, this year was different from others in that at the last Council Meeting, we voted on that Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) mentioned above–even though the Transportation Committee (TC) hasn’t yet met. But if it were a ‘normal’ year, a group of residents, say from Redondo, might have shown up at an early TC meeting and lobbied to get action onto the TIP to remediate complaints of noise, speeding, etc. That’s how it should work.

Ad hoc requests

What the public is seeing in the new Council is somewhat chaotic. Part of that is because of COVID-19 (and not as some people grouse, due to ‘the new guys’.) The Mayor and City Manager shut down the committees almost immediately after the pandemic began and kept them closed longer than any other nearby city. So that has made everything more of of a hash.

A few meetings ago, I made a motion from the dais for the City to purchase patio tables for the Senior Center. As I’ve said, it was something of a stunt–just to get the Senior Center some attention; and frankly to set the stage for  ‘explainers’ like this one. To begin with, I’m not even on the Municipal Facilities Committee (MFC), which controls that sort of spending. I can however, do exactly what I encourage you to do, show up as a resident and try to present public comment–or send them a letter saying what I want, “We want Patio Tables! When do we want ’em? Now!” At that point the members of the MFC might choose to add that purchase to the current year’s work plan and get that into the annual City Budget. That is how laws are supposed to get made: you put down your ideas at the committee level and you get them looked at early enough in the year that your request has a chance to be included in the annual budget. Eg. at the first MFC meeting, Luisa Bangs brought up the notion of a new project for Midway Park. So that will now become part of the discussion in future meetings. That could have been you raising that idea.

Now: as with my ‘patio tables’ some of my colleagues have been proposing legislation outside the committee process–and doing it with abandon, in order to try to get immediate action from the full Council. I get the sentiment: when you don’t have committees, there’s no other way to do legislation. But I want to emphasize: that is not how City government is supposed to work and believe it or not, I do not want it to become routine. City Legislation is supposed to be done according to a really boring, regular process. It’s gotta be a godawful emergency for me to vote for any change in routine procedure. That’s really how I feel. (Don’t believe it? That’s why I always vote against motions to skip second readings on various ordinances that require two meetings. What’s the frickin’ hurry?) But, I digress. 😀

So… how do I find out more?

Now, here’s the challenge–and why I kinda regret not asking to be on the MFC (hey, a guy can’t be everywhere, right?) Because one of the things the MFC controls is… wait for it… the City’s web site and communications. And as you know, it drives me beyond nuts that so many things the City does (like committee meetings) are not well-advertised.

Because if you’ve been reading along, and you’re almost ready to buy into my notion of trying to participate in committee meetings, a question has probably occurred to you: How in the hell do I know when to show up? That’s a very good question. Currently, we don’t make it easy for the public. And frankly, I think that’s kinda intentional.

If you go to any number of committee meetings in our neighbour communities, you’ll often see a whole bunch of residents. In DM, you rarely see civilians at such meetings–and when you do, they tend to be ‘insiders’, people who are part of the big groups which are tightly aligned with the City. You almost never see a Joe/Jane Average at these meetings. Now take a look at the Burien Web Site. See how you can get a list of every meeting–including committees and easily drill down to specific agendas? That is what we should have here.

But I hope you will work with me to change that. These are public meetings and by law you are allowed to be present. And you are allowed to provide your input in some fashion. And as I’ve tried to explain, this is exactly the place where you should provide your input, because full Council meetings are a lot like yer typical Wedding Band: We generally don’t take requests. 😀

The Futures is where it’s at, baby

Until the City makes committee meetings part of the public schedule, the only way I can think of for the public to be aware of what’s coming up is the Futures Agenda, which is basically a Word document consisting of the tentative schedule of the City Council and Committee meetings. It’s not very detailed, and it’s definitely subject to change from week to week. But for example, the first meeting of the Transportation and Environment Committees (which I’m on) is July 9th. But then our next meetings aren’t until September 10th–which seems a looooong way off given how late we are at getting started. You kinda just have to keep looking to see where and when.

So… I’m gonna do my best from here on out to advertise committee meetings both here and on my Facebook page. (Shameless plug: If you sign up to receive these Weekly Updates in yer Inbox you’ll automatically be notified in advance about committee meetings.)

Summary

In short, for most of the issues residents care about, Committees are where the action is.  If you want to get your ideas addressed, you need to get involved at that level. And you need to get your ideas presented before the annual budget meetings if you want to have a chance of getting something done in the next calendar year.

I know that’s a lot of information. Fortunately, there will be no quiz. 😀 But I’m trying to give you tools to get your needs/wants/complaints addressed most effectively. And knowing a bit about these committees gives you a leg up. Because if there’s one thing I want you to keep in mind, if you’re an engaged resident, it’s this: There are always going to be a lot of people in Des Moines who want a lot of things. And usually, it’s the people who want ‘it’ the most who get the most attention.

Port Of Seattle Special Meeting On Policing and Racism (Public Comment)

Posted on Categories Public Safety
FROM: JC Harris
PO Box 13094
Des Moines, WA 98198
(206) 878-0578

TO: Commissioners Of The Port Of Seattle: Peter Steinbreuck, Fred Felleman, Stephanie Bowman, Ryan Calkins, Sam Cho

June 29, 2020

Commissioners,

I am writing to you in this context as a private citizen. I applaud the Port’s efforts at self-reflection on matters of policing and specifically identifying and ending racism in policing. In light of recent events, I have heard many platitudes from various governments (including my own) and I am hoping to see these fine words translated into productive steps forward.

If my tone seem a bit cynical, perhaps this background information will be helpful. I am in a decidedly ‘mixed’ family. And the black people in my family have had experiences which are unfortunately common enough (and recent enough) that I believe they warrant investigation in today’s Port Of Seattle. As one specific example, my decidedly black son and his cousin were stopped by a member of the Port PD in 2002 for a supposedly illegal right turn on red within the City Of Des Moines. They were not only stopped, but handcuffed. And then their car was towed, forcing them to walk back home to Burien—about six miles. (When they asked to get back into their now locked car to retrieve their cell phone to make an emergency call, their request was denied.) When they demanded to know why they were being treated so roughly, the officer explained that their car tabs had expired and this was standard procedure in such cases. (Their car tabs were expired. By one. single. day.)

Almost all the conversations I have heard thus far focus on preventing the most extreme cases, such as the deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. Of course, I welcome any solutions that might be put found to prevent such tragedies. However, I believe that the vast majority of problems are actually ‘minor’ incidents where the police stop individuals and treat them differently based on their race. These are the incidents we do not hear about. But in some ways they matter more than the headline events, because these incidents scar people and create an ongoing climate of tension, intimidation and fear. I think all of us are getting a sense of what that might feel like now with COVID-19. The risk of infection is low, but it’s always in the back of your mind. And that constant sense of concern wears on people.

I’m also convinced that if we had better data on these more ‘minor’ types of incidents, we might prevent more serious problems by identifying the officers who show day to day biases.

What I am dancing around, and what everyone else tends to dance around so carefully is this: we cannot truthfully say that the problem of police racism is ‘somewhere else’ or ‘back in the day’. It must be, to some extent here and now. Because we are small communities here in South King County, we are reluctant to think that anyone working here might behave in this way. And the moment that possibility is mentioned a wall of defensiveness or resentment tends to come up. But to think that the Port’s PD might be somehow ‘special’ or ‘immune’ is to ignore how baked in racism is into the culture of policing as well as in the broader culture. And we should be able to discuss it without pearl clutching.

I believe that processes need to be put into place in every police department to not only prevent the types of situations I just mentioned, but just as importantly, to reassure the public that we take the issues seriously on a day to day basis. To build real trust, it is not enough to say that we will not choke someone to death or shoot them in the back. That is far too low a bar. We must also take steps to show the public that when we stop someone for any reason, they will be treated fairly and with courtesy during any type of interaction.

To address this I would ask you to consider the following changes to police management:

  1. The Port’s web site should be updated with a prominently displayed Comment Form that encourages the public to provide feedback on their interactions with the police. Respondents should be followed up with by someone not connected with the police department. We need to tell the public that was want to hear from them and that we care about their comments. I’m sure there will be a certain amount of skepticism that this might help much. But policing seems to me to be, to a very large degree, a customer service job. Most interactions are not about force, they are transactional. And most people who feel mistreated in some way, think that the poor treatment they received must be condoned by management. Most people of colour are extremely reluctant to complain–unless the mistreatment rises to an outrageous level. We need to convey to the public (and particularly people of colour) that any mistreatment is not OK.
  2. Every person who interacts with the police should be given a business card with that web address and a phone number to call to give voice feedback. This should not just be additional fine print on the back of a citation, but rather an attractive business card used only for that purpose. Again, we should reinforce that we are in the customer service business. We want officers to do that well and we want everyone who they meet to know that there is someone in management who wants to know how they are conducting themselves.
  3. Any significant complaint should be immediately reported to the Commissioners or another independent body outside of the corporation. This is simply to allow the Commissioners to have a sense of the frequency and type of complaints coming in.
  4. Summary Reporting (not detailed) of complaints should be made available to the Commissioners on a regular basis. Commissioners should be able to have an idea of the frequency and type of complaints that are being recorded. They should also get totals for each member of the force. And these totals should also include any complaints the employee may have received while working for another police department. (Eg. if an officer worked for another PD before coming to the Port, the Commission should be apprised that their ‘complaint total’ of ‘3’ includes 2 complaints from their previous employment and 1 from working at the Port Of Seattle.
  5. Racial coding of police stops–only for the purposes of complaint tracking. I have read that the efficacy of this sort of tracking is controversial. However I am only interested in the complaints not the stops themselves. We should be able to get a list of complaints that is broken down by race as well as type of incident. Again: this is not to track the incidents; only the ones where a complaint was logged.
  6. Reports of stops should be transmitted to all State and Federal Agencies and to the Standford Open Policing Project, which contains the most thorough database of information on police stops. All police departments should be part of consistent national reporting so we can track improvement.

Part of this process is to insure fair treatment for the people that the police interact with. But part of it is also to demonstrate to the public that the PD takes these issues seriously enough to actually welcome more scrutiny from the outside. Currently, no one outside the government (not even the Commission) learns about complaints unless they rise to a very serious level. That must change.

I recognise that the job of policing is one of the most difficult imaginable. And most people, even in far less stressful jobs, are not inclined to having people ‘look over their shoulder’. But that’s where we’re at in 2020. We will never get to a place of public comfort and trust with our policing until we can prove that our police departments invite comments and criticism; and that complaints are subject to the same kinds of oversight we expect from every business that deals with the public in such an intimate way.

Thank you for your consideration,

JC Harris

Weekly Update: 06/21/2020

Posted on Categories Airport, Policy, Weekly UpdatesTags Leave a comment on Weekly Update: 06/21/2020

Just a quick note: Yes, this site is going through some (cough) ‘changes’ now. A few things will probably look goofy for a couple of days.

This Week

Tuesday: Association of Washington Cities (AWC) ‘virtual’ annual conference.

Tuesday: Another one of those darned Port Of Seattle meetings. Not on the agenda, but there should be some good news for Port Package updates.

Wednesday:An AWC training class. Plus one on one meetings with members of the Puget Sound Clean Air Advisory Committee.

Wednesday: come have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

Wednesday: Sea-Tac Airport Advisory Roundtable (StART) Meeting. It’s less of a roundtable nowadays–more like a semi-circle, since Des Moines, Burien and Federal Way left. But it still matters.

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) General Assembly. Wanna demand a second airport? Beg for a fast ferry? Complain about housing sprawl? Traffic a mess? This is the place! 😀

Thursday is the first Committee meetings of the year. Woo Hoo! Municipal Facilities, Economic Development. Haven’t received the Zoom links yet, so go to the City web site or mail City Clerk Bonnie Wilkins for an invite.

And a City Council Meeting to boot! (Agenda and directions on public comment)  Public Hearing on Transportation Plan (2021-2040)

IMPORTANT: To participate in the Public Hearing for the Transportation Improvement Plan or the Flood Hazard Areas Code Update, First Reading: sign up for public comment here!

Last Week

Monday: Sound Cities Association meeting on helping businesses to re-open.

Tuesday: SCATbd Meeting. This is the regional transporation board for South King County. The message: cuts to King County Metro are looking to be pretty massive in the next two years.

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee Meeting (BAC). If you’re concerned about the noise and pollution, I urge you to attend these meetings. The problem we always have in managing Sea-Tac Airport is reactivity historically we only respond to their growth. The BAC is one of the only places where there is ongoing work to change that. And now it’s getting to a critical point in deciding how to try to stop the expansion. More soon.

Wednesday: Lunch at the Senior Center. The apple pie was particularly good. 🙂

Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines. Over the past several years the group has made major improvements in attendance at our schools as well as juvenile crime reduction. I was introduced to their IT chief about improving Internet access for all students. As reported in the Waterland Blog, there may be a bond initiative to fund that. I want to get as many details as possible.

Happy Fathers Day

Well, it’s Fathers Day. Almost the end of June. Which means that I’ve been doing this gig now for, what… FIVE YEARS? Because that’s what 2020 feels like, right? Can we just take two 2019s and skip ahead to 2021?

I think now is a good time to respond to a few letters I’ve received which have opened with similar themes. “Look, JC, I know you’re interested in all that ‘long term jazz’, but what about my…” 😀 So I figure it worth mentioning that I also spend a lot of time on day-to-day stuff. For example, this week I talked to residents about

Two people with different fence issues, a sewer system, mailbox theft (always near the top of the charts), what it takes to get a speed bump, what it takes to get a speed bump (a lot of people want traffic calming). I also hooked up two small businesses with some coaching. I am always available if you want to talk about local issues–especially your street and your home.

Just Like Dear Old Dad

What I’m taking a long time to get to is this: In the true spirit of Fathers Day I’m going to lecture you what you need to do with your life. 😀

We’ve seen a steady drop in community involvement in our City for decades now. I don’t just mean City Council. I also mean the Citizen Advisory Committees that advocate for residents. And also all the public/private partnerships that do most of the heavy lifting on human services and events in this town. (Without groups like Destination Des Moines, Legacy Foundation, Farmers Market, Rotary, Food Bank, etc. we’d have no parades, no Waterland almost no public art, no support for people with food insecurity and very few programs for Seniors and Kids.) Think about that for a minute. Most people think ‘the City’ does all that stuff. Nope. It’s mostly volunteers. And it should be you.

Because, let’s be frank: you tend to see so many of the same people in these various groups and committees for so many years that it’s easy to think that they are the group. And that’s a two-edged sword. the City owes every long time volunteer all a real debt. But our city’s demographics have changed dramatically in the past decade. We are now a much younger city with lots of new families and it’s past time for a new generation to start taking over.

I’m sorry, sir. Your tuition does not cover that…

If your child goes to Catholic School (or any school these days, really) you know that ‘tuition’ or ‘property tax’ doesn’t begin to cover it. You also need to put in all those volunteer hours. And you need to buy Scrip. And fund the various activities. It never ends, right? You can’t storm into the Principal’s Office and say, “I pay good money to fund this place, why should I have to also do all that other crap!” She’d just smile politely. That’s just not how it works, sir.

But that is exactly how many residents feel about their City. During my last campaign I heard the phrase “I pay taxes! I deserve….” about a billion times. And I learned how to smile politely. A lot. For some reason, we’ve collectively decided that it’s totally fine to ask you to put in hours and hours for school or church, but zero at all for your city. It’s ridiculous. I’m sorry. That’s just not how it works, sir.

Don’t like how something is going in Des Moines? On your street? (I guarantee that you have at least two gripes) There is a group, either with the City or private organization, that you can join and make a real difference on your issue. Just between you and me and the wall, if it looks like some of these groups don’t do much right now, it’s only because so many are starved for members like you.

I mean, check out the average City Council member or candidate. Do we look like you?  Most of us are ancient (OK, I feel ancient). Most of us are clustered in just a few neighborhoods. That’s also how most of the other groups and committees are. If you join a group or committee, you’re adding your neighborhood and your point of view to the mix and that matters.

Also, by being part of one of these groups, you can immediately have a much greater influence on your issue(s) than just one resident complaining. And if you’re one of the only people in the group? Even better! I’ve literally gotten legislation passed because I was the only guy in the room at the time to propose the idea.

This is what Dads do

So it’s time for you to step up. Start going to a group or committee meeting on an issue you care about.  Don’t know which group or committee to join or how to get started? That is definitely something I can help with.  Like I said, if you have an issue you’re passionate about, I can point you in the right direction.

Look, this is what Dad’s do, right? They join a Citizens Advisory Committee; a Foundation. All that civic-minded jazz that seemed so squaresville back when you were a teenager doesn’t seem so square now, does it? You have kids and you want them to grow up in the best possible Des Moines. And guess what? That is how it works, sir.

Weekly Update: 06/14/2020

Posted on Categories Airport, Economic Development, Policy, Public Safety, Weekly UpdatesTags , , , , Leave a comment on Weekly Update: 06/14/2020

This Week

Monday: Sound Cities Association meeting on helping businesses to re-open.

Tuesday: SCATbd Meeting. The cuts to King County Metro are looking to be pretty massive in the next two years. Unfortunately, I don’t have a Zoom link yet so check their web site if you want to comment. The drag is that this is exactly the moment we should be increasing transit options.

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee Meeting (BAC). If you’re concerned about the noise and pollution, I urge you to attend this Zoom meeting. The problem we always have in managing Sea-Tac Airport is reactivity historically we only respond to their growth. The BAC is one of the only places where there is ongoing work to change that.

Wednesday: Come have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines. Over the past several years the group has made major improvements in attendance at our schools as well as juvenile crime reduction.

Last Week

Not one, but two web meeting with Southside Seattle Chamber Of Commerce on small business grants in Des Moines. There has been a bunch of talk on how to get more emergency aid to local businesses. There is help on the way. I know it’s taking forever, but a big part of this is that it’s right in the State Constitution that governments are not supposed to give ‘public gifts’ to private businesses (think of the possibilities for corruption.) That’s why grants almost always come with lots of strings attached. How do you do it fairly? Just give xxx dollars to every licensed business regardless of size? Do you make an application process based on ‘need’? How do you define that? The system just ain’t set up to do this quickly.

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle General Meeting. Speaking of grants, after two years, the commissioners finally voted to approve the South King County Fund–a program that was originally proposed to provide money for mitigation programs (noise and pollution). But in this? It was the cities who could not even agree on what they wanted to do. They kept pushing back saying, “We want sidewalks!” or “Parks!”. This is the maddening part of dealing with the impacts from Sea-Tac Airport. Even when the Port tries to do the right thing, the Cities can’t agree. Anyhoo… expect to see more Port grants to cities–but not more relief on noise or pollution.

Wednesday: Come have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

Thursday: City Council General Meeting (see recap below). (Agenda) (Video).

Meeting Recap

For openers, here is the coverage of the meeting in the Waterland Blog. And I have a question for you, Dear Reader. When I read their coverage I always wonder, “Is this the average viewer’s takeaway?” So, I’d be interested to get feedback from you as to what you think of their coverage. I obviously address what I consider most important, but I want to occasionally check in and make sure I’m also talking about what you care about.

The ever-expanding Consent Agenda

I’ve gotten a number of questions recently about how meetings work. There is a lot more confusion than usual because of (once again) that darned Consent Agenda. Remember: a Consent Agenda is a straight up or down vote on items that are supposed to be routine.

Now between all the kerfuffle in January and February in bringing on us noob councilmembers, Vic Pennington resigning and then being replaced by Luisa Bangs and now this pesky Pandemic, we’re five months behind schedule. So what we’re doing is cramming most definitely non-routine items onto the Consent Agenda. (and pretending like they’re routine.) Why? Because under our ‘State Of Emergency’ we’re not allowed to do much ‘new business’. So we re-brand new business as ‘routine’. Got all that? 😀

If it weren’t for COVID-19, we’d see a lot more discussion on many items. But even I, ‘the complainer’ am eager to move things along. You simply have to keep City busines moving. *So I’m actually being a lot more ‘go along’ than I would be if it weren’t a pandemic kind of world.

Sustained Airport Master Plan (SAMP)

The SAMP is one of those things the public isn’t engaged on and at some point I need to do an ‘explainer’ because like I keep saying, the airport is the single external threat to our city’s long term success. But not today. 😀

For now, the deal is that we have this Inter-Local Agreement (ILA) between Des Moines, Burien, SeaTac and Normandy Park to hire a shared team of consultants to help represent us on the possible environmental impacts of the impending expansion of the airport. SeaTac was administering that contract. We simply voted to transfer that bookkeeping function to DM. My motion was tangential. I just snuck in an opportunity to find out from our City Manager (CM) where things stand.

See the thing is: remember that the CM is the executive. So when there is official dialogue between the cities, it’s generally the City Managers doing it. So we’re in this weird parallel universe, where a small number of councilmembers who care about the issue do the day to day research and work with lawmakers. But it’s the City Managers who do the formal negotiating with the FAA or Port. It’s totally cockamamie. But that’s just the deal until the City Councils decide to take this more seriously.

Basically, the dais is the one place where I am guaranteed at least some kind of cooperation from the government. Which sucks for Des Moines. But, again, that’s an explainer for another day. 😀

Valley SWAT (VSWAT)

I tried (unsuccessfully) to delay this vote to formally join VSWAT until the next meeting because the City provided no stats as to the number of incidents or what they were about, cost per incident, or even the difference between ‘joining’ and not joining. There was not even a statement of the effects of not approving the motion (as is typical in most packets.) Yes, the Chief spoke to anecdotes (thank you, that’s helpful). But like I always say, I won’t vote for anything without data.

The funny thing is that this was a golden opportunity to address issues of proper use of force. Presenting some real stats as to the benefits of VSWAT would have allayed some valid concerns from the public. In fact, the very first purpose laid out in the mission statement in the packet was ‘crowd control’. If that ain’t bad timing, I dunno what is. And I think that was worth two weeks sending a message saying, “When you want something? Bring data. Thanks very much.”

I want a culture of data in decision-making. I want reports. You know: those things with numbers on them? That goes for all departments, but especially with policing where the public has concerns. Facts are the best remedy to public skepticism.

My public comment

COVID-19

We really need to mask up. Every State that has re-opened is showing a lot more cases. I try being patient with people who hate wearing masks, but I’m losing patience. We in Des Moines are super-vulnerable due to our senior citizen populations living in such concentration. So it’s my strong feeling that we need to be conservative in our approach and I ask for your help.

George Floyd

As I mentioned above with the VSWAT, we need more information on police activities. Yes, we’re a relatively small city, but we have the ability, right now, to make significant improvements in policing while spending almost nothing. The problem is that the entire conversation has (like all issues, right?) instantly become ‘all or nothing’. If you ask for more data, people immediately get defensive and accuse you of being ‘soft on crime’. It’s about transparency. You don’t have to choose. What’s telling to me in this moment is how many people are willing to talk about everything except: increasing basic accountability.

For example, all the studies show that something as trivial as having a Customer Comment form on the web site works. Just asking the public to submit comments on policing makes a difference.

And publishing complaint data also makes a big difference. Knowing that there were ‘x’ complaints every month (and what type) and having a clear and public policy makes a difference.

Finally, it’s telling that any sort of civilian oversight is not even in the discussion–even thought that has been shown to be the single most effective way to reduce police complaints. Not cameras, not town halls or changes in use of force procedures; just being more transparent. Here is a good article from MIT describing why so many high dollar interventions haven’t worked.

Redondo

Redondo. It was great to see a new resident: Karen Steinhaus and lifetime resident: Rick Johnson, both comment on problems at Redondo. It’s time that the City recognize that the noise and speeding have become chronic and come up with some long-term solutions. Redondo will only continue to grow in importance to the city so we must figure this out. I applaud their efforts to organize residents and help the City figure it out.

*On the other hand: Our meeting still clocked in at a sprinty 1:45, which is much faster than meetings in other cities. So maybe I’m going along a little too much? Who knows. I’m new on the job. 🙂

Weekly Update: 06/07/2020

Posted on Categories Airport, Economic Development, Policy, Public Safety, Weekly UpdatesTags , ,

This Week

Web meeting with Southside Seattle Chamber Of Commerce on small business grants in Des Moines. (See Last Week below).

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle General Meeting. A final vote to proceed with their long-term plan ‘Century Agenda’; a long term blueprint for growth. What I asked them to consider is that they hold off since there is no reasonable way to plan for either air or cruise travel until the dust settles. (The same was true after 9/11–it took Sea-Tac Airport nearly a decade to return to 2001 levels of operations–even with a shiny new third runway.)

Wednesday: Come have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

Thursday: City Council General Meeting (see recap below). (Agenda)

Last Week

Tuesday: Southside Seattle Chamber Of Commerce Web Meeting. Attended by City Of Des Moines Economic Planner Eric Lane, King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove and  Connor Talbott of the Des Moines/Normandy Park Rotary Club. The talk was the nuts and bolts of doing small business grants. There was also a very good discussion on the last mile–getting business owners engaged with translation and form-filling help as needed. Here is an example of how unincorporate King County is doing it.

Tuesday: Attended protest for George Floyd (more below).

Wednesday: Lunch at Senior Center. Got another EATS certificate. Woo hoo!

Wednesday: MRSC meeting on legislative updates and how the upcoming Special Session might affect Des Moines.

Friday: I had a meeting with long-time friend and restaurant management consultant Mat Mandeltort. Mat is something of a polymath: lawyer, MBA and for many years, a professional fine-dining chef. He is a restaurant management consulting in Chicago. He has generously offered to put together a program for restaurants in Des Moines to help them profitably adapt to the new post-COVID-19 reality. If you, or someone you know, runs a restaurant in Des Moines, please contact me. The systems he comes up are most beneficial for restaurants that work together, so the more owners that participate, the more money they will all benefit. Here are a couple of examples showing off the quality of his work:

Datassential Restaurant Analysis for Coronavirus

Black sheep restaurants COVID-19 operating procedures

1500 words about George Floyd

There is just to much to say about this issue to cram in here so I wrote a separate article which contains a very simple proposal which I believe would improve police accountability here in Des Moines.

*Unlike most posts I write, I did not crank this out in an hour. I considered what I wrote quite carefully. Even so, my concern is that, because it’s a long piece, people will not actually read the thing and just cherry pick the items they agree or disagree with.   But as the kids say… what…. ehveeeeehr.

What can Des Moines learn from George Floyd?

*I just did something writing teachers tell you is completely weaselly, but… I did it anyway. Namely trying to shame you into reading something difficult because I’m afraid that otherwise you’ll just skim. Jerk move, right?

What can Des Moines learn from George Floyd?

Posted on Categories Policy, Public SafetyTags

I’m in the not unusual position of being a white guy in a black family. So I’ve been an unwitting participant in a decades long sociology experiment. I’ve gotten to see how I get treated differently from my family members in all sorts of shared situations.

Unfortunately, that also applies to dealings with the police. I have male family members and friends who’ve been stopped for no particularly good reason in Minneapolis, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle and yes, many years ago, *Des Moines. And I’ve been in the car when that has happened. My takeaway? If you’re a black person (and especially a black  man), sooner or later, you should expect to be stopped.

The complaints you don’t hear about

During my campaign I knocked on a whole bunch of doors and I heard big support for our police department, for which they should be justifiably proud. But I also heard complaints. Most of the complaints are, as you might expect, of the “there’s never a cop around when you need ’em” variety. But some of these complaints match up with my family’s bad experiences; enough to get my attention. And I think it’s easy to ignore those types of concerns because you never hear about them. For obvious reasons, people of color are often reluctant to file a complaint when they’ve been treated disrespectfully unless something truly horrible happens. They just do what my family has done: try to shake it off and move on.

About that statement…

Let me be clear: Chief Thomas’ statement last week was very good and I applaud the sentiments. I also believe that members of the DMPD and the Guild are on board. But my praise is more guarded than I would like and the reason goes to a partial solution I will present in a minute.

Said it before, say it again…

As I’ve written many times here, your City Council is not allowed to have direct contact with any City employee unless given express permission by the City Manager. And that includes the Chief Of Police and the City Attorney. They work for the City Manager, not the Council. All communication goes through the CM.

I rarely have contact with the Chief (or any staff for that matter). And unless it’s presented at a City Council meeting I don’t have access to all the policing data I would like. So I have no better idea than you do  about the department’s performance on issues of race. Based on talking to the Chief a bit over the years, again, I assume they are good. †But I have no way to judge for myself. In fact I have less contact with him (and staff in general) now than before I was elected. I also have no more access to stats than the general public. And if I can’t see data and I can’t observe how people do their jobs? I will always have questions–especially when it comes to issues like this.

Please Note: Apparently the Mayor does routinely speak with the Chief and staff, but that is only because the City Manager allows it; not because the office of Mayor has any more legal authority than any other councilmember.) I keep coming back to this point of ‘mayoral privilege’ because most residents believe that the office of Mayor has some built-in special authority. It doesn’t. We are seven equals under the law. If there’s a difference? It’s only because the City Manager deigns it so.

The Current System

There is a State law (quoted below) which shields all staff (including the police) from ‘Council interference’. The rationale (which I agree with 100%) is to  keep the Council from trying to manage the City–which is solely the job of the CM. You can’t have councilmembers bugging staff day in and day out or attempting to contravene the CM’s authority.

RCW 35A.13.120: Except for the purpose of inquiry, the council and its members shall deal with the administrative service solely through the manager and neither the council nor any committee or member thereof shall give orders to any subordinate of the city manager, either publicly or privately.

However, all laws are subject to interpretations. And Des Moines has adopted one of the most extreme possible interpretations of that statute. We heavily restrict the ‘inquiry’ mentioned at the beginning of that sentence. In practical terms, this allows the City Manager and the police department to choose the information it provides to councilmembers.  When a resident complains about something (like policing) a councilmember has no way to demand answers. They only get the answer that the CM or other staff choose to give them. And that’s bad for me as a councilmember and bad for you as a resident. In practical terms: when I hear concerns from residents (as I did during my campaign) I cannot dig deeper without first getting the permission of the CM and the Police Chief. That is the first thing that needs to change.

Where am I going with this?

The suggestions I’ve gotten from residents have included some rather dramatic changes: body cameras, creating a civilian review board, etc. Many  cities have spent millions doing such things and still have problems. I believe that we should first try to catch problems a lot further upstream. Because by the time you get to the level of the incident, it’s often too late. In other words, what the George Floyd video tells me is that their entire department has a problem of culture, not a lack of rules or tech.

Proposal: Restore the right of inquiry

So my initial suggestion for Des Moines is a bit different. Let’s start by making a very simple, but very significant change to the City Code. Under specific circumstances, each councilmember should have the ability to speak with staff and freely gather information from the government, independent of the executive. 

This ability would allow councilmembers to determine for themselves whether or not the culture is improving and then come together to craft policy as necessary. Frankly, this is a power that the public already thinks councilmembers have: independent inquiry. And in fact, legislators in most other jurisdictions do have this power.

Now this change in no way goes against the statute or infringes on the City Manager’s authority. In fact, inquiry is the first clause of that sentence. But somehow ‘inquiry’ has been dropped from that equation in our city. And the net effect is this: the Council has to take the Chief and the City Manager at their word on any issue or event because the City Manager controls access to all information the Council sees. This a specific and important example of the ‘lack of transparency’ I campaigned on.

Please note: As I write this: The City Manager and Police Chief informed Council that they are discussing a proposal to improve policing. In other words they will propose the solution for Council to approve. In my opinion, that is completely backwards and speaks directly to my concerns.  To me, this discussion should begin with the City Council.

A first step

I know that for some of you, my suggestion will seem a bit underwhelming. And at some point, other levels of oversight may well be necessary. But based on the studies I have read, transparency is always near the root of most problems of policing.

I think the calls for bigger solutions are largely  because people are so frustrated at ‘nibbling around the edges’. They want to see something dramatic happen now. I get that. However my goal is always to do what works best based on the data and, again, the data tells me that improving transparency is key.

So first we should try just having the people you’ve already elected become more engaged in how policing is done. Let the City Council provide an additional level of investigation and oversight already present in statute.

Simply adding seven sets of eyes (who are not part of the government, remember) to monitor what is going on will send a powerful message to residents and police about our commitment to transparency and change. It will enable members of the public to come forward who have heretofore been reluctant to do so and it will allow the Council to identify problems before they migrate to the public.

Both things are true

Like most cities, our public safety constitutes almost half of the Des Moines general budget. That indicates just how important we all value policing. So any change that calls into question that department will create defensiveness, not just with the force, but also in the community. And that also explains why it’s easy to engage in endless platitudes but not take any real action.

I know that a certain portion of readers will react to this post as follows, “You don’t support the police!” That is simply untrue. And if you feel that way, my guess is that you have not experienced the type of incident I have.

Nobody appreciates the talent, hard work and courage our police demonstrate every day more than I do–as well as the tremendous stress that is intrinsic to the job. (If you recall, last month I asked for the City to support a National Holiday for First Responders.) These people are heroes and without their efforts, society isn’t even possible. And every member of my family feels exactly the same.

All of my family want the police department to understand that we simultaneously hold two thoughts in our heads and in our hearts. Some may say these are contradictory, but they are not.

I support you 100%.
It could happen here.

*Just to be clear: in this case, the officer worked for the Port Of Seattle.

†Yes, a Councilmember can do a one-off Ride-Along with an officer. Those are good things to do. But they are not the same thing as actual regular contact with management.

Weekly Update: 06/01/2020

Posted on Categories Airport, Economic Development, Policy, Public Safety, Weekly UpdatesTags , , ,

This Week

It’s all very hush hush. Totally on the QT. Or is it on the down low? OK, maybe it’s just a slow week. So why not give me a call? (206) 878-0578.

Last Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle General Meeting. This is a biggee in that the Commission voted to proceed with their long-term plan ‘Century Agenda’ which is their long term blueprint for growth. What I asked them to consider is that they hold off since there is no reasonable way to plan for either air or cruise travel until the dust settles. (The same was true after 9/11–it took Sea-Tac Airport nearly a decade to return to 2001 levels of operations–even with a shiny new third runway.)

Wednesday: Highline Forum. I want to give a shout out to Councilmember Nancy Tosta of Burien and SeaTac City Manager Carl Cole for bringing up that same issue: Why all the hurry to press on with construction when the ‘demand’ will be low for the foreseeable future? Is there a way to maintain at least some of the current lower levels of noise and pollution? My hope is that electeds from all the airport communities will embrace this notion and work together. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Thursday: 30th Legislative District Call with Senator Claire Wilson, Rep. Mike Pellicciotti and Rep. Jesse Johnson. These are phone calls that any elected can get in on and they are generally just these three providing updates on what they’re doing and asking questions. I’m there mostly to listen and occasionally lobby. And I bring that up because a lot of what I do is lobbying–providing information for someone higher up the food chain about something in Des Moines. I’m not expecting them to ‘do’ anything in the moment because, as legislators, they’re in the same boat as I am–they can’t ‘do’ anything on their own. But if I bring up an issue and a bunch of other people bring up the same issue, then they can start to build a consensus. It’s a long game and it involves a ton of bowing and scraping, which I discuss in one of my fave rants How To Get What You Want From Elected Officials.

Thursday: City Council General Meeting (see recap below). (Agenda) (Video).

Friday: UW DEOHS Meeting. We’re having ongoing discussions on how to better monitor the air quality and noise around Sea-Tac Airport. I’ll keep repeating this because it’s always just unbelievable to so many people: There is no proper air quality monitoring around Sea-Tac Airport. Coming from Detroit as I did, and being used to working around factories where ‘monitoring’ is just standard operating procedure, this is just outrageous to me. Sea-Tac Airport is, by any measure, one of the worst polluters in the State of Washington. And what makes me speechless is the fact that so few electeds seem to care. In other words, because there is no ‘smokestack’ people seem to think it’s somehow ‘safer’. But Sea-Tac Airport generates noise and pollution just like any other factory and should be monitored just like any other factory.

Council Meeting Recap

We all gave ten second ‘congratulations’ speeches to graduating High School Seniors. Councilmember Buxton’s was especially good, IMO.

I also want to applaud Councilmember Bangs’ comments.

My new hero

In my comments, I kinda/sorta made two motions. The second was a finishing up of my motion to bring back city manager reports from our last meeting. It is 100% needed but will never  pass with the current majority.

So… moving on to that first item. 😀  I gave a shout out to a resident I met at the Senior Center for lunch out back at the patio tables.

Background: ‘Mr. H.’ called me out for not practicing proper social distancing. He was 100% correct! And then, after I left, he got one of the workers to help him mark the tables so as to encourage proper distancing. Is this guy a great activist or what? But then, he went next level and called me to ask for additional patio tables (a long-standing request) to make up for the fact that we can now only safely have half as many people at each table. This is a man after my own heart!

So I asked from the dais to get the center more patio tables. And was politely shot down by our Mayor. He rightly pointed out that such requests should normally be handled as any other budget item.

However, like Mr. H. I also am an activist. And I’m also a fan of (occasionally) using petty cash to expedite the odd good deed. Mr. H. did a very good deed–he had the courage to mention social distancing (something we all should do) and then advocate for what he wanted. He deserved a favor. So I advocated for the guy. Shoot me. The Senior Center needs those tables. And a few hundred bucks ain’t gonna break the city.

Let’s be clear: that isn’t anyone’s ‘fault’. It’s just that a City has a gazillion things to do, so small items like this often just have to wait. Can’t be helped; even in the most efficient organization imaginable. So occasionally it’s good to stop for a sec and get one small thing taken care of. Not to make a habit of ‘budgeting from the dais’. It just makes people feel better about government writ large when they can actually see their efforts rewarded once in a while.

SR-509

I also made a totally pointless ‘no’ vote on the SR-509 expansion item. This vote was considered so ‘routine’ that it was placed on the Consent Agenda. But even though my protest was pointless, this is one of the most significant votes I will ever take.

SR-509 has been sold as a way to improve traffic through the area (the constant mess on Des Moines Memorial Drive, for example). But what it’s really about, what it has always been about is to make it easier for Sea-Tac Airport to move cargo onto I-5 and 167. That means more trucks on the road, but more significantly, it enables the airport to run waaaaaay more cargo flights–which primarily operate at night.

But the facts on SR-509 are that we are paying the State for the privilege of letting them run a road thru Des Moines that will bring us a small amount of one one-time money and a lot more noise and pollution forever. And if you really listen to the arguments it was all about how we are helping ‘the region’… not Des Moines. As if it’s our patriotic duty to help the rest of King County while we take it in the neck. There are no good arguments on the long term merits of this for Des Moines.

I will never vote for any legislation that enables more flights at Sea-Tac Airport. Any short term benefits just pale when compared to the ongoing damages to health and quality of life.

How To Get What You Want From Elected Officials

Posted on Categories Engagement, Policy

I get at least two letters every week from residents where they ask me to do something. I give them the honest answer about getting their request fulfilled and… usually never hear from them again. And I can just feel their unhappiness with my reply (which I’ll share with you in a sec).

Darwinism

As I often write, a lot of my job is ‘bowing and scraping’. I have literally never begged and cajoled and nagged this much in my entire life. But that is just the deal for activists (and electeds). You’re not an executive. You can’t ‘do’ all that much on yer own. All you mainly do is try to convince other people to get on board and then they make things happen. And the person or group that is the most relentless and convincing, usually gets their way. That’s democracy. If you just write a public official once and then call it a day, you’re not even in the game. There is someone else out there who is calling or writing literally every day. Because that’s what it takes to win. It’s survival of the fittest.

And if that disappoints you, please believe me: I understand. And I’m sorry, but that’s just the dealio. It’s not nearly enough to have a good idea. Lots of people have really good ideas. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to listen to all the good ideas that need attention. So either your idea is something that your elected already cares about (lucky you) or you have to demonstrate that you want it. Real bad. 😀 A lot more than the other fifty people with their good ideas.

So when people write me with an idea, I usually write back something like,

“Great idea! OK, now here is what I need you to do to make that happen…”

And that right there immediately turns off the majority of people who contact me. Because I know they think their job is done simply by writing me. Au contraire, mon fre’er. 😀 That’s just the beginning.

I now have six other councilmembers to convince. Have you given me enough information to do that? Do your neighbors or fellow business owners support your idea? Maybe we need a petition to prove that. Do you have data to support your idea? Are you willing to help raise money?

See my point: your work has just begun. And if you’re not willing to do that work? Someone else in Des Moines is. And that’s why their idea gets done and yours doesn’t.

You want a speed bump? A sidewalk? A <whatever>? You gotta earn it. Nobody can do it for you. Now I could lie and write back, “Great idea! I’m on it!” But I assume that when you write me, you want the real answer. 😀

Council schmouncil. Wherever you see some road improvement or basically anything substantial in Des Moines, there’s a story where someone or some group worked their collective asses off to make it happen.

And now the good news

I’m not trying to curb anyone’s enthusiasm. Just the opposite, in fact! I live for activism. Which is why I’m giving you the skinny so you can actually succeed.

In short: the bar is really high to get anything done. But it is doable if you’re willing to put in the work. The real question is: are you willing to put in the work? If the answer is “You bet”, let’s get started. 🙂