On February 12th of 2020, I was told of a group trip to Washington D.C. being organized by the Port Of Seattle for electeds in the six airport communities. The purpose being a chance to provide a unified front from electeds and the Port Of Seattle on several pieces of legislation that all the cities (seem) to agree are important to our communities. The Port lobbyist, Eric Schinfeld had already scheduled several very good meetings with FAA leaders, Adam Smith, Maria Cantwell, Rick Larsen and Rep. Lynch from Massachusetts. Attendees were also encouraged to set up their own meetings, which I began doing. (My agenda is Federal funding of HB2315, an improved relationship with the FAA, and ways to get elements of Congressman Smith’s Aviation Impacted Communities Act passed at the State level.)
Strangely enough, I only found out about this event ‘through the grapevine’–not via my City. So I asked Mr. Schinfeld to be included and, of course, he agreed–recognizing the important position the City Of Des Moines should have in this process.
Unlike our neighbour cities, the City Of Des Moines has no travel budget for electeds. One has to ask for permission from the City Manager in order to be reimbursed for any activity. So on 19 February I asked Michael Matthias what the chances were for me getting a travel reimbursement for my airfare to this event. I was told, “About zero.” When I asked why his reply was, “The Mayor and I feel that there is no value in spending money to talk to people who are already on board with that legislation. And besides, none of that has any realistic chance of passing.”
So I went ahead and made my own booking. And in the meantime, I discretely asked two of my peers on the City Council to see if anyone might support me in a motion from the dais to reimburse me for my travel expenses. I was politely told “No”. And as you may know, one needs four votes to pass a motion.
A week later, the City Manager did decide to send a representative from Des Moines: the City’s State lobbyist, a fine man, but someone who would be the first to admit he is not conversant in the issues. I leave it to you to decide why. But the upshot is that Des Moines is the only City not represented by knowledgeable electeds.
Why you should care
This puzzles and frustrates my peers in other Cities who are constantly wondering why Des Moines, which bears so much of the brunt of negative impacts from Sea-Tac Airport is chronically so intransigent in advocating for its residents on airport issues.
For example, the legislation I originally proposed back in March of 2019 which became HB2315 only became a part of the City’s legislative agenda after it was apparent that it had a good chance of passage–and after I got elected, by the way. I was specifically told by Mayor Pina after my election to not, I repeat not say that I was representing the City Of Des Moines when I would testify in public on behalf of either bill.
And Mike Pellicciotti’s HB1847, which aims to expand the boundary of Port Packages throughout Des Moines was never formally endorsed by the City Of Des Moines. So again, when I would spend my own time and money to advocate for that bill, I would be doing so as a private citizen.
Other airport communities send their electeds to a variety of conferences on airport issues and they are, in many ways, ahead of us in terms of knowledge and political savvy. I also attend these conferences when I can but they are simply too expensive for me to do with consistency. (For example, I attended a conference of Noise Program Managers last November which set me back over $800 for a single day event.) These events matter because they provide information about policy that is hard to obtain otherwise. They are the cheapest possible insurance against being out of the loop on events that matter to airport communities.
Even more importantly, they are the one place where an elected can meet in a casual setting with the real decider-ers at the FAA and other large airport operators. There is nothing to get honest back and forth going like having a few drinks with decision makers and that is why I’m willing to shell out the dough. You simply cannot have truly candid discussions within the context of formal meetings. But Des Moines does not participate and thus we don’t know what we don’t know regarding what is actually possible. And since we don’t know what’s possible, we continue to do the wrong things on airport issues.
Over the past decade, the City Of Des Moines has made consistently poor decisions with regard to the negative impacts from Sea-Tac Airport. My peers on the Council hate when I say that but it’s simply the truth. What our government does is the appearance of engagement–just enough to appear like we’re advocating for residents. But not enough to actually make a difference.
This is not pointing a finger at any one person; it’s been a consistent pattern across several administrations and it has become normative–by it’s actions, our government has made it clear that it doesn’t consider airport issues to be all that important. I ran for City Council to change that. Airport issues are my area of expertise and I had hoped to leverage that expertise with the backing of the City to bring home far greater benefits to our residents. Sadly, this has not been the case thus far.
Until the City Of Des Moines begins doing smart things, like sending our electeds to events that matter, building the knowledgebase of our electeds on these issues, working with our peers in other cities, by giving our full-throated support to good legislation and by creating our own strong agenda of leadership on these issues, we will never get where we all want to be: a quieter, safer, cleaner Des Moines.
The negative impacts from Sea-Tac Airport should be non-partisan. So whether or not you voted for me, if you care about the noise, the pollution and the economic harms, I need your support on this. If what I wrote above makes sense to you, please encourage the rest of the City Council and City Manager to support me in my efforts before it’s too late.
Tick. tock. The Port keeps building.