Weekly Update: 10/25/2020

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Neighborhoods, Taxes, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesLeave a comment on Weekly Update: 10/25/2020

PSA: You may have heard that there is an election coming. There was a Candidate’s Forum October 14th and it wouldn’t hurt to watch it. Write me if you need a Voter’s Pamphlet: I have extras! And if you don’t get your ballot?  please email elections@kingcounty.gov or give them a call at 206-296-VOTE (8683). MONDAY IS THE LAST DAY TO REGISTER!

This Week

Tuesday: Port of Seattle regular Commission Meeting (Agenda) This meeting will present the 2021 Tax Levy. Their Budget proposes to increase  this item on your taxes by 3%, which I find outrageous given the pandemic.

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

Wednesday: Sea-Tac Airport Stakeholder Advisory Round Table (StART) Meeting (Agenda): The discussion will include the 2020 Legislative Agenda. Recognizing that this is also the Port’s agenda, it is fairly timid. I will testify as to the complete lack of understanding on Port Package ‘failures’.

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) General Assembly (Agenda).

Last Week

Monday: Meeting with Finance Director Beth Anne Wroe. Not much to report on that in particular. Of greater concern is that fact that my City Manager literally refused to take a phone call to answer any questions on anything. Have I already used the word ‘outrageous’ in this article? 😀 That said, I mentioned last week that I wanted an improved web site like this and by using plucky initiative I’ve figured out what it would take to make it happen. One way or another, we are going to improve our public outreach during my time in office. Or I’ll… I’ll… I dunno what I’ll do. 😀

Tuesday: South County Area Transportation Board (SCATbd).

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee. (On their web site I got to the meeting info in two clicks. Which made me happy. 🙂 )

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

Thursday: Economic Development Committee Meeting. (Agenda)  This was a big deal. There was a Buildable Lands Study that I could do 2,500 words on and some talk about the Marina redevelopment which also deserves some real talk, but I’ll save that for another time.

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

Saturday: McSorley Creek with Trout Unlimited. Yes, it’s that time of the year again: Counting the Salmon! Show up at 10:00AM if you want to be a counter. 🙂

Now this is more like it…

Last week’s Economic Development Committee (EDC) and City Council Meetings (City’s recap here) were much more like what I expected when I ran for office. As you know, I ran as a ‘change’ candidate. I was able to convince enough voters that something had to change. But the job now is, in many ways, a lot harder because the things that need changing aren’t a bunch of evil men twirling their mustaches.

Des Moines has been heading in the wrong direction for a long time. Our government keeps doing things for short term benefit. But in the long run, have slowly lead further and further from making the City a ‘destination’ (to use that now tired cliche.) But because these policies often seem to make sense in the moment they have been difficult to change. They are well-intentioned; they’re just not in the City’s long-term best interest. It’s like telling me to lay off the ice cream when it’s right there on the counter. It’s a hard sell (sigh.)

You want it now

As I keep saying, a City is where the rubber meets the road. It’s the one place where voters actually expect responsiveness from government. And most voters are concerned with now, not ten years from now. When I moved here, everybody on my street had been here for two decades–and that was typical for homeowners in Des Moines. In 2020? The average homeowner sticks around for 5-7 years. So their interest is in ‘how can you help me now‘. Keep my taxes low. Keep me safe. And don’t rock the boat. I get it.

Unfortunately, many that thinking runs contrary to what it takes to make Des Moines (finally) live up to its potential as a waterfront community.

It’s coming…

The reason I have been yammering about the PSRC and all this ‘regional’ junk since I got elected is because, in addition to the short term interests of current residents there are intense forces at the State and regional level which also push Des Moines to only consider the short view.

We are on the cusp of having to make development decisions that I guarantee most of you will not appreciate if you care about Des Moines more than a few years out. But they will be irresistible because a) they will provide short term cash and b) the State and PSRC will be nagging us to do them–and attempting to punish us if we do not.

I see one of my primary tasks to push back. Because this is existential for our future and I am not being hyperbolic. Our long-term desire to (finally) make Des Moines the historic and unique place it was meant to be run smack into the desires of many developers, the State, the County, the PSRC and the Port Of Seattle. They will offer us lots of things that look fabulous in the short term, but will inevitably lead to minimizing the very things that make Des Moines special. City Councils come and go, but overall, our development plan has been wrong since before decades. I will explain my positive vision for the City in detail in the months ahead.

SKHHP: Affordable Housing

The actual City Council Meeting was pretty innocuous. I want to highlight a couple of questions I had which probably seemed like me grousing a bit, but they matter. The first was in response to Traci Buxton’s comments on this thing:

19054 ILA South King Housing and Homelessness Partnership

We were asked to approve a directive clarifying our City’s position on SKHHP–essentially, giving Councilmember Buxton guidance on the City’s goals when *she represents us. Here is the guidance we approved:

  1. Policy decisions that directly affect the City or that create mandates should be made by the City Council and not by the SKHHP board.
  2. Primary focus of SKHHP should be on the production and preservation of affordable housing as stated in the Interlocal Agreement that created the partnership.
  3. Policy decisions made by SKHHP should prioritize the preservation of affordable housing and the creation of affordable housing, while also balancing the interests of those who provide it.

Now that all looks pretty sensible, harmless and vague. But it matters because what I’ve been trying to tease out from our City is the actual purpose of SKHHP. The fact that we need to add this sort of ‘fluff’ indicates that there is not a clear agreement (yet) as to the goals–or at least a concern that the process might be hijacked. If so, I want to know what the goals of other Cities might be that could conflict with ours? The title of the group includes the word ‘homelessness’. Great. We should definitely tackle that problem. But though the two topics converge, affordable housing is not the same thing as ‘homelessness’. Not by a country mile.

What I keep trying to get at is: what are we willing to do? I want transparency. The problem is that the issues SKHHP needs to tackle are, like all land use and zoning and housing issues totally nuclear divisive. I get why decision makers would want to keep it vague until the last possible moment. But I would much prefer that we do work to get buy-in from our residents up front, rather than working on programs that may come as a unpleasant surprises down the road. That is exactly what went wrong with the Woodmont Recovery Clinic. It was a noble cause (helping people climb out of addiction) but it was implemented in a way to generate maximum †FUD.

Video

Show me the numbers

The second question I had was during the Budget Public Hearing and was about ‘trends’. I referred to page 49 of the 2021 Preliminary Annual Budget , which is the only place in the document that charts a five year forecast.

I asked what I thought was a fairly easy question: How do you make that forecast? Now check out the responses from our City Manager.

Video

Now that you’ve watched that exchange, do you have any idea how the City estimates 2023, 2024, 2025? If so, please email me. Because I sure don’t. It’s the defensiveness that always gets my antennae up. I asked a perfectly reasonable question and got nowhere. And the end of the discussion was our Mayor saying, “Asked and answered.” As if this were a trial, not a reasonable discussion.

I’m not here to cross-examine anyone. I just wanted to know what any business person would want to know: What are your assumptions? It turned something routine into even more *FUD and I can never understand why. If they’d simply give me the information I request, I’d be happy as a clam. 🙂

You gotta sell me on this…

We often hear from candidates how they want to run government ‘like a business’. Our Mayor often talks about how the City Of Des Moines is structured like a Corporation. It’s not ‘like’ a corporation it is a corporation.

But municipal corporations are not  businesses. And definitely not when it comes to decision making. Yeah, you get to vote for City Council, but beyond that, the government gets to ram an awful lot of stuff down yer throat if it wants to. If it were a business, it would have to actually sell you on its ideas. It would have to market like crazy to get your buy-in on plans that you won’t necessarily like right now, but will ultimately make your life better ten years from now on.

Governments are not known for being particularly good marketers and the public often refuses to eat their vegetables. And more and more the public is interested in the short term. So it’s just a lot simpler for the government to do what it wants and not bother asking.

I strongly disagree. We have the obligation to be very clear on both the good and the painful parts of our policies. We should sell difficult ideas and only act unilaterally when absolutely necessary.

Am I talking out of both sides of my mouth? Sure thing. I’m a low rent politician. 😀 I’m going to propose a lot of ideas that you may find challenging in the short term. Because I’m certain these are things that will make Des Moines really special for you in the long term. And I’m also going to work my bananas off to get your sincere buy in. That salesmanship is something the City has not done well at all over the years–because, again, it doesn’t have to ask for permission. It doesn’t have to sell you. To the extent I can, I hope to change that approach.

*Minor detail: I am the City’s Alternate Representative to SKHHP. To date I have not been invited to any meetings or notified on any of its activities. I’ve already used ‘outrageous’ and ‘unprofessional’. Thank goodness I’m done with this article. I’m running out of adjectives. 😀

†FUD: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.

Weekly Update: 10/19/2020

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesLeave a comment on Weekly Update: 10/19/2020

PSA: You may have heard that there is an election coming. There was a Candidate’s Forum October 14th and it wouldn’t hurt to watch it. Write me if you need a Voter’s Pamphlet: I have extras! And if you don’t get your ballot?  please email elections@kingcounty.gov or give them a call at 206-296-VOTE (8683).

This Week

Monday: Meeting with Finance Director Beth Anne Wroe. Since this is literally the only contact I’ve been allowed with staff in the past seven months (every time I write or say that it sounds even more insane that a Councilmember can’t talk to staff) Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, I need to make my fifteen minutes count, baby. 😀 Hopefully, I can asking one or two questions which will point me in the right direction for self-study. My personal needs/wants/desires include an improved web site like this (click on the Calendar. See how easy it is to find out when things are and then drill down to Agendas and basically find whatever you want?) Something like that is maybe a couple of grand. A big spender I am not. 🙂

Tuesday: South County Area Transportation Board (SCATbd).

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee. (On their web site I got to the meeting info in two clicks. Which made me happy. 🙂 )

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

Thursday: Economic Development Committee Meeting. (Agenda) It’s not my meeting, but hey why not attend? And since it’s a public meeting, why don’t you attend? (Homework: To understand why I want to improve our City’s web site, don’t use the link I posted. Try to find out what/where/when about this meeting. I dare ya.) To attend Committee Meetings, please contact the City Clerk’s Office at cityclerk@desmoineswa.gov for a link no later than 12:00 p.m. the day of the meeting.

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda). As has become typical, the Consent Agenda is jam-packed with items that probably should be discussed, but hey, I’m a lover, Paul, not a fighter. (That joke was probably a lot funnier back when Michael was alive and not… you know. 😀 ) But this will also be the first Public Hearing On The 2021 Annual Budget. Which means that you the public (theoretically, anyhoo) should be showing up to make your needs/wants/desires known. Seriously. That is what is supposed to happen. If ‘municipal government’ were working as expected, back in… oh… say 1911… this would be the best attended meeting of the year for a WA City.

Saturday: McSorley Creek with Trout Unlimited. Yes, it’s that time of the year again: Counting the Salmon! Show up at 10:00AM if you want to be a counter. 🙂

Last Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Aviation Budget Meeting. I was hoping to hear that, after all the COVID-19 delays, the Commission would finally start funding Port Packages again (do I sound enough like a petulant teenager? 😀 ). Still not there yet, but there’s still time.

Tuesday: I, along with Councilmembers from Burien and SeaTac, met with Congressman Adam Smith. Short version: under a 2018 law (which is super-vague) the FAA is supposed to have some sort of ‘community engagement’ now to discuss our concerns. And in other major airport communities, this has been an improvement in relations. But at Sea-Tac? Nooooooooooooooooooooooo. Our specific local FAA leadership have about zero interest in changing anything. That is not what Congress intended with the 2018 law. So we’re trying to figure out what Mr. Smith can do to help bring us in line with other airport communities.

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association meeting (Agenda). I was disappointed to hear that we still haven’t gotten permits to dredge the entrance. It’s not the end of the world but we got a ‘discount’ contingent on doing it this year. On a happier note, Harbormaster Wilkins is actively checking out Wi-Fi options which is something a lot of us have wanted for a long time (I dunno about you, but my cell reception in various parts of DM has never been great and this sort of amenity would be very attractive for visitors with money. 🙂 ) Also, we will likely be getting a huge rate reduction (over $50k) from the Department Of Natural Resources on rent review thanks to the advocacy of the City’s legal department.

Wednesday: Lunch at the Senior Center. We draw Seniors from all of South King County so I always learn something.

Thursday: I, along with Councilmembers from Burien and SeaTac, met with Snohomish  Congressman Rick Larsen (it’s like deja vu all over again.) As we say back home, “different bread, same sandwich.” Except that this bread… er… Legislator… happens to be the Chairman of the House Aviation Sub-Committee. So he has pull and we should at least be on his radar. Because the detail I left out is that most FAA law is designed around the premise that a City or County will own the airport. So if residents are bugged about noise and pollution, they have some recourse. But because the Port Of Seattle owns Sea-Tac, they always have this loophole that leave us out in the cold. And the Congressman can do something about that.

History

I had a conversation today with Councilmember *xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.   We discussed a bit why I bother with this whole Weekly Update business. What they reported to me is that these things are, for a certain set of people, annoying. Which is shocking, right? 😀 But if I seem cavalier it’s because I honestly do not get that. Really. Which made me feel like I should give y’all some background on why I do these Weekly Updates. Because I think there is some real misunderstanding.

Cue the harp music

(You always use harp arpeggios to go back in time.) When my friends and I started SeatacNoise.Info four years ago, it was because I felt, very strongly, that something was wrong with the activism associated around Sea-Tac Airport. My kid had studied citizen activism in college and so we would talk about what we could do to succeed here. He pointed out that activists here had not followed many of the strategies and tactics that had proven successful for other issue groups across America. Specifically, he pointed out that when it’s David v. Goliath, you can win, but it’s a very long game–it will cross generations so you can’t worry about specific battles. People get burnt out, move, etc. Some things succeed, others fail. But successful movements keep going. Each generation learns from the past, corrects mistakes, tries new things. But you need to have a continuity of information.

We haven’t done that with the airport. Basically, after every airport expansion, people just kinda give up–until the next expansion. In fact, most people, including decision makers, had then and still have a very poor overview of the facts as to what had happened with the Third Runway. (Some of those people will get upset at reading that.) But the fact is that all movements fail… until they succeed. And you have to look at what worked and didn’t in order to move forward. There’s also the fact that human memory stinks. We all forget what happened in very short order. That’s why you need newspapers and historians.

There truth may not be out there

The problem is that a lot of information is rapidly disappearing. (One of my standard quizzes is this: Go on-line and tell me who were the candidates for City Council in Des Moines in 1997. Good luck with that. And unless you’re someone like our City Clerk you probably don’t know.) This is completely counter-intuitive. Most of us think that ‘everything’ has already been ‘digitized’. But nothing could be further from the truth.

So SeatacNoise.Info started creating a library of basically everything having to do with the airport since about 1959 (when Des Moines was incorporated). We got a big-ass scanner and servers and started inhaling as much data as we could. We did this simply so we could say, “It’s all in one place”. We figured that people could use it for research and analysis and planning future strategies to slow down airport expansions. That includes thousands of hours of unbelievably boring videos of Port Commission meetings, City Council Meetings, Court proceedings, RCAA meetings, public documents and newspapers like the Highline Times.

The importance of news

See that handsome fella in the picture at far right? Why that’s a younger version of our Mayor Matt Pina from back in 2007 when he was a School Board member. See all those other articles? We’ve scanned a gazillion of those newspapers because, when there were newspapers here, people were discussing the airport and other civic issues all the time. And the one thing I’ve learned from all those old newspapers is this: people here had far greater access to what was going on in government than they do today. I cannot over-state how many more opportunities the public had to learn about local politics ten years ago. And it was the newspaper and actual journalism that drove that.

Real journalism

I got yelled at last year by the nice people at the Waterland Blog (WB) for somewhat insensitively (I know yer shocked again) saying that the Waterland Blog was not ‘real journalism’. I’ve spoken to reporter Jack Mayne about this a few times since then and I appreciate the fact that he has been willing to engage with me. We’ve had some good conversations.

But I kinda gotta stick with what I said: a City Council is a for realz beat, meaning that it’s a ton of work to report. You can’t actually cover City politics without understanding what’s going on ‘under the hood’. And that takes a lot more sustained effort than the WB can make. To get an idea of what it does take to do ‘real local journalism’, check out the Seattle City Council Insight blog. That guy is either a Saint or somewhat deranged for all the work he must put into that thing–which means you should read it. He gets City politics way better than anyone else in the region.) So it’s a bit unfair of me to ask the WB to do something they aren’t equipped to do.

Why?

I write this thing to give the public some context. It’s my take on what’s going on ‘under the hood’. The press releases that the City puts out are just that: press releases. They will always tell you how wonderful things are. They are not objective and  no one should expect them to be. And neither can any coverage by places like The Waterland Blog. Because they can’t give you the context.

And of course, the other reason I feel qualified to b ‘opinionated’ is because I am surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of pieces of recent DM history. Pieces on everything from water mains to police brutality to parades to you name it. (The more things change, right?) When I as doorbelling last summer it tickled me to talk to a resident who I had already read about from an article ten years ago. I already had at least one thing I knew we could talk about.

The thing I worry about now is this: with no news coverage, is history even occurring?

Master strategy?

I do not do this as part of some grand ‘strategy’. It’s a stupid amount of effort and if the object of politics is to maximise popularity, it’s even stupider. If I were not elected, I would likely still do this. But if someone else was doing ‘real journalism–investigative journalism like the SCC Insight Blog–I would not do this. But there’s not.

There have been attempts on Facebook and Twitter to create forums to discuss local politics, but they don’t work simply because the people doing the discussing don’t have enough background to even know what to talk about. So they tend to devolve into the typical national shit show in which I have almost no interest. For better or worse, I ended up being that one idiot who goes to every City Council meeting.

If there is some ‘master strategy’ it’s only this: I wanted everyone to have a place to refer back to for information on what happened during my time in office, along with one fairly informed devil’s advocate. If at some point  that makes it easier change hearts and minds of the existing Council (or to elect new people I support)? That means that my faith in ‘news’ has been rewarded and yeah for me. If it doesn’t? Oops! 😀

I wonder how much my colleagues would object to a blog like this if it were some independent guy writing. Is it because I’m on the Council? Or is it simply because I’m being ‘critical’ of the City and they don’t think that is a Councilmember’s role? I honestly don’t know.

I think it’s perfectly fine that the seven of us disagree on issues–in public. Because I don’t think it does any good to only disagree in private. Government should be a (mostly) public process. I just don’t think we’ve figured out a way to disagree in public in a respectful fashion like legislators higher up the food chain.

My suspicion is that this is because at least some of us don’t feel like ‘real’ legislators. I think some people view this gig as some sort of public service opportunity and feel like it is the administration that should lead and plan. But some of us are definitely real politicians–actually trying to wield power. Muwhahahahaha! (kidding.) That just means that some of us see our role as to be the ones doing the leading and the planning. I’m one of them. And that is because you voted for me and I see my job as being to try to make happen what you told me you want for the future of the City.

News and decision making

My positions on issues are conditioned a bit by all the City history I’ve been marinating in for the past four years. So when I talk about something controversial like ‘Paid Parking At The Marina’, I’m not just thinking about the fifty people who live near the Marina who felt strongly enough about it to write the City Council last month. (Good job, by the way.) I’m also thinking about all the hearings I went to and all the old newspapers I read where hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds) of people repeatedly said not just “no” but “Hell no!” to Paid Parking. Over and over and over for a solid decade. And that doesn’t include all the people I doorbelled last summer who also had strong opinions. They all deserve a place in my thinking on this issue.

Having access to history gives me a perspective that, sadly, most of you cannot access. At some point, I hope to have the full contents of all these old Highline Times, Des Moines News, Seattle PI and Seattle Times articles available for all residents to look at.

In spite of the Interwebs, we have far less public engagement now than we used to. Fewer people attend public meetings or volunteer for various committees and organizations. My hope is that providing more information–or at least an alternative POV, helps the community in some small way to engage more on the issues and events I don’t think get enough attention.

Whether you agree or disagree with that POV, if I can get a few more people to show up to meetings or challenge the City to do more in some way then this thing is doing its job.

The Loyal opposition

Even better would be if my colleagues and people in the government who dislike these Weekly Updates would see them (and all public critiques) as a healthy part of local government. Sure it’s great to get all positive reinforcement all the time, but that’s not how it works at the Federal, State or County levels. So why should things be any different here? People in those governments understand and accept routine criticism. My goal would be for everyone to understand that our government is no different in this way. We do some things well; other things not so well. And fair-minded criticism from a loyal opposition is nothing to get upset about.

*UPDATE 10-19-20 20:54 : I have redacted this person’s name at their request.

The Hat

Posted on Format ImageCategories Transparency

It’s just a hat. 🙂

OK, it’s not just a hat. It’s the Detroit Red Wings. The finest hockey team ever to lace up skates.

This is a screen cap from the video of one of my over fifty public comments at Des Moines City Council–and that was before I was elected. I absolutely love this piccie because although I don’t think of myself as being that guy, the truth is that I really was/am ‘that guy’–the annoying person who shows up at every meeting to rail against injustice and… whatever, right? 😀 Everyone who sees it goes, “Yeah, that’s you.”

But that’s not why you clicked here.

So… back in 1989 I was in my dream job, having a great time, when a steel beam fell down on me and broke my neck and back. I was left with 24/7/365 (cough) ‘issues’. And after many years I started to notice that I seemed to feel a bit better when wearing a hat. I asked my neurologist about this and she was like, “Well, duhhhh!” She treats lots of Iraq War Vets and she told me that wearing a hat is a common treatment for traumatic brain injuries.

Weekly Update: 10/11/2020

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Public Safety, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesTags , , 2 Comments on Weekly Update: 10/11/2020

PSA#1: We’re getting down to the wire! You really gotta sign up for the Census. DM is currently only at about 71% participation (Washington State is actually second best in the nation) BUT STILL NOT ENOUGH! 😀 We need every living body counted. Each person counted represents about $30,000 in State and Local funding!

PSA#2: You may have heard that there is an election coming. There will be a Candidate’s Forum October 14th. Write me if you need a Voter’s Pamphlet: I have extras! And if you don’t get your ballot?  please email elections@kingcounty.gov or give them a call at 206-296-VOTE (8683).

This Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Aviation Budget Meeting. I hope to hear that, after all the COVID-19 delays, the Commission will finally start funding Port Packages again as they promised last February.

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

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association meeting.

Last Week

Tuesday: I was not allowed to watch the Police Department Advisory Board, hosted by Chief Of Police Ken Thomas. Which was disappointing.

Wednesday: Lunch with me at the Senior Center. We draw Seniors from all of South King County so I always learn something.

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Council Transportation Board. I keep bringing up the PSRC because they are the most important agency you’ve never heard of. They decide little details like, oh… if say, a Third Runway gets built. 😀 They create a variety of broad regional planning goals like transportation, housing and economic development. They do this partly by being the funnel through which Federal funding passes. In other words, when the Federal government sends dollars to build roads or housing or businesses, they tend to get distributed through the PSRC. Unfortunately, the PSRC is organized in a fashion that allows larger cities and the Port to steamroll the interests of smaller cities. So the City Of Des Moines needs to be a lot more engaged here.

Thursday: Transportation Committee Meeting. If you haven’t been following, the City funds most of its street repairs from that $40 ‘car tab’ (ie. the Transportation Benefit District or ‘TBD’) which you voted to rescind last year (I-976). That issue is being argued in the courts now (because, hey, no law just goes into effect anymore, right? Everything gets appealed in the courts.) But until that’s resolved here’s two things you can count on: First, you’re gonna continue to pay into the fee–even though the City is not allowed to use that money. Second, the City’s entire road repair program is pretty much on hold. And if I-976 is upheld, we’ll need to take about $1 million from something else if we want our pot holes filled.

Transportation Benefit District TBD Page

Pavement Management program

Des Moines 2016 Pavement Analysis Report

Thursday: City Council General Meeting (Agenda, Video). See below.

City Council Meeting Recap

Official City Recap

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. If that isn’t the best opening line in a book ehvehhhhhr? On the one hand, last Thursday’s meeting was one of the least controversial I’ve attended; and at 43 minutes, it was definitely the shortest. Heck, I even had time to grab a snack and watch Judy Woodruff. 😀 There’s a downside to all that which made it perfect time to publish the third in my series Better City Council Meetings.

Consent Agenda

Street Sweepers: I asked to pull the item for renewing the Street Sweeper contract because I’ve heard from many neighbours over the years that it’s a bit crazy-making never knowing when they’ll show up. DPW Director Brandon Carver promised to ask the vendor if they could do that.

Comcast Renewal: This is one of those things that I voted for simply because I’m new and no one would care. But we just signed a ten year contract with an organization that is unbelievably disliked. I don’t know what we could do better, but I feel like we should try.

City Manager report on Airport stuff

The City Manager made two comments of note regarding the airport.

Letter to the PSRC

First, that he and the Mayor had written a letter to the Puget Sound Regional Council objecting to various aspects of their Regional Aviation Baseline Study.

OK, this is tricky, so please stick with me. The letter is fine, so far as it goes. However, it’s one of those ‘appearance of engagement’ deals. you will hear me go on about aaaaaaaaaaaall the time.

The appearance of engagement is when you do something that, to the uninformed public, looks like you’re showing concern, when in fact, it has almost no tangible effect whatsoever. The Port Of Seattle are the masters of this.

And letters like this can also be seen in that light because it creates the impression that the City is fighting the best possible fight. But that is far from the case. This is not to sound cynical–it’s important to raise the alarm that the PSRC’s (cough) ‘study’. That document is also a massive ‘appearance of engagement’. It tries so hard to sound concerned about the negative impacts of aviation, but in fact the PSRC study is totally biased against community interest.

So I appreciate the Mayor and City Manager doing this. However, we are literally years behind where we should be in dealing with the Sustained Airport Master Plan (SAMP). It’s important to recognize that the Port announced its plans to expand in 2012 and we’ve done very little of consequence to this point. So unless we change course strategically starting about yesterday, the expansion of Sea-Tac Airport is pretty much assured. In short, we shoulda been doing a lot more than writing letters  and that’s the main reason I ran for office.

Tina Orwall’s HEPA filter STUDY

On an unambiguously positive note, the City Of Des Moines (along with our sister-cities) have kicked in money recently for State Representative Tina Orwall‘s project to test schools to see about the efficacy of HEPA filters. As I’ve written before, proper air quality is not some new-agey deal. It has very real and immediate effects for school children and I am so glad we are backing this.

The next obvious step, which I hope the City will get behind in its 2021 Legislative Agenda, is for the State to install a comprehensive air quality monitoring system for the communities around Sea-Tac Airport. I feel like I need to mention this over and over but there is literally no air quality monitoring system anywhere near the airport. Various agencies will do a study of one particular toxin (like ultrafine particulates) every decade or so but that’s about it. This is ridiculous.

The 2021 Budget Presentation

2021 Preliminary Annual Budget

This was a new one. We had first Budget Presentation of 2021. There was just one detail missing. The Budget. Literally. The actual document showed up in my Inbox ten minutes after the meeting ended. So there was nothing to discuss–except how much we were encouraged to ask questions. OK, my first question is this: Why couldn’t you send us the PDF before the meeting? 😀

I guess this is a good time to say that the third in my series Better City Council Meetings is now on-line? 😀 I hope you’ll read it.

Five new police cars

We’re getting five new police cars. One immediately and four next year. And they need to be paid for now ahead of the Budget, in order to get them in a timely fashion. The only reason I’m mentioning it is because if you read my Better City Council Meetings #3, this is very similar to my problem with having a Budget Presentation without an actual Budget. Given the urgency and given the fact that this is being approved outside the normal budget process, look at the agenda and tell me what question is not on there:

Why do we need five new police cars?

There was nothing in the Agenda Packet that told me why I should vote to spend $350,000 on new vehicles–outside of the budget process.

Let me be clear: I have no problem paying for new vehicles if that’s what is needed. But in the hundreds of public meetings I’ve attended over the years, I have never been to any outside of Des Moines where a packet does not provide at least some justification for making an expenditure. If you run or work at a business, can you imagine a scenario where you made a written request for $350,000 without providing a reason?

Wait… remind me. Did I mention that the third in my series Better City Council Meetings is now on-line? 😀

Better City Council Meetings #3: Informality

Posted on Categories TransparencyTags

This is the third in a series of changes to our City Council Meetings I’d like to see. This particular change has to do with ‘relationships’ so it may well sound crankier than usual. It’s not meant to. Honest. 😀

But there is a thing that tends to happen with group meetings that is kinda insidious because it is extremely appealing to all the participants. And that is a break down in, for lack of a better word, ‘formality’.

Why our City Council is so informal

There are several aspects to this, but to explain ‘what’ I mean, I was thinking it might be easiest to first to talk about the ‘why’.

We very much like to think of ourselves as a small town, though we’re not. We’re actually among the larger cities in Washington and we’re subject to a whole set of State rules/regulations that puts us in the same category as Cities like Kent and Bellevue. (And I’m sure many of you read that last sentence and go, “Too many damned regulations!” I won’t argue with you there. I’m just telling you the reality we must deal with.) Since we’re not a small town, our decisions are often pretty complicated.

We also currently have what I refer to as  ‘Weak Council/Strong Manager’ system. It’s something I’ve mentioned before and it’s not a pejorative at all. Des Moines has a Council/Manager form of government (often referred to as ‘Weak Mayor’). Within that frame you can have a range of power balance between Manager and Council. In our case, we currently have a City Manager who does almost all policy formulation and de facto legislating. And that’s because the current Council likes it that way. As has been quoted to me by my colleagues many times, “We hire the expert and then we leave him alone to do his job.” But it’s worth nothing that in many other Cities the balance leans the other way. So it’s a choice made by the current majority, not ‘a law’. On the plus side a Strong Manager can yield a lot of efficiencies. On the other side, it can lead to all the issues one can imagine when one leaves a single person in charge of most decisions.

There’s also this sort of ‘world-weariness’ that everyone involved in government feels. For example, the Regional Aviation Baseline Study? I’ve heard that same frickin’ presentation like four times now: at Port Meetings, at StART Meetings, at PSRC Meetings, at the Highline Forum. I’m trying to imagine what it must be like for someone like our Mayor, who has 15-20 years of that sort of repetition. (It’s only been a few years for me and it’s already taken a toll on my personality. 😀 )  After a while, hearing the same stuff over and over will make even the most patient person want to take steps to ‘move things along!’ And I have no doubt that factors into why Des Moines City Council Meetings are the shortest in the region. There’s a  logic to wanting to skip the repetition, including conversations that one has already had with staff in private.  It comes from a good place, but it leads to bad outcomes because what is repetitious to the ‘insider’ is completely new to you the public.

Finally, there is the “we know better than you” syndrome that all experts and decision makers fall into. We’ve all been to a doctor who isn’t even listening to you while you complain about whatever. You’re sure that you’re being patronized because… news flash…. you are being patronized. The doctor sized up your condition twenty seconds after you walked in and now they’re just waiting for you to shut up so they can write the prescription and get you outta there. That’s how we all tend to roll when we’re experts at something (or have experts.) We all can get pretty bad at listening. After a while, we trust our own opinions and the judgments of the administration and tune out the voters and even our colleagues.

Symptoms

So you have this combination of a system where the administration is given a great deal of latitude, a resistance to ‘big town process’, and a natural desire to want to cut out all the boring stuff. Take it all together and that often leads to a number of features.

  • Almost no discussion on issues. Or when there is, it’s completely laudatory. When you have complete trust in the management, who needs a lot of back and forth?
  • Lack of preparation. Staff will not have presentations or important supporting facts available ahead of the meeting. This not only makes it tough to provide oversight at any given meeting, it’s especially harmful for issues that span multiple meetings (budgets, zoning) because it literally saws off weeks from the decision making process. When you say, “Oh don’t worry, we’ve got the next meeting to talk about this”, what you’re really saying is, “We only need one meeting to do this thing that the law says is supposed to take two meetings.”
  • The wall between the ‘board’ (or the electeds) and the ‘staff’ starts to fall away. The board defers too much to the staff, ignoring the ultimate deciderers ( the voters) because frankly, the public (and the electeds) are not usually as well-informed as the experts.

Why should I care about this?

At the local level, there’s a strong emphasis on ‘results’. The further up the ladder you go, the more abstract ‘government’ becomes. Frankly, most of us don’t expect all that much from the State or the Feds. But at the local level, we expect to get things done. Which can be a double-edged sword. One doesn’t like to use the term ‘Machiavellian’, but that’s often how we all tend to feel about local government. Most residents just want their streets to be safe or their garbage picked up and they’re just not all that concerned about ‘how’ that happens; just so long as it happens.

But you should care because sooner or later this sort of informality breeds a lack of transparency. And sooner or later,  that invariably leads to real problems; maybe not in the short run, but always in the long term. And usually after the current government has left the scene.

Why formality matters

  1. To paraphrase good ol’ Don Rumsfeld, there are always Unknown Unknowns. (Or was it Unknowable Unknowables, who knew what that guy was talking about, right? 😀 ) But the reason discussion matters so much is that when you talk to people in person, you almost always find out things you’d never learn in a document. It’s why we do multiple in-person Employee Interviews rather than just evaluate resumes. A lot of times, talking is how you get to the truth.
  2. Communicating with the public builds trust and that alone should be enough reason to take public engagement more seriously. But it isn’t, of course. We need prodding. So all the formalities work to encourage electeds to listen better.
  3. Process also slows things down in another helpful way. There is that tendency to blow through items because one is the ‘expert’. But every once in a while, all the procedural crap creates an opportunity to change hearts and minds.
  4. When things get too informal, it has the psychological effect of reducing the tough questions that electeds should be asking. It may seem wildly impolite to say that, but we all know it’s true. The fact is that the staff are the experts and they run things and that creates a constant pull towards the tail wagging the dog. The formality of process and decorum are the tools to reinforce that line. It is extremely tempting for electeds to respect staff opinions too much and not even listen to *other voices (like those pesky voters) or †even one another!  The bosses have to know their roles and the staff have to know theirs. That’s why I constantly stress that we are not a ‘small town’ because this task is much tougher to do in a ‘small town’. Why? Because it just seems so damned rude, right? What I’m writing sounds, why it sounds like I don’t trust my own staff, JC. Outrageous! That’s how touchy this issue gets. But again, anyone who has ever owned a business knows exactly what I’m talking about. Everyone gets along fine, but you maintain a certain professional distance so you can objectively manage the company.

What keeps all this stuff from going off the rails is the process and all that formality–in all its glorious boredom.

Real World Example

From the outside, the Budget process looks like a wonderful example of transparency. Under State law the Council has four bites at the apple to get information from staff and review and amend the Budget. But let’s see what’s happened so far in 2020.

    1. The first meeting (Budget Retreat) went on for four hours and then was ended without the Council asking any questions. OK, fine we had a follow-up meeting two weeks later. But having to delay those questions–and even having to argue in order to that follow-up meeting was bad. The reality is that this Meeting did not do as it was designed to do: give the Council the best opportunities at a once a year event to ask tough questions. It got flipped into being two less than optimal meetings rather than one good one. It created the appearance of engagement.
    2. The second bite (October 8th Budget Presentation) occured with no budget being presented. So no questioning was possible with the full Council. Which means that no amendments could be made. Individual Councilmembers can meet with staff to ask questions, but those meetings have no force of government.
    3. The third bite happens on October 22nd at the 1st Public Hearing. So now this is likely the single place where questions happen with the full Council.
    4. The 2nd public hearing in November is where the Budget is traditionally approved. But if you look at the Futures Report this suggests that it is the only place where amendments will be entertained. (Actually that’s kind of a misnomer–amendments could be added at any of the two previous meetings–well, if we’d had a Budget to amend that is. 😀 ) Plus, there are lots of other items on that Meeting Agenda.

What this means is that the questions before the full Council are consigned to a single Meeting and the  actual amendment process is likely confined to a single meeting. And with our super-tight procedural rules, that right there skews the process towards as few changes as possible. The process is strongly weighted towards accepting the Budget as presented by the City Manager. And this is completely in line with the philosophy of the current majority.

Now, if you think things are going great in Des Moines, you likely are rolling your eyes (What am I saying, if you think things are going great in Des Moines you aren’t even reading this.) But regardless, in my view, our current process is waaaaaaaaaaaay too informal. It basically makes the Budget process a rubber stamp affair. It creates the appearance of engagement. Technically, it crosses all the is and dots all the t’. 😀 But it adheres to the letter of the law rather than the spirit.

Because, hey, why wouldn’t you? We’re a small town.


*That happens to the public with the Port Of Seattle all the time. Someone will contradict a Port Staff member on a matter of fact and then it puts the Commissioners in the position of having to get the staff to move in a direction quite different from the one they’ve been happily moving for years and years. Awkward!

 

†That wall gets broken down frequently when a Councilmember like, oh for example, moi, will be openly criticized by our City Manager and my colleagues will pile on, literally saying, “I don’t know the facts but…” So the Council instinctively defers to the City Manager–even when it comes to a colleague, without asking a single question.

Weekly Update: 10/04/2020

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PSA: We’re getting down to the wire! You really gotta sign up for the Census. We’re getting down to the wire and DM is currently only at about 71% participation (Washington State is actually second best in the nation) BUT STILL NOT ENOUGH! 😀 We need every living body counted. Each person counted represents about $30,000 in State and Local funding!

This Week

Tuesday: Police Department Advisory Board, hosted by Chief Of Police Ken Thomas.

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

Wednesday: Puget Sound Regional Council Economic Development Committee.

Thursday: Transportation Meeting 3:00pm (Agenda) Please go here  if you wish to attend.

Thursday: City Council General Meeting (Agenda) Please go here  if you wish to attend.

Last Week

Thursday: Public Safety Committee meeting. The big discussion this time was about body cameras. Our City Manager has already added $140k for this to the 2021 budget so I guess that’s a done deal?

What’s Your Position On?

I do get questions from residents.

Body cameras

The interesting thing about that last Public Safety Committee Meeting was that there was 100% agreement, but almost no data. The position of the Police Guild is that, while they are not opposed to the idea in principle, they think that the money could be spent better elsewhere. And I agree. The Chief has said repeatedly that we get very few officer complaints, however offered no supporting data. And I think that was a mistake. Basic data regarding complaints should be constantly available and certainly when making a presentation on this issue. But, taking him at his word, I say again: we’re in the biggest budget shortfall in years, so why spend money now if there’s no problem? One comment from Councilmember Bangs was that “if we don’t spend this money for body cameras it may not be available for other public safety programs. It may just go away.” I would remind her that we the Council control the budget. Well, in theory, anyhoo. 😉

Redondo

To quote our Chief Of Police, “the best solution to crime is an engineered solution.” In other words, you want to organize traffic or buildings or whatever to avoid having to call the cops or have an ordinance. The best law enforcement is where no law enforcement is needed. And I agree.

However, there are some situations, and I’m starting to think Redondo is one of them, where there is nothing like a cop on the beat. This is where I’d like to spend that $140k–where there is a demonstrable problem that can clearly be solved with the presence of an officer. However, the Chief seems to be resistant to this notion. At his last Police Advisory Meeting, he made an interesting comment, “every interaction is a chance for something to go wrong.” Which I hope to ask him about because I think that if you ask most residents they want to see more police in their neighborhoods. I’ve done a bit of research and other law enforcement professionals express this sentiment.  The thing is, in places like Redondo, where there is no obvious ‘engineered’ answer to chronic speeding, loud cars, etc., having an officer on patrol (and writing tickets) may be the best solution.

Midway Sewer District

I’ve reached out to the Sewer District, as usual, mainly to learn how everything works and they seem pretty confident that it’s a one-off. OK, maybe this incident won’t happen again. However we’ve now had at least four water infrastructure problems just this year. My interest is in seeing if there are ways that all the players (Water Districts, Sewer Districts, City) need to be thinking long term.

Taken as a whole, Des Moines has an amazingly complex water system from wells like Water District #54 to the Marina, Redondo, Saltwater State Park, creeks, commercial shell-fishing. There are at least six agencies I can think of off the top of my head that govern various aspects of ‘water’ from your house out to Puget Sound. When people think of ‘complex bureaucracy’ water management is exactly what you’re thinking of.

I know people want something like those air quality ‘dashboards’ with a little water quality indicator color: Green good, Yellow caution, Red bad. Simple. But that is not how it currently works. (Actually, what you really want is to never have to think about ‘water’.) But in addition to all the ‘agencies’ we have an aging system–especially in areas like Lower Woodmont and increasing pressure to reduce pollutants. So my prediction is that we’re going to be talking about ‘water’ a lot more in the coming years.

G.R.O. business grant program

So, due to the nonsense at the last City Council Meeting I never got to ask questions about the program. I just want to reiterate that I am thrilled to support local business grants. In fact, I started pushing for this concept back in April in meetings with people from Rotary, Destination Des Moines, SCCOC and staff from the City Of Des Moines.

However, I have had questions of the process. I talk to lots and lots of businesses and I had several concerns:

1. Lack of awareness. Many businesses were unaware that the City even had a program. In fact, everyone at those initial SCCOC meetings agreed that ‘getting the word out’ would be one of the most challenging parts of any such program. I saw very little public marketing from the City and I wish there had been more.

2. Aside from basic awareness, there was also many psychological hurdles that you can’t really understand unless you’ve had a small business. Many business owners had an absolutely terrible experience with both the Federal and State grant programs earlier in the year. They were either subjected to a very confusing process, or delays or were outright denied.  Any number of business owners I spoke with literally had to be talked into applying for these grants. Again, after the bad experience with the Federal/State programs, a lot of people felt like, “Forget it. I’ll just try and muddle through.”

3. Accessibility. We have any number of business owners who have trouble with language issues or basic computer skills. One can argue that this is on them, but they are hard working and they provide products and services that many of us all benefit from. Without a certain amount of ‘hand holding’ (which their banker provided in the case of Federal programs) they found the process a struggle.

4. The fact that there were 26 applications and 26 acceptances strikes me as, at minimum, unusual. (Eg. how many employers do you know that accept 100% of their applicants?) I found it unnerving that the City did not publish the names or the dollar amounts. All I know is that we gave out $432k without a Council vote. I found it irresponsible that not a single one of my colleagues had any questions or concerns–which just seem like basic due diligence to me.

To deal with these concerns, all our sister cities utilized an independent firm to manage their grant program–as recommended by MRSC. Here is an example from Burien (which is now in round two of their program.) The idea was to have

Now, none of the above takes away from the benefit I’m sure the winners feel or the hard work of our City Staff. Again, no one is more thrilled than me to help local businesses. But ultimately, I work for you. It’s your money and I’m supposed to ask these kinds of questions.

Student Internet Access

I posted on Facebook an article in the Seattle Times about the uncertainty over how many students don’t have access to the Internet. We have a similar issue here. According to Highline Schools, there are close to a 1,000 students in Des Moines who may have poor or no Internet service. Other cities devoted a portion of their CARES Act money to helping them through the pandemic. We did not. The Mayor offered a token gesture to help twenty students which is only a drop in the bucket.

We have to offer a competitive education to every student in order to improve Des Moines. Quality of schools is number one on many people’s lists when choosing a place to live.  So even if you don’t have children in public school it is in your self-interest to help these students.

I want to remind the reader that we received $1.4 million in CARES Act funding. 100% of that money was spent by our City Manager and 0% was voted on by our City Council.

Education is such an important issue that there should have at least been an opportunity for discussion on that CARES funding from the dais. But even if I can’t convince you that education is your priority, I hope we can agree that the Council (as your representative) should’ve had the opportunity to weigh in on how that money was spent. It’s your money.

COVID-19

At our last Transportation Committee meeting I expressed my support for Roundabouts in Des Moines–to which the City Manager quipped, “Amazing, I am in agreement with Councilmember Harris!” To which I replied, “Hey, even a broken clock is right twice a day.” 😀

Although I doubt we’d currently agree as to who is the clock in that metaphor, I wanted to return the favor by applauding his recent policy statement on face coverings.

That letter shows that the City is continuing to be serious about the pandemic and I want to encourage all of you to do the same.

Let’s be honest: with each passing week I see fewer and fewer people using masks, doing the ‘six feet’ thing. It almost seems like the same game we all play at the airport with taking off our shoes.

I know we’re all sick of it and emotionally checked out, but it’s not going away. Not even close. Rates have risen sharply in the past few weeks and I’m begging y’all to take a breath and re-commit to good habits–before the cold weather.

Weekly Update: 09/29/2020

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Mea Culpa: Yeah, late again. But this time I have a really really good excuse, Ma! I’m working on this SeatacNoise.Info history thingee and… Oh, never mind. 🙂

Kudos: To our Communications Director Bonnie Wilkins for publishing her own Meeting Recaps which you can find on the City’s Facebook Page and the official web site. They’re not ‘Minutes’, more like the Agenda sheet with all the fluff stripped out. But they are definitely useful in summarizing the issues that were discussed and voted on–and which I don’t have time to get into here. Well done.

PSA: We’re getting down to the wire! You really gotta sign up for the Census. We’re getting down to the wire and DM is currently only at about 71% participation (Washington State is actually second best in the nation) BUT STILL NOT ENOUGH! 😀 We need every living body counted. Each person counted represents about $30,000 in State and Local funding!

This Week

Thursday: Public Safety Committee meetings. These are public meetings so sign up  to listen in and comment. I believe the big discussion this time will be about body cameras. Our City Manager has already added $140k for this to the 2021 budget so I guess that’s a done deal?

Last Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Regular Meeting and Audit Meetings (Agendas). What I’m watching and lobbying for is money specifically set aside for Port Package Updates.

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

Wednesday: Highline Forum. This is a bi-monthly meeting hosted by the Port Of Seattle. It is attended by electeds from the six airport communities, plus Highline Schools. It was started years ago in the aftermath of the Third Runway conflicts. Do I sound bored yet? 😀 The communities wish it would be more like an ongoing negotiation but it really isn’t. There’s usually some presentation re. noise, pollution, construction. It’s worth attending to get up to speed and to get an idea of which communities are engaged and which are not.

Wednesday: Puget Sound Regional Council Aviation Baseline Study Open House.

Thursday: Municipal Facilities Committee and Economic Development Committee meetings. There was a discussion regarding the G.R.O. business grant program as well as the five year Capital Improvement Projects budget.

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda)  (Video1, Video2) Much of the discussion centered around recaps of the MFP and ED committee presentations. As I wrote last week, the highlight (for me) will be the first reading of approving our first Comcast agreement in ten years. I was, frankly, surprised that there was no public comment on this–given how much grousing there is on social media regarding Comcast’s pricing and service.

Gaslight

When people ask me about Des Moines politics I often refer to a truly great movie from 1944, Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman. It’s the story of a woman who witnesses a terrible crime and as a result gradually starts thinking she is going insane. The twist is that it’s her husband and his friends who are actually working to convince her (and everyone around her) that she’s nuts in order to cover up the fact that he is the criminal. The expression ‘gaslighting’ comes this movie/play–the tactic of trying to explain away bad behaviour by convincing people that it is the accusers who are batty.

 

At our last City Council Meeting I was once again attacked (Video go to 36:00)–this time by our City Manager and then scolded by my Councilmembers for having done whatever. Of course, as before, they have no facts or evidence or even a specific ‘charge’. They just believed the City Manager’s spiel and decided it was good idea to pile on because if one is doing anything he dislikes, hey, it’s time to get the cuffs, ossifer.

You and me both have grown weary of these cases of funny business. At the risk of sounding blasphemous, at night, I occasionally ask Jesus to bring some real investigative journalism to Des Moines. Until then, I’ll do what I’ve done before: document what happened and publish the results next week. For now…

Business Grants

This case revolves around my desire to help local businesses participate in the City’s G.R.O. business grant program . You would think that wanting to increase participation would be welcomed by our City, but apparently not.

What is frustrating for me is how ‘black box’ the program has been. According to the presentation there are 26 businesses to be assisted (which is great) for a total of $432,000. However some of them will receive more than they requested (which does raise an eyebrow.) We know Richard Shockley from the Highline College Small Business Development Center. But we have not been given the business’ names or the methodology used to evaluate their applications. And I find that a bit unusual.

And apparently, other Cities agree. Because the common practice, and what MRSC recommends, is that Cities outsource these sorts of programs to an external agency (like a Chamber Of Commerce or other group with specific expertise) so that there can be no question of outreach or bias or equity.

On the other hand

Now 26 businesses get $432,000 sounds pretty sweet. But on the other hand, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of businesses operating in Des Moines. Yes, many of them do not qualify for grants for various obvious reasons, but still:  twenty six ain’t exactly ‘huge’ given the number of operating establishments. And then there’s this: there was 100% acceptance. Literally everyone who applied got a grant. Those were the only Des Moines businesses with genuine needs?

So forgive me if I ask at least a few questions regarding how our program was set up. I’m not being vindictive. I just want all the facts, before I render judgment.

*The City Of Des Moines was given $1.4 million dollars in Federal CARES Act money. Our City Manager spent it, all on his own, without a single vote or input from our City Council. And the rest of the Council had no problem with that. In fact, as the City Manager has talked about this spending there has not been a single objection or even question about it–only applause, which I find kinda nuts.

What is wrong with you?

But if one asks reasonable questions about the program design, the response is, “So you’re against business grants? You’re against money for the Food Bank? You’re against money to prevent lay-offs?” What are you, nuts? 😀

No. I’m not nuts. I’m trying to look out for your money. It’s your tax money. Whether or not twenty six businesses got much needed money is not the whole story. What really matters is that one person ultimately decided how to spend every dollar of that money. And that ain’t how public spending is supposed to work. How it’s supposed to work is that we, the Council, put forward proposals which represent what we think you want and best represents your interests.

Boys Town

I’ll just close by pointing out one bust out lie from the dais which I’ve heard over and over. One doesn’t usually like to use the ‘L’ word, but I admit I’ve kinda lost patience with this one thing.

It’s the plaint, “We’ve reached out to JC many times and tried to guide him….” Aside from the fact that this isn’t Boys Town and I’m not some wayward youth to be put back on the straight and narrow by Father Flanagan, this is simply untrue.

I want to make it clear that almost 100% of the ‘reaching out’ that has happened since my election has been me reaching out to my colleagues. Every Councilmember knows that I have tried to reach out to them–not just in Des Moines, but regionally. Councilmembers across all of Puget Sound know that I really value a collaborative approach. But in fact, the only members of the Council who have actually initiated contact with me since November have been Traci Buxton and Luisa Bangs–which I welcomed. But they weren’t exactly “Let’s all work together!” kinda deals. There were never any sincere, high-minded discussions like that. If I had a dime for all the number of un-returned emails and phone calls… I’d have a lot of dimes. 🙂  In fact, I’ve had DM Councilmembers make appointments with me and simply not show up. Not just once, but many times. What is this, Tinder for local government? 😀

So with regard to this latest attack (or any prior issues), you might think that my colleagues would at least, Oh I dunno, try to talk to me about the issue before sounding off. But you’d be wrong. They simply took the City Manager’s bogus narrative at face value. In short, it’s just more of the same ‘7-0’ deal I campaigned against.

And the reason you should care about it, apart from my delicate ‘feelings’ or whatever, is that, remember, the City Council is the oversight of government. We like to think of local government as not subject to the same pettiness and partisanship as the State or Federal levels, but that was and is simply not true.

One way to tell…

See, you the public can’t know directly what’s what because you don’t get to see the ‘inside baseball’. But I’ll just leave you with this:

If you think back to the Mayor and Deputy Mayor’s made up attacks back in April there is a recurring theme of making accusations that are not only vague but serve no civic purpose. They’re not about an ordinance or action that can be taken. They’re simply an attempt at public embarrassment, dressed up to sound authoritative, when in truth they are empty words–merely an expression of personal annoyance. In short, a waste of the Council’s time. It’s bad enough when politicians do it. But an administrator who is paid really well to stay above the fray should never go there.

Man, I hate sounding so ‘cranky’. Because that just plays into the narrative I’ve heard over and over since the night I made my first public comment at a Des Moines City Council Meeting. But that was always just the gaslighting playbook: Don’t pay attention to what is actually being said. Just be charming. And label all those inconvenient facts (and people) as ‘cranky’.

*As one example of alternative spending. According to Highline Schools, there are close to a 1,000 students in Des Moines who may have poor or no Internet service. Other cities devoted a portion of their CARES Act money to helping them through the pandemic. We did not. But education is such an important issue that there should have at least been an opportunity for discussion from the dais. That’s the problem with a pre-decided system: it sounds great until you start to think about the options that were not thought of.

Weekly Update: 08/30/2020

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PSA #1: Now that the Federal Way light rail construction is really beginning in earnest, you may want to sign up for email updates from Sound Transit. There will be many road closures over the next year or so.

PSA #2: Dude: you really gotta sign up for the Census. We’re getting down to the wire and DM is currently only at about 71% participation. NOT ENOUGH! We need every living body counted. Each person counted represents about $30,000 in State and Local funding!

PSA #3: If you have a business in Des Moines, you should fill out a G.R.O. application, the City’s new business grant program. The deadline for applications is September 14th!

This Week

Nothing. I got nothing. OK, nothing I can tell you about. 😀 But you can always tell me something. Give me a call (206) 878-0578 or let’s schedule a socially-distanced meeting. I promise: it’s always on the down-low.

(Well, unless you’re actually looking for advertising for an event.  In which case, hell yeah, I wanna tell everyone about it! 😀 )

Last Week

Monday: Helped out local businesses fill out those G.R.O. applications 🙂 If you would like assistance–especially if you need a translator, please give me a call (206) 878-0578.

Monday: An MRSC Seminar on best practice use of CARES Act funds.

Tuesday: A seminar on how to bring electrification (cars, solar) to Cities. I was pleased to note that several residents attended this. Sea-Tac Airport is aggressively working to provide charging stations. And I really want to see Des Moines start providing a few charging stations.

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

Wednesday: Sea-Tac Airport Roundtable (StART) Meeting. This wase Des Moines’ first meeting since we left along with Burien and Federal Way last year. One thing I’m working on is holding the Port to account on their noise monitor system (a system of 24 gizmos placed throughout our area which count the flights and their noise levels.) It’s been malfunctioning for years (literally not registering flights over head or understating the noise.) I want the Port to fix it and start auditing the system routinely. More on that in a few weeks.

Thursday: Organizing the U.S. Census! Hopefully, we’ll be having at least two more mobile census taker events next week in Redondo, Midway or the Farmer’s Market. We’ll see. We need to sign up everybody!

Advisory Committees

This was supposed to be the second part of my discussion on some of the other parts of City government that you can get involved with. Unfortunately, it went almost (but not entirely) off the rails.

Last time I talked about this, I covered the basics of Councilmember Committees. This current article supposed to be about Advisory Committees–groups that you should (theoretically) be able to directly participate in. Some of these are resident-only and some are a mix of Councilmembers and residents. They all (again, theoretically) work with the Council to help suggest legislation, solve problems, save the world, etc.

These Advisory Committees are super important to me and I want to do whatever I can to encourage you to participate. The City needs you. I need you. I’ve wanted to tell you that for a long time. But, there was always something holding me back.

But before we carry on with this Harlequin Romance, careful readers may notice more than the usual (cough) ‘critique’ of our City’s policies regarding Advisory Committees in general and our City’s web site in particular. Look, this is only because, well, there’s just no other way to say it: they both kinda suck.

And that’s where things went awry. I really wanted to suggest ways for y’all to participate more in local government. But frankly, there are soooo many frickin’ challenges right now to your being able to do that. So this ended up being more a list of things that need to be fixed before you can volunteer. So that’s what this article morphed into: what we need to do to give everyone that wants to participate, the ability to do so.

Because I know that many of you want to help. I just don’t want you to start making phone calls or going to the web site and getting immediately frustrated. We really do need you. But right now there’s a bit more to it than just signing up and showing up.

The choices

To begin with, there is this web page which lists volunteering opportunities:

https://www.desmoineswa.gov/398/Volunteering-in-Des-Moines . Here’s a print version.

And then there is this slightly different web page which lists Citizen Advisory Boards:

https://www.desmoineswa.gov/94/Citizen-Advisory-Boards

Now the reason I mentioned the volunteering opportunities page along with the Advisory Boards page is that the two are kinda muddled together. And oddly enough, the only group that always has enough volunteers isn’t even on the Citizen Advisory Board page.

Now choose something else.

And that most popular of all groups is the Police Advisory Group. Which is because so many of you care about public safety (me too.) But that’s kinda the problem: we’re all aware of the same issues as yourself and we’re all hot under the collar about ’em.

So look, if you really want to help Des Moines, we need you at those other groups. We need your time and talents  where there is the most need.

That said, I would definitely suggest that you show up for Police Advisory meetings and take their classes. But again, that group doesn’t need more participants–at least not anywhere near to the degree that other groups do.

The City needs volunteers waaaaay more across a whole range of other groups and the reality is that if you make those other groups, you’re helping public safety because it all fits together.

Then what?

Well, the good news is that there are a ton of options. We seem to have a lot of Advisory Committees. Fantastic! Now here’s the bad news: many of them don’t actually function so well. In fact, many of them haven’t met for ages. A few do meet, but are chronically under-populated. So unless you played Right Field or Left Tackle in high school (you know, one of those people with zero ego, just happy to pitch in wherever you’re needed) your first job may be to actually revive the group. Which is a totally great thing and I want to help get us there.

For example, I have no idea when the last Citizens Advisory Committee met. But if I look at the map I see lots of open spots in various neighborhoods.

The Aviation Advisory Committee? I think everybody quit. Not quite sure. 😀

Senior Citizen Advisory Committee? They recently met. Not sure how well things are going.

I think you get my point: Not all the groups on that list are dead. They’re only mostly dead.

And then there are the other organizations

And then there is a whole range of non-government organizations which we’ll get into in another article and which also really need your help. For example, the Des Moines Historical Society isn’t even on here and trust me: If there was one organization that could really do something to help market and brand the City Of Des Moines (in addition to their mission to preserve and educate) it would be the DMHS. Why we don’t do more to support their efforts is absolutely beyond me.

Bringing back the band

Basically, a lot of these Advisory Committees just need a few more people to get involved. If you step forward, you can have an immediate impact on the City simply because no one else is doing that thing. You just need the initiative to organize a bit. Don’t worry about the ‘how’. There are lots of people who will come forward to help if you take the first step. Really. It happens whenever anyone decides to take on something worthwhile in Des Moines and it’s one of the best things about our town. 🙂 And by all means do not be dismayed if the City kinda blows you off. Again, you will probably have to move forward and then get the City on board later. I know that sounds weird, but just trust me on that.

Start your own band.

And spaking of working on yer own. Keep in mind: there is also nothing in the rules that says you can’t start your own band… er… Advisory Committee. In fact, there are several groups that really should exist right now.

For example: the (not dead, only mostly dead 😀 ) Citizens Advisory Committee doesn’t seem to have a Redondo representative. Well, why not start a new Redondo Citizens Advisory Committee. Certainly there are enough people upset about ongoing issues of public safety, traffic, parking, noise, the pier, etc. If you want ongoing attention from the City, that’s the way forward: create the group and make an opportunity to report to the Council on a regular basis.

How?

If you’re concerned about how to create a new group (or revive an existing group), actually the mechanics are pretty simple: Get three Councilmembers to agree to put the idea to a full vote of the Council. I’m pretty sure you can get three of us on board with that idea.

Whether you’re trying to revive an existing group or start a new one, you may be concerned that you don’t know how to organize meetings. Not to worry. The toughest challenge is ordering a gavel on-line. 😀 Seriously, the City will help you with all that parliamentarian jazz. If you can demonstrate that you have the bodies to create such a group? The City should back you. And again, you will find lots of residents who want to help you succeed.

An organized Advisory Committee is not only a more effective way to affect policy, it’s also more efficient. Honestly, you can spend hours every month grousing about a particular situation or you can organize a Committee and get it all done in one place–a place where you are guaranteed a periodic audience with the City Council.

It’s not me. It’s you.

Part of the problem is something I’ve mentioned before (and will again, darn tootin’!) There is a dearth of volunteerism in Des Moines. Year after year, you have the same twenty or thirty people involved in everything. (And that includes politics, of course.) I have rather unkindly referred to it as ‘incest’ but that’s kinda what it is. When you always have the same people involved all over the place decade after decade, eventually, it ends up hurting the City. You need fresh blood all the time to keep a City healthy.

Now don’t get me wrong, I salute long-time activists and volunteers for their tireless efforts. But we also need to recognize just how essential it is to be constantly recruiting new people. It doesn’t happen by itself–especially these days when everyone is so busy.

OK, boomer

The median age in Des Moines is now under forty. And yet, the average age of voters is almost sixty. Which means that the average age of people who volunteer is also in that AARP zone. This state of affairs not only makes these Committees hard to populate, it’s also undemocratic. You often have groups that do not look like our residents (using whatever metric you choose.)

Volunteerism used to be the norm for many homeowners. But many people now focus their efforts on other ‘stuff’. However the model of a bedroom community like Des Moines still runs on volunteers–especially these Citizen Advisory Committees.

Bait and switch

OK, so this article was a bit of a bait and switch: I started out telling you how you could volunteer for all these groups. Then I let the cat out of the bag that a lot of these groups don’t currently work all that well. And then I even went so far as to tell you that you might need to start your own group. What a buzzkill!

But look, these are important groups that have needed attention for a good while. One of the biggest issues that came up over and over when I ran was that the City wasn’t doing enough listening and outreach. Improving these Advisory Groups is the way to get more attention.

Why are you always picking on the web site?

At the beginning of this article I said that the web site and the Advisory Group problems were linked. They are, but I’m not a good enough writer to artfully weave the two together. So I’m jamming this bit onto the end. 😀

Part of my obsession with ‘the web site’ is because I worked in that field for so many years, specifically in providing Customer Service programs. I cannot stand poor customer service.

An organization’s web site tells customers (that would be you) a lot about how much it wants to help you. If it’s easy to use, if it provides straightforward ways for you to get information and services, that says that they value you enough to want you to know what’s going on and what to do.

A poor web site means that they expect you to ‘do some digging’ to find what you want or to take advantage of an offer. It means that they really don’t care if you find something. In fact, it often means they don’t want you to find things.

As I said in my article on Committees, you need a geiger counter to find out how to attend Committee meetings. And the same goes for these Advisory Committees. By not keeping this information current and easy to find, the City is telling you, straight up, we do not value these groups.

Over the years, I’ve heard the same excuses over and over. “We’re too busy doing ‘important’ stuff.” Which only further proves my contention that keeping the public informed and doing outreach is not a big priority for the current administration. That’s a terrible message, but before we can change it, we have to get the City to see that it is a problem.

Summary

This is a cultural thing that I’ve been going on about in most of these articles: The City government has been far too closed in for far too long. You’ve got a very small number of people, both electeds, Administrative and a very small group of involved residents who kinda ‘do’ everything–without nearly enough participation from the wider public.

Traditionally, Des Moines has benefited greatly from groups like our Citizen Advisory Committee, but most of these have withered.

We need residents–people like you, to step up and reinvigorate our Citizen Advisory Committees–and perhaps create some new ones which better reflect the current state of the City.

One thing is for sure: Power abhors a vacuum. If you don’t help make decisions in Des Moines, someone else surely will. And probably the same person who’s been doing it for the past decade. 😀

Coda: The obligatory disclaimer

Look, I don’t wanna dunk of the City here too much.(Too late? 😀 ) I talked a lot here about values. You can tell what any organization values not by what they say but by what they do. There are a ton of things the City does which are best in class. Clearly, we have staff who know how to do great things. And those are the things that the City actually values.

For me communication and engagement are just as important values as any other City function. We just need to elevate those values to the same level as the current tasks the City do so well.