Weekly Update: 03/09/2020

Posted on Categories Airport, Policy, Transparency, Weekly Updates

This Week

It’s now all-Corona all-the-time. A lot of the City government is shut down or curtailed now (including the court.) Our City is taking COVID-19 very seriously (as I hope you are) and you can check here for good info from King County on the current status of the situation.

Well, the Port Of Seattle trip all us airport-community electeds had scheduled for Washington D.C. got cancelled (thanks a lot corona virus!) So my dance card is pretty clear this week! Some of my peers in Burien and SeaTac are already there as part of a National League Of Cities convention so they may still be able to have meetings with the FAA, Senator Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Rick Larsen that I had planned. (Des Moines is no longer a member of NLC :(.) The good news is that I can honestly say that there is at least one elected now in each of these cities who is strong on airport issues. So I’m confident that they will advocate strongly in my stead to get Federal funding for HB2315 and HB1847 as well as help in the upcoming SAMP process at Sea-Tac Airport. Hopefully, we can re-schedule the Port trip soon!

Thursday is the next City Council meeting (Agenda). Although the Agenda says that no public comment will be taken, actually public comment will be taken on the ‘code clean-up’ item. If you can, please examine pg. 87 of the packet carefully. Some of those ‘clean-up’ items are quite significant in my opinion and I will be asking questions. More below.

City Manager Michael Matthias will als0 be reporting on his meeting in January on the fate of the StART. More below.

Last Week

Monday I met with electeds from SeaTac, Burien and Tukwila on that ill-fated (get it? 😀 ) trip to D.C. As I wrote above, I’m feel pretty good that we have a few people now on the various city councils who are truly engaged and that is what we’ve needed all along: better electeds.

Thursday I met with the Beacon Hill Quieter Skies Coalition. They get a lot of the same impacts from Sea-Tac Airport that we do and they have some great organizers that can help us get more of our residents engaged.

Saturday morning, the City Of Des Moines employees who completed their  Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training. Unfortunately, all us city council people were ordered not to show up. In fact, a lot of the City government is shut down or curtailed now (including the court.) Our City is taking COVID-19 very seriously (as I hope you are) and you can check the City web site for good info on the current status of the situation.

Also, on Friday and Saturday, both HB2315 and HB1847 passed in the Legislature and are on their way to the Governor’s desk. Kudos to Rep. Tina Orwall and especially to Rep. Mike Pellicciotti for their great work.

Keep It Short

There is a lot of ‘inside baseball’ to any City government–and Des Moines more than most. Part of my writing these Updates is to give the public a sense of that. It’s also a chance for electeds from other cities and activists to gain an understanding of how we differ from other cities. I’m just a ‘noob’ Councilmember here, but I have the somewhat bizarre distinction of being the only person who actually attends council meetings all over the area and I ‘compare and contrast’ a lot. There are more interesting hobbies of course–like this guy.

One detail: Des Moines City Council Meetings tend to be the shortest in the area. Even on nights where there’s, like a Boy Scout presentation or some other long ceremonial deal, meetings are often a mere ninety minutes–half the length of most other Cities. And this is quite intentional. Our current majority has worked to change procedures over the years to make it so. Now don’t get me wrong: no one wants to get home in time for Deep Space Nine any more than me.  But when meetings move along this fast, things can slip by.

What I told the applicants for the recent Council appointment was this: Look at the Consent Agendas. The Consent Agenda (CA) is the long list of items at the beginning of the Agenda which are voted on as one with no discussion. The idea is that they are considered to be routine and completely obvious items and thus require no debate. Typical items will be payroll checks and other payments to vendors.  Often, our CA will have ten or more items, and fiscal impacts of as much as two million dollars. I often cringe at this. In my gut, it feels like we should not just rush through a list of items that long and that expensive.

Similarly the public hearing on ‘code clean-up’ is considered to be merely routine items. But a public hearing is required on any code changes like this for a reason. And if you dig into the code to be ‘cleaned up’ this time, you’ll see several tweaks to zoning that I don’t find routine at all.

The idea of running an efficient meeting is understandable. But here’s the thing: I do not want the meetings to go so fast. I want to ask questions even if they’re obvious questions. Because on many of these items, the City Council meeting is the only chance the public will ever get to hear about a particular issue.

There is an inherent tension in our Council/Manager form of government which I’ll point out again and again, because it matters and because the overwhelming majority of the public does not understand. The government does not work for the City Council. It works for the City Manager. And under our current rules, the Council has exactly zero authority over the City Manager outside of the official meetings. Those meetings are technically the only places to hold the government to account.

Now because of this arrangement, the tension is that whenever one questions the government, the Staff can get defensive–as in, “Are you questioning the way I do my job?” And the answer, of course, is: yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing. 😀 That’s the price of having a government job: you have to be willing to submit to questioning. It’s not questioning one’s competence or integrity. It’s just… asking questions. Again: away from the dais, the Staff is under no obligation to answer questions from Council. The moment we step off the dais, we have actually less authority than a resident with Staff. So it’s up to Councilmembers to make the most of their time on the dais. That’s the one time we have any ‘power’.

Unfortunately, questioning takes time. And that’s why meetings sometimes should be longer in my opinion. Because again, if we don’t use that time on the dais to inquire, we lose our chance at accountability.

So in general, I prefer fewer items on the CA and fewer items considered ‘routine’. I tend to want more discussion and more inquiry. But that’s just me. Other current Councilmembers do not have as many questions and do have families they want to get home to. Their position is that the City Manager and the Staff are doing a great job and unless there is something super-obvious that requires immediate attention, we should let them get on with it and not waste time with a lot of pointless questions at Council meetings.

Again: there’s the tension.

Weekly Update: 03/02/2020

Posted on Categories Airport, Policy, Transparency, Weekly Updates

This Week

Monday I’ll be meeting with everyone heading to Washington D.C. on March 12th to lobby for various pieces of airport-related legislation (including Adam Smith’s recent bill.)

Tuesday it’s back to Olympia for (hopefully) the last Stakeholders Meeting to finalize language for HB2315 (Port Package Updates).

Thursday I’ll be meeting with leaders of the Beacon Hill Quieter Skies Coalition (see ‘Last Week’ below) to gather their requests I can pass onto various bigwigs in D.C. 😀

Saturday morning I’ll be at the Beach Park to say thanks to the recent City Of Des Moines employees who are completing their  Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training.

Sunday I’ll be at Marine View Espresso from 10:00-11:00AM to talk with residents. Come on over and let’s talk!

Last Week

Tuesday was a very important Port Of Seattle Meeting–especially if you have a Port Package. The Port did indeed decide to scale up their Noise Program big time, not just to address HB2315 but to finally get done all the residences that they’ve slow walked for so long. This is potentially huge as they are committing to do the work before getting Federal money and they are asking the airlines to chip in.

Wednesday, I gave a talk on the status of various airport issues at the Rotary Club at Anthony’s.

Wednesday night I attended the Burien Airport Committee (BAC) at their Community Center (the old Library on Sixth). The BAC has been doing great things over the past few years and I highly recommend that you attend if you want to get a sense of how local communities are working on these issues.

Thursday I attended a Puget Sound Clean Air Agency meeting in Seattle. I was there to lobby for something pretty basic: a pollution monitor. One thing almost no one realizes is that there are currently no air quality monitors anywhere near Sea-Tac Airport. This is something we should be fighting for because as I keep saying, “If there’s no data, the government thinks the problem doesn’t exist.”

Thursday was our City Council Meeting (Agenda, Video ).  The Mayor did not discuss committee assignments, however I did receive an e-mail with that info. More below. The highlight was a presentation on the construction of the new Link Light Rail Station near 240th and Pac Highway. I expressed my serious concerns about the parking (or rather lack thereof.) The parking garage is set for only 500 spaces–less than half of Angle Lake (which is seriously under-capacity.) The fact is that there is almost no chance of increasing that. But I am angry. I know there is a lot of controversy over parking capacity. Planners in Seattle like to provide as little parking as possible, but my feeling is that people here need as many spaces as possible–otherwise we simply won’t utilize transit as much as we should. If it ain’t convenient? People won’t do it.

Friday I talked with our King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove. We did indeed talk about air quality monitors–and he allowed me to vent about parking at the Light Rail. One of my long-term goals is to have several of those Commuter Shuttles like we currently have on 216th.

Saturday morning, I missed the Hillgrove Cemetery clean up (sorry, Pete). If you’re interested in helping out with this essential piece of Des Moines history, please contact Pete Loke on Facebook. Instead, I was at Beacon Hill Centro De La Raza with Normandy Park Councilmember Earnest Thompson to see a presentation by Dr. Edmund Seto of the MOV-UP Study on the airport impacts they experience from Sea-Tac Airport (we tend to forget that people to the North also get slammed.) Yo

The Beacon Hill community has done a fantastic job of community organizing and the room was packed with residents who are interested in finding ways to fight back.  Bonus: they provided an amazing lunch. (Pro community organizer tip–home-made tamales are how you get people to show up! 😀 )

Seniority and Committees

So, it looks like I’ll be on the Environment and Transportation Committees. These are choices I definitely wanted (thank you, Mayor Pina!) as they are the committees directly connected with airport and water quality–issues that I consider to be intrinsic to the future of Des Moines. The only major disappointment was not being assigned to the Seniors & Human Services Committee. Seniors supported me big time during my campaign and I want to keep my promise to advocate for them. My hope is to attend as many of those committee meetings as well and compla… er… ‘contribute’ as much as possible. 😀

FYI: As you might guess, almost everyone wants to be on the Economic Development Committee, but when one joins the Council one is told that it just ain’t happening for us noobs.

Now when I said ‘Thank you, Mayor Pina!’ I was being totally sincere; I am grateful. However, that is another one of those ‘traditional roles’ that the Mayoralty has assumed in Des Moines that is not necessarily the case in other Cities. Currently there is kind of a ‘seniority system’ on City Council. Now it makes sense to assign a particular Councilmember to a position–for example in situations where a specific technical expertise is required. But for a lot of positions the only real requirement is  a strong commitment to the subject. However, I’ve heard various Councilmembers over the years describe feeling not really ‘full members’ until they had been on Council for a couple of years. That strikes me as wrong.

Another issue with our system is that it encourages politicking between Councilmembers to become Mayor or obtain other high-status privilege (like committee assignments.) So you have jockeying for position even after the election, rather than focusing on helping residents.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not just singling out Des Moines or our current Mayor. This has been going on in lots of cities (including Des Moines) for a looong time and it’s kinda become normative in the same way that ‘seniority’ has become so much a part of State and Federal politics. It’s not built into the law, it’s just become tradition. A lot of times, noobs will rail against the practices, but then become a lot more enthusiastic once they obtain seniority. That’s human nature, of course.

Assuming I’m around for a while, I hope to change this. In my opinion, the moment one is sworn in, every Councilmember should have an equal voice. Suggested changes? I’ve already talked about a few–basically reducing the current power of the position of Mayor back to the defaults under State law for our ‘weak mayor’ form of government. Another suggestion I’ve seen successfully implemented in other cities is to rotate the office every two years. That alone would help to focus every Councilmember’s attention on the group as a whole, rather than doing politics inside the Council.

It’s about the policy, not the person

Posted on Categories 2019 Campaigning, Transparency

When I ran for City Council, I ran for policies, not against a person. I could have run against any of the three incumbents and had similar results. Because the public is ready for change. Last Thursday’s reappointment was also not about the person, it was about policy. The current majority did not want change and this was a unique opportunity for them to hit the undo key on the last election. Simple as that.

I have heard over and over how the process of the appointment was flawed. I have heard over and over how the process of the City Manager’s raise was bad. I have heard over and over how the Mayor’s comments from the dais have been damaging.

If you agree with the above statements, you cannot support Ms. Bangs reappointment. Because those are also her policies. She said so, both during her campaign and during the appointment process. She is the current majority–and that is why they wanted her back. To hit the undo key. They too were not voting for a person, they were voting for policy.

The Choice

If you voted for Ms. Bangs in November, or supported her reappointment last Thursday, you are saying that you support the direction of current management and that you see none of the problems I just mentioned.

If you voted for me (I hope) you were saying, that you want better process, more transparency and more accountability than you’ve seen in the past six weeks (or the past four years.) You were saying that you want different policy.

So what I’m saying is simple:  You cannot support both of us ( ‘the best of both worlds’) because our policies are incompatible. You can’t both change and remain the same.

The Story: There Can Be Only One

To explain their decision, the current majority said that that they are now doing everything better than it’s ever been done before (literally, that is exactly what they said from the dais.) They told a story of the City being like a patient recovering from a long-term illness and that without exactly this ‘team’ in place, the City would relapse and perhaps never recover. (that is also a quote). Therefore, it would be irresponsible to risk any ‘instability’ by trying anyone new.

And the politician who just lost an election and then began lobbying for re-appointment even before leaving office must also feel that she is indispensable.

To feel so special must be a wonderful thing. But I find this point of view not just wrong, but unbelievably arrogant. Obviously, Ms. Bangs is ‘qualified’ for the position. That’s not the point. Does her on-the-job experience outweigh all other considerations? No organization depends on any single person for success. And despite the financial turn-around in 2016, the majority of people in Des Moines do not see things nearly as rosy as this majority obviously does.

The Choices

There were several excellent candidates for the appointment, which after all, is meant to be temporary; a worthy placeholder until the next election–that’s what the statute says.

I nominated Mr. Maleke because he has skills (he was the only applicant who actually works in City government and knows the ins and outs), he represents diversity, and because he represents the south end of town which so many of the public said they wanted. He ticked all the boxes that the public and my peers said mattered to them.

What he did not represent was huge ambition to use the appointment as a springboard towards election in 2021. I found this very refreshing because I want the public to start with a clean slate in 2021. Over the decades, we’ve had waaaaaaaaaaaay too many un-competitive elections as it is.

However, I am confident that all the applicants I met with would make excellent candidates in 2021 and I urge you all to start campaigning today. I would be thrilled to share the dais with any of you!

Bad Communication

Once again the Council and Ms. Bangs have been incredibly tone-deaf towards the public.  Despite all the very high quality options, they both insisted on the only choice guaranteed to divide the community.  This just demonstrates a long-standing problem with Des Moines government: bad communication. Our government has routinely ignored the public’s feelings on big decisions. We (I’m now a part of that) come across like condescending parents, either not explaining decisions or being scolds: “You’ll thank us later!” By rejoining the majority, our newest council member has only continued that bad policy.

As I keep saying, it’s not about the person, it’s about the policy. If you want different policy? You must support new people. And I urge you to begin doing so. 2021 is not that far off.

My preferred Council Appointment process

Posted on Categories Transparency

Digging back into the cobwebs of history, I have researched several other appointment processes (we’ve had five in the past 25 years.) And there seems to have been a system for having eight (8) applicants which worked well. I’ve decided that this is my preferred process, not just because it seems fair, but because it has actually be implemented so no one can accuse me of proposing something untried. As I stated here, I am not happy with the process as it stands on the current Agenda. That’s why I’m proposing the following alternative. If you agree, I hope you will let all the Council know your feelings as soon as possible : citycouncil@desmoineswa.gov

The Suggested Process

There was a first City Council Meeting with interviews of all eight candidates. This process took the majority of the meeting, the balance of time being taken with an Executive Session which pared the list down to three finalists.

The next day, the finalists were informed of the Council’s decision and were invited to provide supplemental materials to bolster their cases before the following City Council Meeting.

At the following City Council Meeting, there was a second round of in-depth finalist interviews where questions were asked based on the applicants’ supplemental materials. Immediately following those interviews, the Council retired to Executive Session to discuss.They then re-appeared and had the final vote.

Summary

This seems like a pretty fair process to me because it gives the Council, the Applicants and the public a chance to provide a much fuller picture of the relative merits of each Applicant.

This is such an important decision. I believe the above process provides a much more deliberate way of determining the best person for the job and I strongly urge our Council to adopt it as the method for filling the current Council vacancy.

Upcoming Study Session: Councilmember Appointment

Posted on Categories Transparency

Hi,

Normally I try not to bug you more than once a week, but the upcoming City Council Meeting (Thursday February 6 @ 7PM) is so important I want to strongly encourage you to attend. Agenda is here.

At that Meeting (referred to as a Study Session), the Council will take up a single issue: the vacant City Council position. At the meeting, all applicants will be given an ‘interview’.

Here’s why I want you to attend: I want you to ask the City Council to postpone voting on a replacement until the next meeting (a week later). Just one week. That’s all.

The Process

1. We as councilmembers did not receive any instructions on how the process of choosing would work ahead of time. Nor were we given any input into that process.  Everyone (except the Mayor) were informed the same way you as a resident might: by looking at the Agenda available on the City’s web site.  The only reference to the process (which is on the Agenda) is that it was the same process as was used on the last two appointments. Frankly, I don’t care how it was done in the past. I want all my fellow councilmembers to have a chance to decide on the process.

2. Applications are due by end of business on February 3rd. That gives us as councilmembers only two days to review the resumes of all the applicants!

3. At the Study Session, applicants will each have three minutes to make a presentation. And after that, each councilmember will be allowed to ask only one question of each applicant. Just one.

4. After that ‘interview’ process, we may vote to go into Executive Session to discuss the applicants. Frankly, I personally don’t favour doing any of the selection process in private, but in the past two appointments that was what happened.

5. After that optional Executive Session, we will most likely vote on the new replacement. All in the same night. With no time to think about the process.

Why This Matters

Now, those of you who have owned businesses or hired people for important jobs. Have you made that kind of a decision all in one sitting? Every person I have ever hired for anything other than a minimum-wage job, I took several days to make up my mind. A typical election campaign takes six months to decide. A position this consequential should not be decided in under three hours!

Also, by voting in the same evening, I won’t be able to obtain valuable input from the people I represent. I believe that you deserve an opportunity to weigh in with your thoughts.

Finally, although the Agenda states that the current appointment is being done like the past two appointments, that’s not strictly true. In 2013, Jeremy Nutting was interviewed on the April 25, 2013 City Council Meeting and then voted at the following May 2, 2013 meeting.  However, Luisa Bangs was interviewed then voted on at the same meeting in 2015. This ‘all-in-one-night’ approach is exactly what we should avoid.

Postpone

To sum it up, councilmembers have had no input on the selection process. We have only two days to review applications. And then we are expected to interview and make our final decision with only one question a piece in about three hours with a big chunk of the process in private Executive Session. Does that sound like best practice for someone who will be helping to lead your city?

For all these reasons I’m asking you to show up for this meeting and demand that, after the interview process, the Council moves to postpone the final vote on the applicants for a week until the next Council Meeting (Febuary 13). Just one week so that we make the best decision possible for the next two years.

Thanks for your time and your support for transparent government!

 

Resolution 19-113

Posted on Categories Transparency

I kinda wish I didn’t have to write this, but we’re getting off to a bad start council-relationship-wise. I have tried to be as friendly as possible during this transition but this Resolution is pointed directly at Mr. Martinelli and myself and it’s exactly the kind of good-ol’-boy nonsense I ran against so I feel compelled to provide some context for people who watched this. In other words: Do I turn the other cheek to try and get along  or do I actually do what voters said they wanted me to do?

(And what really sucks is that, as per usual, it got stuck in with all the very nice awards so it makes me look even more rantier than usual.) But I digress… 😀

Last week if you recall…

At the last CC Meeting, the Council introduced Resolution 19-113 (the 113th resolution of 2019) which consisted of a dozen changes to how the Council Meetings function. During the year, CCs think about how meetings might be improved, they suggest changes and then occasionally there is enough momentum to have the City Attorney roll them all into a Resolution. Normally these are pretty routine. And half of the items on 19-113 are common sense.

However about half of the changes in this Resolution were definitely not routine and not common sense. They were, in fact, in response to the election results and address some sudden concerns about Council Member ‘conduct’. We know this because if you watch that 14 November video, several of the Council Members specifically mention concerns about ‘candidates during the election’–meaning Anthony Martinelli and myself. In other words, half of these items are to address possible future misbehaviour. The problems aren’t happening with the current Council. They’re worried about it happening going forward with us noobies.

The merely wasteful stuff

For example, the Resolution calls for Council to be ‘drug-free’. But there is already a rule will states that CCs shall not be intoxicated. So why the need for extra emphasis now? Has there been an ongoing problem with current CCs showing up three sheets to the wind? 😀

The Resolution specifically forbids Council Members from ‘slander’. There are already rules calling for CCs to treat each other respectfully. Who on the current council is guilty of this? I go to all the meetings and I don’t see CCs routinely ‘slandering’ one another. In fact, ‘slander’ isn’t a word I ever run across. It’s the kind of thing one hears on Masterpiece Theatre. Right before guys in frilly shirts break out the dueling pistols.

The Resolution also reminds CCs to not divulge confidential information from Executive Session. Again, this is already against the law.

I could go on. The point is that these items are already covered in the rules. They’re just being given added emphasis because it just isn’t good enough for them to be against the rules. They have to be extra special against the rules!

Time crunch

The thing that really ticked me off, though, was the reduction in discussion time down to four and five minutes for different sections of the meeting. This is ridiculous because:

  1. None of the current CCs come anywhere near to using five minutes of time (except when they start getting all sentimental about how much they looooooove Des Moines of course.) When it comes to actual policy discussions? They are quite terse. How do I know this? Because I attend CC Meetings at all six Airport Communities. And I can assure you that Des Moines CC Meetings are usually the shortest. So the resolution addresses a problem that does not exist.
  2. However (and this is the undemocratic part), it also makes it impossible to have a thorough discussion when something important is going on. It requires that a CC get permission from the Mayor to keep speaking. If the Mayor dislikes what is being said for any reason, he/she can cut off discussion immediately. How democratic is that?
  3. Each CC’s desk will be equipped with the famous red and green lights which public-commenters have to live with. I can tell you that watching those lights whilst trying to collect one’s thoughts is not easy. (By the way, if you watch last night’s meeting, you’ll notice that our Mayor himself gassed on for almost fifteen minutes in describing his weekly activities. I wonder how well he will enjoy the new lights?)
  4. To add irony on top of irony, as I say in my public comment, the original discussion on the Resolution went on for over forty five minutes. That is the single longest discussion I’ve seen in over three years of watching every CC Meeting. That discussion simply would not have been possible under the new rules.
  5. But here’s the thing: is this Resolution really the most important debate that we’ve needed to have in the past few years? How many other very important Resolutions did not get a full airing of views? This really questions the essential values of the rest of the current Council.

What I’m trying to get to is this: A lot of that stuff was simply petty. The comments of the CCs directed at Mr. Martinelli and myself in the discussion two weeks ago make that clear. But far more important, this whole thing is really, really expensive.

Time is money

The City currently does not keep project-based time sheets (I will encourage the City to start doing that with the new accounting software coming on-line next year.) But according to the City Attorney a complex resolution often takes more than forty hours of staff time to get ready for CC discussion. Now given the salaries of top staff, that is real time and money. Time and money that should be spent on real problems, not stuff that’s already against the rules or addressing problems that do not exist. And certainly not on score-settling.

Some of the things I really hate

I hate wasting time. I hate wasting money. I hate wasting time. I hate wasting money. I hate wasting time. I hate wasting money.

I don’t know how else to say it. Anything that can be settled without a ‘regulation’, by simply having a conversation? I’m there. And conversely, using the City’s time and money for score-settling? Not. Too. Cool.

Anyhoo, I could’ve let this slide for sure. I’m sure my reaction will come off as whiny to some. But as I said in my public comment, the Council was sending me a message: No honeymoon. Which is fine. If you voted for me, you weren’t thinking I’d be getting a back massage and a Diet Sprite every two weeks. You said you wanted me to try to dial back this sort of behaviour.

Links:

https://waterlandblog.com/2019/11/22/des-moines-city-council-rule-changes-approved-over-objections-from-newly-elected-j-c-harris/

Video (My comment starts @ 1:08:40) https://player.invintus.com/?clientID=5345544549&eventID=2019111002

14 November Meeting Packet with full language: http://www.desmoinesmail.com/WebPDF/Council/Packet_Archive/2019/111419.pdf

14 November Video (Missing from City web site as of this writing.)