Sharing? It’s the latest craze at City Hall

Posted on Categories Public Safety, TransparencyTags ,

This is one of about a hundred e-mail exchanges I’ve had since being seated that make no sense to me.

Five minutes from our Budget Retreat…

At our 08/05/21 Budget Retreat, Councilmember Luisa Bangs responds to Chief Thomas’ report on emphasis patrols for Redondo:

CouncilmemberAnthony Martinelli also expresses concerns about provided extra attention to Redondo:

Then I respond, followed by the City Manager:

A follow-up email…

Shortly after the meeting I sent a follow-up email to Luisa Bangs addressing the concerns she raised:

Sent: 08/06/2021 1:01PM
To: Luisa Bangs
CC: Anthony Martinelli
Subject: Redondo

Not that it matters, but I understand your point re. Redondo.

I meant what I said, wrt Ken. I have my various criticisms--and they are not trivial. But actually I'm trusting -you- on this.

You, Michael and the rest of the Council seem to have tremendous confidence in his management skills. Frankly, I have not been allowed to communicate with him or sit in on any of his meetings in over a year soI honestly don't know. I've complained, but you guys don't seem to have a problem with that so I'm stuck. I work with the information I have.

But assuming you are correct in your assessment, I do not believe that someone as capable would divert enough resources to Redondo as to cause a failure to serve the rest of Des Moines fairly. I know the constant complaining sucks--trust me on this. But I do not want to believe that a professional manager would allow  hemselves to be influenced to that degree.

Your point about O/T is also well taken. I did not mention it because (you may not believe it) I do not like to micro-manage. If it's coming out of his existing budget? That's his biz. But if that shows up somewhere as an additional ask? Yeah, then I'll have a problem.

(One reason I keep nagging about that 'self-service' option for the new accounting system is that I am deeply frustrated by the lack of data on many items; policing being one of them. If we all could get reports on-every- neighbourhood it would make me feel a lot more comfortable (or not) with Ken's strategy.)

But to your original point, I have heard from a few residents that feel like there is a sense of 'privilege' to the attention Redondo is getting ... ie. "those 'rich' condo owners get attention every time they complain..."  I get it. But the fact is that one of their most vocal people just happened to be a retired shop steward--it's not entitlement. Union people just know how to organise--you can appreciate that.

I get calls -all- the time from people all over town with -exactly- the same problems (and as you said, worse.) And my response is: Do what Redondo is doing! Organise! Build your community! That's also why I encouraged the people around (cough) "Dead Man's Curve".

I feel -very- strongly that we -have- to reward any neighbourhood willing to organise towards any goal.  We -have- to show the public that if they organise effectively the City -will- make an effort to respond--within appropriate limits. Because if we don't? Residents won'thave a reason to build community -anywhere-.

Best case scenario for me would be -nine- different neighbourhoods screaming for attention on some damned thing all at the same time. :D Seriously. Maybe that would be enough to bring back 2Citizen Advisory Committees.

Sincerely,

---JC
From: Luisa Bangs
Sent: 08/10/2021 1:01PM
Subject: Redondo

Why was Councilmember Martinelli on the email?
To: Luisa Bangs
Subject: Redondo

On Aug 10, 2021, at 10:02 PM, JC Harris <jcharris@desmoineswa.gov> wrote:

Because he expressed a similar concern.

---JC
Sent: 08/10/2021 9:46PM
I believe your message is serious enough to be forwarded to the Chief and City Manager and would hope you have the belief in “transparency “ to do so. 
Councilmember Bangs
From: Luisa Bangs
On Aug 10, 2021, at 10:02 PM, JC Harris <jcharris@desmoineswa.gov> wrote:

What exactly is your concern?

---JC
To: JC Harris
Subject: Redondo
On 8/11/2021 6:58 AM, Luisa Bangs wrote:

The fact you see no concern with your email you sent to fellow council members questioning the skills of our Police Chief and City Manager.
So therefore In your own words 
…1“I believe you know where the 'forward' button is on your email app. By all means, share away as you see fit."
I will forward. 
Councilmember Bangs
To: Luisa Bangs
Subject: Redondo

On Aug 11, 2021, at 12:30 PM, JC Harris <jcharris@desmoineswa.gov> wrote:

3No, no... anything but that!  Please don't hit... THE FORWARD BUTTON! :D

But FWIW: I was not "questioning the skills of our Police Chief and City Manager".Actually, I refer to Ken first as capable and then as a professional manager.  Please re-read.

But what concerns -me- now is that you seem to find that idea, in
itself, somehow worrying. Every CM has the right to question any darned
thing they like--and also to discuss their feelings candidly with
another CM. And well you know it. You may disagree with someone else's
assessments, but that's a completely different matter.

I sent you a sincere note telling you that I understood a point you were trying to make and that is all. I won't make that mistake again. :D

---JC
From: Luisa Bangs
To: JC Harris
Subject: Redondo

I would suggest that by the very nature of your answer imploring me not to forward that there is definitely something a councilmember or staff should be concerned about. Therefore I find it my responsibility to forward the email since you will not. 
As far as corresponding with me in the future I would suggest you do not start or put in any sentence “ But actually I'm trusting -you- on this.”
As though it is not on council email and some sort of secret. 
It is on a 4public domain. 

Councilmember Bangs
August 12, 4:11 PM
From: Michael Matthias
To: _CityCouncil, _Directors
CC: Ken Thomas
Subject: Redondo

Mayor and City Council,

Please find below an email string that is relevant to the work of the entire Council.
Best,

Michael Matthias
City Manager
City of Des Moines, WA
206.870.6554
mmatthias@desmoineswa.gov

[The remainder of the email is the entire email chain you see above. Elided to save space.]
August 12, 4:58 PM
From: JC Harris
To: Michael Matthias, _CityCouncil, _Directors
CC: Ken Thomas

Hi Michael,

Please explain your rationale for forwarding this email from Councilmember Bangs to the full Council--and Directors.

TIA,

---JC
August 13, 12:26 PM
From: Michael Matthias
To: _CityCouncil, _Directors
CC: Ken Thomas
Subject: Redondo

In the spirit of 5enhancing transparency I thought it was important. Given the various policy issues raised.

Michael Matthias
City Manager
City of Des Moines, WA
206.870.6554
mmatthias@desmoineswa.gov
August 13, 4:52 PM
From: JC Harris
To: Michael Matthias, _CityCouncil, _Directors
CC: Ken Thomas

It's transparent, for sure. :D

But by 'sharing' so freely as you seem wont to do, this starts to have the vague sense of a 'meeting'. Honestly, I have no idea what her concern was. It also puzzles me why CM Bangs forwarded it to you rather than attempting to resolve it with me, or failing that, taking it up with the Council.

It seems to me that when Councilmember Bangs sent you this email chain, you might have considered politely declining to do anything with it. The discussion of two CMs has nothing to do with staff since, as you know, Councilmembers relate to the administration solely through the City Manager. And the staff work for you so I won't comment as to whether or not giving them all this reading is the best use of their time.

But IMO, if a CM has some 'concerns' with a colleague, the first choice would seem to be to talk things over like people. If CMs aren't able to do that for some reason, the next step would be to take it up with the City Council. I only mention this as a suggestion if the situation comes up again. Your time is extremely valuable.
 
---JC

Small explainer…

All Councilmember communications are a matter of public record–anyone can do a public records request and see this stuff. I generally do not share any of our discussions, but as you read, my colleague decided to share the exchange with the City Manager and then he decided to share it with the full Council and all Directors. So I figured, hey since everyone at City Hall is into ‘sharing’, right? 😀

The ethics of sharing…

Setting aside our lofty discussion, I think it is inappropriate for a Councilmember to share a discussion with another colleague with the City Manager without explanation or permission. And I know it is inappropriate for the City Manager to then share it with staff. Councilmembers are supposed to be separate from the Administration and we are actually discouraged from engaging with staff. Not to mention the fact that the City Manager is supposed to be, above all else, non-political.

Silence is the strategy

This kind of thing happens all the time and none of my colleagues speak up. A few have commiserated on occasion, but they are very frank that speaking up would be ‘bad strategy’. And members of various community groups will also tell me that, while they commiserate, it’s basically my problem somehow. Perhaps, if we elect more ‘civil’ CMs, that will fix everything

Why you should care about poor little me…

First of all, anybody who has worked in a modern corporation has been educated to speak up when they witness a colleague being harassed. Apparently your local electeds are somehow exempted from this requirement.

Regardless, every institution should cultivate an ethical culture–from leadership on down. ‘Politicians’ contribute to that culture like every other employee. The difference: Councilmembers come and go. City Managers come and go. But the staff persists. When they (and the community) see that poor treatment of Councilmembers is not only tolerated, but enabled, that message also persists–long after the original actors have left the stage.

Oversight…

The primary and practical function of your City Council is oversight of the administration. This email is one small example of a hundred. But if some Councilmembers are never willing to keep an appropriate professional distance from the administration, while others are never willing to speak up when the administration is behaving inappropriately? You cannot trust anyone’s ability to provide oversight and you cannot have a government you can trust.


1Councilmember Bangs is quoting from another email chain–in that case written to the City Manager about researching the possibility of vaccine mandates. If you think that this email forwarding is sort of an ongoing ‘sport’, you’re not wrong.

2The Citizen Advisory Committee included a representative from each of nine neighbourhoods. It was shuttered in 2017.

3This is my idea of humour. 🙂

4I hate being ‘that guy’, but ‘public domain’ usually refers to copyright law. I think she meant ‘public record’. I dunno, maybe her usage is just fine.

5One can never be sure, but this appears to be a long-running bit of sarcasm. Before I ran for office, I complained about ‘a lack of transparency’.

6Note to self: Stop screaming at supporters. 😀

Why candidates don’t care about the airport

Posted on Categories Airport, CampaigningLeave a comment on Why candidates don’t care about the airport

There’s no way around talking about problems without hurting feelings. I am always sorry.

On July 21, Sheila Brush posted the following in the Des Moines Community Action Network Facebook Group (DMCAN), which she created.

Now the same people who were facilitating the Burien Forum had told me months ago that they would be happy to do the same for Des Moines at no cost. (I had first researched the idea because CM Martinelli had suggested doing a Town Hall in March.) So the logistics were ready to go. Obviously it would be unethical for me to organise such an event so when I read this post I immediately contacted Admins of the various Des Moines Facebook pages (including DMCAN) and passed my contact info along to see if they would take it from there.

B-Town Coverage Of Airport

In the meantime, The B-Town Blog did another, very good article, asking each candidate for a statement on airport issues:

Questioning Burien’s City Council Candidates Part 5: How should the city approach the airport’s growth plans?

Here is a link to the full discussion. And here is a screen capture screen capture in case you’re not a member of the group.

And a couple of people, including Sheila replied:

“Majority Tone Deaf.” and “Sad, but true. Ironic how certain political issues fire people up, and most others leave them uninterested.”

And I hate that kind of comment. Because it’s simply not true. So I wrote the following reply:

This is long and it's gonna be painful. But I believe it's worth studying carefully. I was willing to work pretty hard to get elected based on this. READ FIRST BEFORE WATCHING VIDEO... won't make sense otherwise. Also, I get yelled at for 'all complaint no solution.' There is a short, simple solution, but one has to first be willing to acknowledge the validity of the complaint.

Candidates and electeds are not tone deaf. Or uninterested. Local electeds are part-timers and most are extremely well-meaning people who want to do the right thing. Some may be against your idea, but most people want to try to do something about the airport.
However, politicians are generally not subject matter experts. And they have, even at a local level, a STUNNING range of complicated stuff they're supposed to vote on like they know what they're talking about.

They come into their campaigns with personal biases and are usually total numbskulls on complex policy issues--and the airport is the Queen Mary of complex policy. They depend on guidance, which in this case either comes from the Port or trusted advocacy groups like this. They need, at most, 400 words on the subject. And they rarely get it. So they scan all this 'stuff' and try to draw some conclusions.
If you put the entirety of this forum through a lexical analyser the output would have five main themes:
1. The public complains incessantly about the noise, the pollution. Noise and Pollution are what they truly care about.
2. However, any meaningful relief on noise and pollution is only at the federal level. And even then, it's many years, probably decades away.
3. We need a second airport--but that too will take so long and be so far away that it will never provide relief on Noise and Pollution for people here.
4. So overall, the public is essentially powerless on the issues they truly care about (Noise and Pollution).
5. The only meaningful discussion at the local level involves side issues like: "health studies", "filters" and occasionally "trees" or -maybe-... "sound insulation". Nice, but none of these affect operations.

Now, those are themes--not objective reality. But they -are- what this page -says-.

BIG REVEAL: Those themes completely MATCH the essential messaging of the Port Of Seattle. The Port sincerely agrees with all of that. And they have legit evidence that they agree with all of that--a Legislative Agenda that they spend real money to pursue. Like it or not, and whether people realise it or not, to the novice, this page largely agrees with the essential messaging of the Port Of Seattle lobbyist. Everyone knows their lobbyists, and they seem to sincerely believe they are doing their best. They are convincing. My former Mayor is one of them (more on that later.)
So if candidates and electeds are not particularly jazzed about the airport (or environmental issues writ large), that is the reason.
It's worse than that, in fact. This page has told them that the above agenda (which requires no effort or study on their part btw), is the -only- reasonable approach. Just by looking at the text of this page over 4 years, this page lavishly praises and supports the few people working on hepa filters and trees and parks and glide slopes. It ignores or heavily criticises the one local elected who believes in working locally to reduce noise and pollution and GHG--the things that the public -truly- cares about. (that would be moi.)

Remember: candidates generally only care about what they think their voters truly care about. I know what voters truly care about in Des Moines because I doorbelled every inch of my City in 2019. Trees? fine. Filters? OK. Glide slope? Whatever. What they are willing to actually vote for are candidates with some balls concerning NOISE AND POLLUTION. Everything else? Meh. Whether they should or not is irrelevant. That is what they care about. And those 5 themes are not worth their vote the moment they realise that they are mostly aspirational.

To demonstrate my points: here is a short discussion of the Des Moines City Council to leave StART in 2019. The actual issue is irrelevant. It's the attitude that matters. And if you don't know any better EVERYTHING the Councilmembers say sounds like they are 100% committed to fighting the SAMP!

Now, some quick background: I ran for City Council in Des Moines for one basic reason: because the City Council's outrage bore no relationship to their policies. At that time, the City had an Aviation Advisory Committee, peopled by leadership of Quiet Skies (including Sheila Brush)--which sounds wonderful, right? However, the actual City Council and City Manager were (and are) 100% pro-Port. So, you have the City totally pursuing pro-Port policies, while -saying- in public tough anti-expansion bullshit like this video. And the public believed it because they trust Quiet Skies so much.

Now here's my dilemma: the Cities were first informed about the SAMP in 2012. I hired a lawyer to walk me through the process. It takes years to effectively prep if you actually want to be effective on something this scale. Following the process with patience (as the Mayor says in the video) is the total sucker move and in fact, no one succeeds who simply 'follows the process'. And by that time, both the City and the QSPS people already hated my guts.
So I reasoned that the only chance in hell to actually -do- something about the SAMP was to start my own process: replace the City Council, hopefully with people that would be willing to listen to another POV.... and hopefully before the train had left the station.
So I ran. And it sucked... because I was running not just against these pro-Port Councilmembers, I was also, in a very real sense, running against Quiet Skies. But I had no choice--the City was using QSPS to cover the fact that they had no intention of handling the SAMP (or Port expansion in general) in anything other than a total 'pro-growth' manner. Eg, I would doorbell people, with Quiet Skies yard signs no less, and they would swear that my opponent (a Port employee, btw) 'is working with Quiet Skies. You're lying, JC!' Hoo boy.

So given all these considerations...
1. Some of the most complex policy imaginable,
2. The Port's agenda looks a lot like this page in the broad strokes.
3. That agenda does -not- seem to address what voters care enough about to vote on (Noise and Pollution)
4, Our local politics has more layers than a spy novel.

Showing disappointment at candidates (or electeds) is ridiculous. It's -not- their fault.

The messaging is confusing and does not seem to address what voters actually demand. And the few genuine activists don't work well together. Why -should- any candidate get near this beyond a few sympathetic words and the Port's aspirational leg. agenda?

AND PS: Lest you think this is me slagging on QSPS or my colleagues on the City Council, I could do a dozen versions of this about other 'issues' and 'personalities'... I used -me- simply to avoid mentioning anyone else. But this sort of crap is -really- what has prevented progress on the airport---not so much the legalities that everyone bitches about. It's a bit like COVID---you'd -think- that there would be issues so intense that people would rise above. But... ?


And then this to a commenter located in California:

I have never felt like things were hopeless. Rather, I see a series of the same mistakes over and over and over... The only 'hopeless' factor is sort of like COVID--but again, that's self-inflicted.

And I'll just close by noting this: the fact that you (or anyone thousands of miles away) can comment on local politics says to -me- that everyone thinks that local politics is irrelevant--we're all screwed no matter where we live or what we do. That is the sense I get from talking with people all over the country.

So again: why -should- local politicians engage on those terms?

I reject the whole 'it's all at the federal level' assumptions not only because they are not accurate, but also because they are not helpful. You cannot have politicians or the public willing to fight meaningfully on an issue if you yourself do not believe that they can make a real difference.
Best.

Here’s how ya know…

OK, ya know how I know that neither electeds, candidates or activists really care about this issue? Because that article is about Burien and most of the QSPS people live in a very small area of south Des Moines and Federal Way along the track of the Third Runway.

Wanna know how much political coverage… of any kind… there was been in Des Moines for the entire Primary Season? Here it is.  A very enterprising woman organised a candidates forum for one Condo building. In Redondo. So all the questions related to the interests of those few residents.

But still, that Candidate Forum was excellent. Despite the limited range of questions, every person I’ve spoken with who watched them said that they gave the public a tremendous amount of insight into each of the candidates.

Quick Recap…

Now remember: On July 21, I contacted the various admins of Des Moines Facebook pages and offered them a way to get a candidates forum going. I knew of at least two organisations who were willing to facilitate… and no one picked up the ball.

What did happen?

On July 28, Sheila Brush held a get together (fund raiser?) which included candidates Gene Achziger, Yoshiko Grace Matsui, Dave Upthegrove, Port Commissioner Peter Steinbrueck and Port Comission Candidate Hamdi Mohamed. Which is totally fine. But that is not the Candidate Forum she originally proposed.

Also, the unspoken message of this event is exactly as I complained in my Facebook comment on DMCAN: People in that video are cheering for Port Commissioner Peter Steinbrueck, even though he has absolutely nothing specific to say other than the fact that he is with everyone in spirit. I like Peter as a person. But the Commission’s objective performance in doing anything Des Moines voters actually care about related to the airport? 1 Zero.

The City Council candidates generally know nothing about airport issues. But their takeaway is likely to be: get on stage with Port Commissioners, show support for Quiet Skies and… done. They have no other incentives to learn or to offer any proposals that the Port may disagree with. I’ll keep reiterating this: that is not their fault.

September…

Whenever anyone (well, me) complains about a lack of candidate forums before the Primary, there is always the excuse “We’ll do that in September.” OK, so what you’re saying is that the Primary doesn’t matter. And if you feel that way, you have no right to complain about low voter turnout.

You also have no right to complain about which candidates make it through to November.

The bottom line is that Burien does these events partly because Scott Schaefer (the publisher of the B-Town Blog and The Waterland Blog) lives in Burien. But part of it is the fact that people in Buren expect it and ask.

Why candidates are ‘tone deaf’

Airport issues are complex. Very few residents ask about it, partly because they haven’t been educated and partly because we’ve had over a decade of pro-Port government which has sold the notion that there is nothing we can do.

Candidates have almost no opportunities to speak to the public on anything. And apparently there are no civic-minded residents willing to organize candidate forums–even with Zoom!

And remember: candidates already come to the table with other issues they care far more about. So unless or until there is a mechanism that rewards candidates for doing more than getting on a stage with the Port Commissioners? Why should any candidate do more?


1In fairness, the Port recently announced that it was finally re-starting it’s Port Package sound insulation program–focusing on some largely BIPOC apartment buildings in Des Moines. It’s expensive and commendable. But it’s work that was left undone twenty years ago. And it has nothing to do with addressing the source of the problems: noise and pollution.

Weekly Update: 08/08/2021

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Engagement, Transparency, Weekly Updates1 Comment on Weekly Update: 08/08/2021

Hopefully you’ve already seen the Christmas In July post.  Please send me your ideas!

Public Service Announcements

The delta variant is no joke! Fortunately, there are now free vaccine appointments available every day, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. Saturday October 9 Salmon Counting at McSorley Creek . Contact John Muramatsu
  2. The Utility Moratorium ends September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  3. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  4. Watch the Candidate Forum from Seattle Southside Chamber!
  5. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  6. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  7. We’re about to update our Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. Comment on any aspect of the system by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  8. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. Please read the Draft Master Plan and then my Marina Redevelopment Talking Points. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Send your questions and concerns to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  9. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  10. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  11. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  12. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  13. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Monday: A new slug of Port Package home owners have come on the radar.

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting (Agenda). Coincidentally, the Port will be giving an update on their Accelerated Port Package program from last February. The good news is that the Port is finally providing sound insulation to hundreds of untreated apartments in Des Moines–including several along Kent Des Moines Road. The bad news is that they have backtracked on their intent to provide updates per State Law HB2315 to existing homes that have experienced a range of problems–including structural damage.

Wednesday: Friends Of Saltwater Park meeting to discuss their long term plans. FOSP have become an important partner in monitoring the health of McSorley Creek and Puget Sound and we should support their efforts.

Thursday: Meeting (again) with Adam Smith’s office on federal grants for airport communities. This is one of this little ‘details’ that our City should be working on. Currently there is no FAA funding available directly to a city like Des Moines–you always have to go through the owner of the airport–which is the Port. That’s what makes it so hard for us to get any funding for studies or relief.

Friday: Several meetings with local groups on parks. I’ve received dozens of great suggestions for ARPA funding, but these are the first I’ve heard concerning parks–which is near and dear to my heart.

Last Week

Tuesday: Adam Smith. I keep pitching our the SeatacNoise.Info Remote Works Better proposal. Anything that gets any department or organization thinking about Zoom instead of getting on an unnecessary flight is worth doing. 🙂

Thursday: The Budget Retreat City Council Meeting (Agenda) (Video) This is the meeting that kicks off the only State-mandated process of a City Council: passing a budget. For decades that basically was the only function of most small town City Councils. There was a department by department presentation and there were many questions. Too much to include here. More soon…

Debt, Freedom, Vaccines and Stimulus…

Councilmembers routinely get anonymous emails advocating for some issue–often using hyperbolic language. I got one this week saying “Vaccine Mandates Are Slavery!”

To which I reply: No, dude. Slavery is slavery.

But OK, being told you have no choice to get a vaccine is, to some degree, a loss of freedom. I’m not trying to minimize people’s feelings on this.

Now: wanna know what else is not freedom? Crushing debt. Just ask anyone on the 2016 City Council. Owe enough money and you no longer get to choose anything. Debt can take away everything, including your City.

So I want to throw something out there about debt and the Pandemic and Stimulus. Aside from the deaths and illness, the damage COVID-19 has done in terms of lives, jobs, businesses, homes is historic. And that damage will not stop until everyone is vaccinated. And the kicker? Almost 100% of the suffering now is completely unnecessary. Every month people do not get vaccinated adds billions of dollars of long term debt and keeps millions of citizens in a state of constant anxiety. That is not freedom.

No matter how fast we ‘recover’, that debt has no reasonable expectation of being addressed in our lifetimes. We are simply moving those trillions of dollars of debt (and anxiety) onto future generations.

So any stimulus money the City Of Des Moines receives should not be thought of as Christmas In July… which I meant sarcastically. Rather, this $9M should be thought of more like a ginormous pay day loan that our grandchildren will be stuck with.

The last twenty years of federal debt

In 2000, the federal debt was $5.6 trillion. It is now over $26 trillion. And after this year’s ‘stimuli’ it will surely blow past $30 trillion.

Cumulative Federal Debt 2000 – 2020

Date Dollar Amount
09/30/2020 26,945,391,194,615.15
09/30/2019 22,719,401,753,433.78
09/30/2018 21,516,058,183,180.23
09/30/2017 20,244,900,016,053.51
09/30/2016 19,573,444,713,936.79
09/30/2015 18,150,617,666,484.33
09/30/2014 17,824,071,380,733.82
09/30/2013 16,738,183,526,697.32
09/30/2012 16,066,241,407,385.89
09/30/2011 14,790,340,328,557.15
09/30/2010 13,561,623,030,891.79
09/30/2009 11,909,829,003,511.75
09/30/2008 10,024,724,896,912.49
09/30/2007 9,007,653,372,262.48
09/30/2006 8,506,973,899,215.23
09/30/2005 7,932,709,661,723.50
09/30/2004 7,379,052,696,330.32
09/30/2003 6,783,231,062,743.62
09/30/2002 6,228,235,965,597.16
09/30/2001 5,807,463,412,200.06
09/30/2000 5,674,178,209,886.86

Many economists don’t worry about short term deficits. But no one can ignore such a vast amount of structural debt indefinitely.  Sooner or later the rent comes due. Just as it did for the City Of Des Moines five years ago.

Our grandchildren…

Future generations will rightly ask why we allowed the pandemic to drag on needlessly. They will wonder how the hell we could increase the national debt 600% in 20 years—and what we really got in return for all that spending. And my guess is that their resentment will be profound.

I know all that may seem high falutin’. People are suffering now. They want relief now. But I ran for office with the slogan, “I’ve lived here 25 years. And I want to make Des Moines even better for the next 25 years.” So the long term is also on my mind as I think about how we should spend our $9M share of stimulus money. The staggering amount of debt we are foisting on future generations obligates us to consider doing something really important with that check–for the future of Des Moines.

Debt, Freedom, Vaccines and Stimulus

Posted on Categories Economic Development

Councilmembers routinely get anonymous emails advocating for some issue–often using hyperbolic language. I got one this week saying “Vaccine Mandates Are Slavery!”

To which I reply: No, dude. Slavery is slavery.

But OK, being told you have no choice to get a vaccine is, to some degree, a loss of freedom. I’m not trying to minimize people’s feelings on this.

Now: wanna know what else is not freedom? Crushing debt. Just ask anyone on the 2016 City Council. Owe enough money and you no longer get to choose anything. Debt can take away everything, including your City.

So I want to throw something out there about debt and the Pandemic and Stimulus. Aside from the deaths and illness, the damage COVID-19 has done in terms of lives, jobs, businesses, homes is historic. And that damage will not stop until everyone is vaccinated. And the kicker? Almost 100% of the suffering now is completely unnecessary. Every month people do not get vaccinated adds billions of dollars of long term debt and keeps millions of citizens in a state of constant anxiety. That is not freedom.

No matter how fast we ‘recover’, that debt has no reasonable expectation of being addressed in our lifetimes. We are simply moving those trillions of dollars of debt (and anxiety) onto future generations.

So any stimulus money the City Of Des Moines receives should not be thought of as Christmas In July… which I meant sarcastically. Rather, this $9M should be thought of more like a ginormous pay day loan that our grandchildren will be stuck with.

The last twenty years of federal debt

In 2000, the federal debt was $5.6 trillion. It is now over $26 trillion. And after this year’s ‘stimuli’ it will surely blow past $30 trillion.

Cumulative Federal Debt 2000 – 2020

Date Dollar Amount
09/30/2020 26,945,391,194,615.15
09/30/2019 22,719,401,753,433.78
09/30/2018 21,516,058,183,180.23
09/30/2017 20,244,900,016,053.51
09/30/2016 19,573,444,713,936.79
09/30/2015 18,150,617,666,484.33
09/30/2014 17,824,071,380,733.82
09/30/2013 16,738,183,526,697.32
09/30/2012 16,066,241,407,385.89
09/30/2011 14,790,340,328,557.15
09/30/2010 13,561,623,030,891.79
09/30/2009 11,909,829,003,511.75
09/30/2008 10,024,724,896,912.49
09/30/2007 9,007,653,372,262.48
09/30/2006 8,506,973,899,215.23
09/30/2005 7,932,709,661,723.50
09/30/2004 7,379,052,696,330.32
09/30/2003 6,783,231,062,743.62
09/30/2002 6,228,235,965,597.16
09/30/2001 5,807,463,412,200.06
09/30/2000 5,674,178,209,886.86

Many economists don’t worry about short term deficits. But no one can ignore such a vast amount of structural debt indefinitely.  Sooner or later the rent comes due. Just as it did for the City Of Des Moines five years ago.

Our grandchildren…

Future generations will rightly ask why we allowed the pandemic to drag on needlessly. They will wonder how the hell we could increase the national debt 600% in 20 years—and what we really got in return for all that spending. And my guess is that their resentment will be profound.

I know all that may seem high falutin’. People are suffering now. They want relief now. But I ran for office with the slogan, “I’ve lived here 25 years. And I want to make Des Moines even better for the next 25 years.” So the long term is also on my mind as I think about how we should spend our $9M share of stimulus money. The staggering amount of debt we are foisting on future generations obligates us to consider doing something really important with that check–for the future of Des Moines.

Cost Per Vote

Posted on Categories Campaigning

An article in Sunday’s Seattle Times by Danny Westneat on Ken Wilson’s campaign for Seattle City Council

Let’s hear it for engineers! I don’t know Ken Wilson. But I like his argument: “I could bend your ear all day about cost-efficiency” The message I hear is that you can trust his leadership because he knows how to manage large projects and bring them in on/time on/budget.

God, I wish I had thought of that for my campaign. 😀

I also like the article because it talks about cost per vote. In SeaTac some candidates have raised $30,000… to get 1,400 votes. That’s what? $28 per vote? YOU’RE FIRED! (Sorry, I’ve literally never said that to anyone.) Here in DM, so far the spending leader Matt Mahoney has raised close to $20k to get prox. 2,500 votes. $8 a vote. Better, but not exactly ‘thrifty’.

Look, I’m not saying that this is necessarily a one-stop way to judge candidate quality. Even if you’re the hardest working man in show business, you need some money to run. But I think it’s telling that candidates for City Council are now routinely willing to spend so much money and effort on a job that only pays $250 a meeting.

And that’s my point. Unless there’s something hinky going on, the office of City Councilmember has no individual authority. Zip. And I don’t think the public realizes that.

However people with real power do know this and so a CM gets treated like shit all the time. Nobody has to return yer call and often they don’t. Also, it’s serious work to get people to cooperate on anything… often it’s the people who agree with you who are the biggest pains in the collective tush and sabotage your efforts just to have things their way. And those are the good parts of the job. 😀

All I’m saying is that when you choose a candidate, the spending does matter–both the quantity and the quality of that spending.

People who spend zero should not be taken seriously and frankly, there oughta be something like a ‘frivolous candidate’ ordinance. There’s no filing fee, but if you don’t get off yer ass and act like you actually care about winning there’s a $250 loitering fee. OK, maybe not. 😀

But people who spend a fortune to get a job like this? You really should ask candidates how they can justify spending so much of other people’s money to get elected…. and then magically transform into the kind of elected who properly manages public money.

You can view contributions and spending for any campaign at the Public Disclosure Commission web site.

Oh… and BTW, In 2019, I spent about forty one cents per vote–which included a Primary and a General.

Committee Video Recordings

Posted on Categories Engagement, Public Safety, Transparency

The City is making good on a proposal I made at our June 20th City Council Meeting to publish the video of Committee Meetings. The first batch are now available on the Des Moines Councilmember Youtube Channel. Go get ’em!

Thanks to Councilmember Martinelli and Deputy Mayor Mahoney for supporting the idea. And of course, thanks to our IT staff, Dale Southwick and our City Clerk Bonnie Wilkins for making it happen!  This has been a long time coming. I’ve been trying to educate the public about the importance of Committees since forever.

What’s so special about Committees?

People who attend full City Council Meetings often comment that they seem somewhat ‘pre-decided’. They’re not wrong, but that in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s at the Committees are where most policy actually happens. The members are expected to know more about their specific area than the rest of the Council. Each committee receives more detailed briefings and the discussions are far more specific. So when an item comes to the Council from one of the five committees, it should sail through nine times out of ten. If items referred from a committee were routinely being argued over it would indicate that the full Council did not have confidence in the referring committee.

Unfortunately, just between us, Committee Meeting Agendas and Minutes are often not exactly… how do I put this delicately? Detailed. For example, here is the Agenda for the June 20 Public Safety Committee Meeting. This is where the PSEM discussed Body Cameras in detail. The description is… blank. Absolutely no detail. At the next full Council Meeting, the Council voted 6-1 for the proposal. I was the lone vote against it and I struggled to explain my vote to residents (who were mostly in favour of the idea in the broad strokes) because until now, the public could not see what I saw.

This is where you come in…

The public has an interest in showing up to committees to engage on issues that are of specific concern to you. If there is an item relevant to your neighbourhood, you want to be at those Committee discussions and presentations and make sure that your voice is heard before it gets to the full Council. Because, again, by the time a referred item gets to the full Council, the CMs consider it ‘pre-vetted’. So, if you show up to a full Council meeting upset about an issue that has already been approved by one or more Committees, you’re asking the full Council to vote against their colleagues who usually know more about the issue than they do. Awkward. 😀

Unfortunately, you’re super-busy and Committee Meetings are at the super-inconvenient time of 3PM in the afternoon. So without the video, you could never really know what was going on. Now you can.

There’s always room for improvement…

OK so, how do you know when there are ‘items relevant to your neighbourhood’? Still working on that. 😀 Improving transparency and public engagement were among my primary bitches … er,,, ‘goals’ 😀  in wanting to join the City Council in the first place. It’s an ongoing process, but I want to acknowledge that this is a step in the right direction.

Another one of my  ‘asks’ has been to add a Calendar on the City web site that will allow you to be automatically notified of meetings and other events. That’s coming soon, too!

Can we do even better? You bet. We could refine that notification system to alert you not just when a meeting occurs, but when it contains items that might be of interest to you. (Eg. based on your location or a school or a particular program.) We can provide public comment at Committee Meetings. (And on a side note, we could also enhance the system to notify you of emergencies like the recent beach closure. 🙂 )

There are a lot of things we can do, not just to make the system more ‘transparent’ but also to make it more relevant to you–which will hopefully get more of you to engage in public life–advocating for issues, volunteering 🙂

No drama…

Now, a word about politics. For a small portion of the public, there is this notion of a ‘lack of civility’ on our City Council. That is actually quite true–but not in the way people think and I’ll talk about that another time. The point is: I want people to watch these committee meetings not just to learn about issues, but also to see how drama-free things go when the discussion sticks to policy. There is (almost) never any of the ‘cringey’ stuff that people make so much hay about when watching full Council meetings. You can see how things could work and should work on the full Council.

Why? I think the reasons things are calmer at Committee Meetings boil down to:

  1. The tasks are specific. So there’s no room for extraneous posturing or no speechifying.
  2. But ironically, there are also no limits (eg. the dreaded ‘2X rule’). It’s more of a conversation with staff. (And honestly? That’s how full Council Meetings used to be.)
  3. The goals are all short term and obvious. There are rarely any big strategic decisions or new policy ideas. In other words, although the meetings are supposed to be ‘Council’, they are actually Staff meetings where they discuss their agenda. We agree on mostly everything because the current meeting configuration does not support doing anything we might disagree about.

Anyhoo, if you’ve heard about all the ‘conflict’ on the Council,  the thing you will notice is that when it comes to the actual policy, things run smoothly and there actually is cooperation that you can feel good about as a resident.

It ain’t Netflix…

As of today, only six videos are published and unless I’m mistaken there are at least fifty more coming from the past year. I’m not suggesting you start plowing through all of these like Netflix. They’re not that compelling. 😀 But now that we’re starting, I hope to provide some ‘highlights’ on items where I think the discussion went beyond the presentations I attach to each Weekly Update. And somehow I hope we can connect the videos and the agendas and presentations in Search so you can see everything about an issue at a glance.

A practical example…

Back to that PSEM discussion on Body Cameras. Here is the Video 06/03/2021.  Again, here is the Agenda, with absolutely no detail. The full Council voted 6-1 for the proposal.

I voted against it because the Committee approved the plan without answers to some basic questions like “When can the officer turn the camera on and off?” I had hoped that in the interim period, the administration would flesh out ‘details’ like that. But it came to the full Council with the same questions left unanswered. And I won’t vote for anything that leaves basic questions like that unanswered.

Now that you have the video, you can see what I saw and decide for yourself whether or not I made the right call.

Weekly Update: 08/01/2021

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Engagement, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesLeave a comment on Weekly Update: 08/01/2021

Hopefully you’ve already seen the Christmas In July post.  Please send me your ideas!

Public Service Announcements

The delta variant is no joke! Fortunately, there are now free vaccine appointments available every day, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. Saturday October 9 Salmon Counting at McSorley Creek . Contact John Muramatsu
  2. The Utility Moratorium ends September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  3. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  4. Watch the Candidate Forum from Seattle Southside Chamber!
  5. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  6. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  7. We’re about to update our Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. Comment on any aspect of the system by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  8. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. Please read the Draft Master Plan and then my Marina Redevelopment Talking Points. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Send your questions and concerns to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  9. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  10. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  11. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  12. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  13. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Tuesday: Adam Smith. I keep pitching our the SeatacNoise.Info Remote Works Better proposal. Anything that gets any department or organization thinking about Zoom instead of getting on an unnecessary flight is worth doing. 🙂

Thursday: The Budget Retreat City Council Meeting (Agenda) This is the meeting that kicks off the only State-mandated process of a City Council: passing a budget. For decades that basically was the only function of most small town City Councils. If it’s like previous years, there will be a department by department presentation which is typically the best overview of the City you’ll see all year. Just to be clear though: this is not an objective assessment of the City. It is the administration’s point of view. That’s not any slam; not at all. It’s the simple truth.  every statement from management comes with a point of view.

Anyhoo, Councilmembers ask questions, offer direction and the staff goes off and next month the City Manager presents the First Draft Budget as prescribed by law.

As usual, the City Manager requested questions about the Agenda. For me, this week was easy: I just re-submitted the same questions I did not get answers to from the last meeting. 😀 Now, I get scowls about being snarky, but overall, I think I’m pretty nice about it. On any properly functioning Board, a CEO who refused to answer questions from a Board Member would be subject to removal for cause. Occasionally I remind readers: it is unethical for a City Manager to treat any Councilmember differently from another. And it’s only the current majority that makes this possible. The fact that such conduct was ever tolerated, either by my colleagues or the voters is a real problem.

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Thursday: Friends Of Saltwater State Park (if I make it on time!) Despite my main ARPA Stimulus proposals, I’m also ‘taking requests’. 😀 My interest in FOSSP is part of a bigger picture: water quality in Des Moines. FOSSP have been the lookout on all the Midway Sewer problems over the past two years and we owe them thanks–and our support. We’re stewards of three significant stretches of shoreline, important creeks and thousands of inter-connected water, sewer and storm water systems.

Last Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting (Agenda) I guess the ‘highlight’ is the allocation of $2M for the South King County Fund–which Cities and various organizations can obtain various grants. The reason I always hem and haw on these is that this is actually your money. Like all Port grants, it comes from your Property Tax Levy. So basically you’re just paying yourself. It’s not airline or cruise revenue.

And this is an intrinsic problem with our relationship with the Port. It looks like the Port is doing all these great projects and it directs attention away from the fact that the Port is not doing anything meaningful to reduce airport noise and emissions. Plus, there is an insidious quality which rarely gets talked about: once an organization accepts any of these grants, it’s unlikely to expect them to oppose the Port on anything real concerning noise and pollution. In other words: the SKCF is a powerful lobbying tool which prevents doing big things by helping people do small things–using our own money.

Thursday: Municipal Facilities Committee Meeting (Agenda) There was a review of Capital Improvement Projects plan and an update on the Marina Master Plan. This struck me as sort of a recap of 2021 accomplishments–which was great. There are hold-ups on some playground projects and I’m now struck by how outrageously expensive the equipment items have become. I don’t know if all that is pandemic-related or just that you can’t throw up a set of steel monkey bars and call it good. (Sorry, my fingers could not seem to stop from typing a Dad joke about the bad old days.) But seriously, I was going to do a short piece on the pricing but I’ve run out of time here.

Thursday: Economic Development Committee Meeting (Agenda) This is a continuation of the HB1220 discussion and I hope you will view the presentation. I wish the video was on-line! This will sound unkind, but frankly, the discussion centered on all the places Committee Members want to exclude from use as homeless shelters and affordable housing. The only place mentioned as acceptable? Pacific Ridge, of course.

Look: I have exactly the same concerns about all these issues as you do. I am by far the most aggressive CM on Code Enforcement. However, like all cities, our government has officially been saying for years how committed we are to solving these problems. But most cities actually did very little. So the State called our bluff. We now have to allow these structures. But by the same token, I do not want Pacific Ridge to be the ‘affordable housing spot’. I don’t know what or where at this point, but I do know that that idea is not fair. We can’t stop this or try to ‘work around it’. We need to make it work well. And the only way affordable housing works we is to put our energies towards insisting that it be attractive and available throughout Des Moines.

Saturday: A tour of the new Why Not You? Academy. This is a Charter School that will start this autumn with about 113 9th Graders. I met Scott (the boss) and one of the engineers who helped redo the building and I was impressed. They already have a waiting list, which is a good sign.

My Four ARPA Proposals…

Update 08/31/21: Since this original post, I have added two other proposals for a total of six. I’ve added them below.

As I said in the Christmas in July post on spending our $9M in stimulus money, after the July 22 City Council Meeting, Councilmembers were given an application by the City Manager to fill out potential programs for research.

As I wrote last Sunday, I’ve had lots of suggestions from very informed citizens. But I’ve had no blazing insights as to which ideas to put forward.

So far, I have submitted four ideas. I could’ve submitted dozens. What I submitted have the following shared features:

  • I think I know enough about the idea to know if it might work
  • I think the City has the ability to execute it’s part with excellence
  • Each is strategic, as opposed to short term relief
  • Each would improve the quality of life for most or all residents
  • Each would lead to ongoing sustainable economic benefit to the City

And just to be clear: based on everything I have learned thus far, the primary goal I have is: the City Of Des Moines needs more money. You can’t do anything the public wants if you don’t have the money.

Consolation prize

A few words as to why I did not prioritize other stuff.

First off, I had a slew of questions about almost every line item on the City Manager’s draft proposal. It’s exactly the kind of detail-free thing that drives me nuts. It’s like designed to mess with me. So as I said last Sunday, more than anything else, I would like to slow down the entire train. We have plenty of time to decide most (not all) of these things.

Second, all the suggestions I have received are wonderful. I’m not kidding. Some of these proposals are so detailed, I was thinking, “Man if I was still working, I’d want that person’s résumé” If it were appropriate, I’d share a few of your suggestions just to show you how thoughtful and civic-minded so many of our residents really are. And that’s the problem: there are so many equivalently wonderful ideas I have no way of deeming one better than the other. So I took the coward’s way out. 😀

Third–every corporation has core competencies; things it excels at and things it finds more challenging. For example, my experiences with EATS and GRO were not exactly great, so I’m not as jazzed to repeat those, unless I get assurances that they’ll be handled differently in REV 2.0.

Fourth–with regard to anything ‘human servicesy’, again, I just found a lot of ittoo vague. I’m happy to provide funding for programs that have demonstrable need and a proven track record. However, I’m very reluctant to talk about any new program that we might have to build from scratch (see EATS and GRO.) Again, you’d have to show me that they can be executed well. If that sounds like micro-managing? Sorry. I just can’t support a blank check made out to ‘Mental Health’ or whatever. This has nothing to do with my support for the issue. *I just want evidence.

And parenthetically–I have to point out something I’ve been grousing about since day one: the fact that all our Advisory Committees (especially our Human Services Advisory Committee–which is where the majority of our social services spending is generated) is something of a black box to me. The Council gets only a single annual report during budgeting season. I’ve asked for information and been denied. If Council could get more routine information about the programs they fund–I’d be thrilled to be more supportive. I just refuse to spend money without details. Which makes me heartless, of course. And cold. Probably cruel to small animals as well.

The proposals

And with all that build -up:

#1 ENVIRONMENTAL Strategist

As most of you know “the airport” was and is my issue. The Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP) is here. People are often asking me “OK, what’s the answer?” This proposal is a big part of it. I would like the City to create a full-time position dedicated  to managing the negative impacts of Sea-Tac Airport. We’ve needed such a person since basically forever.

It’s one of the few ideas I’ll ever float that has some ‘what?’ factor. As far as I know, there is literally no person doing this job in the United States. But there should be.

People always complain that I’m gassing on, but there have been successes  in managing the airport, you know about them, you just don’t hear about them. (Until 1990, the airport literally dumped untreated waste directly into Des Moines Creek and Puget Sound.) But those successes have been epic and  inexpensive. They were also local talent and that was the key. Unfortunately, the only thing that ever got newspaper coverage seems to have been the truly spectacular wastes of money (eg. over $5.5M on Third Runway legal fees).

Anyhoo, I’m being a terrible tease and  I’ll come back to this another time. For now: the key mistake we always make is to outsource airport management–as a reaction to the Port. We hire outsiders from a small club of people inside the airline world, to come in, usually at the 11th hour. And that is why it is always unbelievably expensive and totally ineffective.

But among this person’s duties would be:

  1. Develop a strategic approach towards all negative impacts from Sea-Tac Airport.
  2. Educate the public and improve awareness to build regional support
  3. Act as legislative advocate on all related legislation.
  4. Identify and develop grant funding both for this department, but also to create mitigation programs that benefit the entire community.
  5. Organize other governments and organizations towards coordinated and strategic responses.
  6. Facilitate a new Council/Citizen Committee that can create legislation for the full Council.

This person needs to have a very specific set of skills: environmental law, communication, and the ability to grok airports. I’m asking for funding for three years as a proof of concept–and I’m applying the same standard our City Manager proposed when he accepted his job: if the work product isn’t paying for itself, it should be terminated.

The City Manager has chaired our Aviation Advisory Committee and currently represents the City on all airport-related groups. This person will take over that slot.

#2 DIRECTOR OF Business formation

I would like the City to create a dedicated business formation program. The program would initially consist of an FTE who’s job would be to:

  1. Promote Des Moines businesses, both locally and regionally
  2. Assist new business formation and existing business relocation to Des Moines
  3. Use a dedicated fund to provide start-up money as needed
  4. Provide ongoing surveys, events and other support services to help the business community support and grow their customer bases

Currently the City Manager also functions as Economic Development Director. But this is actually a very different job. The job of EDD is strategic planning–and in practice that has meant land development. But Des Moines also (and especially) needs someone to help the business owners. Years ago we had a Chamber Of Commerce but it was not particularly effective. This person will recruit promising businesses to locate here. When someone begins the process, this person will make it their mission to help them open and then thrive. To build their digital presence. To market. And to keep their finger on the pulse of every business and help raise their profile with media.

One of the first thing my critics often say about me is that I hate business. Sometimes I think I’m the only person on the Council who actually likes  running a business. I think we’ve often confused ‘building’ and ‘real estate’ as ‘business’. Construction is great. But a business–something that serves customers–is an ongoing process. A City that says it supports business should provide services that actually, you know, support business.

#3 Second metro shuttle

The Metro Shuttle that runs down 216th was a very good idea. Now let’s bring it to the rest of Des Moines. I propose to establish a second and permanent Metro Shuttle line for the south end of town with a route heading south from Marine View Drive and the Marina down to Judson, Huntington Park and Highline College. This will help us in our stated goals as a transit-centered community and it will help tie the south end of town into the downtown core–especially for our large senior community.

#4 Accelerated Marina Dock Replacement

I would like the City to research the possibilities of using as much of the $9M, up to the entire amount, to accelerate dock replacement. Not land side or restrooms. Just the docks.

I would like to research how much/if any cost savings, economic benefits or other advantages there might be in using all or a much larger portion of this money to complete multiple docks. Are there some docks we could use this money to replace now that would immediately start generating more revenue? If so, how much? How much borrowing costs would we save over the long haul?

If not the full $9M does $6M give significant benefits?  $4M? I’m trying to get a sense of what the relative benefits (if any) might be to each of these spending points.

#5 MARINA COMMUNITY OUTREACH PRESENTATIONS

The Marina Master Plan is very complex. The document is good, but it is very difficult for most people to visualize what the experience will be given so many various possibilities. Some of the options discussed compete for the same space. It is also challenging to understand many of the financial aspects, including revenue potential and costs.

It is essential to provide the public with a clear understanding of what this all might mean for the future of the Marina … and for them. To create that understanding, the City will immediately identify and engage with a specialist in creating media presentations to create a series of materials:

  1. A Virtual Tour Of The Marina. These are common in residential and commercial real estate. It would consist of a video animation allowing the viewer to “fly over and through” the area and explore what the Marina might look like from several perspectives (birds eye, street level pedestrian, etc.) The animation will demonstrate all aspects of the proposal in the document as far as they can currently be known. It might begin with a ‘before’ fly-over approaching the Marina entrance and showing how the Marina looks now and then transition to an ‘after’ fly-over showing the new elements. It could also give a visitor’s viewpoint taking walk though various features on the land side. The following list of elements to be included is by no means comprehensive but is provided to give a sense of scope:
    1. Waterside
      • The new covered moorage look
      • How guest moorage changes
      • Changes to the fairways
      • Possible Expansion of Ranger
      • A view of the APB from the docks
      • A ferry docking
      • Views of the various seawalls – most of the public never sees these and do not understand what it does or the challenges to wildlife. This is important to residents who want to have confidence that the rebuild is compatible with ongoing interest in wildlife
    2. Landside
      • Hotel
      • Pedestrians moving from the ferry to parking
      • Movement of boats going in and out of the APB dry stack to the launch
      • Movement of boats going in and out of the east bank dry stack to the launch
      • A view from the condos looking down on the APB
      • Interiors of the APB with proposed uses
      • Pedestrians descending the 223rd stairs
      • A re-purposed harbormaster building
      • Parking flows
  2. A series of posters and hand outs, and web pages, crafted at a sixth grade level , explaining the various environmental concerns: why permitting is so costly and so fraught. This is important to residents who want to have confidence that the rebuild is compatible with ongoing interest in wildlife.
  3. A series of posters, hand outs and web pages, crafted at a sixth grade level, explaining the costs, revenue forecasts, permitting challenges, how we intend to finance and also the appropriate uses of ongoing Marina money (eg. how an Enterprise Fund works.)

Important: All these materials will be updated as various elements of the project are approved and a complete set of all revisions will be maintained so that the public can see how the project evolves over time.

These materials will be created to be both self-standing, but also with a presenter in mind. The goal will be to support community meetings where experts from the City and its partners can use these to enhance their presentations and Q&A sessions with the public.

$20,000.

#6 FRIENDS OF SALTWATER STATE PARK WEB SITE

“The Friends Of Saltwater State Park are invaluable to the City and our residents through their efforts at park clean up, education and in monitoring the health of Puget Sound and the water quality at McSorley Creek. Their ongoing efforts to monitor and report spills from Midway Sewer District are much appreciated by our residents who feel safer knowing that they are watching. Their work also greatly enhances the value of the park as a tourist destination both at the water and on the forest trails.

Like many non-profits, FOSWSP struggles to attract volunteers and the donations necessary to provide these valuable benefits to Des Moines. To address these challenges, they are asking for our help to create a new web site to attract volunteers and donations. The new site will also provide educational opportunities and keep the public updated on the health of McSorley Creek, Puget Sound and the forest. Please see their attached proposal with details.”

Full proposal

$7,500

Summary: Tie it together

Look, I don’t know if any of this is going anywhere. But I’m sharing this with you because I honestly have never been clear as to the City’s strategy. We talk about the ‘Marina Redevelopment’ and other projects, but they always feel like separate and unrelated items. At the end of the day, Des Moines started out in 1959 as a very small city that grew by leaps and bounds with many small annexations. And in truth, the City still feels like all those separate ‘chunks’.

Part of that is just life. An administration is busy enough with the day to day stuff. But at some point we have to make real efforts to stamp Des Moines as a unified City. I’ve already suggested having unified branding across the City. Beyond that, we need to have a series of strategic goals that get beyond this project and that project–and finally gets us to being a unified city.


*Some day I’ll write an article on Detroit during the late 70’s. I’ll call it “How to waste half a billion dollars with only the best of intentions.” The City of Detroit went through a very long phase where it received absolutely lavish sums of Federal grants. And it just poured money into various social programs that were almost uniformly ineffective. But after so many decades of abject racism, questioning the effectiveness of any of these programs was politically impossible. Outcomes mattered far less than simply to appear to be trying. I still have a bad taste in my mouth thinking back on all the neighbourhoods that should have been helped.

My six ARPA proposals

Posted on Categories Airport, Economic Development, Marina, Neighborhoods, Transportation1 Comment on My six ARPA proposals

Update 08/31/21: Since this original post, I have added two other proposals for a total of six. I’ve added them below.

As I said in the Christmas in July post on spending our $9M in stimulus money, after the July 22 City Council Meeting, Councilmembers were given an application by the City Manager to fill out potential programs for research.

As I wrote last Sunday, I’ve had lots of suggestions from very informed citizens. But I’ve had no blazing insights as to which ideas to put forward.

So far, I have submitted four ideas. I could’ve submitted dozens. What I submitted have the following shared features:

  • I think I know enough about the idea to know if it might work
  • I think the City has the ability to execute it’s part with excellence
  • Each is strategic, as opposed to short term relief
  • Each would improve the quality of life for most or all residents
  • Each would lead to ongoing sustainable economic benefit to the City

And just to be clear: based on everything I have learned thus far, the primary goal I have is: the City Of Des Moines needs more money. You can’t do anything the public wants if you don’t have the money.

Consolation prize

A few words as to why I did not prioritize other stuff.

First off, I had a slew of questions about almost every line item on the City Manager’s draft proposal. It’s exactly the kind of detail-free thing that drives me nuts. It’s like designed to mess with me. So as I said last Sunday, more than anything else, I would like to slow down the entire train. We have plenty of time to decide most (not all) of these things.

Second, all the suggestions I have received are wonderful. I’m not kidding. Some of these proposals are so detailed, I was thinking, “Man if I was still working, I’d want that person’s résumé” If it were appropriate, I’d share a few of your suggestions just to show you how thoughtful and civic-minded so many of our residents really are. And that’s the problem: there are so many equivalently wonderful ideas I have no way of deeming one better than the other. So I took the coward’s way out. 😀

Third–every corporation has core competencies; things it excels at and things it finds more challenging. For example, my experiences with EATS and GRO were not exactly great, so I’m not as jazzed to repeat those, unless I get assurances that they’ll be handled differently in REV 2.0.

Fourth–with regard to anything ‘human servicesy’, again, I just found a lot of ittoo vague. I’m happy to provide funding for programs that have demonstrable need and a proven track record. However, I’m very reluctant to talk about any new program that we might have to build from scratch (see EATS and GRO.) Again, you’d have to show me that they can be executed well. If that sounds like micro-managing? Sorry. I just can’t support a blank check made out to ‘Mental Health’ or whatever. This has nothing to do with my support for the issue. *I just want evidence.

And parenthetically–I have to point out something I’ve been grousing about since day one: the fact that all our Advisory Committees (especially our Human Services Advisory Committee–which is where the majority of our social services spending is generated) is something of a black box to me. The Council gets only a single annual report during budgeting season. I’ve asked for information and been denied. If Council could get more routine information about the programs they fund–I’d be thrilled to be more supportive. I just refuse to spend money without details. Which makes me heartless, of course. And cold. Probably cruel to small animals as well.

The proposals

And with all that build -up:

#1 ENVIRONMENTAL Strategist

As most of you know “the airport” was and is my issue. The Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP) is here. People are often asking me “OK, what’s the answer?” This proposal is a big part of it. I would like the City to create a full-time position dedicated  to managing the negative impacts of Sea-Tac Airport. We’ve needed such a person since basically forever.

It’s one of the few ideas I’ll ever float that has some ‘what?’ factor. As far as I know, there is literally no person doing this job in the United States. But there should be.

People always complain that I’m gassing on, but there have been successes  in managing the airport, you know about them, you just don’t hear about them. (Until 1990, the airport literally dumped untreated waste directly into Des Moines Creek and Puget Sound.) But those successes have been epic and  inexpensive. They were also local talent and that was the key. Unfortunately, the only thing that ever got newspaper coverage seems to have been the truly spectacular wastes of money (eg. over $5.5M on Third Runway legal fees).

Anyhoo, I’m being a terrible tease and  I’ll come back to this another time. For now: the key mistake we always make is to outsource airport management–as a reaction to the Port. We hire outsiders from a small club of people inside the airline world, to come in, usually at the 11th hour. And that is why it is always unbelievably expensive and totally ineffective.

But among this person’s duties would be:

  1. Develop a strategic approach towards all negative impacts from Sea-Tac Airport.
  2. Educate the public and improve awareness to build regional support
  3. Act as legislative advocate on all related legislation.
  4. Identify and develop grant funding both for this department, but also to create mitigation programs that benefit the entire community.
  5. Organize other governments and organizations towards coordinated and strategic responses.
  6. Facilitate a new Council/Citizen Committee that can create legislation for the full Council.

This person needs to have a very specific set of skills: environmental law, communication, and the ability to grok airports. I’m asking for funding for three years as a proof of concept–and I’m applying the same standard our City Manager proposed when he accepted his job: if the work product isn’t paying for itself, it should be terminated.

The City Manager has chaired our Aviation Advisory Committee and currently represents the City on all airport-related groups. This person will take over that slot.

#2 DIRECTOR OF Business formation

I would like the City to create a dedicated business formation program. The program would initially consist of an FTE who’s job would be to:

  1. Promote Des Moines businesses, both locally and regionally
  2. Assist new business formation and existing business relocation to Des Moines
  3. Use a dedicated fund to provide start-up money as needed
  4. Provide ongoing surveys, events and other support services to help the business community support and grow their customer bases

Currently the City Manager also functions as Economic Development Director. But this is actually a very different job. The job of EDD is strategic planning–and in practice that has meant land development. But Des Moines also (and especially) needs someone to help the business owners. Years ago we had a Chamber Of Commerce but it was not particularly effective. This person will recruit promising businesses to locate here. When someone begins the process, this person will make it their mission to help them open and then thrive. To build their digital presence. To market. And to keep their finger on the pulse of every business and help raise their profile with media.

One of the first thing my critics often say about me is that I hate business. Sometimes I think I’m the only person on the Council who actually likes  running a business. I think we’ve often confused ‘building’ and ‘real estate’ as ‘business’. Construction is great. But a business–something that serves customers–is an ongoing process. A City that says it supports business should provide services that actually, you know, support business.

#3 Second metro shuttle

The Metro Shuttle that runs down 216th was a very good idea. Now let’s bring it to the rest of Des Moines. I propose to establish a second and permanent Metro Shuttle line for the south end of town with a route heading south from Marine View Drive and the Marina down to Judson, Huntington Park and Highline College. This will help us in our stated goals as a transit-centered community and it will help tie the south end of town into the downtown core–especially for our large senior community.

#4 Accelerated Marina Dock Replacement

I would like the City to research the possibilities of using as much of the $9M, up to the entire amount, to accelerate dock replacement. Not land side or restrooms. Just the docks.

I would like to research how much/if any cost savings, economic benefits or other advantages there might be in using all or a much larger portion of this money to complete multiple docks. Are there some docks we could use this money to replace now that would immediately start generating more revenue? If so, how much? How much borrowing costs would we save over the long haul?

If not the full $9M does $6M give significant benefits?  $4M? I’m trying to get a sense of what the relative benefits (if any) might be to each of these spending points.

#5 MARINA COMMUNITY OUTREACH PRESENTATIONS

The Marina Master Plan is very complex. The document is good, but it is very difficult for most people to visualize what the experience will be given so many various possibilities. Some of the options discussed compete for the same space. It is also challenging to understand many of the financial aspects, including revenue potential and costs.

It is essential to provide the public with a clear understanding of what this all might mean for the future of the Marina … and for them. To create that understanding, the City will immediately identify and engage with a specialist in creating media presentations to create a series of materials:

  1. A Virtual Tour Of The Marina. These are common in residential and commercial real estate. It would consist of a video animation allowing the viewer to “fly over and through” the area and explore what the Marina might look like from several perspectives (birds eye, street level pedestrian, etc.) The animation will demonstrate all aspects of the proposal in the document as far as they can currently be known. It might begin with a ‘before’ fly-over approaching the Marina entrance and showing how the Marina looks now and then transition to an ‘after’ fly-over showing the new elements. It could also give a visitor’s viewpoint taking walk though various features on the land side. The following list of elements to be included is by no means comprehensive but is provided to give a sense of scope:
    1. Waterside
      • The new covered moorage look
      • How guest moorage changes
      • Changes to the fairways
      • Possible Expansion of Ranger
      • A view of the APB from the docks
      • A ferry docking
      • Views of the various seawalls – most of the public never sees these and do not understand what it does or the challenges to wildlife. This is important to residents who want to have confidence that the rebuild is compatible with ongoing interest in wildlife
    2. Landside
      • Hotel
      • Pedestrians moving from the ferry to parking
      • Movement of boats going in and out of the APB dry stack to the launch
      • Movement of boats going in and out of the east bank dry stack to the launch
      • A view from the condos looking down on the APB
      • Interiors of the APB with proposed uses
      • Pedestrians descending the 223rd stairs
      • A re-purposed harbormaster building
      • Parking flows
  2. A series of posters and hand outs, and web pages, crafted at a sixth grade level , explaining the various environmental concerns: why permitting is so costly and so fraught. This is important to residents who want to have confidence that the rebuild is compatible with ongoing interest in wildlife.
  3. A series of posters, hand outs and web pages, crafted at a sixth grade level, explaining the costs, revenue forecasts, permitting challenges, how we intend to finance and also the appropriate uses of ongoing Marina money (eg. how an Enterprise Fund works.)

Important: All these materials will be updated as various elements of the project are approved and a complete set of all revisions will be maintained so that the public can see how the project evolves over time.

These materials will be created to be both self-standing, but also with a presenter in mind. The goal will be to support community meetings where experts from the City and its partners can use these to enhance their presentations and Q&A sessions with the public.

$20,000.

#6 FRIENDS OF SALTWATER STATE PARK WEB SITE

“The Friends Of Saltwater State Park are invaluable to the City and our residents through their efforts at park clean up, education and in monitoring the health of Puget Sound and the water quality at McSorley Creek. Their ongoing efforts to monitor and report spills from Midway Sewer District are much appreciated by our residents who feel safer knowing that they are watching. Their work also greatly enhances the value of the park as a tourist destination both at the water and on the forest trails.

Like many non-profits, FOSWSP struggles to attract volunteers and the donations necessary to provide these valuable benefits to Des Moines. To address these challenges, they are asking for our help to create a new web site to attract volunteers and donations. The new site will also provide educational opportunities and keep the public updated on the health of McSorley Creek, Puget Sound and the forest. Please see their attached proposal with details.”

Full proposal

$7,500

Summary: Tie it together

Look, I don’t know if any of this is going anywhere. But I’m sharing this with you because I honestly have never been clear as to the City’s strategy. We talk about the ‘Marina Redevelopment’ and other projects, but they always feel like separate and unrelated items. At the end of the day, Des Moines started out in 1959 as a very small city that grew by leaps and bounds with many small annexations. And in truth, the City still feels like all those separate ‘chunks’.

Part of that is just life. An administration is busy enough with the day to day stuff. But at some point we have to make real efforts to stamp Des Moines as a unified City. I’ve already suggested having unified branding across the City. Beyond that, we need to have a series of strategic goals that get beyond this project and that project–and finally gets us to being a unified city.


*Some day I’ll write an article on Detroit during the late 70’s. I’ll call it “How to waste half a billion dollars with only the best of intentions.” The City of Detroit went through a very long phase where it received absolutely lavish sums of Federal grants. And it just poured money into various social programs that were almost uniformly ineffective. But after so many decades of abject racism, questioning the effectiveness of any of these programs was politically impossible. Outcomes mattered far less than simply to appear to be trying. I still have a bad taste in my mouth thinking back on all the neighbourhoods that should have been helped.