Weekly Update: 10/11/2020

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

PSA#1: We’re getting down to the wire! You really gotta sign up for the Census. DM is currently only at about 71% participation (Washington State is actually second best in the nation) BUT STILL NOT ENOUGH! ๐Ÿ˜€ We need every living body counted. Each person counted represents about $30,000 in State and Local funding!

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

This Week

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

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

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association meeting.

Last Week

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

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

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Council Transportation Board. I keep bringing up the PSRC because they are the most important agency you’ve never heard of. They decide little details like, oh… if say, a Third Runway gets built. ๐Ÿ˜€ They create a variety of broad regional planning goals like transportation, housing and economic development. They do this partly by being the funnel through which Federal funding passes. In other words, when the Federal government sends dollars to build roads or housing or businesses, they tend to get distributed through the PSRC. Unfortunately, the PSRC is organized in a fashion that allows larger cities and the Port to steamroll the interests of smaller cities. So the City Of Des Moines needs to be a lot more engaged here.

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

Transportation Benefit District TBD Page

Pavement Management program

Des Moines 2016 Pavement Analysis Report

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

City Council Meeting Recap

Official City Recap

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. If that isn’t the best opening line in a book ehvehhhhhr? On the one hand, last Thursday’s meeting was one of the least controversial I’ve attended; and at 43 minutes, it was definitely the shortest. Heck, I even had time to grab a snack and watch Judy Woodruff. ๐Ÿ˜€ There’s a downside to all that which made it perfect time to publish the third in my series Better City Council Meetings.

Consent Agenda

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

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

City Manager report on Airport stuff

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

Letter to the PSRC

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

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

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

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

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

Tina Orwall’s HEPA filter STUDY

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

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

The 2021 Budget Presentation

2021 Preliminary Annual Budget

This was a new one. We had first Budget Presentation of 2021. There was just one detail missing. The Budget. Literally. The actual document showed up in my Inbox ten minutes after the meeting ended. So there was nothing to discuss–except how much we were encouraged to ask questions. OK, my first question is this: Why couldn’t you send us the PDF before the meeting? ๐Ÿ˜€

I guess this is a good time to say that the third in my series Better City Council Meetings is now on-line? ๐Ÿ˜€ I hope you’ll read it.

Five new police cars

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

Why do we need five new police cars?

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

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

Wait… remind me. Did I mention that the third in my series Better City Council Meetings is now on-line? ๐Ÿ˜€

Better City Council Meetings #3: Informality

Posted on Categories TransparencyTags

This is the third in a series of changes to our City Council Meetings I’d like to see. This particular change has to do with ‘relationships’ so it may well sound crankier than usual. It’s not meant to. Honest. ๐Ÿ˜€

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

Why our City Council is so informal

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

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

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

There’s also this sort of ‘world-weariness’ that everyone involved in government feels. For example, the Regional Aviation Baseline Study? I’ve heard that same frickin’ presentation like four times now: at Port Meetings, at StART Meetings, at PSRC Meetings, at the Highline Forum. I’m trying to imagine what it must be like for someone like our Mayor, who has 15-20 years of that sort of repetition. (It’s only been a few years for me and it’s already taken a toll on my personality. ๐Ÿ˜€ )ย  After a while, hearing the same stuff over and over will make even the most patient person want to take steps to ‘move things along!’ And I have no doubt that factors into why Des Moines City Council Meetings are the shortest in the region. There’s aย  logic to wanting to skip the repetition, including conversations that one has already had with staff in private.ย  It comes from a good place, but it leads to bad outcomes because what is repetitious to the ‘insider’ is completely new to you the public.

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

Symptoms

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

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

Why should I care about this?

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

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

Why formality matters

  1. To paraphrase good ol’ Don Rumsfeld, there are always Unknown Unknowns. (Or was it Unknowable Unknowables, who knew what that guy was talking about, right? ๐Ÿ˜€ ) But the reason discussion matters so much is that when you talk to people in person, you almost always find out things you’d never learn in a document. It’s why we do multiple in-person Employee Interviews rather than just evaluate resumes. A lot of times, talking is how you get to the truth.
  2. Communicating with the public builds trust and that alone should be enough reason to take public engagement more seriously. But it isn’t, of course. We need prodding. So all the formalities work to encourage electeds to listen better.
  3. Process also slows things down in another helpful way. There is that tendency to blow through items because one is the ‘expert’. But every once in a while, all the procedural crap creates an opportunity to change hearts and minds.
  4. When things get too informal, it has the psychological effect of reducing the tough questions that electeds should be asking. It may seem wildly impolite to say that, but we all know it’s true. The fact is that the staff are the experts and they run things and that creates a constant pull towards the tail wagging the dog. The formality of process and decorum are the tools to reinforce that line. It is extremely tempting for electeds to respect staff opinions too much and not even listen to *other voices (like those pesky voters) or โ€ even one another!ย  The bosses have to know their roles and the staff have to know theirs. That’s why I constantly stress that we are not a ‘small town’ because this task is much tougher to do in a ‘small town’. Why? Because it just seems so damned rude, right? What I’m writing sounds, why it sounds like I don’t trust my own staff, JC. Outrageous! That’s how touchy this issue gets. But again, anyone who has ever owned a business knows exactly what I’m talking about. Everyone gets along fine, but you maintain a certain professional distance so you can objectively manage the company.

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

Real World Example

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

    1. The first meeting (Budget Retreat) went on for four hours and then was ended without the Council asking any questions. OK, fine we had a follow-up meeting two weeks later. But having to delay those questions–and even having to argue in order to that follow-up meeting was bad. The reality is that this Meeting did not do as it was designed to do: give the Council the best opportunities at a once a year event to ask tough questions. It got flipped into being two less than optimal meetings rather than one good one. It created the appearance of engagement.
    2. The second bite (October 8th Budget Presentation) occured with no budget being presented. So no questioning was possible with the full Council. Which means that no amendments could be made. Individual Councilmembers can meet with staff to ask questions, but those meetings have no force of government.
    3. The third bite happens on October 22nd at the 1st Public Hearing. So now this is likely the single place where questions happen with the full Council.
    4. The 2nd public hearing in November is where the Budget is traditionally approved. But if you look at the Futures Report this suggests that it is the only place where amendments will be entertained. (Actually that’s kind of a misnomer–amendments could be added at any of the two previous meetings–well, if we’d had a Budget to amend that is. ๐Ÿ˜€ ) Plus, there are lots of other items on that Meeting Agenda.

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

Now, if you think things are going great in Des Moines, you likely are rolling your eyes (What am I saying, if you think things are going great in Des Moines you aren’t even reading this.) But regardless, in my view, our current process is waaaaaaaaaaaay too informal. It basically makes the Budget process a rubber stamp affair. It creates the appearance of engagement. Technically, it crosses all the is and dots all the t’. ๐Ÿ˜€ But it adheres to the letter of the law rather than the spirit.

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


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

 

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

Weekly Update: 10/04/2020

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Public Safety, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesTags , , 1 Comment on Weekly Update: 10/04/2020

PSA: We’re getting down to the wire! You really gotta sign up for the Census. We’re getting down to the wire and DM is currently only at about 71% participation (Washington State is actually second best in the nation) BUT STILL NOT ENOUGH! ๐Ÿ˜€ We need every living body counted. Each person counted represents about $30,000 in State and Local funding!

This Week

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

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

Wednesday: Puget Sound Regional Council Economic Development Committee.

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

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

Last Week

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

What’s Your Position On?

I do get questions from residents.

Body cameras

The interesting thing about that last Public Safety Committee Meeting was that there was 100% agreement, but almost no data. The position of the Police Guild is that, while they are not opposed to the idea in principle, they think that the money could be spent better elsewhere. And I agree. The Chief has said repeatedly that we get very few officer complaints, however offered no supporting data. And I think that was a mistake. Basic data regarding complaints should be constantly available and certainly when making a presentation on this issue. But, taking him at his word, I say again: we’re in the biggest budget shortfall in years, so why spend money now if there’s no problem? One comment from Councilmember Bangs was that “if we don’t spend this money for body cameras it may not be available for other public safety programs. It may just go away.” I would remind her that we the Council control the budget. Well, in theory, anyhoo. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Redondo

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

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

Midway Sewer District

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

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

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

G.R.O. business grant program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Student Internet Access

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

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

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

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

COVID-19

At our last Transportation Committee meeting I expressed my support for Roundabouts in Des Moines–to which the City Manager quipped, “Amazing, I am in agreement with Councilmember Harris!” To which I replied, “Hey, even a broken clock is right twice a day.” ๐Ÿ˜€

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

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

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

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

Weekly Update: 09/29/2020

Posted on Categories Airport, Economic Development, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesTags , , 1 Comment on Weekly Update: 09/29/2020

Mea Culpa: Yeah, late again. But this time I have a really really good excuse, Ma! I’m working on this SeatacNoise.Info history thingee and… Oh, never mind. ๐Ÿ™‚

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

PSA: We’re getting down to the wire! You really gotta sign up for the Census. We’re getting down to the wire and DM is currently only at about 71% participation (Washington State is actually second best in the nation) BUT STILL NOT ENOUGH! ๐Ÿ˜€ We need every living body counted. Each person counted represents about $30,000 in State and Local funding!

This Week

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

Last Week

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

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

Wednesday: Highline Forum. This is a bi-monthly meeting hosted by the Port Of Seattle. It is attended by electeds from the six airport communities, plus Highline Schools. It was started years ago in the aftermath of the Third Runway conflicts. Do I sound bored yet? ๐Ÿ˜€ The communities wish it would be more like an ongoing negotiation but it really isn’t. There’s usually some presentation re. noise, pollution, construction. It’s worth attending to get up to speed and to get an idea of which communities are engaged and which are not.

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

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

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

Gaslight

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

 

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

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

Business Grants

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

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

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

On the other hand

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

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

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

What is wrong with you?

But if one asks reasonable questions about the program design, the response is, “So you’re against business grants? You’re against money for the Food Bank? You’re against money to prevent lay-offs?” What are you, nuts? ๐Ÿ˜€

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

Boys Town

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

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

I want to make it clear that almost 100% of the ‘reaching out’ that has happened since my election has been me reaching out to my colleagues. Every Councilmember knows that I have tried to reach out to them–not just in Des Moines, but regionally. Councilmembers across all of Puget Sound know that I really value a collaborative approach. But in fact, the only members of the Council who have actually initiated contact with me since November have been Traci Buxton and Luisa Bangs–which I welcomed. But they weren’t exactly “Let’s all work together!” kinda deals. There were never any sincere, high-minded discussions like that. If I had a dime for all the number of un-returned emails and phone calls… I’d have a lot of dimes. ๐Ÿ™‚ย  In fact, I’ve had DM Councilmembers make appointments with me and simply not show up. Not just once, but many times. What is this, Tinder for local government? ๐Ÿ˜€

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

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

One way to tell…

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

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

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

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

Weekly Update: 09/21/2020

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

PSA #2: Dude: you really gotta sign up for the Census. We’re getting down to the wire and DM is currently only at about 71% participation (Washington State is actually second best in the nation) BUT STILL NOT ENOUGH! ๐Ÿ˜€ We need every living body counted. Each person counted represents about $30,000 in State and Local funding!

RIP: I note and deeply mourn the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Just perusing her bio reminds me of how much the world has improved for women in my lifetime–and how much she did to make that happen. When I was in grad school, which wasn’t that long ago, there were fifty nine guys in my class and one woman. I distinctly remember the Dean making a statement about why there weren’t more women. “Possibly because most girls don’t want to be engineers.” Oof. Lots accomplished. Lots more still to do. Thank you for your service.

This Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Regular Meeting and Audit Meetings (Agendas)

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

Wednesday: Highline Forum. This is a bi-monthly meeting hosted by the Port Of Seattle. It is attended by electeds from the six airport communities, plus Highline Schools. It was started years ago in the aftermath of the Third Runway conflicts. Do I sound bored yet? ๐Ÿ˜€ The communities wish it would be more like an ongoing negotiation but it really isn’t. There’s usually some presentation re. noise, pollution, construction. It’s worth attending to get up to speed and to get an idea of which communities are engaged and which are not.

Wednesday: Puget Sound Regional Council Aviation Baseline Study Open House Sign up to learn about progress on siting a second airport.

Thursday: Municipal Facilities Committee and Economic Development Committee meetings. These are public meetings so sign upย  to listen in and comment.

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) We’ll get an update on the G.R.O. business grant program. But the highlight (for me) will be the first reading of approving our first Comcast agreement in ten years. I am not on the Franchise Committee which oversees that. But considering Comcast is running neck and neck in terms of public hatred with the Port Of Seattle :D, I will be very interested to see if we have achieved any tangible improvements since the 2009 agreement. The answer to the obvious question is, “no we can’t lower your rates.” But there are possible improvements. I may sound snippy here, but based on previous meetings involving contract review I expect defensiveness–which I hate. I canย neverย understand why there is tension. I’m supposed to ask tough questions of the staff negotiating this because I know this is one of the most visceral issues for you as residents. You feel ill-treated by Comcast, right? (OK, I do. ๐Ÿ˜€ ) Please read these notes from the last Franchise Committee Meeting for background and let the City Council know what you think!

Last Week

Tuesday: SCAtbd Meeting all that ‘transportation’ stuff–like

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee (Agenda).

Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines. I should remind people periodically that this is a King County-funded program that works to reduce youth violence and improve school attendance. It’s success has been dramatic over the past five years, thanks in part to Officer Tanya Seaberry. It shows that an extremely effective way to reduce crime and improve outcomes for students is with some pretty basic and low dollar programs. Give kids interesting things to do and some attention and good things happen. ๐Ÿ™‚

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Council Growth Management Board Meeting. This mattered partly because of this Aviation Baseline Study presentation. The bottom line is that almost no aviation planning includes a discussion of ‘externalities’… those pesky effects on us. This study has been ongoing for two years and literally no work has been done on the negative impacts on airport communities. As I keep trying to say, this is outrageous and simply would not happen in any other type of public project.

Thursday: Transportation Meeting 3:00pm (Agenda). What was great about this was that we had a member of the public attending a public meeting. ๐Ÿ˜€ (Thanks to Cory O’Brien for being a guinea pig.) I also learned that our Mayor and Deputy Mayor dislike roundabouts. Whereas the City Manager does not. I happen to believe in roundabouts because all the evidence says that they improve traffic flows dramatically–so much so that State law strongly encourages their adoption.

Thursday: Environment Committee. These are probably the most boringest of all committees (even for attendees), mainly because they are currently limited in scope to riveting topics like storm water. For the long term I’m interested that it should include broader topics like shore and off-shore water quality (spoiler alert: not good) and, of course, the airport.

Thursday (Thursday is quite a day, right?) : City Council General Meeting (Agenda). Recap below.

Saturday: Marina/Beach Cleanup organised by SR3 and Seattle Dive Tours. I spent an hour ostensibly looking for trash along the North seawall. Didn’t find much. But I’ll tell ya what I did find–a lot of the seawall. ๐Ÿ˜€ What I mean is that a surprising amount of it is now falling onto the beach and into Puget Sound and I wish we could pick up all that creosote-coated wood, but that’s a job on a different scale. I had an interesting conversation with the boss at Seattle Dive Tours and it got me thinking about our unique relationship to environmental issues with both the water and air.

Lobbyist Contract

Last Thursday’s City Council Meeting (video) was, like almost all meetings since the Declaration Of Emergency in March, basically a Consent Agenda. The only ‘excitement’ was that I pulled the item amending and enhancing our lobbyist’s contract. That led to (yet another) trolling by the City Manager.

Preamble: strategery

When you’re part of a group like a City Council, you will routinely come up against issues that are no-win. And this *contract enhancement was one of them. In these cases you can take the principled position, get attacked and lose or you can go along, not make waves and wait for a future opportunity to undo the thing you dislike.

Believe it or not, I choose Door #2 on most issues for several reasons: first of all, the City Manager should have the team he wants; I’m not here to micro-manage. Second of all, it’s generally a waste of time arguing over issues where I’ll lose. I only take the principled (aka ‘guy asking to be trolled’) stance when there is something going on.

I ran to change things

I ran as a change candidate on at least two big issues. I said that we were not doing economic development well. And I said, especially, that we had not handled the negative impacts from Sea-Tac Airport well. Both those departments are run by Michael Matthias. Unlike other cities, he is not only our City Manager, he is also our Economic Development Director and our lead on all airport issues, including the upcoming SAMP. In other words, Mr. Matthias is not just an administrator, he is the policy driver on the two key issues Iย  ran to try and change. So it was inevitable that we would have disagreements. The question always came down to, would we be able to work together respectfully.

Why complain?

Once again, the City Manager made some disparaging comments about me from the dais which were, well, let’s just say, not 100% accurate. And I want to point out three things:

1. This has become something of a recurring deal with Mr. Matthias and our Mayor. If I disagree. If I question the wonderfulness of a policy? If I do anything they dislike? Attack. Make some claim that I’m doing something ‘inappropriate’ or even ‘dangerous’! If you watch City Council Meetings, or read the Waterland Blog you’ve seen a few of these admonitions. But at some point I’ll publish a full list of these beauties (which are part of the public record–I’m would never betray confidences.) I don’t want to be a tease, but they are truly ridiculous. And they will make the people who supported them look ridiculous.

2. The thing I truly do not get is that there is absolutely no need to do so. As usual, he/they have the votes, so why not just ignore me, especially when I make reasonable objections? Why be blatantly disrespectful? As always, I said nothing disparaging. But I did speak from research and personal experience.

3. Most troubling, once again my colleagues seem to find nothing out of the ordinary with this. Regardless of who you voted for you, it is not in your interest as a voter to allow the administration to ever publicly criticize an elected official. When that decorum breaks down, it should tell you something about what is going on ‘under the hood’.

New duties

To begin with, I asked for specifics as to what Mr. Hemstad would be doing for his raise and got no reply. That right there gets my antennae up. But here are my educated guesses.

Airport

For what it’s worth: I’ve had over a dozen chances to engage with Mr. Hemstad over the past two years. I had these opportunities because I was a part of SB5370 (siting a second airport) in 2018 and then I came up with the original plan that became legislation to expand Port Packages (HB2315 and HB1847) in 2019. I knew the extent of his knowledge on airport issues–which is similar to most lobbyists, and which was, to put it bluntly, none.

Mr. Matthias and Mr. Hemstad are now our representatives on the StART, which was designed to be a citizen-led group as part of an FAA mandate on community outreach. So what we’re now doing is sending the two highest paid people in the City to attend meetings that were better served by far more knowledgeable residents? Not my preferred plan.

Economic Development

That’s my personal research. As to the other selling points, as I said, I am not happy with the City’s current economic development strategy. I asked for specifics as to his new portfolio and got no reply. So I did some research. And what seems to be the case is that Mr. Hemstad and Mr. Matthias have worked together at least twice before in other cities. I believe that is why he was hired in the first place–which is fine, Mr. Matthias wanted people he knows and trusts. Great. But I examined those City’s economic development plans and I did not find them to be great roadmaps for Des Moines. So why would I support doubling down on more of the strategies I already think are bad for Des Moines future?

Added Value

And finally, there was much talk about ‘what a deal’ we were getting–that Mr. Hemstad combined best-in-class service with the lowest price one could find anywhere. The claims were just effusive. Mr. Hemstad gets $6,000 per month for non-exclusive services–meaning he can (and does) take on work for other clients. So I reached out to a long-time friend and Olympia lobbyist and to colleagues in five other cities. And I found that there are other similar-sized cities which pay the same or less for similarly effective services; some as little has half that amount. Some have larger staffs with greater resources and some have in-house, full-time lobbyists that provide exclusive services.

Overall grading

I am in no way disparaging the work that Mr. Hemstad does or the fees he has received. I’m sure he earns his money. I liked him personally when we collaborated before. His accomplishments are real and I appreciate everything he has done for Des Moines–so much so that I wanted him to keep doing exactly what he’s been doing! Just not all this new nonsense.

Two things to think about

I want residents to understand that if they voted for me they voted for change in our economic development and airport strategies. And that means pointing out when I believe we are headed in the wrong direction–even if it would tactically better to ‘go along’.

You as a resident will never have access to the petty ‘inside baseball’ that is behind most of these fights. But once again, I want to emphasize that I did not pick this fight. Again, it would have been better if the other side had let me have my say and just moved on. From the dais I made a subtle (probably too subtle) policy objection to this raise. The City Manager (and the Council) had a choice. They have the votes. They could simply listen to my objections, vote to approve, and move on. Simple. No arguments, no wasting time. But noooooooo. (Hear the John Belushi voice, there?) Apparently, winning the vote is not sufficient.

I suppose one can read this and think, “Jeez, what a whiner. The vote was 6-1 so you were obviously wrong. Move on.” But when one is attacked from the dais, one has to respond. You, the voter, shouldย  understand that their behavior is simply not appropriate and that my objections to this contract were fact-based and reasonable. Regardless of the tally, I am confident that I made the right call. And their bad behavior only reinforces that confidence.

I leave it to you to decide who is more credible.

*Despite what you may heard this is a raise, not just an ‘extension’ as was advertised, so to be generous I refer to it as an ‘enhancement’. The idea was sold that Mr. Hemstad is being paid simply to work more months of the year from home. But what those new tasks are–especially during the months when legislatures are not in session, was never spelled out. Don’t wanna call it a raise? Fine, call it a whole new consulting gig. But as a consultant myself, it is most definitely not ‘just an extension’.me.

Puget Sound, Lead and Sea-Tac Airport

Posted on Categories Airport

At last Saturday’s beach Clean-Up event I had a fairly typical conversation about Puget Sound with the owner of Seattle Dive Tours. It goes like this: Environmentally speaking, Puget Sound is in terrible shape. But it’s always tough to get people to do something about it because it looks fantastic. It’s not on fire or brown sludge. It’s also difficult to address because if you stand on the beach and start walking out into the water (wear your diving suit) you’ll pass through like five governing jurisdictions before you get to the big drop-off about 200 yards out. (I think that’s partly why, technically it’s referred to as a Fjord because it goes from like 20 ft deep to six hundred all in one gulp.) Anyhoo, it’s really hard to get cooperation and attention on the Sound even though there are a dozen organisations working on it because they all have extremely narrow jurisdictions. I think this is what most people imagine when they get frustrated about ‘bureaucracy’. And it’s why I feel strongly that we have to take the bull by the horns. Because at the end of the day, even if all these groups can’t get it together, it’s our shore. It’s our ultimate responsibility. If we don’t do it, no one will.

The airport is exactly the same deal. You see me gassing on almost every week here about FAA, PSRC, Port, Ecology, PSCAA and a dozen other agencies and committees. It’ll make yer head spin. But again, if we don’t work to protect Des Moines, no one will.

And here’s why I want you to care: When I moved to America in 1974, lead was still in a lots of gasoline and in house paint and in lots of pipes. People today don’t realize that science had known about the problems of lead going back to the Romans (plumbing comes from the Latin word for ‘lead’.) But because it was so damned useful and because it didn’t cause instant harm (you often don’t notice the problems of lead poisoning for decades) and because it seemed so expensive to deal with there was no will to do anything–especially at the local level. People today can reasonably look back and wonder “What were they thinking?” at the amount of damage people did to health and environment. The good news is that Congress passed the National Environmental Protection Act in 1970–which at the time was referred to as ‘the get out the lead bill’ because that was the primary driver.

I can guarantee you, in twenty years, people will look back at us and go, “How the hell did you live with all that noise and pollution? Didn’t you realize what it was doing to your kids?”

That is exactly where we’re at today with aviation noise and pollution. The science has been pretty clear for a looooong time. We in Des Moines, are less healthy, live shorter lives, have lower property values and pay much higher social costs, simply because we had the bad luck to live next to a small/medium-sized airport that decided to become the eighth largest airport in America.

I can guarantee you, in twenty years, people will look back at us and go, “How the hell did you live with all that noise and pollution? Didn’t you realize what it was doing to your kids?” But because 2020 is a bit like 1974, we still haven’t reached the public awareness that will make change possible.

Just as with Puget Sound, because the skies look so blue, all most people think of when you ask them about Sea-Tac is, ‘yeah, the noise can be kind of annoying, what can ya do?’ But that’s just not the case. It’s the single biggest long-term problem we face as a City that nobody is paying serious attention to.

Now our leaders will say how concerned they are. But in reality, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of local electeds in King County who are truly engaged on this topic. I think that’s ridiculous, it’s why I ran for office and it’s why I hope you will do what you can to speed that increase in awareness which will be the key to getting us the relief we deserve.

Two-Weekly Update: 09/14/2020

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Weekly Update, my ass. ๐Ÿ˜€ Sorry. I took a few days to get on the water for a change. And then I come back and the sky has turned orange and the power went out and my computer broke and…

Cats and Dogs! Living together! ๐Ÿ˜€

Anyhoo, I appreciate all the people who actually notice when I don’t do these. Thanks for following along.

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

PSA #2: Dude: you really gotta sign up for the Census. We’re getting down to the wire and DM is currently only at about 71% participation (Washington State is actually second best in the nation) BUT STILL NOT ENOUGH! ๐Ÿ˜€ We need every living body counted. Each person counted represents about $30,000 in State and Local funding!

PSA #3: If you have a business in Des Moines, you should fill out a G.R.O. application, the City’s new business grant program. The deadline for applications is Today, Monday September 14th! If you need help filling out forms–especially if you need a translator, please give me a call (206) 878-0578.

This Week

Action packed!

Tuesday: SCAtbd Meeting all that ‘transportation’ stuff–like

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee (Agenda).

Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines. Let’s see where we’re at with kids as they get back to school (sort of? ๐Ÿ˜€ )

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

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

Thursday: Environment Committee 4:00pm (Agenda) Please go hereย  if you wish to attend.

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

Saturday: Marina/Beach Cleanup organised by SR3 and Seattle Dive Tours. Now they say they’re all booked up for volunteers. But you just know some people are going to punk out at the last minute so why not just show up and help make our coastline even nicer. ๐Ÿ™‚

Last Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Meeting. (Watch/Agenda) Item 8b. So… this is a long story. If you care about airporty stuff, I strongly recommend you go to SeatacNoise.Info and subscribe to their mailing list. Basically, the Port Of Seattle operates 24 Noise Monitors, which are supposed to give us a detailed picture of not just the noise, but also the number/altitude of flights over each neighborhood. So the thing is: they’ve never exactly worked properly. Which is bad. Because, as I always say, if you don’t have data, you can’t get help. This has been a long-running issue. In fact the Port spent $2M to replace them back in 2015. And the wild thing? In 2016 I started bitchingย  that the replacements weren’t working right! And no one paid much attention. Which was sad for me. ๐Ÿ™ ๐Ÿ˜€ But the good news is that, the Port Commissioners (finally) took complaints from residents like Vashon Island Fair Skies, my colleagues in SeaTac and moi and decided to do something about it. So apparently, their will be an audit and the Port will start releasing data from each Noise Monitor to the public so we can easily double-check that these things actually work. Yay. ๐Ÿ™‚

Wednesday: Lunch at the Senior Center. Occasionally people ask why I show up there so often. Well, first off, the food is usually pretty good. Second, there are those EATS vouchers, which I’m always pushing to get residents to try all our local restaurants! But mainly it’s for the intelligence. ๐Ÿ˜€ A lot of times, these people know stuff that’s going on–you have no idea. ๐Ÿ™‚

Wednesday I had a meeting with the MRSC and phone calls with colleagues in a couple of different Cities to discuss, my favorite subject: Exhaust Systems. ๐Ÿ˜€ A lot of residents want something done about ‘motorists’ who make a lot of noise on the streets–particularly in Redondo. The thing I know is infuriating to residents is how long it seems to take to get relief on things like this. But one part of that ‘process’ is that you kinda have to do some research whenever you propose any sort of policy. More soon.

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association meeting. Most of the discussion was about the dreaded Paid Parking. I have three observations:

  1. They did a great job of mobilizing their membership on the whole paid parking thing. I mention that because that is the way to get what you want from City Council.
  2. While I’m belaboring the parking thing, I mentioned a question I have on the issue, which I hope we pursue. When the discussion was put on an earlier City Council Agenda, the City stated that it wanted to work out a system that would be used by both the Marina and Redondo. And I really want to understand why that’s a priority. I mean: what’s the advantage to a shared system?
  3. Have you seen the DMMA’s new web site? Great job! I encourage all local groups to up their game in terms of on-line presence.

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) Transportation Board Meeting. This was a biggee, with discussion about the 2021-2024 Draft Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).ย  The PSRC wants your input. Please do it! More below.

Last Last Week

On Monday I attended the Des Moines Police Advisory Committee meeting, hosted by Chief Ken Thomas.

Wednesday was Lunch at the Senior Center. ๐Ÿ™‚

Friday I was joined by Councilmembers from SeaTac and Burien in a meeting with the local FAA. This was something of a special event. And it shouldn’t be. Among the many issues that have made life next to Sea-Tac Airport so fraught has been a uniquely poor relationship with the local FAA. All airport communities have a difficult relationship with the FAA. The law makes it that way. And in fact, the technical language of the Federal code says that all our interactions with the FAA should go through ‘the operator of the airport’ (The Port Of Seattle). Get that? The Port is supposed to be our advocate, if we have problems with all the noise and pollution. You can’t make this stuff up. ๐Ÿ˜€ However at some airports, the FAA does engage with the local community in a constructive fashion. And we need to try to get toย that form of dialogue because: newsflash: simply yelling all the time does no good.

Snap out of it, dude.

Just between us: I’ve been driving around with expired tabs. (I know! ๐Ÿ˜€ ) The State forgot to send me the annual renewal and I never noticed it. For some reason that seems significant. It’s autumn and there should be a TON of boat stuff or house stuff and so on… but somewhere during the past few months I slowly shifted into what I thought was ‘pandemic mode’ but which is actually more like ‘maรฑana mode’. Nothing seems as urgent these days.

I guess we’re all waiting for ‘a turning point’, maybe the election, maybe a vaccine to ‘swing boldly into action!’ But in the meantime, at the risk of sounding all ‘Puritan’, I can’t help but feel like we’re getting used to being stuck in second gear. Every day there seems to be a ramping down of expectations (and that includes government.)

My point is this: I don’t think there is going to be a ‘turning point’.ย  These challenges aren’t going away. In fact, I think we’re just getting warmed up (unintentional pun.) We’re at a point now where we’re (OK, I’m) tired and in this sort of half-speed mode. But unfortunately, now is the time for governments to actually work harder, because the challenges are only going to keep coming faster with each passing year.

Our City has been under an emergency proclamation since March. Does it feel like an emergency to you now? Me either. So I’m wondering when we make up all the time we’ve lost or what that even means given the overall financial uncertainty.

As I write this, the City has just suffered its second water main break of the year in the south end of town. And Pier 58 down town just collapsed! This is probably not a coincidence. A lot of our basic infrastructure is at the end of its useful life and/or is in geologically sensitive spots. Couple that with the wildfires, the pandemic, and when you look at the big picture, they’re all climate change-related. Not to sound all New-Agey, but the Universe is sending us a message about planning for the future. And we’re just not acting like it’s all that serious.

A couple of quick examples:

  1. Your State Representative Tina Orwall has been working on legislation for two years now to put air filters in local schools under the flight paths. Something that sure would’ve come in handy this past week. But even getting $50,000 to get a tiny project off the ground has been like pulling teeth.
  2. As I wrote above, I spent hundreds of hours over the past four years working on this Noise Monitor jazz–something that should’ve worked properly fifteen years ago.

That’s just two examples out of hundreds of things large and small that all sorts of people in Des Moines are working on stupid hardย to protect our environment and plan for the future.ย  But it shouldn’t be this hard. We’ve been waaaaaaaaay too slow to take issues of environment and health seriously. We have to recognize that what we’re experiencing now is not some aberration, but ‘the future’. And we have to do it now. Because this is the new normal.

I’m not saying I have some big ‘plan’. And I’m certainly not the boss of anything. But for me, and for government in general,ย something needs to happen. Maybe like five Red Bulls. Or maybe just an attitude adjustment.ย  Whatever. It’s time to find a new gear.

Weekly Update: 08/30/2020

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

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

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

This Week

Nothing. I got nothing. OK, nothing I can tell you about. ๐Ÿ˜€ But you can always tell me something. Give me a call (206) 878-0578 or let’s schedule a socially-distanced meeting. I promise: it’s always on the down-low.

(Well, unless you’re actually looking for advertising for an event.ย  In which case, hell yeah, I wanna tell everyone about it! ๐Ÿ˜€ )

Last Week

Monday: Helped out local businesses fill out those G.R.O. applications ๐Ÿ™‚ If you would like assistance–especially if you need a translator, please give me a call (206) 878-0578.

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

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

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

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

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

Advisory Committees

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

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

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

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

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

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

The choices

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

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

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

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

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

Now choose something else.

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

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

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

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

Then what?

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

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

The Aviation Advisory Committee? I think everybody quit. Not quite sure. ๐Ÿ˜€

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

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

And then there are the other organizations

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

Bringing back the band

Basically, a lot of these Advisory Committees just need a few more people to get involved. If you step forward, you can have an immediate impact on the City simply because no one else is doing that thing. You just need the initiative to organize a bit. Don’t worry about the ‘how’. There are lots of people who will come forward to help if you take the first step. Really. It happens whenever anyone decides to take on something worthwhile in Des Moines and it’s one of the best things about our town. ๐Ÿ™‚ And by all means do not be dismayed if the City kinda blows you off. Again, you will probably have to move forward and then get the City on board later. I know that sounds weird, but just trust me on that.

Start your own band.

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

For example: the (not dead, only mostly dead ๐Ÿ˜€ ) Citizens Advisory Committee doesn’t seem to have a Redondo representative. Well, why not start a new Redondo Citizens Advisory Committee. Certainly there are enough people upset about ongoing issues of public safety, traffic, parking, noise, the pier, etc. If you want ongoing attention from the City, that’s the way forward: create the group and make an opportunity to report to the Council on a regular basis.

How?

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

Whether you’re trying to revive an existing group or start a new one, you may be concerned that you don’t know how to organize meetings. Not to worry. The toughest challenge is ordering a gavel on-line. ๐Ÿ˜€ Seriously, the City will help you with all that parliamentarian jazz. If you can demonstrate that you have the bodies to create such a group? The City should back you. And again, you will find lots of residents who want to help you succeed.

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

It’s not me. It’s you.

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

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

OK, boomer

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

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

Bait and switch

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

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

Why are you always picking on the web site?

At the beginning of this article I said that the web site and the Advisory Group problems were linked. They are, but I’m not a good enough writer to artfully weave the two together. So I’m jamming this bit onto the end. ๐Ÿ˜€

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

One thing is for sure: Power abhors a vacuum. If you don’t help make decisions in Des Moines, someone else surely will. And probably the same person who’s been doing it for the past decade. ๐Ÿ˜€

Coda: The obligatory disclaimer

Look, I don’t wanna dunk of the City here too much.(Too late? ๐Ÿ˜€ ) I talked a lot here about values. You can tell what any organization values not by what they say but by what they do. There are a ton of things the City does which are best in class. Clearly, we have staff who know how to do great things. And those are the things that the City actually values.

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