I need your help…

Posted on Categories Environment, TransparencyTags ,

On March 24th, the City Of Des Moines posted on its web site the following:

The City Council did not receive notification of this via official email.

But, whatever, probably an oversight. So, being someone who is concerned about water quality issues in Des Moines and given the fact that I am a member of the Environment Committee, which has official jurisdiction over storm water management, I shared the announcement on social media.

And then, I did exactly what the announcement asks of the public: I emailed the City representative for the educational materials that we’d give out to any resident.

And I got this reply:

Which is the administration’s way of telling me that the City Manager does not want them to reply to my emails. Even in reply to requests for public comment.

Look, I rarely out this sort of behaviour–though it happens to me literally every week. But in this case it’s kinda tough for me to advocate for you when I get push back on any information requests (even public stuff like materials for educators!)

So if you wouldn’t mind, please email bstryker@desmoineswa.gov and ask for the educational materials referenced in the article and let me know.

Thanks in advance.

Water District 54 Tower

Posted on Categories Environment, Neighborhoods

The King County Water District 54 reservoir, located on 11th Avenue between City Hall and the Police Department, is almost unique in Washington State. It is one of only three remaining well-water sources and is un-chlorinated. One ‘feature’ of the water is that it tends to contain high levels of manganese–a completely benign metal that is in high concentration in our area. You may notice this as an occasional gray cast in your water.

Effects of airplane exhaust

An easy way to see the effects of airplane exhaust from take-offs heading south from Sea-Tac Airport is to look at the tower.

04/01/2021 4pm South side (behind take-off path)

04/01/2021 4pm North side (facing take-off path)

Sailboat Logo

Until about 2010, the tower was painted with the Des Moines ‘sailboat’ logo. It was painted over with the current blue due to the increase in aircraft exhaust pollution. The custom artwork cost $12,000 and it was thought too expensive to have to keep re-doing every few years.

Summer 2009 with logo. The logo was display in four places around the circumference.

Summer 2009 with logo (close-up)

Weekly Update: 03/14/2021

Posted on Categories Environment, Taxes, Transparency, Weekly Updates3 Comments on Weekly Update: 03/14/2021

Public Service Announcements

  1. Public Comment on the FAA’s Neighborhood Environmental Survey is due by March 15th. This is important. Please follow these instructions and comment TODAY (more below).
  2. Donate blood, win A NEW CAR! 😀 https://www.bloodworksnw.org/ Aside from the fabulous prize opportunities, there is currently a serious shortage of whole blood. Please schedule an apt. today
  3. Spring Recycling Event at the Des Moines Marina Saturday March 27. NEW: You can now bring TVs and electronics!
  4. Kent Des Moines Road Closure March 21 and 23rd!
  5. SBA Webinars on new PPP Programs start March 3rd!
  6. Virtual Open House on SR 509 I-5 to 24th Ave
  7. If you are a local business, make the Southside Promise from the South Side Seattle Chamber Of Commerce! There are grants of up to $1,000 to help you now.
  8. There are new State Unemployment Benefits. But you gotta read and follow the instructions!
  9. Last month’s article in the Seattle Times regarding the Masonic Home has gotten a lot of people talking. As you know, working to save the place has been on my agenda for years. Please contact me or Barbara McMichael of SoCoCulture.org at info@sococulture.org to get involved! She is compiling a mailing list and is coordinating efforts to save the place. 🙂
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Rental Assistance for Low Income King County Bar Association – The Housing Justice Project is requesting community based providers assistance to identify households who owe 10K or more in back-rent. “We can zero out $10K or more of rent for folks who are at 50% AMI or below these income limits. If you know anyone, can you have them email fwblackcollective@gmail.com for navigation with case managers or give them this link which has all the paperwork to complete and email to edmundw@kcba.org to get their rent payed out.   Forms to Eliminate Back Rent: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=1fUdYAwMFH_V_B1vTD_urmir_ltI8Wfnw.   Completed forms can be emailed to edmundw@kcba.org.”
  13. If you wish to sign up for future City Clean Ups Michelle Johansson Fawcett: cleanuri.com/pj4RQ5
  14. 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: Destination Des Moines meeting

Tuesday: South King County Area Transportation Board SCATBd (Agenda)

Tuesday: City Of Burien Town Hall on DESC. First of all, they’re actually having a Town Hall. Second of all, even though it’s Burien, this matters for Des Moines. We will be looking at the same issues in the near future so it’s a good idea to see how other Cities are tackling the problems of affordable housing.

Thursday: Sound Transit Finance Committee Meeting. Got a beef about S/T? I know I do. 😀 Sign for public comment. 🙂

Thursday: Transportation Committee Meeting (cancelled)

Thursday: Environment Committee Meeting (cancelled)

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) We will be asked to vote for two water/sewer projects. If you live on 8th Ave and 223rd or along 27nd, please read. There will also be an update on the choice of maintenance facility for Sound Transit.

Last Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission meeting (Agenda/Video). This was a biggee. Almost 90 minutes on how great the Sea-Tac Airport Round Table (StART) is going. (I can tell ya what a waste it is in 90 seconds. 😀 ) But second, what was intended to be a rather rushed item turned out to be a very good discussion on the Port’s 2020 ending financial results. OK, I want you to relax–I know you were getting nervous there for a minute, so here it is. The Port is doing just fine. 🙂 (In one sentence: the amount of money they got from CARES, oy we should all be so lucky.)

Wednesday: Sealife Response, Rehab, Research (SR3) Webinar. Mostly info on what they do. There will be a presentation about our location (which I’m still not wild about) on April 22. The one thing I did learn is that they want you to volunteer! And since it’s not a City deal, there are no requirements other than a willingness to learn. So go to their web site and sign up and learn how to… er… save something. 🙂

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association meeting. This doesn’t relate to the DMMA directly, but I am almost at a point where I would support a separate Council Committee for the Marina in order to insure involvement by Council and the public. I always want to remind residents that the Marina is a profit-center, not a ‘cost’ to taxpaypers–and that the primary revenue comes from boat owners. So boat owners rightly get a strong say in its future. My primary goal regarding the Marina is that it continue to be the best facility of its type in the region for boat owners. But as the years have gone on I feel a certain growing unease. Because the Marina is, of course, far more than a place for boat owners to do their thing. It’s basically the biggest public park in the City. The boat owners definitely have the ear of the City, but I’m never quite sure if the rest of the community does. The City hears from boat owners literally every month at DMMA meetings (which is great), but the rest of the community? Eh, not so much.

Friday: I had a conversation with the head of the Port Of Seattle’s External Real Estate Division–basically the guy who’s buying the SR-509 Surplus property off of 216th at the trail head to the Des Moines Creek Trail. More below.

FAA Neighborhood Environmental Survey (NES)

The NES is just a high-falutin’ way of saying that the FAA is, for the first time in forty years, re-evaluating the standards for acceptable noise levels around airports. By providing Public Comment, you’ll be telling the FAA something pretty obvious, that the current acceptable standards are simply too damned loud! If they rule to adopt lower levels, it will affect everything from allowable flight paths to which homes are eligible for sound insulation. It only takes 2 minutes to cut n’ paste the suggested text. The deadline is March 15 so do this today.

My uncomfortable phone call with the Port

I have phone calls like this every week and I almost never comment on them. But I received so much negativity after my election for doing stuff like this that I feel a need to periodically tell the public: This is a part of what you elected Councilmembers to do. And there is basically no danger of me, or any CM ‘mis-representing’ them self. And I will again tell you why: Because the person at the other end of the phone already knows that you have no authority. In fact, that’s probably why they are talking to you one on one. They know  they can safely ignore you because you don’t speak for the City. They’re indulging you. An elected is giving a somewhat elevated version of ‘public comment’. A CM with an IQ over 90 knows this and treats the call with gratitude. My policy: If the call is scheduled for fifteen minutes? I politely take my leave at about 13:30.

Now: What I was advocating for was for the Port to be as ‘green’ as possible in their development; to go beyond the call of duty. And I was frank in saying that ‘trees’ have been a sore point for me with the current administration. We have lost thousands of trees in the past twenty years and our City has done a miserable job of asking developers (or homeowners for that matter) to re-plant or otherwise develop and maintain properties sustainably. As of 2018 we now have a Tree Ordinance, which, on paper, is really good–if we enforce it. I was asking the Port to adhere to that Ordinance–and go even further if possible.

I also asked him to see if there might not be other ways to make that a sustainable development. For example, they could set up charging stations and give the City a leg up on that technical expertise. They could use innovative construction techniques that our building people have not had personal experience with. In other words, this could be a learning opportunity for the City; something that encourage us to make our building code greener.

And the Port has a track record of Green development. They have done good work on a variety of building projects. When you hear me bitch about them so mercilessly it’s because of the systemic hypocrisy present in so many large corporations–they will happily go above and beyond on many things, except for the one thing that truly affects us: the frickin’ airplanes! Anyhoo, that’s not his department. He was knowledgeable, open to my feedback, gracious and sincere about what he could and would attempt to do. 🙂

Oh yeah: the only ‘uncomfortable’ part of the call, which I brought up right at the start, was this: It is a weird thing begging a developer to do better on environmental issues than your own City has previously done. But again, that’s not the Port’s problem.

The office of ‘Councilmember’ is the lowest of the low. Nobody has to return yer calls. Part of the role is to advocacy on behalf of residents–knowing full well you don’t have any real ‘weight’. Which means that if you’re not getting ghosted fairly regularly? You’re just not trying. 😀

State Of The City

Back in November, Mayor Pina and Deputy Mayor Mahoney gave a presentation to the Des Moines Marina Association and it’s worth thinking about. I get comments sometimes complaining that all I do is bitch about picayune stuff like parliamentary procedure saying basically “Let’s talk about something real, Dude!” Well, this is as real as it gets. In this video, the Mayor/Deputy Mayor tag team on pretty much every current item on the City’s plate.Where they think we are and where they want us to go. I’m posting this again because it’s time to start talking about where I think they get it right and where I think we need to change direction. Thanks again to the DMMA for recording this.

There’s simply too much to cover in one bite so I’ll be covering it in sections and each time I do, I’ll add that to this post. When we’re done you can review the entire novel there.

By way of intro, I want to being by saying that this whole series will be about responsibility. I’m going to make the case that the progress (or lack thereof) is intentional. If you like the way the City is going, my colleagues in the majority deserve all the credit. If not, then those policies should be changed. What I do not accept is the notion that so much of our fate is out of our hands.

For years I’ve heard endless talk about how “There’s nothing we can do about the airport. There’s nothing we can do about the downtown. There’s nothing we can do about property crime.” Pick a thorny issue. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Their argument is that the set of things the City can actually do something about is quite limited. So stop complaining and focus on the much smaller domain of things we can accomplish. 

Grading on a curve

That is the primary reason I ran for City Council, because I know that much of that is untrue. What I will argue is that we have a far greater set of options and capabilities. We may choose not to tackle the big problems because they’re hard or controversial, but that is a choice, not fate. So when the current management says we’re doing great, recognize that those much tougher problems aren’t even part of their calculus. Sort of like your kid bringing home all A’s–which sounds great until you find out that they’re ‘grading on a curve’. You have to compare how Des Moines is doing relative to other Cities; not to how we may have done in the past.

Sometimes, angry residents will say unkind things about my colleagues like, “Why don’t those guys ever tell us what they would do!” And I gotta say in my colleagues’ defense: Look around! They’re actually doing it! In other words, just examine the City as it is. That is the story of current management. They don’t need to blather away like me because they’re accomplishing their agenda. For them, the way the City is running now speaks for itself. Again: if you like the way certain things are going, then my colleagues deserve serious applause. If not, they deserve criticism for those specifics. But what I will not accept is that “I’m always doing as good as I can do, Dad.” Good, bad or indifferent, I don’t believe in grading our City on a curve.

Weekly Update: 03/07/2021

Posted on Categories Environment, Taxes, Transparency, Weekly Updates5 Comments on Weekly Update: 03/07/2021

Public Service Announcements

  1. Public Comment on the FAA’s Neighborhood Environmental Survey is due by March 15th. This is important. Please follow these instructions and comment TODAY (more below).
  2. SBA Webinars on new PPP Programs start March 3rd!
  3. Virtual Open House on SR 509 I-5 to 24th Ave
  4. If you are a local business, make the Southside Promise from the South Side Seattle Chamber Of Commerce! There are grants of up to $1,000 to help you now.
  5. There are new State Unemployment Benefits. But you gotta read and follow the instructions!
  6. Last month’s article in the Seattle Times regarding the Masonic Home has gotten a lot of people talking. As you know, working to save the place has been on my agenda for years. Please contact me or Barbara McMichael of SoCoCulture.org at info@sococulture.org to get involved! She is compiling a mailing list and is coordinating efforts to save the place. 🙂
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Rental Assistance for Low Income King County Bar Association – The Housing Justice Project is requesting community based providers assistance to identify households who owe 10K or more in back-rent. “We can zero out $10K or more of rent for folks who are at 50% AMI or below these income limits. If you know anyone, can you have them email fwblackcollective@gmail.com for navigation with case managers or give them this link which has all the paperwork to complete and email to edmundw@kcba.org to get their rent payed out.   Forms to Eliminate Back Rent: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=1fUdYAwMFH_V_B1vTD_urmir_ltI8Wfnw.   Completed forms can be emailed to edmundw@kcba.org.”
  10. If you wish to sign up for future City Clean Ups Michelle Johansson Fawcett: cleanuri.com/pj4RQ5
  11. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

Last Week

Wednesday: N.O.I.S.E Eleanor Holmes Norton. Will send proposal to rejoin the National League Of Cities. It’s the only way to get intelligence on how groups are doing nationwide. The thing to understand about the airport is that we (and almost all airport communities) have lived in a filter bubble for decades. We literally had no idea about the activities of other communities until very recently so the level of nationwide organization is still not great. If you attend the StART meetings, the only items on the menu are those that the Port Of Seattle chooses. The more we communicate with our colleagues across America, the more we can expand the discussion.

Thursday: Public Safety Committee Meeting (Agenda) Met the two K-9s. We also heard that the City is (finally) getting licensing for pets fully on-line and implementing a reminder system. My guess is that this will increase revenues significantly.

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) Bonnie’s recap.

Friday: I had a meeting with former Harbormaster Joe Dusenberry. He still works a few hours for the City as a consultant on issues like permitting so he was the right person to explain the thing I’ve been griping about regarding the North Bulkhead replacement. To review, we’re paying $344,000 as mitigation for possible environmental damage due to the construction. (Actually, that’s not quite true, but I have a much longer piece on Marina redevelopment where I’ll go into all this.) The point I want to make is that Mr. Dusenberry was able to lay out the process in easy to understand terms, which means to me that this could (and should) have been explained to Council, not just for our benefit, but so that the public better understands what the Marina means to the Puget Sound eco-system. We are stewards of our stretch of the Sound, after all. My thanks to him for reaching out and giving of his time and expertise.

This Week

Monday: Arts Commission

Wednesday: SR3 Webinar

Thursday: 30th Leg. Meeting

FAA Neighborhood Environmental Survey (NES)

The NES is just a high-falutin’ way of saying that the FAA is, for the first time in forty years, re-evaluating the standards for acceptable noise levels around airports. By providing Public Comment, you’ll be telling the FAA something pretty obvious, that the current acceptable standards are simply too damned loud! If they rule to adopt lower levels, it will affect everything from allowable flight paths to which homes are eligible for sound insulation. It only takes 2 minutes to cut n’ paste the suggested text. The deadline is March 15 so do this today.

City Council Meeting Recap

(Agenda) Bonnie’s recap.

I’m gonna start out with another nit to pick. If you look at the Agenda for any meeting it will often look totally bare bones. But then we get to the meeting and the City Manager will have done an audible at the line of scrimmage and added significant stuff to the proceedings–ostensibly because it’s ‘last minute’. I call  foul. In the words of my Uncle *”Unless someone’s bleeding out we ain’t changin’ nothin’ on this trip.”

At this meeting, the City Manager added three fairly significant items to his Administration Report and none of them were emergencies. As such, they should be added to the Agenda so that CMs can prepare questions.

Finances

The main event in the Administration report was a presentation by Finance Director Beth Anne Wroe. And the highlight is that we are hitting almost all our targets, which is great. Predictability is good. I’m less sanguine about some of those areas. I asked about sales tax, which is 96% of budget–which sounds fantastic amid COVID, right? But why is it so good? Aren’t so many businesses closed and people out of work? So I asked for a breakdown of tax receipts by sector which I hope to get next week.

There is already talk of another round of business grants. Look, everyone loves ‘free’ money. But as you recall, I had strong objections to last year’s GRO program because we dished out $500,000 to help only twenty six businesses. Before spending any of your money on  another round of business grants I want to understand which businesses are doing well vs. those that are struggling.

I want to point out one other thing: As always, people are fed up with their Property Taxes. But that’s got nothing to do with the City. We voted not to raise Property Taxes this year by the allowed one percent. So if there’s an increase it’s to do with your homes valuation and that’s King County. If you feel your assessment is incorrect, contact them and appeal.

New Feature

And speaking of audibles at the line of scrimmage…

The Mayor made some opening remarks where he basically told the Council that he was adding a new section to our meetings for ‘New Business’. Again, this was not on the agenda. He just put it out there in his extemporaneous remarks and for that reason alone I call foul.

But here’s the funny part: I appreciate the idea. It basically undoes the admonition placed on me in a previous meeting where I was prevented from making motions from the dais–something that is perfectly normal in all other cities. And  it’s also not really a ‘new’ thing, in that we have always had the opportunity to propose ideas to one another in private. All this does is make that proposal process public. I guess it’s good in terms of having a ‘bully pulpit’.

But I want to loop back to the method in which it is was proposed. Again, remember a couple of weeks ago where I attempted to make a motion during my comment period? We were told that there was no place in the Agenda for Councilmembers to bring up ‘new business’. Well that is exactly what the Mayor did. And what’s worse was that there wasn’t even a vote taken. He just said, “this is what we’re doing.” And everyone applauded, not acknowledging the fact that the Mayor has no special privilege over any other Councilmember during a meeting.

This has been a decades-long problem in Des Moines. Every Mayor has complained that their predecessor had too much power and vowed to reduce their privilege. But as the years go by it just happens. And one reason it does is because, frankly, lack of knowledge. We have no newspaper to keep the Council honest and frankly most CMs have little or no prior experience with parliamentary procedure. And, let’s face it, when most people think of ‘Mayor’ they think “he’s the boss”. The psychology of Council/Manager government, where the Mayor is mostly a figure-head is counter-intuitive. You really have to explain to most people how Council/Manager government works. We all fall into that trap. So if the Mayor or City Manager say so, most of the time, people (including CMs) tend to go along unless someone is willing to push back.

Good Accounting Tells A Story

At my first college accounting class (back in 1514, I think it was) the professor made one of those statements that sticks with a person when you’re an impressionable kid.

Good accounting tells a story.

The idea was that when you read a financial statement you were getting not just numbers, but a complete explanation of where the company was, where it is and where it’s going. Bad accounting gives you numbers, good accounting tells you what’s going on. It’s supposed to promote understanding.

I think most people think of financial statements like tax returns–a bunch of forms that you have to prepare to get a loan or comply with the law. Most of us don’t really think about our taxes or our personal financials as diagnostic tools for telling us how we’re doing.

And I think most people think of public meetings that way too… just something we have to do to comply with the law. Almost like a church service where everyone follows all the elaborate rituals, but very few people really think anything important is actually happening. It’s mostly just compliance and formalities. Staff make presentations. Hands are raised as votes are taken. Everyone is thanked. And then we solemnly process out of the hall. The only thing missing is a pipe organ. 😀

Well, for whatever it says about me, I do attend Mass weekly and I do believe in the process of City Council meetings as tools of oversight and diagnosis and I do believe that it is our job to understand and to explain.

Public Money

Every decision we make, every dollar we spend isn’t just your dollar, it also belongs to every person who will ever live and pay taxes in Des Moines. So whatever we do now, we owe everyone, both today and fifty years from now, an understandable explanation of what we did. Really.

For example, when we voted to spend $344,000 to mitigate the bulkhead repairs, we owed it to the public to explain why we did that–not just the people today, but twenty years from now. Read that again: we owe people twenty years from now an understandable explanation as to why we spent $344,000. We did an absolutely terrible job of explaining the need for this expenditure and it matters for reasons you’ll see in a few weeks.

I often feel like an alien when talking to my colleagues because they don’t seem to understand that this matters. It’s not just a ceremony. It’s also not about trust. Some of my colleagues will scold me that my digging in is some form of mistrust for the Administration. Which is ridiculous.

Again, I dunno how else to say it: It’s not a question of whether or not the City Manager or the Council trusts the harbormaster or the engineer or the consultant. That’s got nothing to do with it. It’s the fact that we owe an explanation to the public, both today and twenty years from now about how we spent their $344,000.

Weekly Update: 02/14/2021

Posted on Categories Airport, Environment, Transparency, Weekly Updates4 Comments on Weekly Update: 02/14/2021

This is a long one and a late one. Sorry. Last week was action-packed! 😀

Public Service Announcements

  1. If you are a local business, make the Southside Promise from the South Side Seattle Chamber Of Commerce! There are grants of up to $1,000 to help you now.
  2. The new round of Federal PPP loan program just opened up. And it is much better than the first round last year. If you need more information, here is a presentation from the Small Business Administration with lots of links to more information.
  3. There are new State Unemployment Benefits. But you gotta read and follow the instructions!
  4. Last month’s article in the Seattle Times regarding the Masonic Home has gotten a lot of people talking. As you know, working to save the place has been on my agenda for years. Please contact me or Barbara McMichael of SoCoCulture.org at info@sococulture.org to get involved! She is compiling a mailing list and is coordinating efforts to save the place. 🙂
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Rental Assistance for Low Income King County Bar Association – The Housing Justice Project is requesting community based providers assistance to identify households who owe 10K or more in back-rent. “We can zero out $10K or more of rent for folks who are at 50% AMI or below these income limits. If you know anyone, can you have them email fwblackcollective@gmail.com for navigation with case managers or give them this link which has all the paperwork to complete and email to edmundw@kcba.org to get their rent payed out.   Forms to Eliminate Back Rent: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=1fUdYAwMFH_V_B1vTD_urmir_ltI8Wfnw.   Completed forms can be emailed to edmundw@kcba.org.”
  8. If you wish to sign up for future City Clean Ups Michelle Johansson Fawcett: cleanuri.com/pj4RQ5
  9. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

  1. Tuesday: It’s time to set up the Coho Pen at the Marina to help with the next batch of hatchery fish. Wanna help out? Be there at 9AM!
  2. Tuesday: I’ll be attending the Water District #54 Board Meeting. FYI: Their water source is the giant water tower next to the Police Station. It’s one of the very last un-chlorinated well-water sources left in the State Of Washington. 🙂
  3. Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines!
  4. Thursday: 3:00PM Transportation Committee Meeting (Agenda)
  5. Thursday: 4:00PM Environment Committee Meeting (Agenda)
  6. Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda)

Last Week

  1. Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting (Agenda). This is one of those ‘details’ that you should care about. The Port is purchasing the 14 acres of wooded area next to the Des Moines Creek Business Park for the purpose of adding more warehouses.  I wrote the following letter to the Port Commissioners in support of doing something to help maintain the environment. Let’s be honest: this means more cargo. Which means more air traffic over Des Moines. My colleagues on the Council have publicly stated that they are all-in on this development. It’s shameful. Those will likely not be Des Moines jobs. But this will definitely add to the noise, traffic and pollution.Many of you have complained to me about the Port once again behaving badl. But actually, the City Of Des Moines was offered a chance to buy the land at least three years ago. Instead, we chose to let the Port have it because the current administration think the Business Park is a fantastic thing and wants it to be expanded. I disagree. In my view, a City has an obligation to take control of as much land as possible–that is the only way that we have a say in how it’s developed. Through the decades, Des Moines has made the same mistake over and over: give up prime land to developers with no real long-term planning. That’s why we have housing where a downtown should be and strip malls where housing should’ve been built.
  2. Wednesday & Thursday: Association Of Washington Cities Action Days. I attended this last year as a noobie and found it very useful. (I actually scored a private five with Jay Inslee. No selfie or pen. 🙁 😉 )
  3. Wednesday was also the Des Moines Marina Association Meeting (Agenda). The good news is that we’re finally moving ahead with fixing the north bulk head!
  4. Thursday: Public Safety Committee (Agenda). I think the most noteworthy item was that the entire meeting lasted a whopping 22 minutes. The fact that these meetings are so damned perfunctory should matter. It’s not like there aren’t public safety issues to work on, right?
  5. Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) (City Clerk’s Recap) (Video)
  6. Saturday: 30th District Democrats Town Hall (Video). Whether you’re a Democrat or not, all four of our legislators in the south end are Democrats so this was a chance to hear their views on current legislation in Olympia. Good info on the Redondo Pier, policing, economic recovery for Des Moines.

My Council Meeting Highlights…

  1. We’re now (finally) moving ahead with repairing the North Bulkhead. That is great news for the safety of the Marina. I’ll be kinda honest that I’ve had a certain left-handed relief at the delays because I have reservations as to the Administration’s plans for re-development. One note: in order to get the permits to do this, we’re going to pay $344,000 into a credit system, where we are contributing to another environmental program up north in Everett. Apparently this is much less expensive than re-designing the project to meet the NMFS standards. What is frustrating is that this system is unbelievably complex. So I have no idea if the re-design would be the more environmentally responsible thing to do.
  2. Speaking of which, this is coming to 216th. It is a sky bridge that will connect the new Wesley buildings on either side. I’ll be candid: you know how much I care about the needs of Seniors. But I cannot tell you how much I dislike this thing. If it gets built, I am about 100% certain that it will go down in history as being about as good for the City as the strip mall designs on Marine View Drive.

OK, there was one other highlight…

If you go to about 2:00 into the video and look at my comments. I made a motion from the dais to make the following official City policy:

Meetings of all statutory boards and commissions and Council citizen advisory bodies shall be open to any member of the City Council.

This was based on something I’ve mentioned here (and to several of my colleagues about privately). Basically, I have been repeatedly refused entry to the Chief’s Police Advisory Committee Meeting.

Now at the most basic level the job of CM is oversight. You can’t oversee if you can’t watch. And besides, this is a citizen meeting. It’s not like some secret executive session. So what exactly is there that needs to be private?

Where’s the pants on fire emoji?

The first thing I want to explain, by way of backstory is this that several of my colleagues fibbed. Sorry, but there’s no gentle way to say it. They refused to discuss the merits of this issue (which are indefensible) because they claimed they had no idea what was going on. (How dare you spring this on us, Councilmember Harris?) This is simply untrue. I have raised this issue either in writing and/or in person with most of my colleagues. My hope was to address this privately so as not to bring attention to the Chief. But they made that impossible by failing to respond.

Rules are so boring

Second of all, you may find this a bit dull, but it matters: Instead of dealing with the actual issue, the Mayor and City Attorney decided to tell me that I was in violation of parliamentary procedure. They quoted Rule 9 of our Rules Of Procedure saying that you can’t make a motion from the dais. Even though several of us (including myself on multiple occasions) have done so just this year.

And speaking of parliamentary procedure, CM Buxton suggested we go to Executive Session to work this out. But instead of making a motion and get a vote from the group (that’s the correct procedure), the Mayor simply remarked, “We’re not doing that…” And everyone just went along with it.

So there was not just one, but several breakdowns in parliamentary procedure. And no one ever speaks up.

The bottom line is this: the majority changed the Council Rules at the last meeting of 2019 in order to make life as difficult as possible for CM Martinelli and myself (we have restrictions that literally no other city in the area has.) But occasionally, a loophole does make itself known. And when it does, the Mayor simply ‘rules’ and the group goes along. Rules be damned.

Yeah, it really is as bad as that

What frustrates me most  is that these violations of procedure are so undemocratic. The few of you who watch the meetings don’t know this because it all appears to be ‘normal’. So I’m sure I will be accused of whining about nothing. But this is definitely not nothing.

I cringed when he said it, but Councilmember Martinelli was actually 100% correct when he described the majority as engaging in discrimination. Absolutely. I mean, what else would you call the following:

  • Being denied access to city-sponsored meetings?
  • Being prevented from asking questions of staff or obtaining any research?
  • Failure to respond to phone calls and emails by both the Chief and the City Manager for eleven months?
  • Being prevented from bringing any item to a meeting agenda?

Discrimination is exactly the word for it. It’s the City Council version of a poll tax. It’s a coordinated plan by the majority to ensure that a minority that they dislike is completely shut out from any meaningful opportunities.

But it’s not illegal

However, Mr. Martinelli was incorrect about one thing. There is no risk of a lawsuit. All this is as perfectly legal as the crappy way the political parties behave in the other Washington. The RCW makes it very clear that there is only one remedy: elections.

As I keep saying, almost all the day to day procedures of Council/Manager government are ruled by ‘social norms’. If the City Manager and/or Council majority want to treat a Councilmember badly, there are really no guard rails in law. As with Federal government, the management of poor governance, almost no matter how egregious is the ballot box.

So what is a politician’s promise worth?

Do I wish there were some sort of rules of ethics codified in State law? For sure. But unfortunately, the reason there aren’t is for the same reason that there aren’t such rules at the Federal level. The rules that are so unethical and shameful when one is in the minority suddenly became pretty darned handy once one gains control. As they say: Payback is a bitch.

But assuming there is a change in the balance of the Council during my tenure, I pledge to do something to meaningfully address these problems. At the very least, we can revise our Rules Of Procedure to be more in line with the best practices recommended by *MRSC and Jurassic Parliament. And you have it here in writing to hold me to it. 🙂

*Whenever you read something about parliamentary procedure here it’s usually sourced from these two places. They provide the recommended training courses for Councilmembers.

Weekly Update: 02/08/2021

Posted on Categories Environment, Transparency, Weekly Updates4 Comments on Weekly Update: 02/08/2021

Public Service Announcements

  1. If you are a local business, make the Southside Promise from the South Side Seattle Chamber Of Commerce! There are grants of up to $1,000 to help you now.
  2. The new round of Federal PPP loan program just opened up. And it is much better than the first round last year. If you need more information, here is a presentation from the Small Business Administration with lots of links to more information.
  3. There are new State Unemployment Benefits. But you gotta read and follow the instructions!
  4. Last month’s article in the Seattle Times regarding the Masonic Home has gotten a lot of people talking. As you know, working to save the place has been on my agenda for years. Please contact me or Barbara McMichael of SoCoCulture.org at info@sococulture.org to get involved! She is compiling a mailing list and is coordinating efforts to save the place. 🙂
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Rental Assistance for Low Income King County Bar Association – The Housing Justice Project is requesting community based providers assistance to identify households who owe 10K or more in back-rent. “We can zero out $10K or more of rent for folks who are at 50% AMI or below these income limits. If you know anyone, can you have them email fwblackcollective@gmail.com for navigation with case managers or give them this link which has all the paperwork to complete and email to edmundw@kcba.org to get their rent payed out.   Forms to Eliminate Back Rent: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=1fUdYAwMFH_V_B1vTD_urmir_ltI8Wfnw.   Completed forms can be emailed to edmundw@kcba.org.”
  8. If you wish to sign up for future City Clean Ups Michelle Johansson Fawcett: cleanuri.com/pj4RQ5
  9. 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: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting (Agenda). This is one of those ‘details’ that you should care about. The Port will be purchasing 14 acres of wooded area next to the Des Moines Creek Business Park for the purpose of adding more warehouses. This is to support cargo aviation. Which means more air traffic over Des Moines. My colleagues on the Council have publicly stated that they are all-in on this development. It’s shameful. Those will likely not be Des Moines jobs. This will definitely add to the noise, traffic and pollution.

Wednesday & Thursday: Association Of Washington Cities Action Days. I attended this last year as a noobie and found it very useful. (I actually scored a private five with Jay Inslee. No selfie or pen. 🙁 😉 )

Thursday: Public Safety Committee (Agenda)

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda)

You can (and should) attend any of these meetings by signing up at:  https://www.desmoineswa.gov/FormCenter/City-Forms-3/Council-Meeting-Comments-49.

Last Week

This week I’m doing a ton of site visits for SeatacNoise.Info. If you have a Port Package and it’s got problems, please contact us and follow the instructions.

Tuesday: I had a good meeting with UW DEOHS, Senator Karen Keiser and Rep. Tina Orwall to harmonize State funding for her indoor air quality proposal with SeatacNoise.Info’s outdoor air quality monitoring proposal. The upshot: The indoor studies are full-speed ahead at five area schools (hopefully one more will be added to include Beacon Hill.)  For the next year the outdoor monitoring will only take place at those schools. In the 2022 legislative year, I’m gonna push to get that expanded as I’ve been talking about. Every neighborhood. Every year. That’s what we need.

Mea Culpa!

Two weeks ago now, I sat in on the Economic Development Committee Meeting (Agenda). In last week’s Weekly Update I commented

Chairman Nutting asked that the City make the mall at Kent Des Moines Road and Pac Highway a higher priority for re-development. Good idea. However, my feeling is that until we deal with the fact that the City boundary with Kent goes right through the middle of that mall we’ll never get where we want to be there–or with the homeless camp issues to the west. Bottom line: you can’t fix what you don’t own.

After, I had a back and forth with Councilmember Buxton where she pointed out that the group was actually talking about what is now the Dollar Tree store. D’Oh!

I’d like to offer some excuse like lack of sleep, war wound, medical procedure, but naaaaaah. It was a stupid, sloppy mistake and I am thankful that Councilmember Buxton took the time to point it out.

At the risk of sounding defensive…

Councilmember Buxton closed our back and forth by expressing this concern:

“Just trying to help you understand what you hear in Econ, so that there is less miscommunication to the public.”

I also have that concern. And I think it’s fair to say that some of my colleagues consider pretty much everything you read here to be suspect. But  I am happy to compare the quality and quantity of information I share with the public with that of my colleagues (and the Administration) any darned day of the week.

I welcome transparency and (constructive) criticism. Whenever possible, I try to provide references to what I describe. If the Economic Development Committee Meetings were recorded I would put links to that so you can see the work (and my mistakes) in all their glory.

In all our sister Cities, the public can watch and provide public comment at all Committee Meetings–which is where the majority of the real decision-making happens. I have proposed this here and been shot down each time.

So you have to take me at my word for now. Which means that, when I make a stupid mistake like… oh I dunno… referring to the other QFC that has left town in the past decade…  it’s especially embarrassing.

If you do anything long enough…

I’ve now done over thirty of these Weekly Updates. That’s a significant amount of writing (or ranting depending on your point of view.) I’ve talked with a couple of for-realz reporters about doing a ‘column’ like this. And I was warned that this sort of *screw up will occur. Sooner or later, if you do anything long enough, you’ll blow it.

What one reporter told me–and he was prophetic–is that when you *screw up, it will be for something you take for granted. And that is exactly what happened here. I was responding reflexively. My mistake was that I wasn’t really listening to the discussion because, in the back of my mind I am constantly livid about the state of our City’s economic development. And anger makes one sloppy.

What ‘the haters’ will say is, “That jerk doesn’t even know what QFC we’re talking about. Buwahahahaha!”

I can see it all from here…

But speaking of potential embarrassments, what puzzles me is why the City still insists on referring to that location as ‘the QFC’. It’s been eight years after all. Perhaps some of us still haven’t accepted that the ‘gateway’ to our great city is a Dollar Tree?

Whatever the reason, CM Nutting said that he wanted that area given higher priority because he ‘did not want to lose all the momentum we’ve achieved.’ Councilmember Buxton made a similar comment in a voice mail where she said (I’m paraphrasing): “When you’re at the top of 216th and you look West, you see all the progress.”

I do not see what they see. When I look west on 216th I see a very nice road (thank you Federal government), but to my eyes the downtown hasn’t significantly improved in the fourteen years since that project began.

And the other ‘gateway’, the one I thought they were talking about when I was on my mental stay-cation? My previous comments apply.

It’s not that I don’t agree with these plans. It’s that I literally do not see the plan. And that has created a sense of urgency in me, which, on this occasionm made me a sloppy listener. I will have to work on that.

*To be clear, this not the language I use at home when I make this kind of mistake. 😀

Weekly Update: 02/01/2021

Posted on Categories Environment, Transparency, Weekly Updates2 Comments on Weekly Update: 02/01/2021

Public Service Announcements

  1. The new round of Federal PPP loan program just opened up. And it is much better than the first round last year. If you need more information, here is a presentation from the Small Business Administration with lots of links to more information.
  2. There are new State Unemployment Benefits. But you gotta read and follow the instructions!
  3. Last month’s article in the Seattle Times regarding the Masonic Home has gotten a lot of people talking. As you know, working to save the place has been on my agenda for years. Please contact me or Barbara McMichael of SoCoCulture.org at info@sococulture.org to get involved! She is compiling a mailing list and is coordinating efforts to save the place. 🙂
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Rental Assistance for Low Income King County Bar Association – The Housing Justice Project is requesting community based providers assistance to identify households who owe 10K or more in back-rent. “We can zero out $10K or more of rent for folks who are at 50% AMI or below these income limits. If you know anyone, can you have them email fwblackcollective@gmail.com for navigation with case managers or give them this link which has all the paperwork to complete and email to edmundw@kcba.org to get their rent payed out.   Forms to Eliminate Back Rent: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=1fUdYAwMFH_V_B1vTD_urmir_ltI8Wfnw.   Completed forms can be emailed to edmundw@kcba.org.”
  7. If you wish to sign up for future City Clean Ups Michelle Johansson Fawcett: cleanuri.com/pj4RQ5
  8. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

This week I’m doing a ton of site visits for SeatacNoise.Info. If you have a Port Package and it’s got problems, please contact us and follow the instructions.

Tuesday: Meeting with UW DEOHS, Senator Karen Keiser and Rep. Tina Orwall on harmonizing State funding for her indoor air quality proposal with SeatacNoise.Info’s outdoor air quality monitoring proposal.

Last Week

  1. Monday: SCA Meeting with King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci. This was very useful.
  2. Wednesday: PSRC Operations Meeting
  3. Thursday: I had a good phone call with our Police Guild President Justin Cripe. I rarely talk about these sorts of things because the discussion is private, but they are a part of my weekly ‘diet’. Officer Cripe is studying for the Sergeant’s exam and I have no doubt he’ll nail it. And in the ‘small world’ category, he is the son of Quiet Skies Coalition activist Larry Cripe–someone many of you know as spearheading Burien’s successful lawsuit against the FAA last year.
    One thing we discussed was what it means to be ‘fully staffed’. This is from a 2017 FAQ on the Des Moines web site:


My colleagues often tout ‘fully staffed’ as meaning ‘we have all the polcie we need.’ I think the graph speaks for itself. We had less police officers during the Great Recession and as times have improved, we’ve re-hired. Good. But we’re still ten officers less than 2007. So while we may have enough officers to cover each shift, I do not think we have the number of officers that we actually need. And I think the increases in property crime over the past few years bear this out.

  1. Thursday: 3:00PM Municipal Facilities Committee Meeting (Agenda) This meeting was action-packed. It mainly set out the yearly calendar, but the amount of stuff. I’ve groused since forever that these meetings are simply too short. Just as Chairman Nutting was preparing to end the meeting, I was pleased to see COO Dan Brewer interrupt and suggest that either more meetings be added or meetings be lengthened. Good idea. The other thing: The City is attempting (not a sure thing) but attempting to get a grant from Puget Sound Electric for a charging station at the Marina. I know this is something many of you ask me about all the time. And I know this is a baby step. But as was pointed out, the City has no experience with this stuff yet. So doing a single site on someone else’s dime makes sense. Once we have a win under our belt, my hope is that the City will be quite aggressive in siting charging stations in appropriate places all over Des Moines.
  2. Thursday: 4:00PM Economic Development Committee Meeting (Agenda). Chairman Nutting asked that the City make the mall at Kent Des Moines Road and Pac Highway a higher priority for re-development. Good idea. However, my feeling is that until we deal with the fact that the City boundary with Kent goes right through the middle of that mall we’ll never get where we want to be there–or with the homeless camp issues to the west. Bottom line: you can’t fix what you don’t own.

    Councilmember Buxton also brought up the fact that we require all landlords (even people just renting a single home) to have a business license. I think I should take some blame (or credit) for that. I was pleased to see that the Mayor and City Manager spoke up in favor of maintaining that requirement which I fully endorse. And here’s why. I loooooooooooove Code Enforcement. 🙂

A couple of updates

I got a number of scoffs to last week’s article talking about the 47 times I’ve received no response to requests for basic information. People seem to think I’m exaggerating the problem. A couple of points.

  1. Our Mayor re-scheduled our next City Council Meeting. When I asked ‘why?’ I got no response. So let’s call that #48. 😀 According to Robert’s Rules Of Order, whenever a meeting is to be re-scheduled, it is customary to provide a reason. (By the way that also goes for when Councilmembers are absent. The body deserves an explanation for that as well.)
  2. And to the thing I was writing about. Two quick things. They say ‘one piccie is worth a thousand bucks.’ I dunno about that, but here is what I was asking our IT guy to do:
    • Add a link to the bottom of the home page for our Community Services Directory. That’s literally a two minute job.
    • Change the Community Services Directory to be a web page instead of a PDF. I guessed it would take under an hour. Well, I did it. It took me about 15 minutes. (I know it’s got a lot of mistakes. I’ll take another 15 and fix them at the weekend. It was just to show that this ain’t rocket surgery.)

Now why do I grouse about these details? In my former life, my company used to consult on what is called Section 508 Compliance. It’s sort of like the Americans with Disabilities Act for web sites. We would make sure that everything at a company (including the web sites) were usable by people with disabilities–which as you know is a lot of Des Moines. When the City web site doesn’t properly serve people with disabilities it literally shuts out thousands of people. And PDFs are big offenders. For example, PDFs are pretty hard to use on a mobile phone (try to read or search through a PDF on yer phone, you’ll see.) And they don’t work for people with really bad vision or people who need to use screen readers (the reader can’t ‘read’ the text aloud.) And worst of all: the content of PDFs is generally not part of the web site’s Search function. So if you search for something like “School programs” (something that’s in the Community Services Directory) it won’t be found by the Search. That’s ridiculous. No City our size, with our number of seniors and disabled should have a web site like this.

Again: the Community Services Directory is one of the most used documents on the site. So if it only take a few minutes to fix a problem like this and it benefits a large number of residents, why wouldn’t you do it?

And while I’m on a roll, number 123 on my list of web site gripes that would take 30 seconds to fix: The various Committee Meetings now show up on the City web site calendar. But of course, the link takes you absolutely nowhere. So a visitor still has no idea how to find out what things are being discussed, how to participate or even when they occur. People ask me all the time how to get involved with the City. But if the City can’t even be bothered to make it easy for people to attend the meetings, why should anyone attend? And perhaps that’s the point.

Weekly Update: 01/24/2021

Posted on Categories Environment, Transparency, Weekly Updates3 Comments on Weekly Update: 01/24/2021

Public Service Announcements

  1. The new round of Federal PPP loan program just opened up. And it is much better than the first round last year. If you need more information, here is a presentation from the Small Business Administration with lots of links to more information.
  2. There are new State Unemployment Benefits. But you gotta read and follow the instructions!
  3. Last month’s article in the Seattle Times regarding the Masonic Home has gotten a lot of people talking. As you know, working to save the place has been on my agenda for years. Please contact me or Barbara McMichael of SoCoCulture.org at info@sococulture.org to get involved! She is compiling a mailing list and is coordinating efforts to save the place. 🙂
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Rental Assistance for Low Income King County Bar Association – The Housing Justice Project is requesting community based providers assistance to identify households who owe 10K or more in back-rent. “We can zero out $10K or more of rent for folks who are at 50% AMI or below these income limits. If you know anyone, can you have them email fwblackcollective@gmail.com for navigation with case managers or give them this link which has all the paperwork to complete and email to edmundw@kcba.org to get their rent payed out.   Forms to Eliminate Back Rent: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=1fUdYAwMFH_V_B1vTD_urmir_ltI8Wfnw.   Completed forms can be emailed to edmundw@kcba.org.”
  7. If you wish to sign up for future City Clean Ups Michelle Johansson Fawcett: cleanuri.com/pj4RQ5
  8. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

I am doing a ton of site visits for SeatacNoise.Info. Checking on Port Packages that are breaking down or have mold. If that sounds like you? Please e-mail them.

  1. Monday: SCA Meeting with King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci
  2. Wednesday: PSRC Operations Meeting
  3. Thursday: 3:00PM Municipal Facilities Committee Meeting (Agenda)
  4. Thursday: 4:00PM Economic Development Committee Meeting (Agenda)

You can (and should) attend any of these meetings by signing up at:  https://www.desmoineswa.gov/FormCenter/City-Forms-3/Council-Meeting-Comments-49.

Last Week

  1. Thursday: Environment Committee Meeting (Agenda)
  2. Thursday: Transportation Committee Meeting (Agenda)
  3. Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda)  (Video)

For both the Environment and Transpo Committees, the meetings were basically about setting the yearly Calendar. On the Environment Committee, I asked (again) for some background information on ‘Storm Water For Dummies’ and was once again rebuffed. (And just to be clear ‘Storm Water’ is about 90% of the Environment Committee’s calendar.) This did not make me happy and assuming I stick around long enough to see the wheel come round, this will change. Every Councilmember who asks a reasonable question deserves a cheerful, prompt and fulsome answer from staff. I’m not picking on any individual. But it’s ridonculous.

Council Meeting Notes: Homelessness

(Agenda)  (Video) Bonnie’s recap

We had a presentation on ‘homelessness’. I don’t wanna sound harsh. The staff had some very good things to say. But it did not exactly kill me for a couple of reasons. First off because it seemed to (unintentionally?) conflate ‘homelessness’ with criminality (eg. there was a crime graph displayed which had nothing to do with the presentation.) This is not only untrue it’s unproductive. We spend a lot of money on policing this issue and everyone agrees that it doesn’t work. Secondly it furthered the constant narrative that the problem is ‘so big’ that small Cities can do very little which I also find unhelpful. I’ll leave it there for today.

That said, I want to praise the City and Chief Thomas for Item #6 on the Consent Agenda–basically a State grant to have mental health pros ride-along with police on appropriate calls. This is not only good policy, it’s good politics. The police needed someone else’s money to test the waters and see for themselves that this can work. If it tests out as well as it has in other places around the country, it will give small Cities like DM the confidence to then re-allocate our own resources towards more effective policing strategies. Smart.

Research

Please read the following short email exchange. In it I’m asking our IT Manager, Dale Southwick how long it would take him to make a very minor change to the City’s web site. As required (it’s a social norm to always CC the City Manager when contacting staff), I cc’d the City Manager. Instead of getting an answer from Dale, I got a reply from Mr. Matthias.

From: JC Harris
Sent: Tuesday, January 19, 2021 11:23 PM
To: Dale Southwick <DSouthwick@desmoineswa.gov>
Cc: Michael Matthias <MMatthias@desmoineswa.gov>
Subject: Question re. web site

Hi Dale,

Hope ya well.

I have a quick research-y question re. the web site--specifically this thing:

1. Roughly how long would it take you guys to re-do the Community Services PDF into an HTML page using the current platform? Does the CMS theme auto-magically format things to be mobile-friendly or do you have to actually write html/css?

2. How much work is it to redo the links to be a bit more friendly? ie. Can you do redirects like /community-services-directory without all the /DocumentCenter/View/4/ goop?

3. Finally: How long do you think it might take to put a link to the aforementioned page on the home page of the web site? Are we talking man-years here? :D

TIA,

--JC

From: Michael Matthias
Sent: Wednesday, January 20, 2021 11:22 AM
To: JC Harris <JCHarris@desmoineswa.gov>

If there is a policy question here (and direction to evaluate policy options requires a majority vote by the City Council) you can ask me, otherwise I have asked Dale not to spend valuable time on a response.

Five Minutes

Before we dig into why this matters, I want you to understand that the task I asked Dale about would take less than an hour to complete. And it woulda taken Dale about five (5) minutes to write back to tell me that.

Also, full props to Mr. Matthias. The reply is wonderful writing: concise, clear and packed with information. In one sentence, he manages to sum up everything that is wrong with the current government.

The point: Mr. Matthias is saying flat out that he will not allow an individual Councilmember to ask any question of staff without a vote of the majority of the Council (which can only happen in a Council Meeting prox. 20 times a year.) No matter how big or how small, you gotta get the majority to vote on it.

Can he really do that?

That’s the question I am most often asked when I’ve brought this up. The answer is ‘yes’. Under State law, a City Manager is basically God.  There are literally no laws concerning ‘conduct’ or ‘ethics’. The power and behavior of a City Manager is almost solely constrained by a majority vote of the  Council. Now in order to keep their jobs (and be ethical human beings 🙂 ) there tend to be ‘norms’ that 99% of City Managers follow, but those are only social norms. But neither he (or the Council) currently follow those norms. And I need you to understand just how exceptional Des Moines is in this regard.

Also, again under State law, a Councilmember has only two main jobs: legislation and oversight of the City Manager. All that jazz of parades and doing public events? Strictly optional. People may vote for someone after seeing them do all that fun stuff, but that’s not the j.o.b.

Two problems

The City Manager’s policies create two problems. First, you can’t create legislation if you can’t get the government to help you do research. In the example above, I wanted to know how to make a tiny improvement to the City’s web site. So I asked the IT guy for a simple cost estimate. If it had been a big deal? I wouldn’t have asked. But it would be the same deal if I wanted to suggest something bigger like a crosswalk or anything, regardless of scope.

Which is why the Port, County, State and Federal governments all have research staff for their legislators. Small cities generally don’t have the budget for a dedicated research staff.

So one of the ‘norms’ I mentioned is that the staff in 99% of Washington Cities are expected to allocate at least some time every week to answer questions from electeds. Just not Des Moines.

Second problem: Oversight. That means occasionally obtaining documents and asking questions of staff to verify the work carried out by our City.

Why Social Norms matter

Both these problems indicate why the violation of ‘social norms’ I mentioned is so poisonous. If the City Manager doesn’t want a Councilmember asking questions–and the majority supports that–there is simply no possibility to craft legislation or conduct oversight. You literally cannot do the job that is mandated by the State Of Washington. (You’re totally free to do the whole parade thing, of course, which is doubtless what the City Manager and majority would prefer. 😀 )

The enablers

Speaking of which, let’s be clear: This is obstruction and stonewalling, pure and simple. And the support of the current majority (including Mayor and Deputy Mayor) is what makes this possible. They are completely aware of the situation and 100% on board. I know this because I’ve asked four of them directly. The other doesn’t return my calls. 😀

Whether you agree or disagree with me on various policies, you should definitely not want this to continue because it is so blatantly unethical. It cannot be the case that such undemocratic behavior is good for Des Moines because it takes away that whole things about ‘checks and balances’. Unless of course you believe that might makes right. Or the one book you keep by your nightstand was written by some guy named Machiavelli.

You don’t know what you don’t know

Going back to the City Manager’s report, once again, bear in mind that you’re always getting the Administration’s point of view (which is why Councilmembers are well-advised to get out and see how things are done in other places once in a while.)  But if a Councilmember needs the permission of the majority to conduct any inquiry? You can never get an accurate read as to how biased the Administration’s message really is.

Because that’s the thing: this isn’t just about obtaining information. It’s also a practical matter of building trust. If you can’t get even get an answer to a 5-minute question, it then kinda makes a guy wonder what’s going on with all those big ticket items we routinely vote on without so much as a single question.

One number

And just so ya know, as of this writing I’ve been in office about 384 days. And this is the forty seventh (47) time I have gotten a refusal to answer a simple question like this. That’s about one every two weeks. Sometimes they even come with a bonus letter from the City Attorney.

This must change. All Councilmembers deserve to be able to fully do the job  as described by the law. And you should ask my colleagues why they think it’s OK that any Councilmember be denied a 5-minute reply from staff to reasonable questions concerning research and oversight.