Weekly Update: 09/06/2021

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Public Service Announcements

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

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

This Week

Monday: Meetings with candidates for Port Of Seattle Commissioner. Can I share one of my frustrations? 😀 The big mistake all our Cities make in dealing with the Port is talking about the wrong things. Many of the things residents want the Port Commissioners to do, they legally cannot do. They’re not lying about their lack of control over various aspects of Sea-Tac Airport. You can grumble about the unfairness of life all you want, but that’s just the deal. The other side of the coin are my pro-Port colleagues who think that the Port is this economic fountain for Des Moines, while completely ignoring the environmental impacts. That too is ridiculous.

Candidates for Port Commission all basically have the same message. Jobs, economics. Progressive or conservative, they can talk all they want about ‘environment’, but the fact is that they all have to operate within a certain window. Also: the Port is like the City Of Des Moines. It has a very high complexity number. And a Port Commissioner is a part time job. They have no hope of understanding the issues and the corporation for several years.

What we should do is to educate every Port Candidate as to what they could be doing for us. We know what is possible. (And it’s significant.) But we never do. As I said, either the City gets hold of them with some minor economic pitch or the airport activists ask them to work on things they cannot do. The Port lobbies us. We should lobby right back.

Wednesday: Des Moines Parks Master Plan Update @ Senior Center 6-8PM!

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association Meeting. You can visit their web site for information on the Marina Redevelopment.

Thursday: I will be giving testimony at the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Committee in support of continuing to fund a tax credit for local journalism. No, we don’t currently have a newspaper in Des Moines. But hope springs eternal. 🙂 That tax credit is one of the few things keeping local papers in business and we must support it in order to keep the possibility of local journalism alive.

That’s it. The rest of the week is a black hole of emptiness. So give me a call and tell me what’s on your mind about Des Moines (206) 878-0578.

Last Week

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) Growth Management Board (Agenda).

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) (Video) One highlight was a presentation by Skylab Architects of Portland which did the original renderings for Marina Redevelopment. The Request For Proposal (RFQ) is also supposed to be unveiled–which will flesh out some of the details on the various building proposals.

The other issue was a first reading of our ordinance to comply with HB1220–the new law insisting that we develop zoning to allow for homeless shelters and develop a more aggressive approach towards Affordable Housing. This is another one of those policy issues that I know the public cares about, but which no one ever shows up for. Please watch the presentation and then show up for the second hearing in October.

Happy Labor Day!

I just realised: I’ve been a member of four unions: two for musicians, one for electrical workers and one for professional engineers I kinda forgot about.

I was required to join a union for a factory gig I had in college. Being a jerk, I kinda laughed at how seriously my co-workers took the union. But that was because I was ‘going places’. For them it was their j.o.b. I don’t know what it did for me except that, in spite of being around a lot of dangerous electricity I do not recall anyone getting hurt and I got paid slightly more than I expected. Today, that job would be done by  a computer and a robot and both would have better attitudes.

When I moved to Manhattan it was a rite of passage to join the musicians union. It meant that you were making a (real) living wage in the greatest city on earth. Now? The few remaining union musicians are mostly in orchestras. Ironically, the biggest bargaining issue was also automation. We all knew we were being replaced by synthesizers and computers.

My last union vaguely optional. The idea was to organize professional engineers to negotiate contracts with the State Of Michigan as a single unit. At the time, I thought it was kinda cockamamie because despite any merits of the idea, its success depended on the willingness of a bunch of independent-minded guys to cooperate. Candidly, we were nothing like these women or any other model of solidarity. So we self-destructed. No robots required. I now realize that it was a very worthy goal and very much ahead of its time. Some of us did better without the union, some worse. But it would have simplified very useful things like health insurance and retirement planning for all of us–things you don’t pay attention to when you think you’re special and have all the time in the world. There’s a lesson there. Maybe. 😀

The older I get the more I see the benefits of organized labour. If you’re an employer (or a City) you’re not always thrilled to be on the other side of the table. But opportunities to spend one’s days productively and to be paid fairly do not happen by themselves. Sooner or later we may all get replaced by a robot. But if no one speaks up, you most definitely will.

Something I think about is how much I took for granted the stability on my street in Des Moines. It’s not at all a wealthy neighbourhood. But everybody seemed to have jobs they liked and that paid enough to get their kids through college. I’ve decided that it is that simple lack of anxiety that defines ‘the American Dream’ for me.

I hope your Labor Day has been relaxing. And I hope you enjoy your work. I hope it affords you the freedom to live the way you want to live today and the security to feel hopeful about tomorrow.

Weekly Update: 08/29/2021

Posted on Categories Campaigning, Engagement, Marina, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesLeave a comment on Weekly Update: 08/29/2021

Hopefully you’ve already seen the Christmas In July post. I’ve submitted six ideas so far.  Please send me yours by Monday September 6, 2021!

The writing critiques generally fall into two camps: “Too damned long” or Too damned short, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Over the next few weeks, I’ll be experimenting with ways to break the thing up into biter-sizes. The challenge is that some of you follow along but there are new readers who have no idea about many of the things I’m referring to. I’ve started using footnotes more. My newest innovation is to put background information into these clever things they invented called ‘boxes’ which you can skip over if you’ve already been reading along. 🙂

Public Service Announcements

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

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

This Week

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) Growth Management Board (Agenda).

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) The highlight will include a presentation by Skylab Architects of Portland which did the original renderings for Marina Redevelopment. The Request For Proposal (RFQ) is also supposed to be unveiled–which will flesh out some of the details on the various building proposals.

Last Week

Monday: Meetings with Port people, including Comissioner Ryan Calkins on the SeatacNoise.info Check Box thing.

Wednesday: Sea-Tac Airport Roundtable StART Meeting. This was the first ‘reveal’ of the Sustainable Airport Master Plan environmental review process. The funny thing (for me) is that basically nobody shows up for these things. But over 70 people showed up for this thing–thinking that there would be some big ‘reveal’. Not at all. The public has such a poor understanding of the process or what is possible I honestly don’t know what to do about it. However, well done to Vashon Island for getting organized! Most of the people who showed up were VI residents who want to be included in the discussion.

Thursday: Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission (Video). Des Moines resident Steve Edmiston is a member of the commission and gave a passionate presentation on why health impacts should be a consideration in deciding where to locate a second airport.

And… as the official crusher of people’s hopes: Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Nope. A motion to add such language did not pass. And it’s easy to say that it was just the pro-aviation bastards, right? OK, but think about what you want, Des Moines.

If you really believe that a second airport might divert traffic from Des Moines, you gotta let people build a second airport. Airports are like any power plant. They’re gonna suck for communities; there’s no way to make them healthy. If you insist on pre-conditions to do so, I applaud your concern for your fellow man, but you’re also making it impossible to build a second airport.

Which is fine by me. As I keep saying, I don’t care one way or another. 1Because a second airport will never provide any relief for Des Moines.

My biggest challenge has been convincing you of that. Electeds and candidates and activists just loooove selling this as some ‘solution’ for the noise and pollution. And I wish they would stop doing that because it is not true. All the energy we spending on that canard should be better spent doing something that will actually help Des Moines.

Friday: I spoke with 30th District Senator Claire Wilson on the SeatacNoise.Info proposal The Check Box. And of course, the Senator just blew me out of the water. I’ve given this pitch a dozen times now and I still can’t get it right. The Senator distracts people with her stunning eye wear and then destroys them with a highly pointed question.

Look, all this is is ‘car pooling for planes’. When car pooling and van pooling started in the 70’s it was a total joke. You think people love cars now? Americans looooved cars back then. You could not deal with the problem of traffic (the ‘demand’) directly. So whoever thunk it up began with a totally voluntary program which nobody could be against because they didn’t really take it seriously. The only trick was getting someone to take it seriously enough to fund it, but not seriously enough that the auto industry would kill it.

But little by little it got people used to the idea of conservation. Same thing can happen with air travel. People have been using Zoom for a year. They don’t need to fly as much now. It used to be a treat. It’s only a mess because we do so much of it that we don’t need to.

The only reason it’s hard to pitch is because every organization does event planning and travel scheduling slightly differently. So you pitch the idea to someone and invariably they explain how “we have a different process here.” Same thing happened with car pooling. People argued endlessly about the small stuff. We’ll get there.

Senator Wilson and I also talked about the Fair Start legislation she got passed this Spring. As the pandemic has become endless I keep hearing this drum beat from parents about the need for more parks more activities and basically how damned expensive it is to raise a child.

Friday: South King County Housing and Homelessness Partners (SKHHP) Executive Board Meeting. There was a fairly devastating presentation by Tim Thomas from UC Berkley on what we can expect here from the coming eviction tsunami. I don’t have numbers to show yet, but the curve is ugly. And why you should care about that is because stability means community safety. Anybody who lived here during the Great Recession knows that a ton of house-flipping is something to be avoided.

Kent Mayor Dana Ralph made a good point: Some cities have instituted ordinances to lean on landlords when it comes to tenant issues like mold and poor appliances–common complaints everywhere. The tension is that any pressure you apply to landlords to improve housing also puts pressure on rents–and round and round things go.

Let’s pretend…

Out of the blue, I got a call from Councilmember Buxton asking me if I had questions about that SKHHP meeting. I asked her her impressions of the group and then gave her a couple of my thoughts.

I then gave her my obligatory “I object” speech which I now give to any Councilmember or candidate or community member who does not speak up and it basically goes like this (ahem):

“I object to the constant the preferential treatment the City Manager gives the members of the current majority and the terrible way he has treated both myself and Councilmember Martinelli. As much as I always appreciate hearing from any colleague or community member, this speech will be a part of every discussion we have until the Council establishes an ethical relationship with the City Manager where are all CMs are treated fairly.

I refuse to pretend or compartmentalize or otherwise normalize the bullying by calling it ‘just politics’. Dismissiveness and and victim blaming are unacceptable. Every Councilmember’s primary job is to provide oversight of the administration and that cannot happen when the City Manager and Council majority constantly discriminate against the minority and when members of the community do not speak up. Every member of Council deserves the protection of his colleagues and the full cooperation of the administration. To do otherwise is corruption pure and simple and we should stop pretending that it is anything else. It’s bad for governance and worse for the community. There is simply no excuse. Every person who does not speak up: elected or community member is an enabler.”

I don’t obsess about it; every week you see I work on all sorts of stuff. But I’m never going slide it under the rug either because it makes it harder for me to serve you when I do not enjoy the same cooperation that Councilmember Buxton takes for granted. And it needs to be constantly talked or it will never get solved. It’s become so normal here that most people think that this is how the world should work–which is just nuts.

Let’s Get Organisised

OK, referencing Taxi Driver is probably not a great way to open a topic on parenting, but I keep having these fascinating discussions about Public Outreach as part of things like the ARPA Stimulus, Marina Redevelopment and Parks Master Plan.

For long time, the City had a Citizens Advisory Committee. I guess it still exists. In theory. There’d be one community representative from each of nine neighbourhoods. It sorta ‘dissolved’ around 2017. Now you can say that ‘those uncaring people’ at the City stopped doing it and I half-agree. But you could also say that it became impossible because of all ‘those uncaring people’ in each neighbourhood. Frankly, often there weren’t community members who wanted to do it.

And that’s the thing: I hear all the time, “We need to do better public outreach!” and I 100% agree. The thing I struggle with is: how?

The push back from the City is basically, ‘ the public just doesn’t give a hoot’. On the other hand, I think the City has an ongoing responsibility to aggressively recruit residents. I keep saying it: more than half of the city has turned over in the past 15 years. New people keep coming here and they have no idea about a ‘Citizens Advisory Committee’ unless someone tells them.

There is also an uncomfortable little ‘secret’. There are still a few people in town who do organise for their neighbourhoods. And because you aren’t engaged, they basically have waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much influence. They’re not doing anything ‘wrong’. They’re doing what democracy says is good: advocating for their interest. It’s like a teeter-totter. They’re on one side and you’re not on the other so they always get more attention.

So the question then becomes: Should the City put effort into getting more people to volunteer for groups like the Citizen Advisory Committee? Or at the other end of the scale should it simply acknowledge the fact that nobody has the time in 2021 and try to create other mechanisms to ‘find out what you want’?

One common notion is ‘the town hall’ or ‘open house’. Very cool. We’ve got one coming up next week for the Parks Master Plan. The problem with Town Halls is the same as Citizen Advisory Committees. The same people tend to show up and it can be difficult getting truly equitable results.

That said, the City has a Senior Advisory Committee to indicate our strong commitment to that constituency. However, the average age of Des Moines is now 39. We have an entirely new generation of families. And yet there’s no “Family Advisory Committee”. Maybe there should be. But it will only happen if… wait for it… enough ‘Moms’ get organisised to make it happen.

I see scoffs from some of my colleagues and staff, but at the end of the day, City resources are a zero-sum game. There is only so much money, and also only so much attention to go around. That’s why I’m constantly badgering residents to write the City Council, set up a neighbourhood group, generally… be a (nice) pain in the ass. That actually is democracy.

Every staff member will say that the City takes a completely technocratic and fair approach to all this stuff. And I agree–to a point. That approach also appeals to residents because it asks nothing of them. “Hey, if the City is doing everything fairly, I’m already getting the best possible service, right?”

THWWPTPPWPWWPWPWWPPWPT. (That’s my raspberry emoji. 😀 )

This is no slam against any staff member. But I ran customer service systems for a living. And no matter how even-handed an organisation attempts to be, the people who organise tend to get better results. It’s just a fact that’s been borne out by studies since the dawn of… er… dawn. So if you want more attention for “Mom’s” or “Traffic Calming” or “Racism” or whatever your deal is, you have to do your part. That’s the short term answer.

In the long term…

The City currently does very little in the way of organised community research. We can and should do reporting on police stats, business performance, customer spending, real estate and human service needs at a neighbourhood level of granularity. It’s not rocket surgery and other cities our size already do it. We just have to recognise that the out of pocket costs of such information gathering pay for themselves.

You can’t handle the truth…

Speaking of information. I am the most sympathetic mofo you ever met when it comes to your street. But the truth is that a lot of the time, Cities run studies on traffic or crime or whatever and it turns out that “people are constantly going eighty miles an hour!” is actually “people are constantly going twenty eight miles an hour.”

And that’s the kind of thing that makes decision makers a bit jaded.

The solution is actually more information–which is why I want all that survey data. If you respond to a resident concern with “Dude, it’s not that bad” it’s not gonna go over well. But if you communicate what the resources are city-wide and then can demonstrate where the needs actually are, it makes the medicine go down a lot easier. Theoretically. 😀

One minor detail…

No matter what you do, the squeaky wheel does get the grease. It’s supposed to in a democracy. There’s always gonna be some group that organises and gets something you don’t. I’m not saying that to squash your dreams of fair service. I’m just pointing out that, you know, until ‘the great revolution’, it will always be to your advantage to get as many people together as you can and advocate for what you want. And I want to help you do that. 🙂


1People in other areas see what the airport has done to our area and they’re like, “Yeah you can keep that.” The reasons are exactly the same as in 1989 when we had a similar commission. And whenever this conversation comes up I feel like it’s my duty to mention that, even if ‘they’ built a second airport, doesn’t matter what kind or where it’s located it will never reduce the operations at Sea-Tac Airport. Ever. ever. ever. ever ever. I could write ‘ever’ 150 times and you still would not believe me. 😀 Partly because people always have hope, right? But also for the same reason that most people believe that adding another lane to a highway reduces traffic congestion (It does not.)

You would think building a second airport would be like opening a second hamburger joint across the street–half the business would go there. Nope. If you build a second airport all that happens is that you get more hamburgers… er… planes at the new airport. It does nothing to reduce traffic at the first airport. Really. Truly.

Weekly Update: 08/22/2021

Posted on Categories Engagement, Marina, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesLeave a comment on Weekly Update: 08/22/2021

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

Public Service Announcements

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

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

This Week

Monday: Meetings with Port people, including Comissioner Ryan Calkins on the SeatacNoise.Info Remote Works Better thing.

Wednesday: Sea-Tac Airport Roundtable StART Meeting. This is the first ‘reveal’ of the Sustainable Airport Master Plan environmental review process. Frankly, there hasn’t been much going on for almost a year, but this would be a good one to attend. Airport expansion is the biggest Des Moines issue you don’t know anything about.

Thursday: Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission. Des Moines resident Steve Edmiston is a member of the commission and will be giving a presentation. I have nothing to do with it aside from watching, but I always mention their activities because it seems to be part of my job to crush people’s hopes. See below…

Fri: South King County Housing and Homelessness Partners (SKHHP) Executive Board Meeting.

Last Week

Sunday: I gave King County Council candidate Shukri Olow a tour of the south end of Des Moines. I generally don’t give or receive endorsements.  So the only reason to mention this is because I always encourage everyone to get to know everybody. You never know who will win. And I want everyone to get to know each other at least a little bit–what they care about and what I’m concerned about for Des Moines. We drove through the south end of town because frankly, whenever people visit Des Moines they usually seem to focus on other spots.

A brief word about the Metroplitan King County Council. Yes, it’s an over-simplification, but a big part of what King County does is ‘human services department’ for cities like Des Moines. They handle issues of health, housing, arts grants, etc. I get lots of impassioned calls begging the City to do something about various social problems when oftenn it’s really the County that has, not only the authority, but just as importantly the infrastructure already in place. And I mention that for two reasons:

  1. Because when you vote, candidates promise all sorts of stuff. So when you give some thought not to what they aspire to, but to what they actually have the authority to do for you and Des Moines.
  2. And also because there is so much attention now on the City using ARPA money for various purposes. So many great ideas that would be hard for Des Moines, but easy for King County.

Monday: I spoke with State Senator Karen Keiser about our Remote Works Better program. Yeah, not super excited. 😀 It’s interesting how different the reactions have been.

Wednesday: I attended the Reach Out Des Moines meeting. As usual, they discussed how to get more activities for kids in Pacific Ridge. The goal has been crime reduction and school attendance and they have been remarkably successful on both counts. Again, not to over-simplify, but accomplishing both goals often comes down to giving teens things to do. It’s cheap. It works. And we should do more of it throughout Des Moines.

Along those lines, there’s been talk of a building a community center in Des Moines for a long time. Everyone acknowledges the needs in Pacific Ridge. But there is also a very longstanding desire to have a similar activity center in the South end of town. I don’t want to take anything away from the great work happening in Pacific Ridge. But what I dearly want to see is a proper survey of Des Moines–neighbourhood-level detail to assess where we stand throughout the City.

Thursday: I met with Noemie Maxwell an activist working to save North SeaTac Park from development by the Port Of Seattle. She’s also  thinking about how we could have a more regional approach to tree cover.

All the airport communities really are defined by Sea-Tac Airport. If it weren’t for that property, it’s likely that most of our cities would have formed some sort of a single ‘Highline’ government decades ago. From the air there is an obvious outline of one big ‘city’ and ‘forest’. Sea-Tac Airport is like that giant foot that came down in Monty Python sketches and artificially divided the entire region. It would be much more efficient if we could somehow plan regionally for the forest and creek systems.

Oh, you want answers?

The paradox of City Councilmember is that the gig allows you to really understand what is needed at the street level. On the other hand, you’re often not in a position to actually do much. You have to (sigh) you know, ‘convince people’.

Dumb engineer guys like me want to be able to say to residents, “Look, here’s what’s really going on. Here’s why it hasn’t been solved. Here’s what we need to do (finally) to get there.” I believe the current term is ‘mansplaining’? People really love that. 😀

You also want to be able to question every program the City engages in, not just at the City level but also regionally. But this is not ‘academia’ where people like me are used to giving each other routine grillings. So if you do that,  you’re instantly hurting a lot of hard working people’s feelings. They themselves would be the first to acknowledge that a lot of these programs are not the greatest but they’re making the best of the situation. So you feel like a jerk pointing out that that this is, ya know, public money.

At the end of the day you run the risk of seeming heartless to everybody. Never underestimate how much the desire to look like government is trying drives so much bad policy and bad spending. If you’re me, this cocktail of easy and ineffective can have you constantly checking the clock to see if it’s not too early in the day for that first drink.

Two practical Notes from the week…

  • I sincerely support what SKHHP is trying to do. But at the end of the day, the main reason we haven’t built ‘affordable housing’ in Des Moines is not because of any mysterious forces of nature. It’s because voters told us what they wanted and government has responded. If the people who actually vote really, really wanted more places for people to live? We’d have had them decades ago. Groups like SKHHP exist because the term ‘affordable housing’ is just one of a growing list of items that Cities now spend money on in order to try to secretly wish problems away. It won’t.
  • I fully support the CACC. 1But it won’t help Des Moines at all. Again, the reason there isn’t a second airport in the area is because nobody else wants a second airport. But governments keep putting energy into this rather than things that would help Des Moines because, again, it’s just easier.

The fact is, we spend a ton of energy and/or money on policy stuff like this that is at best questionable, but woe unto you for saying so. (Talk to me about the squillions we’ve wasted on salmon recovery. See? Now you think I’m a 4salmon hater, too right? 😀 )

Poking the bear…

I often discuss thorny issues here, mainly because no one else does. You cannot expect the public to engage on the issues unless they are aware of the issues. The City communicates its successes, generally not the problems. Some people perceive these criticisms as ‘poking the bear’, but that’s really not the point. The real point is that we haven’t had a decent argument in Des Moines for a very long time.

Where are the town halls?

Almost every day now, I also talk with residents who demand, “Where are the Town Halls!?!” And I’m like, “3Dude, we did have town halls back in the day. Ya know why we don’t have town halls now? Because  people screamed a lot!”

You don’t know that because, more than half of you only moved here within the past decade. You have no idea how much things have changed. The City gradually abandoned all sorts of public engagement for a very practical reason: Having real discussions means people disagree.

See you think there’s a lack of ‘public engagement’, but I know that it’s really a lack of basic accountability. (I told you there would be man-splaining.) The administration thinks it’s perfectly fine to treat both of us as they do. And why shouldn’t they? Who is out there telling them otherwise? (I’m not being rhetorical. Councilmembers get lots of letters. But the number demanding better public engagement is exactly the same as the number demanding equal treatment for all Councilmembers. 😀 )

I ‘poke the bear’, not to be prickly, but because I have the right to ask any damned thing I want in order to serve you. I don’t work for the administration. I work for you. I know who works for who. The administration may not. My colleagues may not. But that’s not my fault. It’s their fault for trying to game the system. And it’s also yours if you don’t speak up in support of Councilmembers who poke the bear. (See what I did there? 😀 )

Seriously, though: you want town halls? As soon as you insist on a government that understands who works for whom, trust me, you’ll get your town halls. (And progress on airport issues, housing and all that stuff we spend money on as opposed to actually doing something.)


1People in other areas see what the airport has done to our area and they’re like, “Yeah you can keep that.” The reasons are exactly the same as in 1989 when we had a similar commission. And whenever this conversation comes up I feel like it’s my duty to mention that, even if ‘they’ built a second airport, doesn’t matter what kind or where it’s located it will never reduce the operations at Sea-Tac Airport. Ever. ever. ever. ever ever. I could write ‘ever’ 150 times and you still would not believe me. 😀 Partly because people always have hope, right? But also for the same reason that most people believe that adding another lane to a highway reduces traffic congestion (It does not.)

You would think building a second airport would be like opening a second hamburger joint across the street–half the business would go there. Nope. If you build a second airport all that happens is that you get more hamburgers… er… planes at the new airport. It does nothing to reduce traffic at the first airport. Really. Truly. And I keep hammering away at that, one voter at a time, because so long as people have this misguided hope that a second airport will reduce traffic, we can never deal properly with Sea-Tac.

2OK, except Chinook and Coho. Unless human beings pack up and leave Des Moines, they’re probably screwed.

3Artistic license. I really don’t address constituents as ‘Dude’ all that much.

4I have a deep and, some would say, almost spiritual connection with fish. The Incredible Mr. Limpet is a true classic of film, OK?

 

Marina Redevelopment Talking Points

Posted on Categories Engagement, Environment, Marina, Transparency

On August 6, 2021, the City Of Des Moines published its 2021 Draft Marina Master Plan Update.  Almost immediately, residents began speaking with me about serious concerns. The proposal very complicated so most residents have had trouble putting their concerns into words. I was asked to create ‘talking points’ to help express these concerns to the City.

If you can only remember one thing…

Here’s your first talking point: It’s hard to create short ‘talking points’ without creating a long ‘explainer’ because the scheme is so complex and there are so many unknowns. But if you can remember only one thing, remember this:

The land side must pay for the water side

Key problems with the proposal

  • The proposal is simply too vague, particularly financing. But despite many gaps and unknowns, the City has already moved ahead. Some of the needed analysis is now occurring but a lot more should have happened and needs to happen before we can acknowledge the risks and benefits.
  • The proposal conflates need with want and does not at all make clear that various aspects are financed independently.
  • The proposal shamelessly includes several “glamor features” to sell the idea, including a passenger ferry, hotel and year-round-market, while failing to acknowledge that their revenue potential is not just unknown but unknowable.
  • The proposal repurposes the Marina towards wealthier boaters and does not consider the possible effects to small boat users or the larger community which uses the Marina Floor as a park.
  • Making the Des Moines Marina Association (DMMA) the only stakeholder in the planning calls into question the City’s management and oversight.
  • For all these reasons, the lack of public outreach is simply grievous.

Ten Takeaways From The Report

Most people kinda/sorta get that the land side has two big features:

  • A Steps project at the end of 223rd (Overlook II) for people to walk down to the Marina Floor.
  • A large multi-level Adaptive Purpose Building (APB) which will replace the boat storage sheds.

The Steps seem universally popular. The APB? Eh, not so much. Regardless, here are ten things to think about.

  1. This is the largest and longest capital project in our history: 15-20 years and $35-50 million. That one sentence should been enough to merit a Town Hall before proceeding with any aspect of the projects.
  2. The land side must pay for the water side. This requires a walk-through:
    • The Marina is a semi-private and self-sustaining business referred to as an Enterprise Fund. The City cannot borrow from its General Fund to finance this. The Marina’s borrowing power is barely enough to start on the first two docks and there will be no more borrowing for the foreseeable future.
    • Every aspect of the land side redevelopment: the APB and any other proposals to be determined (including passenger ferry, boutique hotel, parking, you name it) is the funding source for dock replacement.
    • So the land side needs to generate enough ongoing (structural) revenue to pay that $35-50M bill for dock replacement over that 15-20 year cycle. That is $1.75M – $3M per year. And that is above and beyond any revenue from existing lessees (SR3, CSR, Quarterdeck, etc.)
  3. The proposal has serious gaps. At our September 2 City Council Meeting the Administration will unveil a Request For Proposal (RFQ) to developers. That will be anyone’s first look at what the City is looking for in terms of land side development. It will then be up to whichever developers respond to flesh out a vision for the APB and other projects. But it is important to note that internally, the City must already have a pretty good idea of what it wants the Marina Floor to be like in order to prepare that RFQ. And it is disappointing that they have not shared any of that with the public.
  4. Do not conflate the desires of various self-interests to develop the land side with the need to rebuild the docks or sea walls.
    • The docks and the seawalls (the water side) must be replaced now. There is a years-long process of permitting and planning. No one argues that. If we as a City are committed to having a Marina, we must begin work on the docks now.
    • The docks and the seawalls and land side are all financed separately. (In fact, the City has already received funding to repair the North sea wall. Work on that is already beginning and it has nothing to do with the land side.)
    • There are land side amenities that boaters highly desire (parking, good restrooms, etc.) and the land side should be planned strategically to fully accommodate those needs. But it is only the docks that are in peril. And it is only the docks that depend on land side development to pay for.
  5. The knowable land side revenue generators are not solid:
    • Build a dry stack storage system with 240 spaces into the east side of the hill near the south end of the floor. Presumably, all the small boats displaced by the removal of the current storage sheds will go there. Best case, it generates $1.1M/year in revenue, however operational cost has not been discussed. We are assuming that there will be immediate and 100% demand for that storage.
    • Build a second dry stack storage system with another 240 spaces inside the APB. See above.
    • Move the harbor master’s office into the APB and lease out or redevelop the building for retail/restaurant. Revenue unknown.
  6. The most glamorous revenue generators are unknown and unknowable:
    • Passenger ferry
    • Boutique hotel
    • Move the Farmers Market inside the APB and convert it into a year-round concern

    There’s no way to comment on any of these without more information. They sound wonderful. Who doesn’t like the sound of a ferry or a boutique hotel or a year round market. But there are no numbers. And no discussion as to the impacts on our transportation infrastructure including parking.

    Perhaps the biggest problem with any of these glamour items is that they are being sold as economic drivers. The pitch is that, if we had a ferry or a hotel, regardless of any direct revenue, their presence somehow attracts more visitors, people spending money and general business development. We heard that same argument with the Des Moines Creek Business Park and whatever it’s other virtues, the DMCBP has not been that great economic driver. If people want those things just because they are fun? Great. Sell them like that. But do not include them in the mix of revenue sources for dock replacement.

    Also:

    • The hotel would likely be instead of that second dry stack system, not in addition to it. So regardless of any glamour, it must perform better than $1.1M/year in tax revenue.
    • The demand for a ferry is based on a private study done by the City in 2019 but only revealed a few months ago. Those results are not exactly echoed by a very thorough study done by the Puget Sound Regional Council where a Des Moines route came in dead last.
    • Although the Farmers Market is a beloved institution, a big money maker it is not. It is fantasy to think that a year-round concern would do any better. And again: every inch of the APB must, above all things, be an efficient money maker.
  7. The public outreach has been terrible.
    • The City’s last real ‘town hall’ about the proposal was in 2017. There was also a Yacht Club event which was far less well attended. But in the end, the total number of residents reached at both these events would have been at best several hundreds. Not exactly representative of the entire community. Also: these were not proposals concerning financing or dock replacement or anything real.. They were at best surveys of public interest on three broad options; nothing more. And to say otherwise is completely disingenuous.
    • The sole outreach about the current plan was by distributing flyers inside the docks to the 750-ish boat owners, 80% of whom are not residents. They were the only stakeholders asked to submit questions and not a single member outside of that community attended the initial planning meetings before the Council voted to move ahead with design. You can verify this for yourself by looking at page 11 of the Draft Proposal or here for a list of all documents reviewed before the City Council voted to move ahead.
  8. The plan plan changes the entire focus of moorage towards larger boats or wealthier tenants and that has far bigger consequences than just the docks. The dream would be to make Des Moines a weekend destination for boat owners similar to the San Juans. And that means that any other developments on the land side will also shift upmarket. Does the community believe in and want that sort of long term vision? There are is a small, but important group of residents who disagree because it is such a change from the original mission. Some boat owners still dearly miss the ‘sling’ removed in 2009. Many resent having to go down to Redondo to launch, which they consider inconvenient and much more challenging to use.
  9. The Marina Floor is smaller than people think. If there is a ferry, dry stack operations, a boutique hotel and retail space in the APB and the harbor master’s office, the logistics will be non-trivial. Some people will use the new Steps on 223rd. But many will need parking or shuttles or ride shares to at least get up to Marine View Drive.  Also, there are many ways to implement dry stack storage and we are considering not one but two systems–which means potentially launching seven times as many boats..
  10. For 99% of Des Moines, the practical function of the Marina is as a public park. It has always been that way. The Marina Floor is the City’s gathering space–and so much so that most people have forgotten that it is, in fact, a business. Thus far, apart from the 223rd Steps, the entire discussion has been around ‘boaters’ and ‘revenue’, ignoring entirely the fact that the Marina is a park and that the vast majority of users will never set foot on the docks.

The ends do not justify the means…

I want to acknowledge that the proposal and every one of its assumptions could turn out to be absolutely wonderful. Really. But at the end of the day, the ends do not justify the means. The issue is not the actual proposal, which could be fixed, but rather the process which was and continues to be fraught.

Dismissive…

The City and the Council majority have been completely dismissive of any complaints. The administration denies that there has been any problem with the process. This is not only a failure of government, it is a lack of regard for your intelligence.

  • To insist that there has been anything approaching a proper level of public outreach is to deny reality.
  • Demanding a decent business proposal before proceeding is the very definition of good business.

Three messages to government…

We must send a strong message to our government:

  • The Marina belongs to the entire City. The entire community are the stakeholders and must have a voice at every stage of planning.
  • The City must communicate properly and that includes both high quality information and serious public outreach on programs of this scale.
  • The City must provide complete proposals before asking the City Council to vote and the City Council must not tolerate anything less.

Action Items

To send these messages, I’m asking you to write, not only the City Council, but also to all candidates. Many of the biggest decisions will happen in 2021. So you should be getting specific answers from them now.

  1. Ask them to support of my Marina Redevelopment Presentation ARPA Stimulus Proposal. which will be discussed at our September 16 City Council Meeting.
  2. Ask them to support creating a new Marina Committee of the City Council to provide oversight and planning of Marina and Redondo Zones. This would insure that the entire community had a voice in Marina planning, not merely the DMMA.

1To give you some perspective, SR3 currently pays the City about $450K/year for its piece of the Marina floor.

Marina Redevelopment Town Hall ARPA Proposal

Posted on Categories Engagement, Marina1 Comment on Marina Redevelopment Town Hall ARPA Proposal

My fifth formal proposal to the City Council for ARPA spending is to fund a multi-media presentation ‘explainer’ and Town Hall for Marina Redevelopment.

Background

The City recently released it’s 2021 Draft Marina Master Plan, which I’ll refer to here as ‘Marina Redevelopment’. But having now spoken with a lot of residents who are lobbying the Council to spend ARPA money on everything except the Marina, I’ve heard four themes which should not be underestimated in my opinion:

1. Everyone is very interested in the Marina Redevelopment–even if they have no interest in using ARPA money. I have heard over and over that people feel excluded… ie. they don’t bother asking because they feel like “if the City cared, they would have already done outreach.” That had never occurred to me: if you don’t do outreach, far from demanding information, a lot of people simply get the message that you don’t care and check out.

2. Everyone and I do mean everyone is having a great deal of trouble visualising any projected outcomes. I cannot stress that enough. Even the condo owners just can’t ‘see’ what the 223rd stairs, APB (including views from above), hotel, ferry, might look like, let alone any intentions re. parking, movement of boats to/from dry stock, boat launch, rest room. It is all an abstraction. Those Skylab drawings may have performed well as a sales pitch 7-8 years ago, but now they are deeply frustrating. People have actually told me that they feel stupid for not getting it. They don’t mention it because they assume that everyone else gets it or surely someone else would’ve complained.

3. Residents absolutely no idea about the money: what financing looks like. They have no idea what an 2Enterprise Fund is. If it’s more money for the Marina why should I as a resident care? How does the Adaptive Purpose Building (APB) translate into money for dock replacement? Do larger boats mean something for the town beyond moorage fees? Those are not bad questions. I have them myself.

4. When residents first started talking  about a ‘Town Hall’, I thought what they meant was a ‘public gathering’ where the City Council and Administration stood there and took questions and complaints. Actually, that is not what the people I’ve spoken with want at all–at least, not at this point. For everyone I’ve sat down with, ‘Town Hall’ is at least partly code for “I tried reading that Master Plan and I still don’t get it.”  I’m stunned by how many people have taken the time to read the thing only to have even more questions at the end.

Proposal

What I want to propose is that the City immediately hire a for realz media presentation company to create a for realz presentation consisting of:

    1. A Virtual Tour. A 3d fly-through animation demonstrating all aspects of the proposal as far as they can be known. I mean like showing a ferry docking, boats going in and out of dry stack to the launch, a view from the condos looking down on the APB, a view of the APB from the docks, people descending the 223rd stairs, a re-purposed harbormaster building, parking flows. and of course a fly over of the re-configured moorage. Maybe we do a ‘before and after’ fly-over so people can get a sense of just how big a change it is: the new covered moorage look, how guest moorage changes, the fairways, expansion of Ranger, the various environmental concerns that we are addressing–and why permitting is so costly and so fraught. Everything. (BTW: that environmental thing -really- matters to a small, but vocal number of residents. They really want to have a sense that the rebuild is compatible with their interest in wildlife.)

 

 

  1. Bulleted One-Pagers. Posters and hand outs, crafted at a sixth grade level explaining the costs, revenue forecasts, permitting challenges, how we intend to finance and also the appropriate uses of ongoing Marina money. That sounds like anyone can do it, but they can’t. You need an outsider–a media pro to make it work.

Then…

Once we have those tools, then we organize ‘Town Halls’. And we should record those meetings as well. I am sure that audience Q&A is something that people who cannot attend will find very useful.


1I’m over-simplifying here, but an enterprise fund is self-financing business that the City operates. Operations and finances are kept separate from other City funds.

My six ARPA proposals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consolation prize

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

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

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

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

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

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

The proposals

And with all that build -up:

#1 ENVIRONMENTAL Strategist

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

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

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

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

But among this person’s duties would be:

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

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

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

#2 DIRECTOR OF Business formation

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

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

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

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

#3 Second metro shuttle

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

#4 Accelerated Marina Dock Replacement

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

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

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

#5 MARINA COMMUNITY OUTREACH PRESENTATIONS

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

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

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

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

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

$20,000.

#6 FRIENDS OF SALTWATER STATE PARK WEB SITE

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

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

Full proposal

$7,500

Summary: Tie it together

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

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


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

It’s all a matter of timing…

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Marina, Transparency1 Comment on It’s all a matter of timing…

Following our last RCM, I sent the following questions to our City Manager in response to the Christmas In July presentation.

Hi Michael,

I have a series of questions on your draft plan. Sorry for the length, but there's a lot. Perhaps we could schedule a Zoom to go through them?

TIA,

---JC


BROAD:

1. First: Several of these are replacing revenue already budgeted, where will that 'saved' money go? IOW: you already budgeted for Body Cameras. Where does that $100k savings go in 2021? Same question re. Metro and other items. Does this open up opportunities for other programs?

2. Which of these programs -must- be decided on immediately in order for you to prepare your Budget? Can some items be deferred?


SPECIFIC LINE ITEMS:

1. POLICE

a. You have Body Cameras budgeted at $250k. But our agreement with Watchguard was for $190k. Why the difference?

b. 4 new officers. Does this add to our enforcement capacity at any point during the 3 years or is it simply to cover for officers on 'light duty'?

c. When are the light duty officers expected to return to full duty?

d. After 2024, given your forecasting, should we plan on needing additional or (new) revenue sources to be able to afford to maintain these new hires?


2. MENTAL HEALTH

a. My understanding is that the ride-along has not yet been implemented. When does that go live?

b. Do you have any program details? 

    I. How many calls are anticipated

    II. How many counselors will be assigned to this?

    III. Will there be a mechanism for the public (or an officer) to call for a counselor to respond as opposed to -both- an officer and a counselor?


3. GRO

a. Why was $100k chosen?

b. What, if any changes are planned for the administration of the program?


4. METRO

a. Is the cost expected to continue to be $125k in subsequent years beyond 2024?


5. TENANT EVICTIONS

a. Which non-profit(s) are you considering?

b. Can you give me specifics on what this help would look like?

    I. Rent relief?

    II. Relocation costs?

    III. Utilities?

    IV. Other?


6. EMERGENCY TRANSITIONAL HOUSING

a. Can you give me specifics on what this help would look like? I'm having trouble visualising what this looks like.

    I. Are we talking existing housing?

    II. New construction?

    III. Where?


7. FOOD TRUCKS

a. Can you give me specifics on what this money would be used for?

b. How is this 'Revenue Loss'?


8. MARINA INFRASTRUCTURE - Can you give me a break down of how you foresee allocating this money. Specifically:

a. What percentage would be used for dock replacement?

b. What percentage for land side development?

c. What (if/any) percentage for bulkhead?


9. SR3

a. Why is this considered Revenue Loss? -Their- revenue loss or ours?

b. Exactly what is that $100k for? Is it a grant? If so, did they make a specific request? If so, I'd like to see it.


10. BUDGET PUBLISHING SOFTWARE

a. What is the specific package being proposed? Can you provide a link to product info?

I also sent an email saying that this spending discussion be postponed–at least until all CMs had had their questions answered. And I know that other CMs felt the same way. The response I received from the administration was that the City Manager was moving the discussion to the September 16th meeting. But this is one of those ‘in the weeds’ things that matters. Here is the administration’s response:

Mayor and City Council,
 
As City Council considers the ARPA funds please take the following into account:
The federal process (Congress) to fund the ARPA was relatively lengthy.  As a result, the federal circulars from the Treasury Department were also somewhat delayed.  These identified the criteria for use of the funds.  At the same time, based on the size of our City’s population, our ARPA funds are administered by the State of Washington, which created another step.
Our Finance Director did a great job justifying both lost revenue and other aspects of these funds to assure Des Moines received our maximum allocation – which our City did.  Approximately $4.5 million this year (these funds are in our bank account) and we anticipate receipt of an additional $4.5 million next year (2022).
The ARPA funds need to be approved as part of the 2022 City Budget.  In order to facilitate this process we made recommendations to the City Council on potential uses of the ARPA funds.  We also set aside time for City Councilmembers to make any suggestions for the use of the funds.  The City Council Budget Retreat will be held on August 5, 2021 so we wanted to be able to include a discussion of the use of the ARPA funds at the Budget Retreat.  That is why the time frame was relatively short.
However, if City Council wants to extend the deadline, we are certainly open to that and will utilize whatever timeline City Council desires, subject only to the State requirement that the City Manager present a recommended budget for 2022 to City Council by early October, 2021.
Therefore, we are recommending an extension of the ARPA review until September 16th, if Council wishes, with any recommendations from City Council for specific uses of the ARPA funds.  City Council will need to provide the application template we sent out earlier by Sept. 8th for inclusion for the City Council meeting of September 16th, 2021.

Best,
Michael Matthias
City Manager 

Now to the uninformed reader that letter sounds like he is asking the Council if it wants to move the process to September 16. But that is not what it means. What the letter means is that the City Manager has decided to move the discussion to September 16 in response to individual complaints from CMs. There is never any ‘Council’ decision on stuff like this. And if he wants to move the item, he should just do it and not do that song and dance.

That may sound like cranky hairsplitting, but it’s not. In other cities there are mechanisms for the full Council to address items of urgency like this truly as a group. It’s as simple as calling a special meeting–which is really not that big a deal now with Zoom. But that  does not happen in Des Moines. Which is unfortunate, because extending the discussion and deadline for proposals is not the only problem that needs to be addressed.

There’s still the problem of those pesky questions. Here is an email I sent on the 27th. No reply yet from the administration or any of my colleagues.

Mayor Pina, fellow Councilmembers:

At the 22 July RCC meeting, Michael gave a presentation on the
administration's draft proposal. The presentation lasts only 13 minutes. It seemed like such a high altitude overview that I assumed there would be more detail to follow.

Seeing none, on 26 July I sent Michael a list of questions on each line
item. I am sure all of us have questions as well. (I am happy to share
mine with any CM--not for purposes of discussion, but simply to know
what others are thinking about.)

My reply on 27 July was that my questions would be discussed at the 16
September meeting--which seems to indicate that no further reply will be forthcoming.

I am -assuming- that you are all being told the same thing.

It does us no good to move the discussion to 16 September armed only
with the current information. Speaking for myself, all it does is add to my backlog of unknowns as more questions come in from residents.

And IMO, without detailed answers, moving that discussion to 16
September actually makes the situation -more- problematic. As you know,
the budget process has an end point in November. The longer we wait to
discuss these items, the shorter the period we (and the administration)
have to make any meaningful adjustments.

So I want to suggest that the administration immediately allocate
sufficient time to research and respond fully and promptly to all
questions re. the draft proposal from all CMs as they are received--right up until 16 September. If this requires some formal
action, I am fully on board.

---JC

Note that I specifically mention that it may require a Council decision (formal action).

Sidetrack: regarding Revenue loss…

Many of the proposed spending line items are classified as ‘revenue loss’. OK, fine. What about the rest of the corporation? How are all the other funds doing? We’re making assumptions regarding significant reductions in receipts–without seeing those numbers. IOW: It’s difficult to talk seriously about prioritising ‘revenue loss’ without seeing the full financials. Those shoulda been with the materials.

Now back to our original show…

If no one responds to my questions (I can only hope my colleagues also have questions) This re-scheduling actually makese the process worse.

A bit of background: the Budget process is the single most important role of the City Council. In fact, it’s one of the few areas in State law concerning cities that is so specific. Each meeting from the Budget Retreat on August 5 follows a particular series of steps towards a final vote in November.

This is important: after the Retreat, the staff is supposed to have all the information it needs to prepare a legally required Draft Budget for October. It’s a ton of work preparing that initial document because you’re balancing the needs of the entire corporation.

So by moving the discussion from August 5 to September 16, you’re now telling staff that, instead of having two months to integrate CM proposals into the Budget they now have two weeks. Yeah, good luck with that.

And remember, I still don’t have answers to my questions. I may have to wait until that meeting for answers. And so will my colleagues. Worst case? We all see each others ideas for the first time, on September 16. And none of us have answers to our research questions.

So even if a colleague presents an idea, unless it is obvious, I would have a hard time voting for it. And I wouldn’t expect anything better from my colleagues. Even if I had a cure for cancer, without sufficient detail I would never ask a colleague to vote for it.

In short, the administration did something that looks like it’s helping the Council (and the public), but in reality it incentivises decision makers to do one of two things:

  • Accept the Draft Proposal as is.
  • Do nothing.

And frankly, I am currently leaning towards ‘do nothing’.

The down sides of ‘do nothing’

I’ve heard from CMs in other cities who are going with ‘do nothing’. Why rush? And here’s my 2p.

First of all, to some extent, the spirit of the law is ‘recovery’. One has to at least take that into consideration.

But a bigger deal, g2g, this is probably #327 on the list of things I’ve observed about our administration, where I actually have no problem with the basic idea. But the bottom line is that I don’t have the same level of implicit trust my colleagues do. The whole issue with the ‘Draft Proposal’ is that it was intentionally vague. More on that in a minute.

Do what you’re good at…

I often ramble on about ‘core competency’: There are some things that every corporation is great at and others… not so special. Wanna know what things  the City Of Des Moines is pretty good at? It’s right here.

Get it? The City has a detailed list of prioritised transportation and infrastructure projects planned out many years into the future that are simply waiting for money to be executed. You drop $9M on our COO’s desk and he knows what to do with it immediately.  That’s how you can tell our City is good at.

OK, now, let’s look at the City Of Des Moines Social Services Improvement Plan. Hmm… can’t seem to find it. I know it’s here somewhere. 😀

I know that sounds flip, but do you see my point? We don’t have the same level of planning for social services spending because a City like ours never seriously expects to have these kinds of opportunities on our usual budget. I’ve gotten all these emails and calls and see all sorts of posts on social media saying “We need mental health, homeless, rent, eviction, utilities, job training, food, medical education, PreK… and on and on and on…” And I’m like. Great! But if the City hasn’t already developed a plan as real as our Capital Improvement Projects plan, where exactly are we supposed to spend it? And maybe that should be the real first step. Maybe we use a portion of the stimulus money to actually develop that ‘SSIP’ now. And spend later.

I’m into that discipline stuff…

I keep harping on ‘data’ but what I really mean is discipline. The City Manager rarely provides adequate detail to the full Council. He doesn’t have to because they don’t ask for it. And in the case of things like Body Cameras, since it’s an issue he is passionate about, CM Martinelli was also more than willing to vote for a proposal without complete information.

So the message I have received from all my colleagues is: details-schmetails. So long as we’re OK with the policy we’ll vote for it. If there are kinks? We’ll iron them out later.

I cannot tell you how much that grinds my gears. After EATS and GRO I fail to understand why any of my colleagues are willing to tolerate anything less than complete information before making decisions. It’s not an either/or.

What I’m not sure people understand is how difficult (and rare) it is for the City Council to re-visit anything it doesn’t absolutely have to. Look at our Agendas. Do you see the Council tweaking existing ordinances without some legal requirement? Happens maybe once a year in a ‘code clean-up’ resolution. For example, the ‘chicken’ discussion? I think the last time the Council looked at that was 8-9 years ago. My experience tells me that we should think of our votes as more like building a bridge, rather than like creating a piece of software that can be ‘tweaked’.

The irony is that committee presentations–usually given by directors–are pretty great. I dunno if it’s coincidence but they are now noticeably more detailed. But unfortunately, almost none of the public sees those. The full Council presentations, in contrast, are often like this Draft Proposal–pretty vague.

I want more complete information. I’ve said so since my first meeting. And I don’t know how to get there until we have a Council that is willing to demand it from the administration.

Actually, there is one project…

Finally, Des Moines is a bit different from other cities in that we actually do have at least one ready-to-go economic development opportunity called the Marina Docks. We’re literally doing the engineering work now. The administration has pushed the idea that replacing the docks isn’t just functionally necessary, the reconfiguration will lead to a 25% increase in revenue for our City. And the finance costs are huge. OK, here’s money to start bringing in that extra cash years ahead of schedule.


2If I were more ‘west coast’ I would say something more like “Gosh it sure would have been preferable if we somehow could have seen financial statements included with the materials.”

This is a news year…

Posted on Categories Marina, Transparency, Transportation

Introduction

You know you’re in  trouble whenever an article comes with an Introduction. And yes, this is the probably the longest unpaid document I’ve written since college (and even then I was double-spacing if you know what I’m saying.) Although it may seem like just another pissing contest between myself and the current majority, it’s actually another kind of argument–what kind of City Council you want to have going forward.

Frankly, many of us choose City Councilmembers, based on the 153 words in the Voters Guide, some yard signs and maybe some ribbon cuttings and social media posts. How could we not? We have no newspaper and very few public fora. And even when we do there is never a moderator who knows the local issues well enough to put forward the really important questions that the public doesn’t even know to ask.  So the public almost never gets a chance to gain much understanding of important local issues–or how candidates and incumbents think about those issues. We vote with our hearts (Oh, I knew his mother!) rather than our heads.

Ironically, this kerfuffle started as an attempt to address the above. I wrote to a journalism teacher at Highline College to ask if their newspaper, The Thunderword, could start doing some ongoing political coverage. I understood that this was a risky move, but I was encouraged by a couple of good articles their student/reporters did during my campaign in 2019.

As you will read, all that went horribly wrong. But on reflection, it occurred to me that the entire back and forth might be a way to put in one place some of the most important issues I had hoped the reporter might address and some of the very real problems of communication with the current government.

None of this material should be new for people who read my Weekly Updates. But there’s the rub: the problem with the Weekly Updates is that they assume that you are following along–like a TV series. But almost none of you are, of course. You’re just seeing a bit here and a bit there. So if this article seems longer than many Russian Novels, it’s partly because I wanted to provide the public with sort of a one stop shopping experience.

The other reason to gas on like this is because there’s been this ongoing narrative from my colleagues that I’m doing all sorts of bad stuff. So I decided to lay out this one interaction as fully as possible, with all the links and footnotes and let you decide for yourself.

Now, exactly who should slog through all this? Well hopefully the candidates. And also hopefully, a few members of the community who want to get engaged in local politics but don’t know where to begin. Again, without a newspaper, the only way people tend to get involved in Des Moines politics (or even just to really know what is going on) is by having ‘a friend’.

Whether you agree or disagree with my positions, I hope you will ask all the candidates and incumbents to respond to them. Because at the end of the day, if you don’t ask, neither candidates or incumbents have any need to tell you what they really think about anything. In fact, and this is the really  uncomfortable part, if no one asks, people take their seats on the Council all the time not having given serious thought to any of the truly important long term issues of city government.

Now on with the show…

I reach out to Highline College Journalism…

On 4/10/2021 I sent the following email to an instructor in the Highline College Journalism program with the subject line “This is a news year…”:

XXXXXXX,I dunno if you pay attention much to DM City Council these days… and 1I know you’re not my biggest fan… but I want to encourage you to do whatever you can to provide -some- kind of coverage this year.Ya know how they always say, “THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION EVER!”? And it’s not true, of course. But this really is the most important political year for DM in at least a decade.

What the public does not understand is that we are still in the Governor’s State Of Emergency. That lifted the City Manager’s spending cap. He can basically spend whatever he likes without a Council vote. Eg. last year the City spent a million dollars in Stimulus money without a single vote of the Council. It is likely that we will spent -8- million in the ARP stimulus this year…again no Council vote required. (Grateful cheering will be recommended, of course.)

Apparently, a passenger ferry is coming to DM? … a multi-million dollar deal… again decided without a vote, presentation to Council or public comment.

We just got the first full Council briefing on a Marina Redevelopment of both the waterside -and- landside. It will certainly be the single largest capital investment in the City’s history. It is being sold as a Prix Fixe… no choosing individual menu items. There has only been one consultant and one proposal. And we will likely approve it in principal by August.

The Port Of Seattle will be going ahead with the SAMP this summer… an expansion program of the airport that most of the public has no idea about, but which will provide for 40% greater capacity. During a time where the airlines admit that demand will not fully recover to current levels for many years.

There’s more, but I’ve taxed yer patience as it is.

Whether you agree or not on policy, I hope you will agree that this -is- a news year. And (literally) no one is covering any of this.

Give it a think.

—JC

I think it’s pretty clear that my intention was to begin a dialogue on how to actually cover Des Moines politics. These were all bullet points for discussion–not the actual ‘story’.

On April 13 I received the following reply:

Hi Councilman:

This is very interesting, and none of it sounds right. Then again, I’ve been skeptical of your city manager for quite some time.

We’ll see what we can do.

On April 26th I received the following from a Thunderword student/reporter:

Hi Mr. Harris,

I’m a reporter with the Thunderword Newspaper at Highline College. I believe another reporter had been in contact with you recently after you reached to XXXXXXXXX with some information on the city council’s recent operations.

If you’re willing, I was hoping you could respond to a few questions to clarify:

– Gov. Inslee’s initial COVID-19 state of emergency declaration was issued way back in early 2020: Has the City Manager been operating without the Council’s input since then?

– When, or under what circumstances is the state of emergency expected to be lifted?

– What are your concerns over the City Manager still having these powers this far into the pandemic?

– What has this situation resulted in thus far? You mention a few major expenditures in your email.

– Has the City Manager ever used these emergency powers to act against the Council’s wishes?

On May 5th I sent this reply:

Sorry for the delay. I really thought hard before replying. At the risk of sounding condescending, I’m going to assume you don’t yet know much about how municipal govt. works–only because less than 1% of voters do. You ask some good questions, I get them all the time from residents, but they’re kinda not the -right- questions. They’re just so broad that I’d have to write a ‘primer’ about as long as War And Peace on local government before getting to the kind of short answers you’re probably looking for.

Almost all the political coverage DM has had for the past 10 years has tended to be terrible: someone watches a City Council Meeting and then comments or pulls quotes out of context with no proper understanding of the issue. Frankly, that’s what this initial round of questions feels like to me. I’m not trying to be mean–it takes time to figure out.

All of which is to say: The original intent of my writing XXXXXXXXX was to suggest that you create an ongoing politics beat. If that’s something you want to take on, I’m happy to talk to you any time to begin that process. I have no desire to control -anything- but I -do- have an interest in getting the story -right-.

So if the goal is to do a single article based on these questions, please… don’t do that. I’d recommend starting with something much simpler and working your way into it.

I do hope to hear from you. Des Moines -needs- regular political coverage.

—JC

And I never heard back.

Thunderword Article

But on May 21, I see the following article in the Thunderword: Confused accusations spread within Des Moines City Council

A minority of Des Moines City Council members have claimed that the city manager is ignoring their input, but the rest of the council disagreesSince the COVID-19 pandemic began last year, the city of Des Moines, like countless other cities, has been operating under a state of emergency declaration. This procedure typically expedites the process of distributing emergency relief, and generally taking action to quell the emergency at hand.

Some Des Moines City Council members, however, have taken issue with the city government’s operation amidst these circumstances.

Specifically, they have accused City Manager Michael Matthias of engaging in widespread spending without permission of the city council. Two of the council’s seven members have expressed this concern.

Councilmember Anthony Martinelli is one such member. He said that much of City Manager Matthias’s spending has taken place without the opportunity for council input.

“The city manager has spent a considerable amount of city funds without council approval,” Martinelli said. “I found out we were moving ahead with a business grant program the same time as the public, and this has been true of several other projects.”

The council’s other five members and several city officials have denied these accusations completely.

Martinelli said that the city manager is legally authorized to pass these expenditures, but that he feels the council should be more involved in the process.

“There’s no reason he shouldn’t be keeping the council more in the loop and making a larger effort to garner their input,” Martinelli said.

2J.C. Harris, another member of the council, has made similar claims. He said that under the statewide state of emergency declaration, the city manager has been allowed to circumvent council approval almost entirely.

“That lifted the city manager’s spending cap,” Harris said. “He can basically spend whatever he likes without a council vote.”

Deputy Mayor Matt Mahoney, speaking on behalf of the council’s other five members including Mayor Matt Pina, said these claims are not grounded in reality.

“There are some things going on in our city by a couple of our council members that have attempted to discredit our city staff and key leaders,” he said. “We have council members that seem to fail to understand what’s really happening.”

Mahoney said that the statewide state of emergency referenced by the accusing council members has had no bearing on the city manager’s spending abilities. The state of emergency declaration the city has been operating under, he said, was initiated by the city council at the start of the pandemic.

“It was a unanimous decision, all seven council members voted for it,” he said. “That gives the city manager some inherent rights, but our city manager hasn’t abused them.”

As part of the city’s emergency relief efforts, Mahoney confirmed that approximately $500,000 were distributed to small businesses through a grant program. But, contrary to Councilmember Martinelli’s claims, he said that none of that was city funds.

“This was all part of the American CARES Act,” Mahoney said. “This was a distribution of funds given to us by the federal government, in accordance with their guidelines.”

Not being city money, distribution of those funds didn’t require council approval, he said.

“In accordance with the CARES Act, our city manager was able to create a program that gave up to $25,000 to businesses that applied,” Mahoney said.

The accusing council members’ other claims, Mahoney said, were equally untrue. He said that the city manager has acted only within his authorized limits to provide emergency relief, and that no city funds whatsoever have been spent without a council vote.

“Both of these guys don’t support what the vision of the majority of the council is, and they are misleading the truth,” he said.

As for where these council members’ concern has come from, Mahoney said their accusations were being made in an attempt to create a sensation and have their voices as a minority heard.

They might be convinced, but they are liars,” he said. “And I hate to say that, it’s appalling — they have misrepresented the truth.”

Although the article was inflammatory and I was not exactly happy with the ‘reporting’, I ignored it because I know the public hates Council in-fighting. My colleague Luisa Bangs made some cryptic comments in the Waterland Blog as to why she was retiring, but since she also had not reached out to me about the article so I crossed my fingers that they were unrelated.  I chalked it up as one of those, “Well, we’re not doing that again” deals and figured that was the end of it.

Apparently not…

However, on June 19th, candidate for City Council Yoshiko Grace Matsui, linked to the article on her Facebook Page with her comment.

“It’s not illegal” is not a great response for obstructing the community (and other Council Members) from understanding how Federal funding was distributed in Des Moines. The underlying concern, from my perspective, is there a lack of communication and transparency from the current administration. The City Manager may not have a legal obligation to seek Council approval, but he and the Council have a obligation to the residents to explain their actions to us. As an elected City Council member, I will push for more public accountability.

And that’s when I weighed in:

Awkward… I applaud the Thunderword as literally the only venue covering local politics. And I appreciate and agree with the sentiments of Candidate Matsui. However…

The original impetus for this article was me reaching out to the Thunderword to ask them to establish an ongoing politics beat… not to do a one-off article. Perhaps the constraints of the journalism program prevents that.

The reporter makes a noble effort, but the GRO Business Grant program (which is what he’s dancing around) is simply too complicated to put in a one-off article. Sadly, the reporter did not reach out to me for my take and there are simply too many errors here to comment on.

(In one paragraph: There are over 1,700 licensed businesses in DM. The GRO program handed out $503k to 26. 26 applied and 26 received 100% or more than their request. No scoring process, no public outreach and no Council review. The 26 chosen all knew to apply because either a) they had an existing relationship with the City or a CM. Among the Deputy Mayor’s misstatements, CARES -was- City money–we received it from the State. 1Allowing the City Manager to run the GRO program in this fashion was the choice of the Council majority, not a requirement.)

The Deputy Mayor calling me a ‘liar’ would be laughable if it were not for the fact that the public has no good way to judge the truth–including just how dodgy the GRO program was. The entire process was a black box and unlike any of our sister cities.

All that said, the City spending process is not illegal… But by giving the City Manager more control than any other regional executive, the Council has abandoned its primary function: oversight. Our main practical task is -oversight-. Despite all the pearl clutching and slanders from my colleagues, we haven’t actually performed that task in any meaningful way for quite some time.

Interested parties can look at my Weekly Updates for information on Council actions and specifics and then judge for themselves. Here’s one which talks about the GRO program as well as a list of budgeting issues I was not thrilled with at our last budget retreat.

https://jcharrisfordesmoines.com/weekly-update-08-24-2020/

I stir it up on the Facebook Des Moines Politics Page

Having been ‘tagged’ (as the kids say), I felt like I could no longer pretend that the Deputy Mayor’s reactions did not exist. So on June 22nd, I linked to the original article on the Facebook Des Moines Politics Page: Way to take the high road, Deputy Mayor

I freely admit that the title was sarcastic and inappropriate to a fellow colleague and I sincerely apologise–not for posting the article, which I think was quite appropriate–but for such a snarky title. I’m not splitting hairs. At the end of the day, Deputy Mayor Mahoney is an elected official and his office deserves courtesy in every official context.

That same day Deputy Mayor Matt Mahoney posted a series of comments. Here is the first:

Councilmember Harris
You initiated this situation. According to the reporter you stated the City Manager has purchased a 1 million dollar passenger ferry without approval. Untrue.
You stated the city manager had approved Marina Development without council approval. Untrue. In fact you’ve been present over past several months where we as a council reviewed and approved many components of this initiative.
The GRO program was fully within legal guidelines and you should applaud we helped our businesses.
Again had you not initiated this with false information to the reporter we wouldn’t be here! Suggest you take your own advice an take the high road by being truthful.

Who are these key leaders of which you speak?

First off, it’s hard to respond to the Deputy Mayor’s ‘quotes’ in the original article because, based on how my comments were misrepresented in the original article, I don’t feel like I can assume that Mr. Mahoney is even quoted accurately.

But again, I never actually spoke to that student/reporter. Apparently, the instructor passed off my initial email to the reporter, who then pasted those ‘quotes’, completely out of context, into an email and sent it to my colleagues for their reactions. No research. No fact checking. Basically a he-said-she-said using raw materials that were never meant for that purpose.

I cannot blame my colleagues for being upset.

However, we all (and especially electeds) have control over how we handle our upsets. Where Deputy Mayor Mahoney wrote, “There are some things going on in our city by a couple of our council members that have attempted to discredit our city staff and key leaders…” I’m not even sure what that sentence means. But it sure is vague.

So let me be less vague:

  • I never, ever, ever mention “staff” when I discuss my disagreements with my colleagues or the City Manager. And I have no idea who he means by “key leaders”.
  • I am not happy with specific policies and conduct of the City Manager and the current five members of the majority who enable him. No one else bears responsibility. I never say or imply otherwise.

But this sort of attack is nothing new. Since my election, the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and City Manager have repeatedly used similar tactics. They have repeatedly charged that I am ‘lying’ or  ‘misrepresenting the City’ or ‘insulting the entire 175 person staff of the City Of Des Moines’ whenever I disagree with a specific policy or their treatment of myself and CM Martinelli. They always make these charges in the most public fora available and without talking to me first. They make these allegations in the most vague terms possible and with no evidence to back up their claims. This has occured repeatedly both 2on the dais  (see Mayor’s comments from 04/09/2020 RCM at 1:00) and off the dais. (Deputy Mayor Mahoney’s letter to the Waterland Blog.) This is a strategy as old as the hills: respond to difficult questions with false accusations; brand the person as ‘not one of us’. (For the sake of completeness, here is my response to both those events in the Waterland Blog. And no, I’m not being ironic. I only wrote that public letter after attempting to phone and email both my colleagues. They never replied.)

As your elected representative my job is, by definition, to ask questions and to agree or disagree as necessary. Under State Law the job of the Council is to provide oversight of the administration. My job is not to automatically vote 7-0 as some of my colleagues explicitly favor.

Now back to Facebook…

But as to Deputy Mayor Mahoney’s comments on Facebook, ironically he is correct in one respect: that article would not have been written had I not reached out to the Journalism Teacher.

One portion I will note:

the email from the reporter was sent to 3 Councilmembers: Buxton, Bangs and Martinelli. Councilmembers Buxton and Bangs alerted the mayor, city staff and myself. Thru a records request I found Councilmember Martinelli responded that he knew nothing of a passenger ferry and that he didn’t like GRO program but knew it was within City Managers responsibility. The reporter stated he had contact with two individuals, Martinelli in his reply above and then in my records request I have you reaching out to the editor coordinating a phone call with the reporter. The below allegations had to be made by you.

We never talk anymore…

Deputy Mayor Mahoney’s first move was not to take five minutes to call or write me before responding to the reporter. Nope. Deputy Mayor Mahoney’s first response was to do a Public Records Request (PRR) of some kind (I suppose that I could do another PRR to find out, but that would mean wasting even more staff time.) No, his first response was to try to find a way to avoid talking to either CM Martinelli or myself.

Again, this has been a chronic problem since my election. My colleagues get upset over something and, instead of talking about it with me, they do that high school move–write a note or talk behind one’s back. In fact, I have received only one phone call from either the Deputy Mayor or Mayor since my election–and those were only to respond 4in the most negative way possible to a proposal I made to use a small portion of CARES funding developed by Highline Schools to improve broadband service for low-income school children.

And this is important: The reason CMs avoid one another is because they can.

The job of Councilmember has been likened, by Mayor Pina, to be that of a director of a board overseeing a $100 million corporation–the City Of Des Moines. But unlike a ‘real’ director position, there’s no 4code of professionalism for Councilmembers. There are no job requirements. You can put in as much time as you like, or not. You can talk, or not. You can say stuff behind each other’s backs rather than dealing directly, or not. To quote our City Manager, “There’s no civility clause in my contract.” In my opinion there should be.

The Answers

Now to the questions the reporter sent to the Deputy Mayor. Remember that these are not my questions. But since he asked them, it would seem cowardly not to address them.

1. Have the City Manager’s spending powers been uncapped under Gov. Inslee’s State Of Emergency (SOE) declaration?

Yes. In ‘normal’ times, the City Manager has pre-defined spending limits–the most well-known is a $50,000 for General Fund items. Anything beyond that requires a vote by the Council, either on an individual request or as part of the formal annual Budget. For example, here is the 2020 Budget.

The main point of  lifting the spending cap during the SOE was to give the City Manager the authority to move quickly. That’s what you want in an emergency: an Executive that can take action without having to wait for a Council vote. And the City Manager can still go to Council for spending authority during an SOE. There’s no requirement that he not do so. In fact, many Cities continued to do normal spending authorization during the pandemic for items that did not require immediate attention. Note that the GRO Business Grant Program took over four months to deploy.

2. Has this allowed the City Manager to spend city funds without a vote from the Council?

Yes. The entirety of our almost $1 million CARES of funding was spent by the City Manager without Council input. He informed the Council of his spending decisions (basically half to GRO and half to employee salaries) after the fact at our Budget Retreat in August 2020. And despite what my colleagues mistakenly wrote above, this was ‘City’ money. Yes, we received it from the State, but guess what, sports fans? We receive most of our money from State, County and Federal agencies in the form of taxes and grants. This is not semantics. We receive monies in various ways, but we decide how to spend it. Or rather, in this case, the City Manager decided how to spend it.

3. We were told several city projects were initiated without Council approval, including the purchase of a “multi-million dollar” passenger ferry and the marina redevelopment: Is this true?

Yes and No. Ish.

  • I addressed the GRO Business Grant program (and by the way, here are the recipients)  as well as the CARES Act funding above.
  • I have written extensively about the lack of transparency and outreach with regard to the Marina Redevelopment. The City has seem almost wilful in its desire to exclude the general public from the discussion (always citing a single ‘open-house’ from 2017.) Questions and Comments were only circulated among the 800 or so boat owners (80% of which do not reside in Des Moines!) And those few who have been in the loop (the DMMA board–representing those same boat owners), far from objecting, have been among the largest donors to the incumbents’ re-election campaigns. Let’s call it what it is: a group of about a dozen self-interested (and mostly un-elected) parties making generational decisions for the entire community.
  • Regarding the Passenger Ferry thing, please see below.

4. If true that the City Manager has been committing to these expenditures without Council input, does this concern you?

No and Yes. Having read the comments my colleagues in the majority made during the City Manager’s recent annual performance review, I know for certain that they have absolutely no concerns about his actions.  Council-Manager-Government is majoritarian, so as a body, the Council has spoken. Totally legal.

However, ‘legal’ and ‘good government’ are often very different things. I believe that the conduct of the City Manager and City Council on the above items (and many others) were not and are not in the best interest of Des Moines.

The unasked question…

Naturally, the reporter did not mention the airport. No one ever mentions the airport–by far the largest source of pollution in King County.

Try to imagine a City residing next to anything as impactful as the eigth largest airport in America: a city along a hurricane-prone area; a city next to a large factory; a city next to a volcano (I’m not kidding.)

Given the nature of all those scenarios, such a government would be expected to have an office and a system in place to provide real and ongoing advocacy and mitigation for its residents. The City Of Des Moines has never had such expertise. Instead, we have engaged in a decade long series of feckless venues such as StART and the Highline Forum (all run by the Port Of Seattle) or a short-lived Aviation Advisory Committee which was so ineffectual that its members resigned in frustration. The City does these things to demonstrate that we’re ‘doing something’. And because 5nothing useful ever happens, the public assumes that nothing can happen. That is simply not true.

Not trying to cop out here, but describing how and why things could be better is beyond the scope of this novella. Interested readers should visit SeatacNoise.Info, a group I helped found to work these issues.

The only thing I want to say at the moment is that these issues are highly political and the result of choices. Perhaps the easiest way to describe the politics would be with three quick anecdotes:

  • The current majority was lead by former Mayor Dave Kaplan, who is now, the Port Of Seattle lobbyist to the City Of Des Moines.
  • Our ‘community representative’ on StART is the aforementioned City Currents publisher and ferry advocate Peter Philips–who actually resides in Normandy Park.
  • At the 04/22/21 City Council Meeting, the City accepted a grant from the Port Of Seattle with language showing support for the Port’s Century Agenda (this is the Port’s long term planning document and explicitly calls for continuing to expand airport operations.) The thing to recognise about that grant is that we literally did not have to include that language of support in order to win the money.

Things could be different. And anyone who says otherwise either does not know what they’re talking about or has some relationship with the Port Of Seattle and the airline industry.

And about that Ferry…

Please turn to page 6 of Spring 2021 City Currents Magazine. It sure sounds like a ferry might be in your future! The article featured the Deputy Mayor’s byline but was actually written by Peter Philips, the publisher of City Currents and an ongoing advocate of passenger ferries in conjunction with Bruce Agnew.

After the December 5 2019, Study Session, the  City commissioned a ‘demand study’ on the idea. But as of March 2021, the City had not released it, only the sales presentation from the vendor. I had asked for this study for months and been point blank refused by the City Manager. And no, no vote had been taken.

The only real study that had been done was by the Puget Sound Regional Commission in August 2020 and in Appendix D they had scored Des Moines at the bottom in terms of demand. I thought there must be some caveat–perhaps a different route would work better, so I talked to the analysts who did the work and they were, frankly, skeptical of any type of daily passenger ferry demand.

So, I did my own Public Records Request to compel the City to release the actual study, which we had paid for last year, finally be released. Here is the actual study.)

NextDoor

Now please look closely at this exchange on April 1, 2021 on NextDoor Des Moines (click on this stub image to see the entire thread–including Deputy Mayor Mahoney’s comments–which I quote from below.)

The Deputy Mayor doubles down on that City Currents article. Like Mr. Gracey above, Mahoney doesn’t say a ferry may be coming. He tells people that it is coming.

It’s no April Fools. A few of us at the city have been working hard to provide waterside benefits especially our city manager and we thank Peter too. People will come to our city and eat in our restaurants. Not only can you go to Seattle but Tacoma as well. The development we have planned for Marina and downtown in future will make Des Moines a enviable place to live.Matt Mahoney
Deputy Mayor

…and that the ferry will be tested this summer.

Nicholas Seabaugh we hope to test as soon as this summer. Then with coordination and approval from a few entities implement in 2022.

In the immortal words of Tonto, “What you mean we, Kemosabe?” Just to be clear: The Council has not taken a vote on any of that. We haven’t even seen a proposal of any kind. We have received no data as to the costs, potential benefits, environmental impacts, parking, scheduling, fees, inter-modal access or specific, shall I go on?

Follow up…

The City has since appeared to 6walk this back significantly. The most recent comments I recall from the City Manager were at a Municipal Facilities Committee meeting in April (for which no recording is currently available), but the phrase he used then was that the whole idea was still in the ‘exploratory stage’. Good. Explore away. But what the City and the Deputy Mayor did with their various updates and then that City Currents article was what anyone who has ever sold for a living understands: they were ‘building buzz’. They were trying to make the project seem inevitable by telling the public that it is inevitable–ginning up interest in the idea long before they had any data to support its actual viability.

And the reason I find this so upsetting is because the public has been so desperate, for so long, for any kind of economic development in Des Moines that all you have to do is whisper words like “ferry” or “grocery store” and people go bananas. Which is precisely why they did it: so that when someone tries to ask reasonable questions, they’d get shot down for being a killjoy.

Why on earth did you expect that I’d read all this?

(aka ‘the essay after the essay’)

Look, the rest of this is speechifyin’ about a bunch of high minded “what kind of government do you want?” crap. You can quit now.

The only reason to go through this sort of exercise is to demonstrate the hours one has to put in documenting the issues I raise. I have to show my work because no one else does. It’s ridiculously easy in Des Moines for a student/reporter or a Deputy Mayor or a guy who works for the Port Of Seattle to create a fog of confusion with just a few irresponsible paragraphs. There’s no fact checking and no push back.

The Deputy Mayor can simply say “liar!” to a student reporter or from the dais because no one will call him out.

You can’t fight City Hall…

And then there’s this other thing, which is the one thing I cannot document without doing some sort of ‘Tell All Book’ and break a lot of confidences. So if I just lost my ‘cred’ with you, I guess I have to live with the pain. 😀 But what follows matters if we are ever to improve long term governance in Des Moines.

If you’ve read this far, the thought must’ve crossed your mind (as it should have), “Gee JC, if things really are like that, how come more people don’t speak up?” This is the answer.

Cities tend to be driven by self interests which are usually on a short timeline. If you own a business, union, civic organisation, etc. your concerns are for your deal, not what is necessarily best for an ever-changing environment and cast of 33,000 residents and over a 25-50 year timeline. I’m not saying these interests are nefarious in any way. Quite the opposite: they all have very important and often wonderful parts to play in the functioning of Des Moines. And often their interests coincide with those of the City writ large. It’s just that these interests are advocating to keep their thing going; as they should.

But notice one thing about all of the above: They do not vote.

Business and civic group leaders tend to go with the status quo, partly out of self-interest, but partly because it’s just easier. Or at least, inevitable. The number of people I’ve encountered over the years who will say what I’m saying now (notably, behind closed doors) is infuriating but a completely understandable and ‘business-like’ attitude. It boils down to this:

“We’ll work with these people.”

This always strikes me as about as likely as when a friend tells you that “I know he’s rough around the edges, but I just know he’ll get better after we get married.” Uh, huh.

9Plus, again, these aren’t some bunch of guys in a smoke filled room. They all have very noble and very different purposes ranging from amazingly dedicated non-profits that the City could not do without to unions to businesses to HOAs and on and on. About the only thing they have in common is, again, they’re just focused on their specific interest and whatever those interests are, they definitely do not involve rocking the boat.

But because these are all very good individual goals, it’s easy for everyone (including the public) to confuse those specific goals with those of Des Moines. (Also, a lot of these constituencies often turn out to be the largest campaign donors and that only adds to the fun.)

Simple example: there might be a construction site that provides well-paid jobs for 2-3 years. Which is great. But maybe those workers don’t actually reside in Des Moines. And maybe that building isn’t something that is in the long term interest of Des Moines over a 25 year time line. But the City gets a one-time check, which is hard to resist. That sort of thing happens all the time. I love jobs. I love unions. I love buildings. I love money. But we’re elected to put the long term  interests of the residents of Des Moines first and all those incentives can also go in the opposite direction.

Not just in this example; in every relationship, business, civic, non-profit, volunteer. Doesn’t matter. Every City like Des Moines has to actively work to keep non-voting interests at arms length because those incentives are so strong.

If only you were nicer…

This dynamic also plays into one of  the most corrosive aspect of local politics: the idea of ‘if only you were nicer’.

I spoke with a Code Enforcement Officer years ago who told me something very interesting. She said  that when she engaged with people who have had a problem with their neighbour, the offending party often defended their position by saying something like, “Well, I probably wouldn’t have done ‘x’ if only they had been nicer.” The person was explaining away their bad conduct by saying that their neighbour hadn’t asked them to stop in a friendlier way.

“Usually when people tell me ‘they didn’t ask nicely’, those people never intended to comply. You could be a saint and it wouldn’t matter.”

Exactly. That kind of behavior is often meant to deflect from the facts and often it works–in all kinds of contexts.

credit where credit is due…

Here’s one more number that used to surprise me: the quantity of those same constituencies I mentioned above who will say (again, privately) how truly unhappy they are with the state of the City (and in particular) the City Manager, while at the same time really liking the various Councilmembers.

Look, as many differences as I may have with our City Manager, I would never insult him like that. The idea that people would hold our City Manager responsible for any perceived failings of the City is both ridiculous to me and deeply unfair. He has precisely the authority the Council gives him. The Deputy Mayor is quite correct in saying that the there is a ‘vision’ that the current majority has decided to move forward. We can argue about whose vision that may be, but ultimately it is their choice.

Which is to say: if you like the way things are going? Credit the majority for having the wisdom to hire the guy and take his advice. If not, hold those same CMs to account for exactly the same reasons.

The fact that so many people, some of the most engaged citizens of Des Moines, have such a profound cognitive disconnect, only reinforces for me just how ‘personality driven’ (as opposed to fact-driven) is the current state of politics in Des Moines.

Over the years, I’ve heard many candidates who campaign by saying, “I know we need more transparency. But we can get there by working together more cooperatively!” And my reaction, based on read of local politics  is this, “Yeah, and I want a brand of de-caf that’s just as tasty as the real thing, pal.”

I doubt any of the candidates follow these events anywhere near closely enough. Many already have years of personal relationships and so will likely come in with established biases that are very hard to correct for.

That’s DM politics.

No memory…

What I tried (and failed) to get across to both the Journalism Teacher and the Reporter is how desperately Des Moines needs good journalism. In hindsight, I suppose making this kind of ask of a student newspaper was not the smartest gamble I’ve ever made. But it was a gamble I felt like someone needed to make. Because, again, there’s literally no way to raise these kinds of issues.

Now we used to have two newspapers and they were often very good, but that was a decade ago now. And that’s a problem:  the majority of you have lived here less than ten years. It’s hard to explain to people who’ve never had something how useful it was. In addition to focusing public attention on City government, these outlets guaranteed that the public would have at least some familiarity with the candidates beyond the yard signs and the 153 words.

And in conclusion…

We’re currently at a moment of great cynicism: “No one shows up so why even bother with the public?” Great. Public engagement and transparency are in the toilet, so why waste time and effort on public engagement? By that logic the solution would seem to be to keep leaving important decision making like the Marina to an ever-shrinking group of self-interested people–because, hey, at least those people kinda/sorta know what’s going on, right?

I honestly don’t know what to do with that approach. It feels to me like  the way people are supposed to manage chronic diseases. The thing is incurable, so let’s make the best of it.

If I seem so harsh on everybody it’s because this state of affairs strikes me as the way we are not dealing with climate change. It’s affecting us–and will continue to do so in ever more dramatic fashion–but we’re currently stuck in a state of denial about how fast the world is changing. Without more transparency and less on ‘if only you were nicer, this is basically as good as it will ever get for Des Moines.

So….

  • If you don’t know how the sausage is being made, you should probably check before you dig in with such gusto. Especially if you intend to stick around more than just a few years. As a voter, you have an active role to play in pushing your candidates and electeds to be better: better prepared, more professional, more engaged with the public.
  •  But if you actually think you know how the sausage is being made, no matter who or what you think you know, you don’t know what’s really going on, because the flow of information is so poor. All you’re getting is one point of view. And the fact that you think that things would be just fine in Des Moines if we just didn’t have so many ‘complainers’ tells me that you probably need to get out more.
  • However, if you are one of those forty or fifty people who are leaders of various groups and beneficiaries of business grants, that definitely means that you currently have an outsize influence on the direction of the City. Whether you like to think of yourself as simply a dedicated volunteer or a small business owner in a small town, you’re what passes for (cough) ‘the elite’ here. We as a City should be doing everything in our power to move away from that mode of thinking, even if it minimizes your specific influence.

But regardless of which category you fall into, I would ask everyone to reflect on the fact that the Councilmembers are elected to represent everybody’s tax dollars and everybody’s future.

1This was sort of a half-joke. The teacher is a personal friend and a supporter of my opponent in 2019. He has been nothing but genial with me, even inviting me to speak to one of his classes during my campaign.

1Actually, I was incorrect. The Council did not ‘allow’ the City Manager to spend the CARES money. He spent it, then reported that fact to the Council. I suppose that technically, the majority could have gotten upset, but there is no ‘undo button’.

2Look, I hate being that guy, but my legal name is ‘JC’. Really. That’s it. People always assume it’s some initials. It isn’t. What can I say. It was Gaeltacht Ireland in the 50’s. People did weird shit.

3No other reporter had been in contact with me.

4The video example from the 04/09/20 City Council Meeting I was going to cite is broken on the City web site! And the Minutes are not available either. I am beyond frustrated now with our City’s basic recordkeeping. I’ve gone out of my way not to criticise ‘staff’ but these are the public documents of official City business and the fact that I have to keep repeatedly asking the City to maintain them properly is upsetting.

5The Mayor told me in no uncertain terms that it was inappropriate for Councilmembers to reach out to Highline College to research such a proposal and that, in fact, I may have somehow damaged the City’s relationship with the School District by doing so. This is patently ridiculous. I’ll just note that one of a Councilmember’s only two formal duties according to the RCW is to propose legislation. Again, this is a part of that recurring theme: not merely disagreeing, but portraying anything the current majority dislikes as being ‘inappropriate’.

6Actually, there is a Rules Of Procedure which has some stuff governing conduct on the dais. There is a rule against ‘slander’. I suppose I could call out my colleagues for their many infractions on this, but since enforcing any rule requires a majority vote, there’s simply no point. While I’m side-ranting, note that there are no rules requiring that a CM perform any training, prepare for meetings, learn how the City works, attend committees or other assigned tasks, study the materials, interact with the the public, read comments or do literally anything else to perform the job. The position is completely self-defining. The law assumes that you will provide oversight, but the only real requirement that you show up and vote at required moments. And there is no method for the public to monitor whether or not the CM is doing anything other than attending full Council meetings.

7And can I just add that every time someone makes a frivolous PRR like this it is a double waste of staff time? You’re asking the Public Records Officer to do some work, which mainly consists of asking the people you should have simply called in the first place.

8Yes, we do get ‘studies’ and I am involved in all of them. But after so many years of ‘studying’ the public often cynically tells me, “Haven’t we had enough studies? We have, indeed. The public has correctly diagnosed that the constant studying is a part of the theatrics. The Port actually encourages ‘more study’.

9Of course, now watch an Argosy boat cruise into the dock unannounced for a ‘test run’ next month. But if that were to happen? It would not be because of any fair evaluation or process involving proper public engagement. It would just be business as usual in Des Moines.

10And to be triple-clear, none of this is unique to Des Moines. All cities and electeds face challenges with the same non-voting constituencies. The trick is to show the proper support, while at the same time, not creating a climate that tells the public “What’s good for (x) is automatically good for Des Moines.” Most of the time it is. But sometimes it ain’t.