Weekly Update: 10/10/2021

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Environment, Public Safety, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation, Weekly Updates1 Comment on Weekly Update: 10/10/2021

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. The deadline to register to vote online is October 25. Voters can register and vote through 8 p.m. on Election Day at any of KCE’s Vote Center locations.

  2. Wednesday October 13, 6PM Aviation Town Hall with Rep. Adam Smith and 33rd District Sen. Karen Keiser and Rep. Tina Orwall!

  3. Wednesday October 13, 7PM On-Line Candidate Forum hosted by Yoshiko Grace Matsui and Jayme Quinn Wagner! (and to prep, you can watch last month’s Seattle Southside Chamber Of Commerce Candidate Forum!)

  4. he Utility Moratorium ended September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  5. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  6. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  7. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  8. 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
  9. 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.
  10. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  11. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting (Agenda)

Tuesday: North Hill Community Club Candidate’s Forum

Wednesday: Aviation Town Hall with Rep. Adam Smith and Rep. Tina Orwall

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association Meeting

Friday: Ultra-Fine Particulate Advisory Group

Last Week

Tuesday: State Legislative Redistricting Public Comment. Over 300 people signed up for this first of four sessions. Only a few were from our area.

Wednesday: Highline School Board Meeting. (Agenda/Comment)  I provided public comment in support of restoring the much loved MS/Design Engineering program at Pacific Middle School. I am shocked that the District cut the program as it provides wonderful opportunities for hands-on learning. Here is an example of a presentation they do annually before City Council as part of the Washington State Future Cities competition.

Thursday: Public Safety Meeting (Agenda) (Video) There was a discussion of the Draft Body Camera Policy. This is everything I love and hate about Des Moines politics. Councilmember Martinelli rightly brings up the idea that there are all these “may” instead of “will” throughout the document. Eg. “The officer may turn off the device when…” The officer may turn on the device when…” And Councilmember Bangs is just scrupulous in digging into the document and asking to see examples from other cities. Well done. Love it!

My problem… and the reason I did not vote to approve Body Cameras originally was that all this should have been resolved before we approved them. I have no problem with Body Cameras. I do have a problem with “We’ll fix it in the mix.”

We’ll Fix It In The Mix

When I was a musician (back in the Dark Ages), if you did a recording session you basically got it right the first time or you were never called again. There was an expectation that the recording session was about 95% finished product. The recording engineer might do a few tweaks but it was quite common for a recording I did to get on the air within a day or two.

Nowadays, you’ll hear about artists taking years to do a record and a lot of it comes down to the phrase “we’ll fix it in the mix.” As the recording technology improved, it became possible to completely re-shape any performance. Not just bad notes, I mean the entire performance. Even before  the Internet, the recording industry was falling apart because albums were taking too damned long.  And part of it was simply that musicians got out of the habit of “play it right the first time”.

In the case of Body Cameras, they’ve been on the horizon for a couple of years. It’s great that Councilmember Martinelli pushed for them, but they would’ve shown up here eventually either way. We could afford to be patient. Now when the Council approved the plan the initial  price was estimated at $140,000. After the initial ‘beta’ it suddenly became $190,000. Now as of September 16 it’s $250,000. And we also approved it without having the policy that’s being debated now. (And another that is not being debated involving how long the police can hold onto recordings.) But regardless, we’re going live January 1, 2022. That go live date puts pressure on everyone to “get ‘er done.”

I wish we could simply do it right before voting for things because in the end it saves time and money. And if you’re looking for another practical example, think about our Marina Paid Parking. Regardless of whether you love it or hate it, even though the discussion got dragged out over years, the actual implementation was super-hasty. And the resulting implementation was, well, you know… (We’re supposedly looking for another vendor and will come back to it in 2022.)

Thursday:  City Council Meeting (Agenda) (Video) The Budget Presentation turned out to be about sixty seconds. The City Manager announced that he would be delivering the budget the next day. Here it is. This is a pattern. Deliver the document after the meeting to shorten the decision making window. How do I know it’s a pattern? Here’s how.  At our ‘Budget Retreat’ (which was back in August) we received no numbers–it was all anecdotal. We spent our ARPA money on September 16 with no context as to the current state of the City’s finance. If I sound snippy? GOOD.

Stay In Your Lane

During my comment period, I went off into one of my rambles about Clair Patterson that evoke much eye rolling. The general notion being, even among people who voted for me that, “Hey dude, we need more < fill in the blank>, OK? Please just focus on that.” Got it.

And my (somewhat defensive) reply is, if you look across the board on the number of practical things I work on every week, I think you’d be surprised. But look, there are only so many hours in the week. And a bunch of people are engaged on various ‘traditional’ issues. That’s why there are seven of us. Each of us has issues they like to tackle and I let them do it. They do just fine without me. 😀

But nobody else works the issues I do. They just don’t. Or rather, they work them in the conventional ways that do not work. (Sorry, guys.) They stay in their lane as the saying goes.

Many of our government institutions go back 100 years. Counties. Cities. School Boards. The Port Of Seattle. They were designed for a completely different world. You don’t have to be some management genius to see that a lot of these systems no longer work very well in today’s world. For example, the reason we get screwed over and over by the airport is because, if you follow the rules, they lead to you getting screwed. There is no ‘lane’ that leads to a city like Des Moines having good results on airport issues.

Somebody has to do something different.

Clair Patterson

When anyone tries to describe Clair Patterson, they tend to use words like ‘oddball’ and ‘crank’. That’s the easy part. He seemed to be OCD in the way he scrubbed his lab, the way he punished his students for lapses in cleanliness and the absolutely insane lengths he went to collect data. But now everyone cleans their labs to that standard and everyone understands that climbing to the top of mountains and going into submarines was the only way to collect the data he needed. People only remember the cranky and forget that he was just doing what was needed to get the job done.

The wonderfulness of his accomplishments are harder to describe. Basically? He figured out a way to collect data on the levels of lead in the environment over time. (Because I’m old, I’m hearing Archie Bunker right now saying, “Whoop De Doo, Edith.”)

Since the Romans, people had known that lead was bad for you. People used to die all the time from lead poisoning–without even knowing it. We now know that people on the entire planet were at least 5 points lower on the IQ scale as a direct result of constant exposure to lead. We just didn’t know it until Clair Patterson came along.

As far back as the 1800’s chemists realized that lead does for most products what salt does for food–it makes pretty much every modern product somehow better. So very quickly it ended up being used in everything from paint to plastics to gasoline.

By the 1950’s so much lead had built up in the world that you could not measure it accurately because it was everywhere from the tallest mountains down into the oceans! The reason he went to the tops of mountains and down in submarines is because those were the only places on the entire planet where he could measure what lead levels were like 100 years ago. He needed to establish a starting point–what life was like before human beings started pumping lead into everything.

It took him decades to figure out how to determine how much lead people (especially kids) were being exposed to. Because without knowing that, you could never determine the effects of lead.

Unfortunately, he could never get money to do that on his own. His idea that we weren’t measuring lead accurately seemed so nutty nobody would give him money, so he was always inventing cockamamie side-projects which just happened to allow him a chance to do what he really wanted to do: measure lead. 😀 And since lead was so important to commerce, there was no great desire on the part of any business to find out about any possible health problems.

Though we didn’t know it at the time, lead was so useful to commerce that it was worth five IQ points and thousands of deaths every year. That was the cost/benefit trade-off.

When Dr. Patterson’s work was finally recognised, it made the National Environment Protection Act (NEPA) possible. That was how NEPA was originally sold : the “get the lead out bill”. Removing lead was its driving purpose because he proved that it was the single worst environmental contaminant in human history. And the fact that you don’t know any of this, shows how well it worked. But in 1973 there was so much lead everywhere that the idea of removing itfrom the world was considered almost impossible. (It’s worth reminding people who are concerned about Climate Change that we have done many ‘impossible’ things before.)

No Data. No problem.

There is this maxim in government, “No data. No problem.” If you don’t have legit data, you can’t get any legislation passed. No matter how much people cry and scream, without accurate data, you will not get anything addressed, from a traffic intersection to removing lead from the environment.

Currently there is no good system in place for managing aviation emissions. And that is because there is no good system in place for measuring aviation emissions.

See where I’m going with this now?

Now here’s the maddening part: There is currently no agency you can go to and say, “We need a system for measuring aviation emissions around Sea-Tac Airport”. And the reason there is no agency like that is because… wait for it…

There is no local agency that has the authority to regulate aviation emissions.

Get it?

So.. if you want to know about aviation emissions, you have to do it yourself. You cannot “stay in your lane.”

Somebody has to start measuring aviation emissions, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, every year, just as we now do for water. And I don’t care if that’s in my lane or not. We should’ve started decades ago, but better late than never. It needs to happen and if you wait for Congress or the FAA, you’re gonna be waiting for a mighty long time.

Ongoing concerns

Residents have been complaining about an increased incidence of various types of cancers and other health effects around Sea-Tac Airport since the 70’s. Citizen groups even self-funded studies to get to the cause. But the lack of ongoing data collection made it impossible to determine what was going on. A single one-off study just couldn’t do it.

Currently, all we know is this: Every time we do another one-off study, we find more correlations between certain health problems and aviation. These are not causalities, but they are suspicious. So the goal should be to do ongoing measurements, starting now.

Clair Patterson performed truly back-breaking work in order to gain historical evidence of lead exposure from the past to the present. You cannot do that with aviation emissions. You have to start doing ongoing data collection and move forward in order to see the patterns. And it just seems ridiculous to me that main reason we haven’t mustered the will to do something so basic to scientific inquiry is because there are no current regulations. By that standard, Clair Patterson would never have done what he did. Because when he got started the prevailing wisdom was, “Well, since there’s no law regulating lead, I guess there’s no need to measure it. Sure glad I didn’t waste my time on that!”

A gift to the future

The point is this: Ongoing air quality monitoring isn’t about today. It’s a gift to the future. If we start today, we give scientists and electeds the tools they need five years from now. But every year we delay measuring, just puts off any possibility of regulation. Every year we delay puts off research on public health one more year. Every year we delay gives the airline industry one more year to get away with not paying what they owe.

Summary

If you don’t see me at a ribbon cutting or speaking up about some more ‘normal’ City Council issue, don’t think I don’t care about it. I know you care about public safety. I know you care about after school events. And parks. And roads. Me too.

But somebody also has to work long game issues like air quality monitoring. I’ve only got so much space every week to talk about the stuff I do and I’d rather use that time to talk about things other people do not.

And if you want to give me a call some time to discuss boat launches or police or permits or chicken ordinances? Pretty much any day of the week I’m here at 10:00AM. 🙂

Weekly Update: 10/03/2021

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Environment, Public Safety, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation, Weekly Updates3 Comments on Weekly Update: 10/03/2021

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. The deadline to register to vote online is October 25. Voters can register and vote through 8 p.m. on Election Day at any of KCE’s Vote Center locations.

  2. Wednesday October 13, 6PM Aviation Town Hall with Rep. Adam Smith and 33rd District Sen. Karen Keiser and Rep. Tina Orwall!

  3. Wednesday October 13, 7PM On-Line Candidate Forum hosted by Yoshiko Grace Matsui and Jayme Quinn Wagner! (and to prep, you can watch last month’s Seattle Southside Chamber Of Commerce Candidate Forum!)

  4. he Utility Moratorium ended September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  5. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  6. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  7. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  8. 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
  9. 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.
  10. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  11. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Tuesday: State Legislative Redistricting Public Comment.

Wednesday: Highline School Board Meeting. (Agenda/Comment) Or call (206) 631-3070 I will be providing public comment in order to restore the much loved MS/Design Engineering program at Pacific Middle School. Here is an example of a presentation they do annually before City Council as part of the Washington State Future Cities competition.

Thursday: Public Safety Meeting (Agenda) The key items will be a discussion of the Body Camera Policy and the recent shooting on Pacific Highway.

Thursday:  City Council Meeting (Agenda) This will be the first presentation of our 2022 Budget. It’s October and the City Council has received almost no financial information about the health of the City. At our ‘Budget Retreat’ (which was back in August) we received no numbers–it was all anecdotal. We spent our ARPA money at the last meeting with no context as to the current state of the City’s finance. If I sound snippy? GOOD.

Physics For Poets

Back in the day, us ‘science’ students used to call this approach “Physics For Poets”. At least where I went to university, there were always intro-level classes that attempted to explain things like Special Relativity or Calculus but without, you know, numbers? And they were highly popular with students of the Humanities. And in fact, these philosophy and anthropology majors would try to tell us that we were all haughty jerks because ‘all that math’ really wasn’t necessary. They understood things just fine. Why were we always making things so difficult. And we’d be like, “No, you don’t get it. The numbers are the real thing. All those entertaining anecdotes are useless in solving real world problems.” But they would go away very satisfied and continue to think we were jerks who would never get a date. Which was true. But regardless, the numbers really are the thing. Because without them, you can’t really know what is going on.

If you wish to provide oral public comment please complete the council comment form

Saturday: Sonju Park Cleanup

Saturday: 11:00AM McSorley Park Salmon Counting Training

Last Week

Tuesday: Police Advisory Committee. No, Hell has not frozen over. Out of the blue, Chief Thomas called me with an invite. I have no idea if that was a one-off or not. But apparently this was a ‘special’ meeting concerning the recent shooting at La Familia. There were several interesting things for me which I won’t comment on now.

But for what it’s worth, there were no ‘revelations’ regarding that tragic event. And from what I can tell, that incident isn’t really about ‘police’. By the time the police were called, the shooting was over. (Think about that for a minute.) The real problem started long before that particular event.

Thursday: Transportation Committee (Video)  Mayor Pina was absent, but Deputy Mayor Mahoney and I soldiered on with a review of the Capital Improvements Projects. Quick review: We have a Transportation Improvements Plan (TIP) and then a Capital Improvements Plan (CIP). The TIP is aspirational. It lists all the identified needs in order of priority. But the CIP contains projects we’ve actually budgeted for–so those are real; we’re doing them. Sometimes, I ask rhetorical questions, in the vain hope that someone might be watching and take note. In this case, I kept homping on about how unpredictable these projects can. One factor is that we have so many partners–utility companies, etc. And coordinating their schedules and tasks is hard. Another is the fact that underground maps are so unreliable. It’s fascinating (or annoying) to me that with any project, they start digging and always find something unexpected.

A couple of quick notes:

  • The ‘Downtown Alley Project’ (between 225th and 227th) is supposedly getting paved by November. It will be tight to beat the cold weather. The above issues are key factors in why it takes forever to do any of that work. And it’s going to end up being a simple repave.
  • When it is rebuilt, the 216th Bridge over I-5 will be reduced to one lane for about a year. It will not shut down completely as the rumour goes.
  • The earlier drawings I showed you for the Redondo Fishing Pier are off the table. The Puyallup Tribe has insisted on a fully grated walkway (which lets more light down to the fish). No examples yet.

Thursday: Environment Committee (Video) Again, always good to review, our “Environment Committee” is really a “Storm Water Utility”. It should be an ‘environment’ committee, but for now, it is what it is. We had an update from our consultants on a couple of things:

  • There are new rules from Ecology that ask businesses to do a better job of waste water management. The problem has always been–how to do it and how hard to lean on businesses to do it. Our small businesses are burdened with ‘stuff to do’, but this has got to be taken more seriously.
  • The State is now mandating “inter-disciplinary” requirements in planning. This relates to my proposal to hire an Environmental Strategist. The State now recognises that all departments need to coordinate on every project so that environmental goals are considered at every stage. Apparently there is some formal process–which may just mean more paperwork. But the goal is absolutely correct. If we want to maintain tree cover, improve water quality, etc., do better on airport issues, those considerations have to become a meaningful part of every stage of every project–and not just some afterthought. More below.
  • The bulk of the meeting was spent discussing storm water rates. The consultants recommended that we stretch our 2021-2026 projects out to 2029, take $100k out of our General Fund every year, and raise your rates an average of $.75 a month. I reluctantly went along with that because Councilmember Bangs was absent and it woulda been a needless argument with the Mayor.

Four notes from two meetings

When I decided to run I spoke with some people I know on other Councils and they asked me “What do you want to do?” And I’m like, “I want to bring some oversight to the Council, baby!” And of course they laughed in my face. Because this is not As well they should have. What I was told was that the only way that works is if you can somehow get several people on the Council at the same time who also care. Which is hard. If you go it alone basically everyone will resent you because this is not academia. City Council incentivises for a lack of oversight.

But with all that self-pity, this is #328 on my list of things I wish more CMs took more of an interest in. Routine oversight.

A tale of two projects

Moving onto that Downtown Alley Project. Remember when the City sold the idea of transforming that road into a “Post Alley”? You know, to “drive economic development”? Of course you don’t; that’s ancient history (2017).  😀 But, like everything else, we sell stuff like that hard. Your City Council took multiple tours of Seattle to see ‘possibilities’. We were serious about it.

As of 2021, we’ve budgeted $540,000 dollars for that project, mostly to “underground” all the utilities. Undergrounding costs a fortune and it was not even a requirement for that project. But remember we’re doing it to “drive economic development.” And that is a bit confusing because, again, so far it’s just a simple repave in a commercial alley. The only foreseeable benefit (beyond an absence of potholes in an alley) will be unobstructed views for tenants above the new theatre. Could just be a coincidence, but I hope they appreciate it.

Now, let’s take a look at the 24th Avenue Schools project. That project did mandate undergrounding. In fact, according to our municipal code, all new road projects like that must be undergrounded. But you’ll be pleased to know that your City Council (well, most of us) voted to override that requirement in order to save the taxpayers $300,000. I hope you appreciate it.

Storm Water Rates and the price of a  latte

As I said, we discussed your storm water rates at the Environment Committee Meeting. But the consultants actually presented two rate plans.

  • The recommended plan takes the critical projects originally on the board for 2021-2026, stretches them out to 2029, takes $100k out of our General Fund every year and raises your rates an average of $.75 a month.
  • Then there is a not recommended plan, which fully funds the critical projects on the board for 2021-2026, takes no money from the General Fund, and raises your rates an average of $2.00 a month. Again, that is the not recommended plan.

From one point of view, those consultants are some swell guys. They’re keeping your taxes low. Thank you consultant guys!

From another point of view, we’re taking $900,000 from our General Fund to save homeowners an average of $15 a year. Which is $1.25 a month. We’re also betting that we won’t have any more Woodmont Landslides (price tag $251,000) between 2027 and 2029.

Annexation City

The motto for Des Moines could well be “Annexation City” We started as eighteen blocks in 1959 and just kept adding neighbourhoods every few years until we kinda ran out of space in 1996. (Ironically, the one annexation opportunity we avoided? SeaTac Airport. No kidding. The one actual moneymaker coulda been ours. But that’s a rant for another day.)

Anyhoo, all kidding aside, various neighbourhoods did not vote to become part of our fair city out of some deep passion for “Des Moines”. Most people just wanted better services for less money. King County storm water rates are always high because they know that the pipes are old and they budgeted for replacing them. So one of the things people voted for was to avoid paying for that. King County was only too happy to pass the bill onto us. But now that bill is coming due and if you look at the meeting video, our rates are now approaching King County. How about that.

Enterprise Fund

Now, as a quick review we finance Storm Water, like the Marina, as an Enterprise Fund–meaning that it is supposed to be self-funded. The whole point of an Enterprise Fund is to pay for itself. Using the The General Fund defeats the whole purpose for reasons we’ll get to in two paragraphs.

But you don’t care about that. You want your taxes low. Same reason you wanted to be annexed. OK, setting aside all that “good government” crap, I hear you. But I gotta say, as benefits go that’s might picayune. A buck twenty five a month? As the Mayor rightly pointed out. It’s less than a half a latté. A month. Not even a good latté.

For the price of a latté

As the Mayor rightly pointed out. It’s less than a half a latté. A month. Not even a good latté.  This reminds me of all those charity ads you see on TV. “For the price of a latté you could help a child in need.” Absolutely true. You could help a child in need right here in Des Moines.

$900k is real money  that could be spent on something else. It’s a police officer. A road project. A park. At our last Spending Fiasco (aka the September 16th City Council Meeting) we voted to spend $100k of that juicy one-time ARPA money to increase our Human Services budget which has never gotten above $175,000 a year. What a bunch of great humanitarians we are ! This $900k would double that bonus. And for nine years.

Finally, at the risk of being Mr. Crankypants… is it just me, or do those “100 year events” now seem to happen every third Tuesday? I have no way of knowing when the next land slide happens but I’m not certain it’s going to wait for 2029.

Oversight and why I hate everybody who doesn’t get it

Dr. King used to say, and it never gets old, “Budgets are moral documents”. Meaning that people can say whatever they want, but they are what they are willing to spend money on.

When it comes to the Downtown Alley, we chose to spend a substantial and totally optional amount of money on a project which does not meet the stated goal. At the same time, we chose to avoid following our own ordinance when it came to providing the same benefit to school children. We worked really hard to do both things. That is who we really are.

(Also: You know those tours of Seattle I mentioned? That is the reason a fresh batch of stomach acid moves up into my throat every time I hear about another “Successful step towards a ferry!” It’s a pattern, folks. People here just lose their minds at every “economic development opportunity” because no one steps up to say, “Wait, haven’t I seen this movie before?”)

Same thing with the storm water. When it’s City money? We spend $900k in order to save ratepayers $1.25 a month. The only reason we were so generous in spending that ARPA money on human services is because it was someone else’s money.

You feel me on this? People can say whatever they want. But they are what they spend money on. And we value your $1.25 a month, dear rate payer, enough to kick the can down the road three years on critical infrastructure. We value the views from those new apartments more than school children.

The OG conservative…

Those choices seem wasteful and do not accord with my values. But the only reason I can comment is because I am aware that there are reasonable choices. Here are specific and better ways to spend the money we already have. That’s OG conservative, baby.

But I do not want to sound like I am singling out my current colleagues. Very few of our Councilmembers ever cared about oversight. Currently, our books are balanced and our reserve is healthy. Previous Councils often did not do that. You can do nothing if you don’t have any money.

What is absolutely maddening to me is when the public (and my colleagues) say, “We should spend more on whatever” while having absolutely no clue how to pay for it. People always assume that we can just “shift” money from “extravagant salaries” or some “non-essential program” and presto-change-o! Ten police officers! or A Community Center! or whatever magically appears out of thin air. We can’t. There is no frickin’ money. And people who say there is are “Physics For Poets”. They either do not understand the numbers or are just shilling for some candidate. Either way,  I pray every night that they would stop doing it.

Grants and fish food

For years I’ve heard candidates go on about “We need more grants!” I did it myself because… well… we kinda do, but for another reason. But in general, grants are like sprinkling fish food into the tank. All the little fishies are competing for the same sprinkles. The only way to get off that treadmill is by either a) getting more structural revenue or b) doing better oversight.

Why?

We never do oversight. We always take the consultant or staff recommendation. It’s to the point that they get annoyed if anyone even suggests doing otherwise. We’ve all trained one another not to do it.

Traditionally, councilmembers avoid oversight because:

  • They actually do agree with the recommended policy
  • They fear offending the very people they’re supposed to be overseeing
  • They operate on blind trust (hey, it’s not my money.)
  • They don’t know what questions to ask (awkward)

I have no idea what is in anyone’s heart. Maybe all my colleagues do agree with every recommendation. Fine.

But if you want to do something different? You have to have the ability to recognise the alternatives and the will to push back. There’s never any need to be mean. But you  can’t save money using some Ninja charm schools skills, either..

Practicality…

The reason I think more people don’t care about oversight is, ironically, because they somehow associate the term with ‘corruption’. I think people cynically assume, to one degree or another “the fix is in” and “You can’t fight City Hall.” Like dandruff… not life-threatening, but sort of inevitable.

The funny thing is that, in my opinion, oversight is mostly not about that at all. It’s mainly about letting you do more with what you have. I identified $1,200,000 in two one hour meetings that I’m pretty sure I could convince voters could be spent better.

You know how hard it is to get $1,200,000 in grants these days? To paraphrase the immortal words of Carol Burnett in describing childbirth:

Getting $1,200,000 in grants is like taking your lower lip and forcing it over your head.

But I’m telling ya’, dear reader. Swear to God. There are opportunities like this at almost every meeting.

Summary

The law says that a councilmember has two essential functions: legislation and oversight. We almost never talk about oversight. I went through all this to demonstrate that oversight not only has practical value, it probably has far more practical value than legislation because, frankly, councilmembers do not do much routine ‘legislating’. Our biggest opportunities are often in figuring out ways to save money, not spend it.

My point is that at our last Spending Fiasco nobody else pushed back. And we should have because, as my old accounting prof told me way back in 1372,

When you misspend a dollar, you’re actually losing two dollars: the dollar you burned and the dollar you could have spent on something useful.

Spending money is a lot more fun for everyone–especially when it’s not your money. And oversight is work. So recognise that it’s up to you to demand that of candidates and electeds. Because the default position is always going to be to spend, not necessarily spend well.

But if you’ve ever been one of those people who wondered “Why is Des Moines the way it is?” That is the reason.

Frankly, it’s a lot to expect of part time legislators in a small town. But that’s your job. You, dear voter, have to expect better.

Sharing? It’s the latest craze at City Hall

Posted on Categories Public Safety, TransparencyTags ,

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

Five minutes from our Budget Retreat…

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

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

Then I respond, followed by the City Manager:

A follow-up email…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

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

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

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

Because he expressed a similar concern.

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

What exactly is your concern?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mayor and City Council,

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

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

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

Hi Michael,

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

TIA,

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

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

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

It's transparent, for sure. :D

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

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

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

Small explainer…

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

The ethics of sharing…

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

Silence is the strategy

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

Why you should care about poor little me…

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

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

Oversight…

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


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

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

3This is my idea of humour. 🙂

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

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

6Note to self: Stop screaming at supporters. 😀

Committee Video Recordings

Posted on Categories Engagement, Public Safety, Transparency

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

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

What’s so special about Committees?

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

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

This is where you come in…

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

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

There’s always room for improvement…

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

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

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

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

No drama…

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

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

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

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

It ain’t Netflix…

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

A practical example…

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

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

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

The Truman Show

Posted on Categories Public Safety, Transparency1 Comment on The Truman Show

I occasionally hear from critics that I make too many things ‘public’. Why aren’t I trying to communicate with the administration or colleagues? The fact is that I do that. Whether I want to or not. 😀 My life as an elected in a very public and very hostile work environment sometimes remind me of that movie The Truman Show.

Just to recap, since declaring a State Of Emergency in March 2020, the City Manager will not take my phone call. He will not schedule in person or Zoom meetings. That’s on record.

However, he does continue to do all that stuff with other Councilmembers. I know this because they say so publicly. That is obvious favoritism. And that seems to be against the ICMA code of ethics, which says that “a manager should always treat all members of the governing body equally and impartially.”

Equal opportunity cranky…

This means that all my communication is limited to 1email. OK, fine. However: even with all that, it’s email, right? I can address a message specifically to City Manager Michael Matthias. And I can say in the subject or body “this is just between us” or “g2g” or “please do not forward”. But generally speaking what then happens is… he forwards my email to the entire City Council. Happens all the time.

So very quickly I developed a simple rule: I almost never say anything, even in private, that I wouldn’t care if it was repeated. Some people might use that constraint to be become completely bland. My response was to go equal opportunity cranky.

Just to be clear, I don’t think I’ve ever received a message from another CM automatically forwarded for my  viewing pleasure. And frankly, I would not want to. I think each CM should be able to have private conversations with the City Manager–so long as everyone agrees to abide by the rules of the road, eg. RCW 35A.13.120.

You can suggest all you want…

RCW35A.13.120 makes it clear that a Councilmember cannot give orders. However, you can make all the suggestions you want. When you’re not on the dais, you’re just another member of the public making a public comment. I guess one could suggest that a City Manager might forward all ‘suggestions’ to the full Council out of an abundance of caution–a show of transparency. But again, since I have never seen a similar email from any other CM, who knows.

But I do know that other CMs make suggestions all the time. Here’s just one where the Deputy Mayor describes in detail that he was a key driver in the City Manager’s to add four new police officers to the City’s Draft Proposal for ARPA funding.

Just to be clear: Neither Councilmember Martinelli or myself had any awareness of that proposal until we watched that Candidates Forum. Which makes Deputy Mayor special, I guess. 😀

The problem…

Now don’t mistake me: the position I am in is not something I would want for any Councilmember. But it is what it is until we have a Council that will not tolerate favoritism. Unfortunately, favoritism works to the advantage of  the favored. To put it bluntly: it is not in Deputy Mayor Mahoney’s interest (or any of the majority) to have all Councilmembers treated equally.

So the question becomes, why would the City Manager do stuff like forwarding my emails? I often ask and I hope you will too. 🙂

You want transparency? I’ll show you transparency!

But I’ll give you an example I sent today and let you decide:

To: Michael Matthias <MMatthias@desmoineswa.gov>
Wednesday July 28, 2021 11:01AM

Just this once... 3g2g...

If you don't know, it's probably below 70. And if so, you should mandate vaccinations.

My company used to do customer service programs--like converting sales
people to apps like SalesForce. For decades those were PAINFUL. People
would always threaten to organise and quit en masse. There's been a ton
of studies on corp. group behaviour crap like this--getting people to do
something they aren't thrilled about. And the curve of vaccination
uptake and resistance is consistent with that.

Well-meaning organisations  go out of their way to make an unpopular
policy 'voluntary' -- to sound 'sensitive' and 'ease' people into it or
whatever. But this actually makes certain personality types dig in.
People start off -mildly- pissed off about the policy and the more time
they get to mull the idea, the more militant they become.

So the corp. finally gets fed up and makes the policy compulsory... and
a whole bunch of people show up for a meeting and scream and threaten to
quit. And....

Basically, nobody quits.

I can send you studies if this isn't already in the Trash.

If you did this:
  a) you (possibly) save lives directly
  b) you set an example that ripples out to the wider community...
hopefully it gives other businesses/governments cover to do the same.
  c) people would hate you... but hey... what's new, right? :D

My guess is that if the PD alone could do a PR indicating 100%---that
right there would move some people to get the shot.


---JC

(The number ’70’ refers to the vaccination percentage of City employees. The City Manager wrote telling me he does not know the percentage.)

You read that right. I would be thrilled if our City made COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all employees for which it has the authority.

Speaking of which: remember that pandemic?

The thing is: I actually broached the subject almost a year ago from the dais and here. Back in the February, the Chief Of Police reported a reluctance by many (mainly younger) officers towards getting vaccinated. I suggested that the City should ‘strongly encourage’ officers to get vaccinated. I said that vaccine hesitancy would be a real problem. And I told the administration that it would send a strong message to the public if City employees–and especially the Police–were vaccinated. I wanted our City to be a model in that regard.

I was immediately criticized for this stance by both my colleagues, the administration and the Police Guild. However, I am certain I made the right call then and now.

I understand the concern for personal freedoms. But dying from COVID-19 now strikes me not so much as  ‘tragic’ as just plain willful. It reminds me of how people used to scream against seat belt or drunk driving laws as some major  threat to democracy.

g2g

The only reason I asked it to be “g2g” is not because because I wanted to hide anything, but rather because, as I say in the email, all the research shows that the only way to implement a program that will be unpopular for a small number of people is to have a ‘heavy’ take the blame. And it should not be someone the public engages with, like the Chief Of Police or the Guild or the Council. Do I wish we could vote for this sort of thing? Absolutely. But occasionally, there are certain important things that aren’t politically possible otherwise.

And this is the reply…

From: Michael Matthias <MMatthias@desmoineswa.gov> Thursday July 29, 2021 3:55PM

The reasons I forwarded your communication to City Council are as follows:

First, you are suggesting policy/protocol changes. As you know, policy direction to City Administration requires a majority vote of the City Council, I felt City Council needed to be informed about your proposal. However, in this specific case, related to the COVID pandemic, and acting under the existing Emergency Proclamation, all City actions are vetted through our Emergency Operations Center. We have been at the forefront responding to the pandemic, continuing to require 100% masking for all who come to City Hall. We were early to close down and we are remaining cautious and vigilant. Knock on wood, we have had zero fatalities and zero infections at City Hall.

I felt it was worth advising City Council that you feel we are not fulfilling our responsibilities to our employees because (your words) we are acting in a manner that is designed to sound "sensitive," and "ease" employees into responding. Throughout the process, going back to the start of the pandemic you have been critical of our EOC and emergency efforts. I felt that City Council deserved to hear your current critique based on some corporate assumptions that do not apply to a public institution.

Be advised, that we will stay the course, under my leadership. Mandating vaccines is an approach that will shortly end up in the courts. We have prepared based on the possibility of a resurgence in COVID, which is occurring. We will not open our facilities prematurely. All employees and visitors (very rare these days) to City Hall must undergo a health screening (including temperature check) and must wear masks. We welcome thoughtful suggestions, however, emergency operations and policies are formulated and executed by our Incident Commander, Assistant Fire Chief Dave Mataftin and our Emergency Operations Center (I chair the EOC policy committee).

I hope this gives you some insight into my thinking and will hopefully encourage you to support and not continue to demean our efforts.

I guess I’d buy into that whole ‘public institution’ jazz if I hadn’t already seen this notice: Highline College Vaccination Mandate for returning students Fall 2021. But… whatever.

To: Michael Matthias <MMatthias@desmoineswa.gov> Friday July 30 2:31PM
I appreciate the detailed follow up.
I have never doubted Shannon's abilities or her department's commitment
to safety.

And I struggle to read my suggestion as being any kind of negative
critique of anyone's performance.

My understanding is that employee policy decisions are at your
discretion. If I am in error on that, please help me to understand this
particular distinction.

Whether administrative or legislative, it's still an idea worth
considering. Based on my experience, it will take corporations and
organisations setting an example to bring the pandemic to closure. I
believe that my suggestion could be a meaningful step in that direction
and is worth exploring. Infections are rising and there's the larger
community to be considered.

YMMV

Anyhoo, the public see the dialogue at the City Council Meetings. And this is a slice of my world off the dais. Which is basically, more of the same. 😀


1Now, all Councilmember communication is (theoretically) subject to public records requests. Any member of the public can request any emails from any CM or the City. Most people don’t bother, but they could.

3Guy to guy for you non-slangy people. As in: “just between us guys”.

Weekly Update: 07/13/2021

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Engagement, Environment, Neighborhoods, Public Safety, Weekly Updates3 Comments on Weekly Update: 07/13/2021

Yeah, late again. My lame excuse this time was that I was waiting for the presentation and video from last week’s Economic Development Committee Meeting. I strongly urge you to read that bit below–and the Memo on the last page of that Agenda.

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. The deadline to register to vote online is October 25. Voters can register and vote through 8 p.m. on Election Day at any of KCE’s Vote Center locations.

  2. Wednesday October 13, 6PM Aviation Town Hall with Rep. Adam Smith and 33rd District Sen. Karen Keiser and Rep. Tina Orwall!

  3. Wednesday October 13, 7PM On-Line Candidate Forum hosted by Yoshiko Grace Matsui and Jayme Quinn Wagner! (and to prep, you can watch last month’s Seattle Southside Chamber Of Commerce Candidate Forum!)

  4. he Utility Moratorium ended September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  5. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  6. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  7. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  8. 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
  9. 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.
  10. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  11. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting (Agenda). Of some note is that the Commission will vote to permanently ban facial recognition from their facilities. Which sounds fabulous for privacy activists, except that this is the Port we’re talking about so you may want to read the fine print. 😀 There are some caveats such as ‘subject to State and Federal laws’. And that basically means that, if the FAA decides it wants to allow facial recognition? It’s game on again. The airlines will want this because it will increase throughput if they can validate your identity without the (slow) ID checks.  And one other thing I’ll keep repeating: the ‘chokepoints’ for airport expansion are not up in the sky. There will never be a need for a ‘Fourth Runway’. Whenever you hear about ‘airport expansion’ it will concern moving planes and people around on the ground.

Wednesday: Marina Association seminar on “Understanding Your Marina’s Economic Impact”. I’ve attended several of these over the past few months and more and more I’m convinced that the City Council should have more formal engagement in the planning and management of the Marina.

Last Week

Thursday: Economic Development Committee Meeting (Agenda).  Well, this took a left turn. The advertised highlight was supposed to be on Tax Increment Financing (TIF) HB1189. Instead, the discussion was concerning HB1220 which is summarized on the last page of the Agenda.

Update: Presentation To summarize, Planner Eric Lane and our lobbyist Anthony Hemstad took turns in describing the hows and whys.

I don’t want to be melodramatic, but this is a big deal because this is where the whole ‘housing’ discussion begins to get real for Des Moines. What is concerning is that my colleagues seemed kinda caught off guard. But this sort of bill has been pushed for years and smaller cities have fought it tooth and nail. However, sooner or later, something like this was going to pass at the State level because, frankly, there has been no will to do so at the local level. It’s just one of those classic State/Local tensions. The majority of State voters say they want to address ‘housing’ and ‘homelessness’. But local voters have also made it clear that they are not thrilled with zoning changes in their City.

The meat of it is that it will limit the City’s ability to use zoning law to prevent emergency and long-term shelters that housing/homelessness advocates want. (Not in this version, but next year) it will make it easier to build ADUs (mother-in-law apartments). It compels the City to create a for realz plan to address affordable housing and to document our real-world efforts we’ve made on reducing homelessness.

HB1220 is not something to freak out about now. But whether you like it or not, it is the beginning and we need to be planning for that long term.

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) (Video)

Council Meeting Recap: Constructive Criticism…

I got the following message from a resident the morning after our last City Council Meeting :

“It looks like you guys were getting along. What happened?” 😀

I can only speak for myself: I self-censored. I avoided several uncomfortable conversations that should be happening. Frankly, some nights? I just don’t feel like fighting.

Administration Report on Heat Event

Not to bring up unpleasant history, but hearken back to our September 7, 2017 meeting. One of the first things our City Manager did after being promoted was to establish a separate director-level Emergency Management position and head to Maryland along with the Mayor and staff for a week of Emergency Preparedness Training. There was a lot of discussion about making Des Moines the regional leader in emergency preparedness given various risks and our strategic location (earthquake, shoreline, proximity to freeways, airport, etc.) 1We’ve put a lot of money into this program.

Now, it may sound like I’m a bit bitter 😀 but last April I got reamed by Mayor Pina and then Deputy Mayor Mahoney for  being ‘disrespectful’ of our Emergency Operations Center, our staff, the City Of Des Moines–and probably Santa Claus.  Actually, I did nothing of the kind. I was simply asking questions about the program because the City made such a big deal about our exceptional investment in it.

Results

Fifteen months after the declaration, and despite a four year specially-dedicated Emergency Management program, we have not performed much differently than our sister cities in responding to COVID-19. We were slower than other cities to shut down various functions and convert to remote functionality and we’ve been slower now to re-open to the public.

OK, here is a 5piccie from that 2017 meeting. Forget that I’m counting ceiling tiles in back. What COO Dan Brewer is saying in that exact moment is that the City needs to be in constant preparation, not just for ‘disasters’ but weather events.

So now, after all this effort, when I see us not have a plan in place for a hot day (which was predicted a week in advance) and the administration basically says, “Well, who knew, right?” I have even more questions.

Because other cities, who do not have dedicated EM departments,  did have cooling centers ready to go.

This is no joke. We have a large vulnerable population (including a lot of  seniors who are not in air conditioned settings.)  And in my opinion, extreme heat events are things we should already have plans for. We already have detailed plans for ‘Snowmageddon’, right?

Look, it was fantastic that State Rep. Orwall was able to work with Highline College to open up on that Monday. And it’s great that 85 people were helped that day. But it should also be reasonable to ask: Given our Emergency Management program, why did we even need that special intervention?

Other Cities

I don’t want to pile on here, but I get calls and messages several times a week now along the lines of, “Why isn’t (x) facility open? Other Cities are doing (y) so  1WTF, Dude?” And I have exactly the same questions.

Street Racing Ordinance

I voted for the Street Racing Ordinance. I even seconded Mayor Pina’s motion to increase the fine for this Civil Infraction from $256 to $513. I am generally not in favor of heavy penalties unless there is actual data to show that it has a deterrent effect. But as I said from the dais, my former company worked with the ‘performance community’, I’ve been to their conventions, and these people are invested in their cars and their hobby. As with fireworks–they’re well-aware of the illegality. And by the way, a Civil Infraction is not a criminal offense.

Rule 26a

Whenever proposing an ordinance, the administration almost always tacks on an amendment to suspend Rule 26a. And I always vote against that.

By default, all ordinances require a second reading before taking effect–meaning that there need to be two separate votes at two meetings for it to take effect. In my opinion, we should never pass an ordinance without a second reading unless it is a true emergency for this reason: public engagement. Often times, the public only hears about a Council action because of that first reading. I want the public to have every possible opportunity to weigh in. I can’t tell you the number of times someone has given me some suggestion on legislation–only after it was enacted. The second reading gives the Council a final chance to refine the law.

I did not feel like it was a true emergency in this case because before the meeting I asked to see if there was any intelligence to indicate there might be upcoming racing events. Nope.

Burden of proof

One thing I wanted to highlight during the discussion is that, under State law, the burden of proof to prosecute is crazy high. And I don’t think the public understands this. You have to be able to ID the driver, not merely the automobile, in order to obtain a conviction. It is not good enough for a bystander to simply take video of a guy speeding by (or some unidentifiable person lighting off fireworks for that matter) and agree to be testify later. So unless a sworn officer just happens to be in the neighbourhood, good luck. Which is exactly why I want more neighbourhood policing.

Signage

My primary interest in the ordinance was to get signs placed at key points (like the start and end points in Redondo) announcing the ordinance and the penalty. I had calls and messages from several residents asking for this and I was very pleased that my colleagues, specifically Councilmember Bangs provided their support. It may turn out that signage is a bigger deterrent than the actual ordinance.

Fourth Of July

I had at least half a dozen letters and messages complaining about personal fireworks. I had planned to ask the Chief about it at this meeting, however neither the Chief or other PD official were present. This is unusual because a representative of the PD attends almost every meeting to take questions.

All my colleagues (and I) took pains to express our gratitude for the hard work of our Officers on Independence Day. A couple went so far as to say how much quieter things were where they lived.  But that was definitely not my experience living near the old Des Moines Elementary School.

However, the number of calls for service was 15% higher than in 2019,  while the number of citations written was less than half (7 vs. 3).

What I wanted to ask the Chief directly was:

  1. To what do you attribute the lower ticket count?
  2. Did you ask your officers to report on the mood in the community? Was there general willingness to comply? Or were many calls challenging?
  3. Do you have stats by neighborhood?

For me, the point of the increased patrols is as much about data gathering as it is enforcement. I expected more activity this year after the pandemic. But we need to have a sense of how we’re doing year on year. Remember: it costs money. So we need metrics on ROI.

I want to be able to gauge the efficacy of the increased enforcement. Is it going to reduce personal fireworks long term? Do we need to do more? If so, what? Or should we just stay the course? As a Council we should have gotten some sense of this from the administration and we got nothing.

The atmosphere

To be blunt, it is simply not possible with the current Council to ask these kinds of very reasonable questions–the ones that residents ask me about all the time. Because when I do, there is retaliation–as there was about the EOC last year. To ask any question which  that sounds ‘critical’,  that City might have done better on a particular task is to be told that one is ‘un-supportive’ or ‘running down the City’ or worse.

In reality, direct inquiry is basic oversight and at the core of the job of Councilmember. And again, all the questions I’ve listed above are questions that the Council gets. All the time.

I want a City Council that fosters a climate where every member can ask such questions of staff and feel the full support of the entire Council.

My current colleagues and the City Manager take great pains to show support for our staff and to always paint our City in the best possible light. Good. Portraying a positive image of the City is important; as is creating a positive work environment. And for the billionth time: I never want staff to feel unappreciated or attacked.

But in the future I want to have discussions that focus just a bit less on “Great job guys!” and more like “What could we have done better?”

Because you can always do better. There are always lessons to be learned and the City Council Meetings are the public venue to have those discussions.

The Thanksgiving table…

There’s an expression I’ve heard many times since I’ve lived in Des Moines to account for the unwillingness to have frank open discussions. It’s referred to as ‘the Thanksgiving Table’. No one wants to say anything that anyone might find unpleasant–so as not to upset the meal.

But City Council meetings are not family gatherings, they’re supposed to be inquiries leading to serious, well-informed decisions. The goal is neither to court or to avoid conflict, it’s simply to get at the truth. But over time, we’ve slowly made ‘asking questions’ itself into being somehow impolite, “Oh we don’t want to talk about that at the dinner table!”

Candidate Modeling…

Here’s the thing. 2When beginning their campaigns, candidates are always counseled to ‘be positive’. Talk about the good things, never go negative.

Plus, the public definitely is sick of the arguing and bad conduct.

So newly elected CMs generally have no 4model or incentives towards true debate. We’ve demonized any disagreement, either with fellow CMs, or especially the administration, as being somehow intrinsically bad for the City. They may not understand just how critical it is for every CM to have each other’s back so as to never allow the administration the ability to play favorites.

In one sentence, my concern is that even new candidates will come in and unconsciously continue the ‘Thanksgiving Table’ pattern of self-censorship. Because that’s all they know.

So to any new candidates who come to the Council next January: I will always have your back if you want to raise a concern, whether I agree or not.


1And let me be clear: I fully supported this concept. I wrote a detailed letter to the new City Manager after that meeting, asking him to consider the potential importance of the boating community for any disaster planning.

2OK, seniors generally do not express themselves like that in Des Moines. But inside, they feel, it baby. 😀

3Yeah, I totally didn’t do that

4Well, unless they are obsessives like this guy (or moi) who regularly attend City Council meetings all over the place.

5That’s Traci Buxton and Harry Steinmetz who were competing for Position 5. Candidates all tend to start showing up for a few meetings around August. That’s how you can tell it’s an election year. 😀

Constructive Criticism

Posted on Categories Campaigning, Engagement, Neighborhoods, Public Safety

I got the following message from a resident the morning after our last City Council Meeting :

“It looks like you guys were getting along. What happened?” 😀

I can only speak for myself: I self-censored. I avoided several uncomfortable conversations that should be happening. Frankly, some nights? I just don’t feel like fighting.

Administration Report on Heat Event

Not to bring up unpleasant history, but hearken back to our September 7, 2017 meeting. One of the first things our City Manager did after being promoted was to establish a separate director-level Emergency Management position and head to Maryland along with the Mayor and staff for a week of Emergency Preparedness Training. There was a lot of discussion about making Des Moines the regional leader in emergency preparedness given various risks and our strategic location (earthquake, shoreline, proximity to freeways, airport, etc.) 1We’ve put a lot of money into this program.

Now, it may sound like I’m a bit bitter 😀 but last April I got reamed by Mayor Pina and then Deputy Mayor Mahoney for  being ‘disrespectful’ of our Emergency Operations Center, our staff, the City Of Des Moines–and probably Santa Claus.  Actually, I did nothing of the kind. I was simply asking questions about the program because the City made such a big deal about our exceptional investment in it.

Results

Fifteen months after the declaration, and despite a four year specially-dedicated Emergency Management program, we have not performed much differently than our sister cities in responding to COVID-19. We were slower than other cities to shut down various functions and convert to remote functionality and we’ve been slower now to re-open to the public.

OK, here is a 5piccie from that 2017 meeting. Forget that I’m counting ceiling tiles in back. What COO Dan Brewer is saying in that exact moment is that the City needs to be in constant preparation, not just for ‘disasters’ but weather events.

So now, after all this effort, when I see us not have a plan in place for a hot day (which was predicted a week in advance) and the administration basically says, “Well, who knew, right?” I have even more questions.

Because other cities, who do not have dedicated EM departments,  did have cooling centers ready to go.

This is no joke. We have a large vulnerable population (including a lot of  seniors who are not in air conditioned settings.)  And in my opinion, extreme heat events are things we should already have plans for. We already have detailed plans for ‘Snowmageddon’, right?

Look, it was fantastic that State Rep. Orwall was able to work with Highline College to open up on that Monday. And it’s great that 85 people were helped that day. But it should also be reasonable to ask: Given our Emergency Management program, why did we even need that special intervention?

Other Cities

I don’t want to pile on here, but I get calls and messages several times a week now along the lines of, “Why isn’t (x) facility open? Other Cities are doing (y) so  1WTF, Dude?” And I have exactly the same questions.

Street Racing Ordinance

I voted for the Street Racing Ordinance. I even seconded Mayor Pina’s motion to increase the fine for this Civil Infraction from $256 to $513. I am generally not in favor of heavy penalties unless there is actual data to show that it has a deterrent effect. But as I said from the dais, my former company worked with the ‘performance community’, I’ve been to their conventions, and these people are invested in their cars and their hobby. As with fireworks–they’re well-aware of the illegality. And by the way, a Civil Infraction is not a criminal offense.

Rule 26a

Whenever proposing an ordinance, the administration almost always tacks on an amendment to suspend Rule 26a. And I always vote against that.

By default, all ordinances require a second reading before taking effect–meaning that there need to be two separate votes at two meetings for it to take effect. In my opinion, we should never pass an ordinance without a second reading unless it is a true emergency for this reason: public engagement. Often times, the public only hears about a Council action because of that first reading. I want the public to have every possible opportunity to weigh in. I can’t tell you the number of times someone has given me some suggestion on legislation–only after it was enacted. The second reading gives the Council a final chance to refine the law.

I did not feel like it was a true emergency in this case because before the meeting I asked to see if there was any intelligence to indicate there might be upcoming racing events. Nope.

Burden of proof

One thing I wanted to highlight during the discussion is that, under State law, the burden of proof to prosecute is crazy high. And I don’t think the public understands this. You have to be able to ID the driver, not merely the automobile, in order to obtain a conviction. It is not good enough for a bystander to simply take video of a guy speeding by (or some unidentifiable person lighting off fireworks for that matter) and agree to be testify later. So unless a sworn officer just happens to be in the neighbourhood, good luck. Which is exactly why I want more neighbourhood policing.

Signage

My primary interest in the ordinance was to get signs placed at key points (like the start and end points in Redondo) announcing the ordinance and the penalty. I had calls and messages from several residents asking for this and I was very pleased that my colleagues, specifically Councilmember Bangs provided their support. It may turn out that signage is a bigger deterrent than the actual ordinance.

Fourth Of July

I had at least half a dozen letters and messages complaining about personal fireworks. I had planned to ask the Chief about it at this meeting, however neither the Chief or other PD official were present. This is unusual because a representative of the PD attends almost every meeting to take questions.

All my colleagues (and I) took pains to express our gratitude for the hard work of our Officers on Independence Day. A couple went so far as to say how much quieter things were where they lived.  But that was definitely not my experience living near the old Des Moines Elementary School.

However, the number of calls for service was 15% higher than in 2019,  while the number of citations written was less than half (7 vs. 3).

What I wanted to ask the Chief directly was:

  1. To what do you attribute the lower ticket count?
  2. Did you ask your officers to report on the mood in the community? Was there general willingness to comply? Or were many calls challenging?
  3. Do you have stats by neighborhood?

For me, the point of the increased patrols is as much about data gathering as it is enforcement. I expected more activity this year after the pandemic. But we need to have a sense of how we’re doing year on year. Remember: it costs money. So we need metrics on ROI.

I want to be able to gauge the efficacy of the increased enforcement. Is it going to reduce personal fireworks long term? Do we need to do more? If so, what? Or should we just stay the course? As a Council we should have gotten some sense of this from the administration and we got nothing.

The atmosphere

To be blunt, it is simply not possible with the current Council to ask these kinds of very reasonable questions–the ones that residents ask me about all the time. Because when I do, there is retaliation–as there was about the EOC last year. To ask any question which  that sounds ‘critical’,  that City might have done better on a particular task is to be told that one is ‘un-supportive’ or ‘running down the City’ or worse.

In reality, direct inquiry is basic oversight and at the core of the job of Councilmember. And again, all the questions I’ve listed above are questions that the Council gets. All the time.

I want a City Council that fosters a climate where every member can ask such questions of staff and feel the full support of the entire Council.

My current colleagues and the City Manager take great pains to show support for our staff and to always paint our City in the best possible light. Good. Portraying a positive image of the City is important; as is creating a positive work environment. And for the billionth time: I never want staff to feel unappreciated or attacked.

But in the future I want to have discussions that focus just a bit less on “Great job guys!” and more like “What could we have done better?”

Because you can always do better. There are always lessons to be learned and the City Council Meetings are the public venue to have those discussions.

The Thanksgiving table…

There’s an expression I’ve heard many times since I’ve lived in Des Moines to account for the unwillingness to have frank open discussions. It’s referred to as ‘the Thanksgiving Table’. No one wants to say anything that anyone might find unpleasant–so as not to upset the meal.

But City Council meetings are not family gatherings, they’re supposed to be inquiries leading to serious, well-informed decisions. The goal is neither to court or to avoid conflict, it’s simply to get at the truth. But over time, we’ve slowly made ‘asking questions’ itself into being somehow impolite, “Oh we don’t want to talk about that at the dinner table!”

Candidate Modeling…

Here’s the thing. 2When beginning their campaigns, candidates are always counseled to ‘be positive’. Talk about the good things, never go negative.

Plus, the public definitely is sick of the arguing and bad conduct.

So newly elected CMs generally have no 4model or incentives towards true debate. We’ve demonized any disagreement, either with fellow CMs, or especially the administration, as being somehow intrinsically bad for the City. They may not understand just how critical it is for every CM to have each other’s back so as to never allow the administration the ability to play favorites.

In one sentence, my concern is that even new candidates will come in and unconsciously continue the ‘Thanksgiving Table’ pattern of self-censorship. Because that’s all they know.

So to any new candidates who come to the Council next January: I will always have your back if you want to raise a concern, whether I agree or not.


1And let me be clear: I fully supported this concept. I wrote a detailed letter to the new City Manager after that meeting, asking him to consider the potential importance of the boating community for any disaster planning.

2OK, seniors generally do not express themselves like that in Des Moines. But inside, they feel, it baby. 😀

3Yeah, I totally didn’t do that

4Well, unless they are obsessives like this guy (or moi) who regularly attend City Council meetings all over the place.

5That’s Traci Buxton and Harry Steinmetz who were competing for Position 5. Candidates all tend to start showing up for a few meetings around August. That’s how you can tell it’s an election year. 😀

Weekly Update: 07/05/2021

Posted on Categories Engagement, Environment, Public Safety, Weekly Updates1 Comment on Weekly Update: 07/05/2021

Happy Independence Day?

It really is something to celebrate as we near the end of the pandemic (or at least the United States portion of it.) I hope yer doing something special with the newfound freedom–besides blowing off fireworks, of course.

I’m waiting to see how many $503 tickets were written, by the way. I dunno about where you live, but for me, this was, hands down, the most illegal fireworks I’ve experienced since living in Des Moines.

And this just in…

Autopsy: NHL goalie Matiss Kivlenieks killed by firework at Novi house party (clickondetroit.com)

If somebody had told me that a 24 year old NHL goalie would be killed… by fireworks… in a hot tub. I’d assume you were talking about a deleted scene from Hangover 3.

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. The deadline to register to vote online is October 25. Voters can register and vote through 8 p.m. on Election Day at any of KCE’s Vote Center locations.

  2. Wednesday October 13, 6PM Aviation Town Hall with Rep. Adam Smith and 33rd District Sen. Karen Keiser and Rep. Tina Orwall!

  3. Wednesday October 13, 7PM On-Line Candidate Forum hosted by Yoshiko Grace Matsui and Jayme Quinn Wagner! (and to prep, you can watch last month’s Seattle Southside Chamber Of Commerce Candidate Forum!)

  4. he Utility Moratorium ended September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  5. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  6. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  7. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  8. 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
  9. 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.
  10. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  11. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Thursday: Economic Development Committee Meeting (Agenda) There will be presentations on Tax Increment Financing (TIF) rom our lobbyist Anthony Hemstad in response to a new State law  HB1189. WA has been reluctant to adopt TIF and the results in other States have become somewhat controversial. It will be interesting. There will also be a presentation entitled “King County Countywide Planning Policies Update”

Thursday: Public Safety Committee Meeting (No Agenda?) This is on the official City Calendar, but the required notice was not made last Friday so… who knows? (sigh)

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda)

Street RacinG ORDINANCE

Of note is the Street Racing Ordinance. I think it’s a good idea in general, but it’s at least partly in reaction to the constant complaints from Redondo residents. And I’m not sure it actually addresses what those residents are concerned about. But tucked in there on Page 6 is a recommended motion to omit the usual ‘second reading’.

An ordinance generally requires two readings for passage–the idea is to give the public a chance to comment before the vote is taken. Also, the law for Code Cities like DM is that ordinances take effect thirty days after adoption. So if we wait for the second reading (July 22nd), the ordinance would be enforceable on August 22nd.

Normally, I never vote for omitting the second reading. I don’t care how few people show up to meetings or how mundane the language, unless there is a true urgency, I want the public to have every opportunity to weigh in on new law.

On the other hand: I look forward to hearing from you. Do you think that enacting this Street Racing thing is important enough that it can’t wait two more weeks? Please let me know.

Last Week

Wednesday: Burien Climate Action Plan. This is something that every City should be working on: ways that we can reduce our climate footprint, both as a City and to give residents some tools to work as well.

Wednesday: Des Moines Historical Society. This may be their first formal meeting in almost two years. Now that the pandemic is over, I hope to hear how they are moving forward with their plans to remodel and build a better web site. I cannot tell you how important I think this is. Des Moines has an absolutely fascinating history–it was actually one of the first white settlements in the entire region. If we could present this information properly, it would be a tremendous asset, not just in terms of education and civic pride, but also in terms of marketing the City.

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Council Growth Management Policy Board. The PSRC released an update on their housing strategy which deserves some discussion at some point.

Thursday: Meeting with HealthPoint Midway management. HealthPoint is a fantastic community resource that has been under-utilised. (For example, did you know you could walk over there right now and get your COVID vaccine whether you’re a member or not? I’m talking to you Woodmont.) We’ll discuss ways they and the City could potentially partner up to educate residents in the South end of town on their community programs.

This is a news year…

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.