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

There are now vaccine appointments available every day now, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. Sign up to attend the Port Of Seattle Commissioner Candidate Forum July 22nd at 7PM!
  2. Hopefully you’ve already seen the Christmas In July post.  Please send me your ideas before our August 5th Budget Retreat!
  3. The City is preparing a survey to update its Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. You may get something in the mail or you can fill one out at the Farmers Market any time Saturday July 24th. You can also comment by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  4. Destination Des Moines is also also sponsoring the  Virtual Waterland Festival on July 24th!
  5. 216th Ave bridge Closure starts July 19th and runs through August 23rd!
  6. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Please send your questions to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  7. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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 UpdatesLeave a 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

There are now vaccine appointments available every day now, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. Sign up to attend the Port Of Seattle Commissioner Candidate Forum July 22nd at 7PM!
  2. Hopefully you’ve already seen the Christmas In July post.  Please send me your ideas before our August 5th Budget Retreat!
  3. The City is preparing a survey to update its Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. You may get something in the mail or you can fill one out at the Farmers Market any time Saturday July 24th. You can also comment by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  4. Destination Des Moines is also also sponsoring the  Virtual Waterland Festival on July 24th!
  5. 216th Ave bridge Closure starts July 19th and runs through August 23rd!
  6. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Please send your questions to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  7. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.)

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 Current article. Like Mr. Gracey above he doesn’t say a ferry may be coming. He’s telling 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 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 have received no data or proposals as to the costs, potential benefits, environmental impacts, parking, scheduling, fees, inter-modal access, 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.

Mid-Weekly Update: 06/30/2021

Posted on Categories Engagement, Environment, Public Safety, Weekly UpdatesLeave a comment on Mid-Weekly Update: 06/30/2021

Heat? Too many appointments? Yeah, I got a lot of excuses for being late. Again. One excuse: I spent a few hours on Sunday handing out about 90 cold packs to residents. Normally, no one has any interest, but I get these all the time and if you’d like to have a few on hand for fishing, picnics, general cooling functions, just let me know.

Public Service Announcements

There are now vaccine appointments available every day now, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. Sign up to attend the Port Of Seattle Commissioner Candidate Forum July 22nd at 7PM!
  2. Hopefully you’ve already seen the Christmas In July post.  Please send me your ideas before our August 5th Budget Retreat!
  3. The City is preparing a survey to update its Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. You may get something in the mail or you can fill one out at the Farmers Market any time Saturday July 24th. You can also comment by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  4. Destination Des Moines is also also sponsoring the  Virtual Waterland Festival on July 24th!
  5. 216th Ave bridge Closure starts July 19th and runs through August 23rd!
  6. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Please send your questions to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  7. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This 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 is releasing an update on their housing strategy.

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.

If you get the impression that regional leaders have housing on the brain these days, you’re not wrong.  Long-time homeowners and people in Senior Living have been somewhat shielded from the issue here, but a lack of housing is a huge deal in Des Moines. Rents are crazy high and waiting lists are super-long. And all that makes it very difficult for young families trying to get started here. The problem, as I see it, is that all very different words are getting conflated “affordable”, “housing”, “homelessness”. They’re not the same thing. But by lumping them together, they all get demonised so as not to build anything.

Last Week

Monday: I attended a seminar on Chronic Homelessness hosted by former Governor Christine Gregoire. Here is the presentation. I’ve been studying this for a good while now and I asked a question that I can never seem to get an answer to: “How many?” The chart below is the only thing I could find and vague is a word that comes to mind. 😀 (I spent part of this week researching why we don’t get accurate counts. More to follow.)

Monday: Destination Des Moines meeting. A kerfuffle over what can and can’t be scheduled. No fireworks, but there are some cool events coming and there will be the Blues And Brews in August.

Tuesday-Thursday: Association Of Washington Cities (AWC) Annual Conference.  A get-together of local electeds from all over Washington. There were seminars on all sorts of governance topics. You’re supposed to get credit towards something called a “Certificate Of Municipal…” … er… something. Councilmember Rob Back had one.

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting (Agenda) Many of you are objecting to the parking lot project which would eliminate North SeaTac Park. The advocates don’t particularly need my help, but I commented because I felt like I needed to emphasize for those activists that the Port’s standard line “we’ll address this fully in the environmental review process” is simply disingenuous and they should not be distracted by that. I urge everyone to sign up to help Save North SeaTac Park.

Thursday: South King County Housing Homelessness Partners Executive Committee. My comments re. Governor Gregoire’s Webinar would apply here as well.

I hope you’ve survived the heat. And if you haven’t? Well, you’re not reading this anyway, so… 😀

Is it just me, or does it feel like these low-rent ’emergencies’ are basically coming somewhat constantly now? I ask because I’ve had this *bee in my bonnet for a long time about the topic of Emergency Management. It was one of the original things that made my colleagues and the administration love me so much, but the reason I gave them a bit of a hard time goes back several years…

Thanks for the heads up…

In September 2013, Water District 54 took one of their routine readings, got a positive for E-Coli and issued a Boil Water Notice. As prescribed by law, they then took a second reading, got a negative and that was that as far as the *immediate public health issue.

The thing that nagged at  me was that there was no mechanism for notifying the public. I went door to door that evening alerting my neighbours. Thankfully, WD54 is a very small water district (1,500 homes) and it turned out that there was no actual health problem. But what killed me was that, three days later, I received a letter in the mail notifying me of the Boil Water Notice.

So I emailed then Mayor Dave and we got into this whole thing about what the City’s responsibility is in these situations. (Now say what you want about Dave–and I do–but the guy always returned my phone calls and emails.) My feeling was, then and now, that I don’t give two shits whose ‘responsibility’ it is, I would want the public notified. I asked him if he might contact Comcast and see if they could do for us what they do with Amber Alerts (throw up emergency messages) and he told me no way. (I brought up the same idea at the Comcast Renewal vote last fall and my colleagues looked at me like… you know that look dogs give you when they cock their head? :D)

Another day, another spill…

As most of you know, we had another spill at Midway Sewer on June 16th which closed the beach. And again, it wasn’t ‘our fault’. And again, I don’t care. What I do care about is that so many agencies–including the City Of Des Moines–were notified almost immediately, but for some reason, the public wasn’t notified until June 22nd.

Since I started doing this Weekly Update, I’ve been bugging about our infra-structure. It’s boring, expensive and the public expresses reluctance to pay for it. But this is like the fifth such incident since I was elected and I keep trying to tell ya: it’s gonna keep happening. OK, maybe not that thing, but some other thing. These ‘100 year events’ keep happening like every year now.

In the meantime, I believe it is the City’s responsibility to have a system to inform all residents as soon as we know about any possible threat to public health and safety and currently we do not.

See all these different agencies are independent governments and agencies. Water Districts, Sewer, Utilities. And the fact is, they don’t have the budget for comprehensive warning systems. And why should they? When anything happens, one of the first things they do is to alert the City.

So if another agency doesn’t have the capacity to reach the entire community, we must find a way. There can be no excuse for any delay.

Now, we do have programs like CodeRed (which you should all sign up for). But the fact is that you probably haven’t signed up for it. And besides, I think this is too important to leave to some opt-in deal like that. I think it is the government’s responsibility to figure out how to get the word out when it comes to matters of public health.

One last thing…

Hero of the Left Jon Stewart was on TV the other night with a skit that would’ve been unthinkable even a few months ago.

The thing that’s frustrating about politics is that a certain amount of the time there are things that you just can’t talk about. The Left frequently bashes the Right for closed-mindedness, but in this case, because the message was coming from Trump, the perfectly reasonable notion that the virus might have emanated from a lab designed to study corona virii was out of bounds.

Since the day at that Joint Emergency Operations Meeting last March, I’ve been branded by some of my colleagues as somehow ‘down on police’, when all I asked for was to focus a little less on the morale building and give the public some basic information on how the program works. The administration thought I was snippy and unsupportive, but the fact is that I had shown a genuine interest in emergency response years before I joined the City Council.

This is my worldview: We cheer when the City pulls off a Cooling Center at the last minute. Thank you. Really. But a fair question should also be: Given our demographic of elderly and low income residents, why don’t we have that kind of thing ready to go in advance?

And again, I’m not picking on WD54 or Midway Sewer or Police or anyone. I just want to know so we can do better next time.

Now, let’s get real girlfriend: even if the makeup of the Council was radically different, I’m not sure I could get attention on these sorts of things. They are technical, boring and there always seem to be more immediate passions. Part of the reason I come off as cranky to so many people is because I want everyone to focus on these  nuts and bolts long-game issues. And I want everyone to be able to look at how we’re doing without defensiveness and partisanship. They’re just too important.

Because, †all bullshit aside, we keep dodging these bullets. In fact, we’re not even realising that they are bullets. But sooner or later, one is going to land.

*this is me using my family-friendly-filter. 🙂

†My wife’s fave expression of all time. No filter.

Yes, but it’s a dry heat…

Posted on Categories Environment, Public Safety

I hope you’ve survived the heat. And if you haven’t? Well, you’re not reading this anyway, so… 😀

Is it just me, or does it feel like these low-rent ’emergencies’ are basically coming somewhat constantly now? I ask because I’ve had this *bee in my bonnet for a long time about the topic of Emergency Management. It was one of the original things that made my colleagues and the administration love me so much, but the reason I gave them a bit of a hard time goes back several years…

Thanks for the heads up…

In September 2013, Water District 54 took one of their routine readings, got a positive for E-Coli and issued a Boil Water Notice. As prescribed by law, they then took a second reading, got a negative and that was that as far as the *immediate public health issue.

The thing that nagged at  me was that there was no mechanism for notifying the public. I went door to door that evening alerting my neighbours. Thankfully, WD54 is a very small water district (1,500 homes) and it turned out that there was no actual health problem. But what killed me was that, three days later, I received a letter in the mail notifying me of the Boil Water Notice.

So I emailed then Mayor Dave and we got into this whole thing about what the City’s responsibility is in these situations. (Now say what you want about Dave–and I do–but the guy always returned my phone calls and emails.) My feeling was, then and now, that I don’t give two shits whose ‘responsibility’ it is, I would want the public notified. I asked him if he might contact Comcast and see if they could do for us what they do with Amber Alerts (throw up emergency messages) and he told me no way. (I brought up the same idea at the Comcast Renewal vote last fall and my colleagues looked at me like… you know that look dogs give you when they cock their head? :D)

Another day, another spill…

As most of you know, we had another spill at Midway Sewer on June 16th which closed the beach. And again, it wasn’t ‘our fault’. And again, I don’t care. What I do care about is that so many agencies–including the City Of Des Moines–were notified almost immediately, but for some reason, the public wasn’t notified until June 22nd.

Since I started doing this Weekly Update, I’ve been bugging about our infra-structure. It’s boring, expensive and the public expresses reluctance to pay for it. But this is like the fifth such incident since I was elected and I keep trying to tell ya: it’s gonna keep happening. OK, maybe not that thing, but some other thing. These ‘100 year events’ keep happening like every year now.

In the meantime, I believe it is the City’s responsibility to have a system to inform all residents as soon as we know about any possible threat to public health and safety and currently we do not.

See all these different agencies are independent governments and agencies. Water Districts, Sewer, Utilities. And the fact is, they don’t have the budget for comprehensive warning systems. And why should they? When anything happens, one of the first things they do is to alert the City.

So if another agency doesn’t have the capacity to reach the entire community, we must find a way. There can be no excuse for any delay.

Now, we do have programs like CodeRed (which you should all sign up for). But the fact is that you probably haven’t signed up for it. And besides, I think this is too important to leave to some opt-in deal like that. I think it is the government’s responsibility to figure out how to get the word out when it comes to matters of public health.

One last thing…

Hero of the Left Jon Stewart was on TV the other night with a skit that would’ve been unthinkable even a few months ago.

The thing that’s frustrating about politics is that a certain amount of the time there are things that you just can’t talk about. The Left frequently bashes the Right for closed-mindedness, but in this case, because the message was coming from Trump, the perfectly reasonable notion that the virus might have emanated from a lab designed to study corona virii was out of bounds.

Since the day at that Joint Emergency Operations Meeting last March, I’ve been branded by some of my colleagues as somehow ‘down on police’, when all I asked for was to focus a little less on the morale building and give the public some basic information on how the program works. The administration thought I was snippy and unsupportive, but the fact is that I had shown a genuine interest in emergency response years before I joined the City Council.

This is my worldview: We cheer when the City pulls off a Cooling Center at the last minute. Thank you. Really. But a fair question should also be: Given our demographic of elderly and low income residents, why don’t we have that kind of thing ready to go in advance?

And again, I’m not picking on WD54 or Midway Sewer or Police or anyone. I just want to know so we can do better next time.

Now, let’s get real girlfriend: even if the makeup of the Council was radically different, I’m not sure I could get attention on these sorts of things. They are technical, boring and there always seem to be more immediate passions. Part of the reason I come off as cranky to so many people is because I want everyone to focus on these  nuts and bolts long-game issues. And I want everyone to be able to look at how we’re doing without defensiveness and partisanship. They’re just too important.

Because, †all bullshit aside, we keep dodging these bullets. In fact, we’re not even realising that they are bullets. But sooner or later, one is going to land.

*this is me using my family-friendly-filter. 🙂

†My wife’s fave expression of all time. No filter.

Mid-Weekly Update: 06/09/2021

Posted on Categories Environment, Public Safety, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesLeave a comment on Mid-Weekly Update: 06/09/2021

Again, again, running a bit late. Having an ongoing battle with my  web hosting system. 🙂

I was informed by readers that in my last Weekly Update, the ‘This Week’ portion was empty. A little geeky detail: these articles are actually several independent bits that (somehow) get mashed together into the ‘Weekly Update’ you see by a team of highly trained hamsters. Apparently the guy in charge of that portion wasn’t cooperating for a while there. I regret the error.

Public Service Announcements

There are now vaccine appointments available every day now, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. Sign up to attend the Port Of Seattle Commissioner Candidate Forum July 22nd at 7PM!
  2. Hopefully you’ve already seen the Christmas In July post.  Please send me your ideas before our August 5th Budget Retreat!
  3. The City is preparing a survey to update its Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. You may get something in the mail or you can fill one out at the Farmers Market any time Saturday July 24th. You can also comment by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  4. Destination Des Moines is also also sponsoring the  Virtual Waterland Festival on July 24th!
  5. 216th Ave bridge Closure starts July 19th and runs through August 23rd!
  6. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Please send your questions to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  7. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Monday: Meeting with 33rd State Representative Tina Orwall. I’m pitching something pretty mundane sounding called Remote Works Better. This may be the only good idea I ever have for immediately reducing noise and pollution around Sea-Tac Airport. The notion is pretty simple: with Zoom we were able painlessly reduce a whole lot of flights and car traffic and we just keep doing that whenever possible. A lot of air travel is simply unnecessary. We just have to realize that in 2020, we proved it.

Monday: I spoke with Noemie Maxwell, who is organizing to stop the removal of the North SeaTac Park in order to build an airport parking lot. The loss of tree cover has been brutal for all the communities surrounding the airport. Please sign her petition: https://www.kctreeequity.org/

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Meeting. (Agenda) The notable thing here was a presentation on their 2021 Legislative Agenda. You can tell how a government really feels based on two things: their budget (what they spend money on) and their LA (what they are lobbying for.) And frankly, it’s not looking good. After several years of some minor optimism, I have to tell it like it is: the Port is becoming steadily more entrenched against the environmental interests of all airport communities. It has done an absolutely magnificent job of appearing to care about environmental issues, but doing almost nothing material. The pandemic has given the Port the perfect excuse to be even less aggressive (if that was possible) on these issues and leadership in all the fence line communities seem perfectly fine with the notion that “this is as good as it gets.”

Wednesday: Meeting with King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove on the County Climate Action Plan—see Monday. :D. Same topic.

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association Meeting. Most of the time was spent discussing ‘dry stack storage’ which we gotta get into at some point. I guess the main stat I want to mention is that the total paid membership is less than 40–so there are, what, seven hundred freeloaders? 😀 But more seriously, the total attendance at these meetings tends to be less than ten–which includes two Councilmembers (the Deputy Mayor and I) and two City Staff. Usually zero members of any Condo association and certainly none of the general public. All I’m getting at is that what is driving a lot of the Marina Redevelopment–is truly only a handful of people. Because oftenn when the discussion seems only of interest to boaters, a lot of the time there is crossover. More soon.

Thursday: Dentist. (just wanted to see if you were paying attention.) 😀

Saturday: 9:00AM Ribbon cutting for the new Organic Blend restaurant off of Marine View Drive and 225th. (I gotta be honest, the address on Google says 22341 but that’s a bit confusing.)  Hope it’s where I think it is–and hope to see you there! 😀

Last Week

Tuesday: Talking with airport community activists all over America. 🙂 The thing I’m trying to get to is what do activists actually want? Obviously, if you asked the average person who lives under any airport flight path, what they mainly want is for the planes to go somewhere else! But the moment you start to go into “how”, there just isn’t agreement. at the moment That’s the problem: a lack of shared strategy.

Thursday: Public Safety Committee (Agenda) The were three of things of note:

  • First off, I gotta let the cat outta the bag here: Committee Meetings are recorded. Not 100% on this, but I’m pretty sure they’ve been recorded since the City first began using Zoom last year. I can’t say exactly why I feel this way. OK, maybe it’s because every time one would attend a meeting the little red light ‘Recording’ left at the top left of the screen would blink? 😀 What is frustrating is that these meetings always include issues the public does care about. But if there’s no recording you’re stuck with my ‘reporting’.  Maybe that upsetting thought along might move the City to start throwing them up on Youtube? 😀
  • Second, the Committee continued work on a Street Racing ordinance that is designed to help with various issues in Redondo. You can see the draft version in the Packet. The only disagreement seemed to be about how severe to make the punishment. So it will likely be approved by the Committee at their 8 July meeting then be voted on by the Council at the following meeting. And no I’m not saying that is ‘the solution’.
  • Finally, there was a verbal-only presentation on the Bodycam Beta-Test which was deemed a success. There were a number of details that caught my.. er… ear.
    1. I guess the batteries need to be changed a lot.
    2. The PD has still not published a policy as to when the officer can turn the thing on and off.
    3. I heard no specifics as to redaction or storage policy. We saw that the video can be pixelated to protect privacy.
    4. However, because it was deemed a success, apparently full deployment is now moving forward– it does seem to require a final vote by the Council.

    Those last three do bug me… especially if we don’t get a vote without all that information. I want all those policies and procedures in public before we proceed. See that’s the thing about open government: it’s slightly inconvenient. I get that there is now apparent enthusiasm for body cameras by all my colleagues as well as the public on the right as well as by many on the left (but for very different reasons.) And that matters: Just saying you have body cameras, may look great. But until there are clear policies in place, I don’t think you can say that they actually provide real trust. No matter how popular, the City should never go ahead with an idea before the Council has all the important information.

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) (Video) (No Clerk Recap)

We passed a resolution and a proclamation, making Juneteenth a  paid employee holiday. I asked that this book recommendation be put into the packet. This part of American history is amazing: On Juneteenth Annette Gordon-Reed

Under New Business, I asked that the City fix the web site because, honestly, it’s worse than before. Now it used to be that many organizations would have a crappy commercial web site because a lot of old-school business people just didn’t think it mattered (“We should spend money on real things.”) I now realize that, for some people in Des Moines there’s something almost a fatalism along the lines of “Hey, nobody attends meetings so what’s even the point? And the following is my official line on this:

Apart from any of the other shortcomings of the web site, at least a portion of this discussion trivialises the lack of accessibility for a very large number of our residents.

Using any performance metric such as the number of people watching Council meetings or searching for information is not only irrelevant it’s just plain wrong. By such logic, ADA ramps would never have been mandated.

If the site isn’t easy to use for seniors, the disabled and the large number of people who speak other languages, we cannot call ourselves an ‘inclusive’ community.

Inclusion means fair access for everyone, not just the people lucky enough to own an iPhone, have no disabilities, read English fluently–and already possess a level of digital literacy that is apparently taken for granted by people here. Maybe that’s still the majority in Des Moines, but even if it is I could care less.

The web site is a cue as to what the City values, not just in terms of transparency, but in terms of which types of people.

If it cost a million dollars to have a proper web site, I wouldn’t squawk. It doesn’t–it’s actually less than putting in a single ADA ramp.

Friday: Adam Smith–the usual airporty stuff. (See above. 🙂 )

Saturday: Des Moines Waterfront Farmer’s Market Grand Opening! It was a great day. Check out the new logo! (And guess what? parking is now free, Free, FREE! on Saturdays!)

Mayor as majority leader

The following is a heavily edited version of a very wonky thing I wrote on one of those Des Moines Facebook Pages. In that post, a resident creates a poll of “who should be mayor!” and then discusses the job in terms of “Rule 5”.  I’m redoing it here because although it’s super-wonky and boring and repetitious, every once in a while I accidentally hit on something that matters about local politics and this is it.

Introducing: The Hidden World Below!

Now, the rest of my original Facebook comment reads to me a bit like one of those grade school film strips trying to get kids to appreciate the wonders of the public sewer system. You know, “The Hidden World Below!” 😀  I mean, OK, you can’t live without it, but do you really want to know what’s going on?

My goal here is not so much to get you to appreciate this particular wonder of local politics anymore than I think you should fall in love with the Midway Sewer District. But I do think you should know that it’s there, whether you see it or not. In fact, I wish there was an ‘explainer’ of the political roles of the Council and Mayor included in every voters packet (or at least as part of Councilmember training). At least then every voter would  learn that, yes even in small town Des Moines, politics is politics

The rules are not the game

The role of Mayor is described in our Council Rules Of Procedure–primarily in these two sentences from Rule 5:

The Mayor shall preside at meetings of the Council, and be recognized as the head of the City for all ceremonial purposes. The Mayor shall have no regular administrative or executive duties.

That makes the job sound pretty innocuous, right? Sort of ‘impartial referee’ at meetings and ‘ribbon cutter’ on weekends. But to describe the job of Mayor in CMG in those terms (or any of the other Rules) is to almost completely misunderstand (or misrepresent) what the position really is. Yes, even in a small town like Des Moines. I would never criticize any individual for putting it that way–after all, that is what the rules say, right? Plus, I’ve heard lots and lots and lots of people put it that way over the years. But we should stop doing that, K? Because Rule 5 is not only a small fraction of the actual job, putting it in terms of any ‘Rule’ can’t actually explain the job.

See the Rules Of Procedure are just like the rules to any game. Yes, they give you some basic instructions, but they can’t tell you how the game is actually played.

Mayor as Majority Leader

OK, so here it is, playah:

The unwritten, but real authority of the Mayor in Council-Manager Government (CMG) is as leader of the majority of the City Council.

It’s a lot like being the Majority Leader of the US Senate. That’s what the job really is in CMG. It was designed as a ceremonial and non-partisan position. But since the first day a majority elected a mayor, every CMG mayor on earth has functioned with that political authority. Yes, even in a small town like Des Moines. And anyone who tells you otherwise either doesn’t know what they’re talking about or wants you to believe something that is not true. (Perhaps because the notion that our lovely town might have a ‘political sewer system’ doesn’t sound all that appealing? 😀 ) Look, I don’t want to torture this metaphor. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s actually essential to how our Council runs. So don’t pretend it doesn’t exist.

The Mayor’s role as majority leader may not be written down anywhere, but again it should be (just like Majority Leader in the Senate). And let’s be clear: I’m not saying I have a better system laying about. I just think the public (and CMs) should properly understand.

Specifics

Now what does it mean to be majority leader?

First of all, a CMG City Council is 100% majoritarian. All or nothing voting. 24/7/365 the Mayor has exactly the authority that the majority supports. Note that I did not say ‘the Council’. Whatever authority a mayor has flows from the majority; not the full Council.

Second, the role presiding officer has an in-built potential for bias. Remember: he gets to vote on every issue, just like every other Councilmember. So to a very real extent, he functions as both judge and jury member. He was elected by his majority–at least in part, to further a shared vision, not because he’s some paragon of impartiality. That doesn’t make impartiality impossible, but this tension should always be freely acknowledged. He is the leader of the majority. Not some ‘referee’.

Third, the Council functions according to a written set of rules. Those rules define both the Council and the Mayor and they are what the majority says they are. These can be formally changed by a majority vote at any time.

Finally, however,  Council Rules are not laws. The City Council is self-policing–again (as always) by a vote of the majority. And that has three big features:

  • At any time, either on or off the dais, the Mayor has great flexibility to interpret or add to or reduce or modify his authority and even, to a large extent, ignore certain rules–so long as the majority does not object. Our current Mayor has done so many times. That’s not being snippy, it’s just a fact. Every CMG mayor does it (at least a teeny, weeny bit) from time to time. So long as the majority is cool? It’s cool.
  • If anyone has a problem with anything the Mayor or the Council does–the majority must agree to take action.
  • There are rarely any external penalties for bending or even breaking meeting rules. At this point, I should probably point out that this is neither complaint or hyperbole. Again, it’s just how CMG works in the State Of Washington. Feel free to Google ‘Open Public Meetings Act Violations in Washington’ (OPMA) or connect with me for specifics.

So… what does that mean for the public?

Well first of all, it means that you should probably understand what  candidates actually believe in–and who he/she is likely to align with and why when you vote. Because it is a member of that majority who will become the next Mayor.

Second, stop acting like we have a strong mayor. If you don’t like something the Mayor is doing? Tell his colleagues.

Focusing attention solely on the Mayor  is not only unfair to him, it’s misinformed and counter-productive. Because it stokes the impossible narrative that you can be a good CM who supports a bad Mayor. C’mon: a ‘good’ CM would always object whenever the Mayor gets out of line. (Did I mention we’re supposed to be self-policing? 🙂 )

Again, again, CMG is 100% majoritarian. All or nothing. Every action the Mayor takes is because of the support (or lack thereof) of the majority. Whenever a Mayor goes beyond a ceremonial function in any way, he is actually working for the majority, not the other way round.

Ironically, the only time I ever focus attention solely on the Mayor? Is in his ceremonial role–when he’s really in his Rule 5 mode. That’s when he is on his own. If he did a bad job at a ribbon cutting? I’d be upset. Our Mayor does a fine job with those sorts of things. 🙂

So it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that there no are good or bad Mayors in CMG. The Mayor can only be as good at any given moment as the majority.

OK, sorry, that was a bit over the top. 😃 There totally are bad CMG Mayors that don’t reflect their council majority. But not many. And BTW, regardless of our ‘differences’, our Mayor is not one of them.

Choose the right majority

If any or all of this seems like some thinly veiled grouse at our current Council, it’s not. All CMG Mayors and Councils have exactly the same incentives and challenges–and that’s the real point: the role of Mayor matters far less than the members of the majority. There are definite requirements for being a good mayor in CMG and they are not chopped liver. But if you have a fair and competent majority, you tend to have fairer rules and better governance regardless of who they choose to be Mayor. If you don’t? You can have all the rules you want, pal! Because, for the umpteenth time, it’s majority rules in this here town.

The purpose of this novella

Anyhoo, I just wanted to describe the political role of Mayor in CMG. Yes, it’s Rule 5, but just as the Senate Majority Leader, our Mayor’s real authority is as head the majority that voted for him/her to be their leader. A Councilmember may not put it like that. They may not like it much. They may not have even thought about it like that. But, not to torture the metaphor, this really is like “The  Hidden World Below” I opened with. You don’t have to talk about it, like it or even know it exists to use it every day. 😀

Weekly Update: 05/24/2021

Posted on Categories Environment, Public Safety, Transparency, Weekly Updates2 Comments on Weekly Update: 05/24/2021

Alright, alright, I’m late again. But in my defense, it was filing week for candidates and I seemed to have wall to wall phone calls with people who were thinking about running for various offices. Frankly, it’s kinda refreshing to have people ask for your opinion–since it happens so rarely on my own Council. 😀

Public Service Announcements

There are now vaccine appointments available every day now, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. Sign up to attend the Port Of Seattle Commissioner Candidate Forum July 22nd at 7PM!
  2. Hopefully you’ve already seen the Christmas In July post.  Please send me your ideas before our August 5th Budget Retreat!
  3. The City is preparing a survey to update its Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. You may get something in the mail or you can fill one out at the Farmers Market any time Saturday July 24th. You can also comment by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  4. Destination Des Moines is also also sponsoring the  Virtual Waterland Festival on July 24th!
  5. 216th Ave bridge Closure starts July 19th and runs through August 23rd!
  6. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Please send your questions to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  7. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Last Week

Monday: Destination Des Moines. They are gearing up for the Running Of the Flags, which you should sign up for here. And since the State is going to be opening up at the end of June, you can look for some in-person events in July–including (maybe?) fireworks! Woo hoo!

Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines. Lots to talk about. More KCS libraries will soon re-open. Check out YETI for some great activities for middle and senior high kids! And Seattle Humane for some animal-related fun stuff for kids.

Thursday: Transportation Committee Meeting (Agenda)

Thursday: Environment Committee Meeting (Agenda) There were several presentations that all revolved around water quality–specifically the many spills over the past year from Midway Sewer. I’m gassing on too much here, but as I’ve written before, it’s funding that’s the real problem. It’s easy to point fingers at Midway Sewer on these lapses, but the issue is super-complex and, ultimately, comes down to money. The fact is that our entire water and sewer infrastructure is at its end of life and is under-capacity. Residents (including moi) go ballistic at any thought of rate increases, so many agencies do the best they can to keep the pipes moving. But at some point, a new system to fund water and sewer will need to be found. Des Moines is blessed with a wealth of shoreline and creeks, but that also means that we have serious challenges ahead in keeping the system safe.

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) (Video).  Based on requests from several residents, I proposed a proclamation declaring June LGBTQ+ Pride Month in Des Moines. This passed 7-0 and should be on the agenda for our next meeting, June 3rd.

For me the highlight of the meeting was a presentation on our Court by our Judge Lisa Leone. This was not only one of the most informative, but thought-provoking presentations I’ve seen in a long time and I strongly encourage you to watch it. First off, the pandemic forced the City to re-think every process–especially the Court. Judge Leone’s team showed that you can run a Court better utilizing remote technology. (I was also very encouraged to hear that the City will be considering how it can continue doing as much employee work remotely on a permanent basis.) I am convinced that Remote Work is going to be key in making progress on climate change as well as resolving our complaints with Sea-Tac Airport. The amount of work we can now do remotely is huge; we proved it. If we don’t go back to our bad habits, we could reduce road and air traffic by a lot.

Second, with all the talk of ‘defund the police’ last summer, it often gets missed that the justice system–at least at the local level, had already begun a dramatic transformation based not so much on racism, but on m-o-n-e-y. The fact is that a lot of newer interventions, which do not involve traditional ‘punishment’, just work better. They cost less and they decrease recidivism. The DUI program Judge Leone mentions is a fantastic example. People who complete that program are far less likely to re-offend. The only trouble is that we don’t yet have enough available slots. But at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, I can see where the majority of what we now refer to as ‘public safety’ will be resolved without expensive jails or traditional courts. Obviously, the courts and police will continue to have a big role to play, but I’m sure that they will be as happy as anyone to be able to focus more of their attention on other matters (like getting my stolen car back! 😀 )

(One last note on this: The Des Moines Court is broadcast live on Youtube and here’s the channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIvlmdlOGbP5rBKJC5PgG_Q)

We also had a New Business discussion on providing Public Comment at Committee Meetings–something I’ve been pushing for since, well, forever. That was voted down 5-2. See below.

Despite that, I will continue to push for getting these meetings recorded, which I think is even more significant. As I keep saying, the real policy discussions happen at the Committee level. By the time an issue reaches the full Council it’s pretty much a done deal. Unfortunately, those meetings occur in the afternoon when most of you are working. The first step towards improving public engagement is to make those meetings watchable for you at your convenience. Other Cities already do this and we should too.

To sign up to provide public comment via Zoom or to provide written public comment, go here. To watch live on Youtube go here.

Public Comment At Committee Debates

I think there is a misunderstanding about the whole ‘public comment’ vote near the end of last week’s Cit Council Meeting. There seems to be a perception that the issue is just one more personality conflict over some minor ‘procedural’ deal. It was not. This is a difference in philosophy so basic that we cannot even discuss it without someone getting personally offended.

We have Councilmember Committee Meetings that are defined as public meetings under the state Open Public Meetings Act. However, these meetings, are neither ‘public’ or ‘committee’ meetings as most of you expect. And I say that because, if you watch the discussion, the City Manager and my colleagues repeatedly feel the need to do an explainer. They obviously feel like if the public understands the purpose, then they will understand that there is no need for public comment or any other reforms to Committee Meetings.

So you have to decide whether this is some ginned-up non-issue or whether the proposal was attempting to address a real problem.

Some background: Our Committee meetings are run by the administration, not by Council. The administration does not merely execute policy, it makes almost all policy. The administration schedules the meetings. They set the agenda for meetings. They cancel meetings if they don’t consider them necessary. A committee meeting consists of a staff presentation, followed by a few questions. That’s it. The vast majority of the time, the main reason for CMs to show up is because we are legally required to do so. The administration prefers this system and so do my colleagues for reasons they describe on the video so I’ll let them speak for themselves..

I disagree with this system. The law says that Councilmembers have two basic jobs: legislation and oversight. For the most part we do neither of those things at Committee Meetings. And I think we should.

For years I have watched many other governments work. And my experience tells me that when committees are driven by electeds and fully engaged with the public, this leads to better services for you, the taxpayer. I’m not talking about some abstract ideal of ‘democracy’. It’s about practical results: roads and public safety and permits and economic development, etc.

Most of you likely feel intuitively some kind of way about this, but honestly, very few of you can decide who is right based on evidence. We have no newspaper and almost none of you get to see how our government works—let alone how governments work in other places. It’s very difficult for you to fairly evaluate how well we’re doing compared with other places. Frankly, you often just have to take us at our word.

My interest in public comment and recording meetings and all the other ‘transparency’ jazz I go on about is somewhat self-serving: I believe that if more of you take the time to see how things actually work, you’ll agree with me and help our government (including our Committees) work more as you expect them. And again, I want to stress that a better process leads to better practical results for you: from public safety to roads to economic development.

My colleagues obviously disagree. They believe that the current system is not merely good, but best in class and that my complaints are not only without merit, but are tactics to make them and our City look bad. That has never been true.

It’s kinda hard to bridge such a wide gulf of trust. So I hope more of you make the effort to attend all our meetings and judge for yourself. I know it’s more challenging than it should be and I applaud those who get engaged.

The Minority Report (Part 2 of 2: Policy)

Posted on Categories Airport, Economic Development, Engagement, Marina, Policy, Public Safety, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation
This is the second half of our response to the April 15th State Of The City presentation. Part 1 discussed our objections to the way it was carried out. Here we’ll talk about some specific policy differences. For those of you short on time, you can follow along with this presentation packet.

As noted last time, one of the many ways the presentation was unusual was the fact that our colleagues were also presenters! That risks making our comments sound personal. We can also hear howls that we are somehow criticizing our great staff. Neither could be further from the truth. This is about policy, which is set by the Council and City Manager. The discussion stops there.

The big picture

Over the years, the number of Des Moines residents hasn’t changed much, but the composition has. Most notably, we are now younger and more diverse. Also, remember that the original City was very small and the current town is actually the result of many small annexations. But the majority of services and programs are still focused around that original core.

The City must recognize these changes and adapt to better address the needs of residents in all neighborhoods.

Challenges

In Part 1, we stated that the presentation was ‘all positive and no negative’ but at first glance a few slides imply otherwise. For example, Slide #6 showed an assessment of the City from a 1962 report outlining many of problems we still see today.

But far from (finally) offering some solutions, the message seemed to be that we just have to learn to live with most of these structural problems. We disagree. Most of these challenges come down to choices as much as ‘fate’. Governments decide which issues to tackle aggressively–and which to avoid.

The Past 5 Years

As Slide #7 states, the City is now on much better financial footing than after the 2008 financial crisis and our credit rating is now solidly competitive with comparable cities.

But what the presentation referred to as ‘diversified revenue streams’ actually means strategies like raising your utility taxes to the highest allowable rates. This disproportionately affects low and middle income residents and turns away businesses.

Balancing the books shows operational skills (good), but it does not automatically signal a long term strategy that benefits you or business.

Marina Redevelopment

The Marina discussion is being driven by the fact that the docks are at their end of life. This will be the largest and longest capital project in our history. But there is a separate discussion concerning the land side which is, unfortunately, being sold together as a ‘package deal’ and that is wrong.

To be clear: the Marina docks do require replacement and that work (and that work alone) should begin now. 

In 2017, the City installed a highly flawed paid parking system despite ongoing public opposition. That same year the administration held a single open house to gather public input on land side redevelopment. Four years ago. Last month, City Currents Magazine published a highly misleading editorial about passenger ferry service–with no vote or presentation to Council. And this month, the City finally unveiled its Marina redevelopment proposals, which appear identical to the renderings shown at that 2017 open house.

There is a pattern here: of poor public engagement, questionable decision-making and no transparency. The current majority is using the legitimate urgency of dock replacement to rush through a land side development with inadequate information, oversight or public buy-in.

The City should engage an independent professional to review any land side plans before moving ahead. We at least deserve a second opinion to confirm that we are headed in the right direction on such a large decision.

Economic Development

We are always happy to see new businesses in Des Moines. However, the essential challenges to the downtown and to all our business community are still not being addressed. Frankly, we have watched many small shops come and go over the decades and very few have been sticky. Almost none have leveraged more visitors to Des Moines.

We also appreciate the continued investment in Des Moines by Wesley and we look forward to their continued partnership. At the same time,  the City should be focusing economic development efforts far more on our increasingly youthful population.

We were far ahead of our colleagues in advocating for business grants at the start of the pandemic. The City responded too slowly, finally offering a program with no independent oversight. We gave over $500,000 to only 26 businesses located almost exclusively in our downtown. In fact there were hundreds of businesses throughout Des Moines completely unaware of the program. That was not only unfair and unethical, it’s just bad for business. All future business grant programs should be run independently.

Transportation

One thing to understand about transportation spending in Des Moines is how little of it there actually is. Almost all road improvements comes from highly competitive regional grants, currently limiting us to only one or two projects every few years. It may seem obvious, but the two best ways to fund more projects are to improve the business environment and increase our  presence in regional government.

The Community Connections Shuttle was a wonderful addition to Des Moines–five years ago. However, the majority of residents who need transit live in other areas–where services are poorest. We urgently need another such shuttle and we need much stronger advocacy for transit throughout the City.

Public Safety

We fully support our police department. In fact, we’d like to see more police deployed in your neighborhood. Although the administration refers to our department as ‘fully staffed’, the number of officers is now far smaller than in 2007.

We applaud the administration’s vocal support for police reform–such as adopting the #8Can’tWait campaign. However a recent letter of resignation from one member of the Diversity Advisory Committee raises concerns as to the City’s true commitment.

Parks, Recreation, Senior Services

The City groups several very important (and very different!) functions into one block called ‘human services’ and these are all undervalued. $175,000 out of a $24.5 million dollar general fund is simply not adequate–especially during a pandemic. Programs serving kids, seniors, families and people with special needs should never be outsourced.

We also acknowledge the recent work the City has done to improve places like Midway Park. But it is important to note that these upgrades began only after great volunteers laid the foundation. Currently, volunteerism for all City-related groups is at an all time low. We must do more to reverse that trend–including making the process much easier. It is volunteers who do so much to keep Des Moines running.

The Masonic Home

The Masonic Home is one of the most historically significant buildings in the entire state and has tremendous strategic potential. Yes, it has been problematic for years, but repeatedly the City chose to leave its fate to private developers–as if it were just another building. If and when a new opportunity appears we should be ready to provide every resource to support its rebirth as an economic engine for South Des Moines.

Sea-Tac Airport

The airport has been and will continue to be the single biggest threat to the City and its residents, having contributed to declines in our schools, property values and the health of our residents. Despite the public perception, very little of the airport’s money or well-paid jobs are in Des Moines.

The City has repeatedly made this situation worse for residents, publicly bemoaning the noise and pollution, while supporting the Port’s agenda in policy. Our Airport Advisory Committee resigned last year in frustration.

With little fanfare, Sea-Tac will soon begin a new expansion referred to as the SAMP. Unless vigorously opposed, this will add tens of thousands of flights over Des Moines.

There is a great deal we can do to improve this situation, but we must change our approach immediately.

In closing

This message is firm because the circumstances demand it. However it includes not only constructive criticisms but also solutions for improving our government and making your City better. In a letter like this, it is impossible to go into detail. But we welcome discussion of those details with both our colleagues and the public. It is offered to our colleagues and to all residents of Des Moines with sincerity and with absolutely no rancor.

It is our honor to serve Des Moines.

Councilmember JC Harris,
Councilmember Anthony Martinelli