Weekly Update: 03/14/2021

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

Public Service Announcements

  1. Public Comment on the FAA’s Neighborhood Environmental Survey is due by March 15th. This is important. Please follow these instructions and comment TODAY (more below).
  2. Donate blood, win A NEW CAR! 😀 https://www.bloodworksnw.org/ Aside from the fabulous prize opportunities, there is currently a serious shortage of whole blood. Please schedule an apt. today
  3. Spring Recycling Event at the Des Moines Marina Saturday March 27. NEW: You can now bring TVs and electronics!
  4. Kent Des Moines Road Closure March 21 and 23rd!
  5. SBA Webinars on new PPP Programs start March 3rd!
  6. Virtual Open House on SR 509 I-5 to 24th Ave
  7. If you are a local business, make the Southside Promise from the South Side Seattle Chamber Of Commerce! There are grants of up to $1,000 to help you now.
  8. There are new State Unemployment Benefits. But you gotta read and follow the instructions!
  9. Last month’s article in the Seattle Times regarding the Masonic Home has gotten a lot of people talking. As you know, working to save the place has been on my agenda for years. Please contact me or Barbara McMichael of SoCoCulture.org at info@sococulture.org to get involved! She is compiling a mailing list and is coordinating efforts to save the place. 🙂
  10. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  11. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  12. Rental Assistance for Low Income King County Bar Association – The Housing Justice Project is requesting community based providers assistance to identify households who owe 10K or more in back-rent. “We can zero out $10K or more of rent for folks who are at 50% AMI or below these income limits. If you know anyone, can you have them email fwblackcollective@gmail.com for navigation with case managers or give them this link which has all the paperwork to complete and email to edmundw@kcba.org to get their rent payed out.   Forms to Eliminate Back Rent: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=1fUdYAwMFH_V_B1vTD_urmir_ltI8Wfnw.   Completed forms can be emailed to edmundw@kcba.org.”
  13. If you wish to sign up for future City Clean Ups Michelle Johansson Fawcett: cleanuri.com/pj4RQ5
  14. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Monday: Destination Des Moines meeting

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

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

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

Thursday: Transportation Committee Meeting (cancelled)

Thursday: Environment Committee Meeting (cancelled)

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

Last Week

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

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

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

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

FAA Neighborhood Environmental Survey (NES)

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

My uncomfortable phone call with the Port

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

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

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

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

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

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

State Of The City

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

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

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

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

Grading on a curve

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

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

Weekly Update: 03/07/2021

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

Public Service Announcements

  1. Public Comment on the FAA’s Neighborhood Environmental Survey is due by March 15th. This is important. Please follow these instructions and comment TODAY (more below).
  2. SBA Webinars on new PPP Programs start March 3rd!
  3. Virtual Open House on SR 509 I-5 to 24th Ave
  4. If you are a local business, make the Southside Promise from the South Side Seattle Chamber Of Commerce! There are grants of up to $1,000 to help you now.
  5. There are new State Unemployment Benefits. But you gotta read and follow the instructions!
  6. Last month’s article in the Seattle Times regarding the Masonic Home has gotten a lot of people talking. As you know, working to save the place has been on my agenda for years. Please contact me or Barbara McMichael of SoCoCulture.org at info@sococulture.org to get involved! She is compiling a mailing list and is coordinating efforts to save the place. 🙂
  7. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  8. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  9. Rental Assistance for Low Income King County Bar Association – The Housing Justice Project is requesting community based providers assistance to identify households who owe 10K or more in back-rent. “We can zero out $10K or more of rent for folks who are at 50% AMI or below these income limits. If you know anyone, can you have them email fwblackcollective@gmail.com for navigation with case managers or give them this link which has all the paperwork to complete and email to edmundw@kcba.org to get their rent payed out.   Forms to Eliminate Back Rent: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=1fUdYAwMFH_V_B1vTD_urmir_ltI8Wfnw.   Completed forms can be emailed to edmundw@kcba.org.”
  10. If you wish to sign up for future City Clean Ups Michelle Johansson Fawcett: cleanuri.com/pj4RQ5
  11. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

Last Week

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

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

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

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

This Week

Monday: Arts Commission

Wednesday: SR3 Webinar

Thursday: 30th Leg. Meeting

FAA Neighborhood Environmental Survey (NES)

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

City Council Meeting Recap

(Agenda) Bonnie’s recap.

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

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

Finances

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

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

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

New Feature

And speaking of audibles at the line of scrimmage…

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

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

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

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

Good Accounting Tells A Story

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

Good accounting tells a story.

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

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

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

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

Public Money

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

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

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

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

Weekly Update: 11/22/2020

Posted on Categories Airport, Environment, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation, Weekly Updates2 Comments on Weekly Update: 11/22/2020

This Week

Well, this is gonna be an odd Thanksgiving, am I right? 😀 There wasn’t much scheduled to begin with. However, it will be especially constrained for moi.

As you may have heard, I am in ‘quarantine’ for the next ten days. A person I came in contact with last weekend tested positive and is symptomatic. Currently I have no symptoms–beyond my usual delightful disposition.

I have contacted everyone I have been face to face with recently and I have gotten an initial test (which was negative.) That said, I’m in the jailhouse for ten more days.

I’m only tellin’ y’all to emphasize that this is no joke and if you’ve been slacking recently? Get on the stick. You know what to do.  I know it’s tough with the holidays, but… you gotta stop rationalizing risky behavior. You know what I’m talking about. It reminds me of teenagers. “I’m sure it’ll be fine just this one time, Betty!” 😀 Uh huh.
Anyhoo… have a very Happy Holiday. On Zoom.
(I’m waiting to see Santa show up on a Zoom call. 😀 )

Last Week

Tuesday: Port of Seattle regular Commission Meeting (Agenda) This meeting finalized their 2021 Budget and Tax Levy and included a 3% increase in Property Taxes. On the other hand, it also did set aside more money for Port Packages than in the past ten years, so that’s something. One thing you’ll be hearing about a lot is something called the South King County Fund. Originally, this was the Port’s attempt at providing money for airport mitigation programs. Very quickly however, our Cities did what they often do best: disagree. Some of the Cities were like, “environment, schmironment, just give us money for general improvements (like sidewalks). And some areas affected by the planes (Beacon Hill) were upset that they were not included. So now the program has morphed into something of a general ‘grant’ program. I object to these sorts of grab bag programs. The Port should be budgeting specifically to pay for the environmental problems of the airport.

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee I always highlight their work for a few reasons: a) They’re currently the only group that is doing any real work on behalf of the communities.  b) Simply because their web site is so much more user-friendly than Des Moines. For those watching, we have two ‘official’ groups which purport to be working on airport issues: The Highline Forum (which is electeds) and the Sea-Tac Airport Stakeholder Advisory Committee (StART) which was supposed to be for community residents. Neither has turned out to be particularly useful because neither has worked on actual legislation or negotiation with the Port of Seattle. The BAC is the one remaining group (well, besides SeatacNoise.Info) doing actual research and asking tough questions.

Wednesday: Highline Forum. Speaking of which: this one had great presentations on Sound Transit and SR-509. Heading back to StART for a minute, there is talk about somehow ‘reforming’ both StART and the Highline Forum so that they might function more like you expect them to (ie. actually advocate for changes to the airport.) I am not thrilled about this notion for a couple of reasons because a) It would still be run by the Port, which is a bit like having yer wife’s attorney mediate yer divorce settlement. b) The fact is that, as with that SKCF, there is simply not a lot of engagement from some Cities. Many of the Cities (including ours, frankly) focus on getting economic development money from the Port and not actually reducing the negative impacts from the airport. There are plenty of organisations now supporting economic development. There should be at least one organisation which is solely dedicated to reducing the noise and pollution.

Friday: South King County Housing and Homelessness Partnership (SKHPP). An Inter-Local Agreement between many Cities in SKC. The name pretty much says it all. All the Cities have agreed to put in a pot of money, which is great. But as I keep saying, the real question is, “Now what?” In other words, at some point you have to do something with it and that’s gonna be tough because, frankly, the issues are so tough. One of the participants is Master Builders–an organization representing developers. They have a Toolkit which I think you’ll find interesting because it offers several ways forward for increasing housing. One thing I disagreed with the City on over the years was land use and now we have very little space left. But there are some great options in that toolkit.

Friday: Sound Cities Assocation Legislative Agenda presentation. Our own 30th District Rep. Jesse Johnson was in attendance. Here is a letter written by the SCA to Governor Jay Inslee which asks for help for restaurants. If you are concerned that the tone of the letter seems to go against health guidelines, recognise the desperate situation: the Federal Government has totally dropped the ball. And the State has serious Constitutional limits on grants it can supply to Cities (the previous money the State distributed was from Federal CARES Act money). My hope is that the State holds a Special Session and acts to provide more money to Cities. However, based on the dialogue I heard today from State lawmakers, I am not confident. I also want to say one other thing on this: The Stock Market is at a record high which is very misleading. We currently have two very different economies in Des Moines. On the one hand we have these large companies that are doing amazingly well: and those are primarily ones that sell products (Amazon, Lowes, etc.) But then there is the service economy, which is in the tank. And it’s that service economy that comprises the majority of small business in a City like Des Moines. I support the State health guidelines. But I keep reminding people how rough things were for our local businesses after the 2008 recession: it decimated Marine View Drive. We cannot let that happen again.

A quick note on Motions…

I wrote the following letter to our City Attorney last week to ask for a ruling on parliamentary procedure based on a potential problem at our last City Council Meeting (Video) where I proposed that the City rejoin the National League Of Cities (NLC). There were several problems with that motion, but I only want to focus on the parliamentary issue here. I had hoped to receive an answer in time for this article. Hopefully soon. 🙂

Hi Tim,

A parliamentary question. I hope you’re the right person to ask. If not, please direct me to the proper individual for future questions.

At several meetings this year, Mayor Pina has warned me that if I make a motion, it is seconded, and then fails, it is ‘dead’. He did just this in our last meeting.

He has not specified exactly what that means, but the implication is that he means that this is permanent, ie. that particular motion can never be made again. In fact CM Buxton said that she chose not to second my motion to join *National League Of Cities (NLC) specifically because if she had done so it could never be brought up again. She felt that she was doing me a service by not seconding my motion. (ie. by having it die for lack of a second, it could then be brought up again at a future meeting.)

I can’t seem to find that in my reading of Robert’s.

Please provide the specific place in our Rules Of Procedure (or RROO or other City code?) which lays out the specifics of when/if a motion may be renewed.

Thanks in advance,

—JC

Just to be clear, I can find no such rule, either in Robert’s Rules Of Order (RROO) or in our Council Rules Of Procedure.

According to RROO and JurassicParliament (the fantastic training service that our City uses to train Councilmembers), if a motion does not pass, it is only ‘dead’ for that particular meeting. A Councilmember can bring back the same motion at the next meeting. (Of course, when one renews a previously failed motion one should always include new information in order to change hearts and minds.)

This is a great case of why all that ‘parliamentary’ jazz actually matters. A lot.

*The National League Of Cities is just what it says it is, a nationwide group of Cities that lobbies at the Federal level in order to further interests that all Cities tend to share. The City Of Des Moines was a member for many years and we left when the current majority took over. I strongly favor re-joining not only because all our sister cities are members, but because the NLC has been particularly strong in advocating for Airport/FAA reform and in returning more Federal money to Cities.

Weekly Update: 11/15/2020

Posted on Categories Airport, Campaigning, Environment, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation, Weekly UpdatesLeave a comment on Weekly Update: 11/15/2020

This’ll be a long-winded one (sorry). Last week’s City Council Meeting was, arguably, the most important of the year. There was the Budget, Property Taxes, Human Services spending and I got to be the one yelling at my colleagues (for a change) rather than just sitting there and taking it. And tucked in the DMMA thing is a presentation you should watch. So… ya know… it’s a lot. 😀

This Week

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee.

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

Wednesday: Highline Forum. There will be updates on SR-509 and the StART. Usually a snoozer, but who knows? 😀

Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines. This group of education and youth professionals (including our DMPD Community Service Officer) meets to discuss ways to improve school attendance and reduce teen violence in Des Moines.

Thursday: PSRC Growth Management Policy Board There will be a presentation on housing needs in King County. I’ve already hinted at this a few times. It is critical to our City to understand the various demands that the PSRC foresees for our area in order to do our own planning. There are (cough) ‘targets’ each City is expected to meet.

Last Week

Tuesday: Port of Seattle regular Commission Meeting (Agenda) This meeting finalizes the 2021 Tax Levy. Their Budget proposed to increase  this item on your taxes by 3%, which I find outrageous given the pandemic. Here is my letter to the Commission in protest.

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association Meeting. The contents is actually a ‘State Of The City’ tag team presentation by Mayor Matt Pina and Deputy Mayor Matt Mahoney. I strongly encourage everyone to watch it because it covers pretty much big area of the City (with plenty of questions re. the Marina at the very end.)

Thursday: Environmental Committee Meeting. The single item was the Storm Water Comprehensive Plan Update presentation, which I am quite interested in given the various infra-structure problems we’ve had over the past year. Here is the presentation: Surface Water Comp Plan Update

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) (Video). Recap below.

Thursday: Sound Cities Association ‘PIC’ Meeting. The Public Issues Committee is is always fascinating to me because you get to hear about what all the other Cities are dealing with, plus upcoming legislation from the State and Federal governments. It’s one of the best ways to get a sense of how other Cities function and how we all see our role in the region. Traci Buxton is our official representative.

A quick note on how Councilmember can help you…

If you watch the City Council Meetings or you are on-line, there is some confusion as to what/how a Councilmember may help a resident with a particular issue or a problem with the City itself. Here is what Council Rules Of Procedure Rule 32 says:

RULE 32. When administrative policy or administrative performance complaints are made directly to individual Councilmembers, the Councilmember may then refer the matter directly to the City Manager for his/her view and/or action. The individual Councilmember may request to be informed of the action or response made to the complaint. (Res. 525 §1, 1988).

So, if you contact me (or any Councilmember), we’ll refer it to the City Manager and his staff to deal with on your behalf. The advantage in bringing a problem to your Councilmember is in that last sentence: you get another (hopefully well-informed) set of eyes on the issue so we can make sure that you’re getting the best possible customer service. It also helps me/ us know what’s going on–which helps everybody. If you know the numbers? Contact the City directly. If you want to call me personally? I’m always happy to help. 🙂

Meeting Recap

City Recap here. Full packet here. Video here.

Normally, I put in timings at the various points in the vide I’m referencing. I got lazy this week. These things are already work. But when I go on about making our web site more helpful to the public, here is just one thing I’d like to implement. When you look at a Burien Meeting Agenda, it has bookmarks to all the important moments in the video. That’s good public communication.

We passed the Budget.

Yay? 😀

The good news is that we got away this year without significant harm. That is no mean feat and I applaud the Finance team. Our City Manager, has told me that I don’t ‘appreciate them’. As a guy who worked for companies like Arthur Andersen, I’m probably the only person on the Council who fully appreciates their job. I salute them not only for keeping the City on track, but also because the basic day to day mechanics of finance and ‘bookkeeping’ are tough enough without having to screw with telecommuting. Thanks a million. (Get it? Million? I kill me. 😀 )

But I don’t want to be too super jazzed for a couple of reasons. First, we pulled this off by basically:

  • Holding off on any new capital improvement stuff. Which means we’re kinda losing not one but two years on a lot of very worthy projects. (On the other hand, with the repeal of I-976 we may be able to do some road stuff. Stay tuned.)
  • CARES Act funding. And who knows if there will ever be another Federal stimulus package. (Gosh I hope so, Ma. 🙂 )
  • Using one-time money–which was the bane of the City in the bad old days. We voted to allow for it (if necessary) again in 2021. Hopefully it won’t be necessary. But I’ve made it clear that 2021 is the last year I’ll vote for that. *I’m sayin’ two Hail Marys and four Our Fathers every day that the local economy will be back by then. 🙂

Is there anybody in there?

(Boomer reference to Pink Floyd) As I said, this was arguably the most important meeting of the year. And at 1:43 it was twice as long as a typical meeting (which still makes it shorter than every one of our sister cities.)  It covered the Budget, your Property Taxes, our Human Services Budget (which helps thousands of people.) And yet a grand total of zero people signed up to comment. As of this writing a whopping 43 people have watched it. (sigh)

Yes, but are you paying attention?

People see me looking away during the Zoom meetings and wonder if I’m even paying attention. The nerve! 😀 For the record, I’m taking notes on another computer screen.

But as some of you know, a lot of the material is already covered in Committee Meetings, so most of the presentations are things I’ve already seen. There’s very little ‘new’ material at our City Council Meetings. Also there’s no real dialogue to speak of (it’s not like Councilmembers are debating or trying to convince each other of anything or even modifying stuff as happens in other Cities.

So you’re not wrong if you wonder who’s actually paying attention. Because most of it is a formality. And when it comes to Councilmember comments, a lot of those are also not really information sharing per se. Eg. Councilmember Nutting, in his comments described the absolute perfection of our 2021 Budget stating something like (and I’ll get the quote wrong here but I do think I’m capturing the sense of what he said) “You couldn’t move five dollars around without breaking the whole thing.” Now that’s something, right? 😀

Being best isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

The point I’m trying to make is that there’s this vibe that everything presented to the Council is, worry-free, baked to a golden brown and not to be messed with. If the Council believes that the Budget presented to them has such a delicate balance, why would anyone try to amend anything, right? You might break something!

I’m not being snarky (OK, maybe about 10%) But making everything that the administration presents so ‘perfect’ scares me. Not because it’s untrue (there are many ways that Budget might be tweaked without risk–some might even be 😯 better.) And not just because we’re not really participating in the process (let alone performing oversight). No, what scares me is that I know a certain portion of the public recognizes the performative aspect of our Council Meetings and that makes them even more cynical in any already cynical world.

I think my colleagues see all these claims of “we’re the best” and clockwork precision as a plus–I think they truly believe that such hyperbole inspires confidence with Developers and generally boosts our image. I’m not so sure. I think it makes the public feel like their participation is irrelevant.

In Councilmember Bangs’ comments, she encouraged more volunteerism. As I’ve written many times there is an absolute dearth in volunteerism in Des Moines. But what my colleagues don’t seem to recognize is that the City has done almost everything possible to push away the public over the past five years. I made a comment at the beginning of the meeting that the City should do more to provide outreach to the public on how we determine their taxes. And the reply I got from Mayor Pina was, “Anyone can find this out if they go looking.” That basically sums up the philosophical difference between myself and the rest of the Council. I believe that it’s 2020 and we need to reach out to you. The more information we provide, the more welcoming we are, the more likely we are to feel like the City is a place they want to volunteer.

Human Services Advisory Fund

As I said l would do last week, I voted ‘no’ on the Consent Agenda item to fund the Human Services Advisory Fund. I did so not because I object to the grants. I voted no because I asked for some very basic information on each of the grants ahead of the meeting from our City Manager and got… Nada. Niente. Bupkis. That is simply intolerable conduct. As I’ve said many times, Councilmembers should be able to receive fulsome responses to their requests for basic information on any topic they feel will help them do the job.

Sadly, the current majority is fine with it. (Maybe they don’t care to know about all these programs to any depth, but I certainly do.)

Currently the only form of protest I have is my vote.

I applaud the great work these volunteers and our staff are doing. And in fairness, the City is edging closer to a long-standing goal we’ve had to get to 2% of Total Budget for these grants. We’re not there yet. But it’s progress and I am very glad that we’re heading in the right direction.

Property Taxes

Some good news here. But getting back to that whole ‘public engagement’ thing for a minute: open that packet and go almost to the end (pg 168ish?) and it will show how your property tax dollars are spent. Note that the portion of the pie that the City gets keeps going down over time. In other words, don’t blame the City for your property taxes. Cities have been getting slowly starved for cash now for two decades. And this is just one of those ways.

During the public hearing on property taxes I commented that the City should do more to make the public aware of how we use your tax dollars. I already gave you Mayor Pina’s reply to this suggestion. Councilmember Bangs stated that there really was nothing to worry about given that we’re not raising taxes. In other words, if it doesn’t cost you more money, you probably don’t care. I strongly disagree.

Anyhoo, we did vote on next year’s property tax. The good news is that, unlike the Port Of Seattle, we are freezing the rate at current levels and not raising the rate 1% as has become the usual practice. Well done. The only caveat is that the law says that we can push that increase into future years. Remember how I said I was worried about our Budget for 2022? We could theoretically come back then and retroactively charge the 2021 one percent on top of that current year’s increase. I would not vote for such a thing.

Storm Water Management (Environment Committee)

Surface Water Comp Plan Update

OK, this is the bad news. Maybe. The Storm Water Fund is kinda the biggest piece of business for the Environment Committee. I wish the committee could do a lot more real ‘environment’ stuff (water and air quality), but that’s what it is for now.

The amount of money that the City needs to prepare for future issues is high. We have a 1.3% reserve for unexpected issues. I have no idea if that is sufficient or not. It seems low to me, but what do I know, right? All I know is that we blew through that with one landslide last year. In fact, we’re under-funded by over $3.6 million dollars to do all the projects we need by the next big review in 2026. To fully fund them would add about $2.80 a month to the average homeowner’s bill. I have very mixed feelings on this. Three bucks a month isn’t the world. But I know many of you feel nickeled and dimed to death. Because we do have quite the array of fees and utility taxes. And taken together it adds up to real money for you.

My concern is that if we don’t keep ahead of these projects we’ll be in real trouble. As you know, we’ve had several water-infrastructure problems this year. The infrastructure in much of our City is at or near end of life. And then there’s that pesky climate change–the more it rains, the more work there will be to do.

I’ll close this week by mentioning yet another information request I made that went unfulfilled. I asked for some background information that might help me to decide on how much funding to vote for. As you can see from the presentation, we can be aggressive in funding these programs or we can do less and hope for the best. Right now, I don’t have an idea of how to think about this more broadly.

*I may be exaggerating my prayer routine slightly. Bad Catholic. Bad Catholic, JC.

Weekly Update: 10/25/2020

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Neighborhoods, Taxes, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesLeave a comment on Weekly Update: 10/25/2020

PSA: You may have heard that there is an election coming. There was a Candidate’s Forum October 14th and it wouldn’t hurt to watch it. Write me if you need a Voter’s Pamphlet: I have extras! And if you don’t get your ballot?  please email elections@kingcounty.gov or give them a call at 206-296-VOTE (8683). MONDAY IS THE LAST DAY TO REGISTER!

This Week

Tuesday: Port of Seattle regular Commission Meeting (Agenda) This meeting will present the 2021 Tax Levy. Their Budget proposes to increase  this item on your taxes by 3%, which I find outrageous given the pandemic.

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

Wednesday: Sea-Tac Airport Stakeholder Advisory Round Table (StART) Meeting (Agenda): The discussion will include the 2020 Legislative Agenda. Recognizing that this is also the Port’s agenda, it is fairly timid. I will testify as to the complete lack of understanding on Port Package ‘failures’.

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) General Assembly (Agenda).

Last Week

Monday: Meeting with Finance Director Beth Anne Wroe. Not much to report on that in particular. Of greater concern is that fact that my City Manager literally refused to take a phone call to answer any questions on anything. Have I already used the word ‘outrageous’ in this article? 😀 That said, I mentioned last week that I wanted an improved web site like this and by using plucky initiative I’ve figured out what it would take to make it happen. One way or another, we are going to improve our public outreach during my time in office. Or I’ll… I’ll… I dunno what I’ll do. 😀

Tuesday: South County Area Transportation Board (SCATbd).

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee. (On their web site I got to the meeting info in two clicks. Which made me happy. 🙂 )

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

Thursday: Economic Development Committee Meeting. (Agenda)  This was a big deal. There was a Buildable Lands Study that I could do 2,500 words on and some talk about the Marina redevelopment which also deserves some real talk, but I’ll save that for another time.

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

Saturday: McSorley Creek with Trout Unlimited. Yes, it’s that time of the year again: Counting the Salmon! Show up at 10:00AM if you want to be a counter. 🙂

Now this is more like it…

Last week’s Economic Development Committee (EDC) and City Council Meetings (City’s recap here) were much more like what I expected when I ran for office. As you know, I ran as a ‘change’ candidate. I was able to convince enough voters that something had to change. But the job now is, in many ways, a lot harder because the things that need changing aren’t a bunch of evil men twirling their mustaches.

Des Moines has been heading in the wrong direction for a long time. Our government keeps doing things for short term benefit. But in the long run, have slowly lead further and further from making the City a ‘destination’ (to use that now tired cliche.) But because these policies often seem to make sense in the moment they have been difficult to change. They are well-intentioned; they’re just not in the City’s long-term best interest. It’s like telling me to lay off the ice cream when it’s right there on the counter. It’s a hard sell (sigh.)

You want it now

As I keep saying, a City is where the rubber meets the road. It’s the one place where voters actually expect responsiveness from government. And most voters are concerned with now, not ten years from now. When I moved here, everybody on my street had been here for two decades–and that was typical for homeowners in Des Moines. In 2020? The average homeowner sticks around for 5-7 years. So their interest is in ‘how can you help me now‘. Keep my taxes low. Keep me safe. And don’t rock the boat. I get it.

Unfortunately, many that thinking runs contrary to what it takes to make Des Moines (finally) live up to its potential as a waterfront community.

It’s coming…

The reason I have been yammering about the PSRC and all this ‘regional’ junk since I got elected is because, in addition to the short term interests of current residents there are intense forces at the State and regional level which also push Des Moines to only consider the short view.

We are on the cusp of having to make development decisions that I guarantee most of you will not appreciate if you care about Des Moines more than a few years out. But they will be irresistible because a) they will provide short term cash and b) the State and PSRC will be nagging us to do them–and attempting to punish us if we do not.

I see one of my primary tasks to push back. Because this is existential for our future and I am not being hyperbolic. Our long-term desire to (finally) make Des Moines the historic and unique place it was meant to be run smack into the desires of many developers, the State, the County, the PSRC and the Port Of Seattle. They will offer us lots of things that look fabulous in the short term, but will inevitably lead to minimizing the very things that make Des Moines special. City Councils come and go, but overall, our development plan has been wrong since before decades. I will explain my positive vision for the City in detail in the months ahead.

SKHHP: Affordable Housing

The actual City Council Meeting was pretty innocuous. I want to highlight a couple of questions I had which probably seemed like me grousing a bit, but they matter. The first was in response to Traci Buxton’s comments on this thing:

19054 ILA South King Housing and Homelessness Partnership

We were asked to approve a directive clarifying our City’s position on SKHHP–essentially, giving Councilmember Buxton guidance on the City’s goals when *she represents us. Here is the guidance we approved:

  1. Policy decisions that directly affect the City or that create mandates should be made by the City Council and not by the SKHHP board.
  2. Primary focus of SKHHP should be on the production and preservation of affordable housing as stated in the Interlocal Agreement that created the partnership.
  3. Policy decisions made by SKHHP should prioritize the preservation of affordable housing and the creation of affordable housing, while also balancing the interests of those who provide it.

Now that all looks pretty sensible, harmless and vague. But it matters because what I’ve been trying to tease out from our City is the actual purpose of SKHHP. The fact that we need to add this sort of ‘fluff’ indicates that there is not a clear agreement (yet) as to the goals–or at least a concern that the process might be hijacked. If so, I want to know what the goals of other Cities might be that could conflict with ours? The title of the group includes the word ‘homelessness’. Great. We should definitely tackle that problem. But though the two topics converge, affordable housing is not the same thing as ‘homelessness’. Not by a country mile.

What I keep trying to get at is: what are we willing to do? I want transparency. The problem is that the issues SKHHP needs to tackle are, like all land use and zoning and housing issues totally nuclear divisive. I get why decision makers would want to keep it vague until the last possible moment. But I would much prefer that we do work to get buy-in from our residents up front, rather than working on programs that may come as a unpleasant surprises down the road. That is exactly what went wrong with the Woodmont Recovery Clinic. It was a noble cause (helping people climb out of addiction) but it was implemented in a way to generate maximum †FUD.

Video

Show me the numbers

The second question I had was during the Budget Public Hearing and was about ‘trends’. I referred to page 49 of the 2021 Preliminary Annual Budget , which is the only place in the document that charts a five year forecast.

I asked what I thought was a fairly easy question: How do you make that forecast? Now check out the responses from our City Manager.

Video

Now that you’ve watched that exchange, do you have any idea how the City estimates 2023, 2024, 2025? If so, please email me. Because I sure don’t. It’s the defensiveness that always gets my antennae up. I asked a perfectly reasonable question and got nowhere. And the end of the discussion was our Mayor saying, “Asked and answered.” As if this were a trial, not a reasonable discussion.

I’m not here to cross-examine anyone. I just wanted to know what any business person would want to know: What are your assumptions? It turned something routine into even more *FUD and I can never understand why. If they’d simply give me the information I request, I’d be happy as a clam. 🙂

You gotta sell me on this…

We often hear from candidates how they want to run government ‘like a business’. Our Mayor often talks about how the City Of Des Moines is structured like a Corporation. It’s not ‘like’ a corporation it is a corporation.

But municipal corporations are not  businesses. And definitely not when it comes to decision making. Yeah, you get to vote for City Council, but beyond that, the government gets to ram an awful lot of stuff down yer throat if it wants to. If it were a business, it would have to actually sell you on its ideas. It would have to market like crazy to get your buy-in on plans that you won’t necessarily like right now, but will ultimately make your life better ten years from now on.

Governments are not known for being particularly good marketers and the public often refuses to eat their vegetables. And more and more the public is interested in the short term. So it’s just a lot simpler for the government to do what it wants and not bother asking.

I strongly disagree. We have the obligation to be very clear on both the good and the painful parts of our policies. We should sell difficult ideas and only act unilaterally when absolutely necessary.

Am I talking out of both sides of my mouth? Sure thing. I’m a low rent politician. 😀 I’m going to propose a lot of ideas that you may find challenging in the short term. Because I’m certain these are things that will make Des Moines really special for you in the long term. And I’m also going to work my bananas off to get your sincere buy in. That salesmanship is something the City has not done well at all over the years–because, again, it doesn’t have to ask for permission. It doesn’t have to sell you. To the extent I can, I hope to change that approach.

*Minor detail: I am the City’s Alternate Representative to SKHHP. To date I have not been invited to any meetings or notified on any of its activities. I’ve already used ‘outrageous’ and ‘unprofessional’. Thank goodness I’m done with this article. I’m running out of adjectives. 😀

†FUD: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.

Weekly Update: 08/30/2020

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Engagement, Policy, Taxes, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesTags , , Leave a comment on Weekly Update: 08/30/2020

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

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

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

This Week

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

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

Last Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advisory Committees

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

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

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

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

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

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

The choices

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

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

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

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

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

Now choose something else.

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

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

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

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

Then what?

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

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

The Aviation Advisory Committee? I think everybody quit. Not quite sure. 😀

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

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

And then there are the other organizations

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

Bringing back the band

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

Start your own band.

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

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

How?

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

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

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

It’s not me. It’s you.

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

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

OK, boomer

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

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

Bait and switch

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

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

Why are you always picking on the web site?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

Coda: The obligatory disclaimer

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

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

Weekly Update: 08/24/2020

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I apologise up front that this week’s article is longer than some Russian novels. But as I’ve written before, the budget presentation is often considered to be the meeting of the year–and perhaps the reason to have a City Council. So I urge readers to slog through the entire thing like Stalingrad in ’43. I do not pretend that this is complete coverage of the Meeting. It represents the issues I considered of particular importance for Des Moines.

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

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

PSA #3: If you have a business in Des Moines, you should fill out a G.R.O. application, the City’s new business grant program 🙂

This Week

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

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

Tuesday: A seminar on how to bring electrification (cars, solar) to Cities

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

Wednesday: Sea-Tac Airport Roundtable (StART) Meeting. This will be Des Moines’ first meeting since we left along with Burien and Federal Way last year. Are these useful? Not particularly. 😀 But they could be. I… guess? 😀 I’ll save that for a slow news week.

Last Week

Tuesday: A very timely MRSC seminar on building and planning department functions.

Tuesday: Another meeting of the Burien Airport Committee. If you are interested in airport issues, they have become the nexus of activity for the region so I encourage you to check out their Zoom meetings: (Agenda)

Wednesday: I missed lunch at the Senior Center! Too many things going on’. Special thanks to Wesley resident Kayley Moon for getting me an extra EATS voucher!

Wednesday: A meeting with Port Of Seattle Director Stephen Metruck on the Port’s Port Package Update program. Again, no time for details, but if you have a Port Package or you’re interested in airport issues (and you should be), head over to SeatacNoise.Info.

Wednesday was also the latest Reach Out Des Moines meeting.

Thursday: There was an update on the ongoing PSRC Ferry Study which you can read about here. The upshot: no ferry coming to Des Moines any time soon. Not enough ridership and too many challenges with ‘multi-modality’ (ie. the traffic getting people to other destinations via bus, cab, etc.)

Thursday is a Special City Council Meeting (Agenda). Details below.

Friday: I had a chat with fellow Councilmember Luisa Bangs. Some of you may have noticed the temporary ‘frozen over’ sign at the gates of hell. 😀 I’m keeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeding! I very much appreciated the chance to talk with her. 🙂 Beyond that, I feel like the voters kinda expect all of us to periodically do this, regardless of any differences of opinion. What did we discuss? Tattoos. My general lack of respect for authority. 😀 Oh… and public safety–which has been something she has focused on quite a lot over the years. And again, I was glad to get her opinions.

Special Meeting: So many questions

Backin’ up for a second: the 6 August meeting (Agenda, Video), was supposed to be the ‘budget presentation’. However it went on for almost four hours and we still hadn’t gotten to any Council questions. So the 20 August meeting (Agenda, Video) consisted of all the questions we intended to ask, but did not get a chance to at that August 6th meeting.

Pro Tip: If you did not watch that meeting I would strongly suggest that you simply review the slide deck.  Unless you just really find these kinds of presentations riveting. No judgment. 😀

Can you hear me now?

Before we get into the questions,  if you watched the meeting live or are looking at the video, you’ll notice that it is now on Youtube. This is a major improvement and big thanks to our IT Staff for making that change! By the way, if you’ve seen me looking down at the beginning of meetings it’s usually because between five and ten people are texting me “there’s another problem with the damned video!” And then me plaintively emailing our City Clerk about it–which she really appreciates while she’s trying to work the controls on the meeting :D. Hopefully those days are over.

But first: The FIT Tool!

Before we get into the questions, I want to mention the short presentation from the State Auditor’s Office on their (sorta) new FIT Tool. I cannot recommend this thing highly enough! It provides all kinds of useful information on our City’s finances over the past few years in some very interesting ways, plus, it gives you the ability to compare cities which is even more fascinating.

The opener…

The meeting opened with the Mayor making yet another complaint about what he perceived as Councilmember Martinelli’s and my ‘complaints’ about the last meeting. To add another layer of irony, this is one of those things I complain about in my series of articles on Better City Council Meetings. 😀

In a Council/Manager form of government the Mayor has very few ‘special powers’. But they do hold the gavel, which gives them the unstated power to speechify whenever they so choose. There’s no ‘law’ that gives them that ability; they just get it because they run the meeting. In my humble opinion that power should be used only when absolutely necessary. Announcing that the building is on fire comes to mind. 🙂

The broad strokes

Now, unlike the last meeting, this one lasted a crisp 2-1/2 hours. The structure of the questioning was that each Councilmember got five minutes and we went round-robin.

I had, by far, the most questions. Councilmember Martinelli had the fewest. Councilmember Bangs and Nutting had the next fewest, but in my opinion their comments were practical and of high quality. Councilmember Buxton kept coming back to an issue that several of us raised in various forms: one-time money, and I’ll get to that in a bit because it’s something everyone should be aware of in order to understand the financial strength of the City.

CARES Act

I asked two questions this week related to CARES Act funding. My first question, which I’ve also been pursuing off-line had to do spending authority. If you recall, on March 6, we voted to approve a Proclamation Of Emergency and one of the things that does is to give the City Manager unlimited spending authority. That seemed OK back in April when the sky was falling. But does it look like the sky is falling right now?

What that means is that choices on spending the $1 million dollars in CARES Act funding are being made entirely by the City Manager–with no Council approval of any kind. This does not thrill me. I do not believe any large expenditures should be made without a Council vote–unless the sky really is falling, of course.

My second question was about the new GRO Business Grant program. Many Cities have decided to turn over the administration of such programs to external agencies, like a Chamber Of Commerce or other organisation that has experience in doing this sort of thing so that there are no questions as to fairness. So I asked the City Manager for the scoring system, ie. which restaurants will be chosen and how much they will each get. His response was literally to shrug and said “I suppose so.” *Which I found to be less than optimal. 😀

Because when we rolled out the EATS program (we do love our acronyms 😀 ) three months ago, with a similar black box process, there were reasonable questions/controversies over not only which restaurants should be included but also in which order. Those concerns could have been addressed ahead of time simply by giving the Council a chance to provide input–and that’s what should have happened here.

Body Cameras

Out of the blue, there is $140,000 on the 1st draft for ‘Body Cameras’. I asked where that dollar amount came from and was told that it was a ‘placeholder’. Now: I’ve been writing financial software since 1987 and I have never seen that term used on a financial statement. Because there’s no such thing. When you put something on a financial statement, you’re saying you intend to do something.

Fortunately, Councilmember Martinelli asked the same question and the Chief Of Police helpfully gave him a straightforward answer (which was nice.) The Chief did some research of 4-5 vendors and that was his best guess for a first year cost of the hardware. Now we’re getting somewhere.

My second question on this was a lot trickier: Why are we doing this?

Background: on May 30, the Chief Of Police published a statement promising to review policing in Des Moines. This was followed up by other statements from the City Manager and support from the dais by Mayor Pina. The upshot is that the City said it was conducting a review of policing practices and an analysis of how what we might do here to deal with ‘systemic racism’.

And yet, when I asked for a report or study showing the results of that work, both the City Manager and the Chief acted puzzled; they had no idea about any of that. So basically we’re spending $140,000 without evidence of need and data.

Dear residents of Des Moines: I do not vote to spend dollar one of your money without evidence and data. To do otherwise is like prescribing Chloroquine for COVID-19. It may sound good at first blush, but… 😀

Let me be clear: if the City Manager or Chief presents a legit public safety need, I am right there. Just show me the evidence and the supporting data. After the horrible George Floyd killing, I wrote about my own family’s personal experience with racism and bad policing.  So if body cameras are something that would demonstrably reduce incidents of police misconduct and improve relations with the public? I am so there.

But here’s the thing: the Chief obviously feels extremely good about the culture of our police force. As does the City Manager. I’ve asked my colleagues on the City Council and they are similarly confident. I’ve also asked people on the Police Advisory Committee and they have nothing but praise for our Police Force.

OK. If all that is the case, I ask you: where is the problem? If there is no evidence of problems, why spend that kind of money in a budget year so tight that we’re contemplating furloughs and using one-time money?

Again, the one thing I have not seen is data. I have asked for a series of reports on police stops and officer complaints and gotten no response. I was told that such information would be presented to the Public Safety Committee when the body camera issue was brought forward for a vote. Which means that there is data, but Councilmembers can’t see it until right before a vote? That is what really bugs me: Putting something on a budget without supporting data? Just. Don’t. Do. It.

All that aside, if there’s no data, no complaints and everyone agrees that our PD is doing a great job, I think I’m showing better support and trust in our Police Department by saying, “we’re good for now”. If there is still $140k on the table? Spend that money where it will have an immediate impact. I can think of at least four spots in Des Moines that desperately need a traffic enforcement officer right now. There is an obvious need which I can see right now.

One-Time Money

It was just a few years ago that you’d hear the phrase ‘one-time money for one-time expenses’ so many times you’d think the Maharishi had given it to the entire Council as a mantra. It means: revenue from things like construction should be set aside for one-time purchases (eg. building something) and not for recurring expenses (eg. salaries, rent.) Recurring expenses should be paid for with recurring revenues (eg property taxes which are dependable.)

Like that new exercise program I’ve been meaning to start for the past five years, it was a noble idea. But unfortunately, we could never seem to actually get round to doing it. Year after year, we’d use those one-time monies just to ‘pay the bills’ rather than do the painful work of creating a budget we could live within. When the current City Manager was hired, the City actually did institute that discipline and it was a significant part of the financial recovery and he deserves credit for that.

So just a few years coming out of that we’re in another financial pickle. We’re doing OK, but we’re not doing as fabulously as the rhetoric from the current majority might lead one to believe. And that is what I have always objected to: the hyperbole. Yes, we’re not as hard up right now as some of our peers, but we’re not exactly rolling in it either.

Even with the new revenues and the financial discipline, the proposed budget will require once again taking going to close to one million in one-time money. And we are being warned that this is also a real possibility again in 2021–which then starts to sound like a trend.

Now, the City is proposing this in order to avoid furloughs or reducing staff levels. And I’m fine with that for 2020. But even Cities which are financially stronger than we are (eg. SeaTac–which has no need to use one-time money) are creating staff-reduction plans and other long-term strategies to plan for future waves. They are talking long-term and that is a big part of why they sound so gloom and doom.

In short, we’ve been lagging behind all our neighbouring cities in providing forecasting to the Council. And we haven’t shown a five year projection–which was something I was trying to pry out of the discussion. Because by not showing a five year projection, by avoiding talk about one-time money over the long-term, we’re avoiding those pesky discussions about worst case scenarios.

Speaking of which: the seawall

The necessary Federal permits for the north bulkhead repair have not come through yet, which means that the funding we were hoping to get to pay for it is also not a sure thing. So, I asked a kinda ‘what if’ question. What if State or Federal grants don’t come through and our budget doesn’t improve and we simply have to tap into our borrowing authority to pay the $10 million in necessary costs? (That is only mildly far-fetched, but that wasn’t the point of the question.)

After the requisite teeth-pulling, the City Manager said something off-handed like borrowing $2-3 million might be OK to borrow for such an emergency spending. That’s helpful, I suppose. That tells me that’s the sort of spending he feels comfortable with in terms of any truly dire expense.

Back up: I’m constantly being asked why the City doesn’t do this, that or the other ‘big thing’ that so many of you want–things that would be transformational. Well, the answer, as Ricky Ricardo used to say, “We can’t afford it, Lucy.”  If that north bulkhead fails in a bad storm? Oy, are we screwed. The entire north parking lot, marina, condos? Sayonara! So that’s truly an expense we must deal with.

So: if we can’t justify borrowing a large sum for something as essential as that on our own? The idea of actually investing in something transformational for Des Moines–even before COVID-19–was almost unthinkable.

What I’m getting at is this: I want people to have realistic expectations about our City’s capabilities. Back in 2016, the current majority was able to institute much better financial controls, improve the bond rating and we now pay our bills on time without sweating. Great. But even before COVID-19 we were nowhere near where we need to be in order to make the kinds of changes we’ve all wanted for so many decades. So we still have a very tough row to hoe. We not only have to survive COVID-19, we also have to figure out how to transform our local economy. And I simply haven’t heard any serious discussion of that in all the years I’ve been watching City politics.

So… what do you want?

Glad you asked. 😀

  1. At the end of the meeting, the Mayor asked us to vote on using some of the Council’s personal fund to support perhaps 20 families in a  partnership program between Highline Schools and Comcast to provide broadband internet service to families without. It’s a nice gesture, but there are perhaps a thousand families in Des Moines that have no decent broadband service and that means that those children simply cannot get a decent education. The City Of Burien has already stepped up and will use some of their CARES Act money to help their students and we should do the same. No, this is not a traditional function of municipal government, but then neither are business grants. In this state of emergency I consider helping our students to be as important not fall behind just as important to our City’s future as business grants. The City should be doing everything possible to fund that program.
  2. The City has not budgeted any monies to fight the airport’s expansion plans (aka ‘the SAMP’) and that is a mistake. All my colleagues in other Cities understand that if we are not pro-active in our response, not only will we not stop the expansion, we will (once again) lose any chance for serious mitigation monies–the kind of funding we should have received after the Third Runway was built. What we are doing now is waiting to respond according to the Port’s timeline. It’s a strategic mistake that could cost us millions now in mitigation funding–just as it did twenty years ago.

Summary

Like the entire pandemic, this article seems to go on endlessly. And this is the most critical I’ve been of the current administration. But the Budget Meeting is where the rubber meets the road.  There were three basic themes I wanted to present here and they represented the major concerns I brought up as a candidate: authority, transparency, transformation.

1. I want the Council to take a more active role. All policy should emanate from the Council and no large expenses should be undertaken without a Council vote.

2. I want a lot more evidence and data brought before Council. I dislike any spending decisions that are made without hard data and I want to see that data available loooong before a vote comes up so that Council has a real chance to mold policy.

3. I want the City to research, design and commit to a long-term plan to make Des Moines more financially independent–and by that I mean specifically to be able to undertake necessary programs without relying so much on grants from the State or Federal governments. As impossible as it may seem right now, I want the City to start talking about how get to a world where we can think about transformational improvements to Des Moines.

I also want a pony. 🙂

Which is to say, that my colleagues in the majority disagree completely. They have an extremely high level of trust in the City Manager, both his management of day to day activities and his vision for the future.

I find all this puzzling because my questions are just simple due diligence. That’s how I approach my role on the City Council. It’s literally my job to be skeptical. But never unfriendly or disrespectful. The office is all I care about.

*I’m trying out this new thing this week: understatement. 😀

Weekly Update: 08/17/2020

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Sorry I’m late. Again. I ran out of Tonic Water last night and it was just too hot to type without a Gin and Tonic. :D. But, once again, I’ve got not just this update, but another bonus article (see below.) Woo hoo!

This Week

Tuesday: A very timely MRSC seminar on the special requirements for budgeting and permitting during COVID-19.

Tuesday: Another meeting of the Burien Airport Committee. If you are interested in airport issues, they have become the nexus of activity for the region so I encourage you to check out their Zoom meetings: (Agenda)

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

Wednesday: A meeting with Port Of Seattle Director Stephen Metruck. Hopefully we’ll be making some progress on several issues, including the delayed Port Package Updates.

Wednesday is also the next Reach Out Des Moines meeting.

Thursday is a Special City Council Meeting. ‘Special’ meaning there is only one item on the Agenda. More below.

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

Last Week

Monday: I sat in on my first Arts Commission Meeting in a looooong time. They’re working on some cool stuff. More on that in a future article. 🙂

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting. The discussion centered around improving the noise monitor program. The problem is that the noise monitors have been highly inaccurate. And this is an opportunity to get the Port to fix them. The reason you should care about this is that if a particular plane is too noisy (I know they’re all noisy, but stick with me) the Port can complain to the airlines and get it removed from service. In other words, the Port can tell Alaska Airlines that their 737 Serial #123456 is noiser than the FAA spec allows for that particular make/model. Every little bit helps. 🙂

Wednesday: was my first time back at the Senior Center in a couple of weeks. There had been a bit of a kerfuffle for a while there because a staff member at Wesley tested positive for COVID-19. So for two weeks I delivered EATS voucher! to residents there. I’m bringing this up because we are not out of the woods on this. I think most people have kind of settled into this ‘new normal’ where most (but not all) people kinda/sorta ‘mask up’ and just muddle along. But clearly that ain’t good enough. I think we’ll need to do a lot more to get on top of this, yes even at the local level. More in a few days.

Budget Meeting Redux

The last meeting (Agenda, Video) lasted almost four hours and consisted almost entirely of presentations by all the department heads. If you did not watch the meeting I would strongly suggest that you review the slide deck which is available here. In fact, if you read the slides you can basically skip watching the meeting–unless you care about politics, or just really find these kinds of presentations riveting. No judgment. 😀

So the upcoming meeting (Agenda) will supposedly consist of all the questions we intended to ask, but did not get a chance to at that August 6th meeting.

Although that meeting was a slog, I think it could have and should have been handled much differently. As I wrote last time, it’s such a pivotal meeting and the public has high expectations (as did I) of finding out where we’re at and what the future will look like.

After that meeting, I began writing a series of articles on Better City Council Meetings and I hope you will read the second article which is specifically about how Councilmembers obtain information from the City and how that process might be improved.

It’s a process

That said, the public needs to understand that Budgeting isn’t really one meeting, but rather a process of several meetings culminating in a vote in late November on an Ordinance which makes it ‘official’. The initial meeting is meant to provide a ‘state of the city’. It is not meant to actually ‘decide’ anything. I got many requests this week along the lines of “What are you going to do about…” And that process does not begin until the next meeting in September where the City Manager presents a 1st Draft. From there, we have two public meetings to discuss changes and then there is that final vote to approve.

So I don’t want to be too harsh in my comments on that initial meeting. The City ostensibly did as required. My main beef(s) have to do with not having time for questions–simply because I wanted to be able to ask while the presentation was fresh in my mind. If we were going to end up with two meetings anyhoo, they should have been structured 50/50. Half the departments report and take questions in the first meeting and the other half do the same in the second. Or just do what Councils have done in the past: Just make a day of it.