Letter of resignation from Des Moines Diversity Task Force: Meg Tapucol-Provo

Posted on Categories Neighborhoods, Policy, Public Safety, Transparency, UncategorizedTags 2 Comments on Letter of resignation from Des Moines Diversity Task Force: Meg Tapucol-Provo

Subject: Stepping down from the DMPD Diversity Task Force

To: Chief Ken Thomas,  Des Moines Police Guild, City Council, etc.

To the Members of the Des Moines Police Department Diversity Task Force,

I am regretfully writing to inform you that I am stepping down from the Diversity Task Force.

In joining this Task Force, my hope was built upon the expectation that the lived experiences of marginalized community members would be respected and prioritized.  I was told that the goal of the task force was to implement training on unconscious bias, and that opinions that provided different perspectives were welcome, particularly since I was not only a woman of color, but I had been working in the field of diversity and inclusion for over two decades.  I have facilitated Diversity and Inclusion Workshops throughout the country, from Atlanta to Hawaii, and all points in between and I have worked with all levels of employees, from line workers to CEO’s, from police officers, to scientists, to politicians.  I’ve taught college-level classes on Diversity and Multiculturalism for 13 years and I worked with educators as a facilitator for the Anti-Defamation League’s A World of Difference Institute leading prejudice reduction workshops.  So I came into this Task Force with a wealth and breadth of experience.  Social justice is something in which I believe passionately, and I was honored to be asked to be on the Task Force.

The first meeting was in August and I am still not clear on what the goal of the task force is.  There was one sparsely attended meeting in the fall in which diversity topics weren’t discussed at all.  I’m really not sure why.  At the end of that particular meeting, body cams were discussed, but for the most part I can’t recall what was discussed; I only remember thinking to myself, what does this have to do with diversity?

It is now March, seven months after the initial meeting and absolutely nothing has been accomplished.  There has been no discussion of training.  I feel that whenever issues around race are brought up, there is a feeling of defensiveness and attempts to justify actions by the police.  I tried to open up an honest conversation about the disparity between how black protesters are treated vs. the way white protesters are treated given what happened at the Capitol on January 6th.  There appeared to be a clear division between the people of color on the task force and the white officers on the task force, with the people of color feeling strongly that there is a disparity between how POC and white people are treated by law enforcement.  This is a quote from Robin DiAngelo: “If you haven’t spent years of sustained study, struggle and focus on issues of racism, then your opinion is necessarily limited.”  Whose opinion on racism holds more weight—those who have experienced racism, or those who haven’t?  What I felt was the invisible blue wall of silence go up.  What I believe is not understood by everyone in this Task Force is that racism does not necessarily have to be intentional.  Racism is a structure that maintains whiteness as the status quo. In this police department, whiteness is the status quo. If this Diversity Task Force cannot agree on what the realities are on racism in policing, what is the point of having the Task Force?

It was brought up during the first meeting that there were officers who weren’t happy that the Diversity Task Force was being put together.  As a former Diversity Consultant, I have worked with Police Officers in another jurisdiction and there was definitely a lot of reluctance going through Diversity Training on their part, so I don’t find this surprising. During the January meeting, I brought that issue up again, asking WHY those officers weren’t happy. The response to that question skirted the issue, stating that there were “different opinions” about the Diversity Task Force.  But the different opinions about the Task Force were never specified, leaving one to wonder, just exactly what ARE those differing opinions? And in fact, if there are officers who aren’t happy that the Diversity Task Force exists, why is that?  Does it conflict with their value system, their ideology?  Do they not value diversity and inclusion?  The only way we would know is if we knew what their opinions were.

Too often I have seen Diversity and Inclusion programs or Task Forces be implemented yet no change take place.  Organizations do this just to “check the box”, to say they did what they were supposed to do.  In the wake of the George Floyd murder, maybe it looks good to take that step.  But if this is just performative, then this is not the right task force for me.

Des Moines’ demographics have been steadily changing over the past two decades.  I’ve put together the attached Excel graphic (Des Moines Demographics 2000-2020) to show how the population has been changing since 2000.  There are currently about an equal number of people of color in Des Moines as there are white people, yet the police department does not reflect that reality.  If your department doesn’t reflect who they represent, how can you adequately protect and serve them?  These numbers will continue to change and people of color will become the majority.  How is the police department going to adequately understand the needs of the population it serves if the 99% of the officers continue to view things through their own cultural lenses?

One suggestion I have is that a third party outside of the police department with professional experience in diversity and inclusion act as a facilitator for the task force.  I believe that would be a better way to conduct task force meetings and to keep topics focused on diversity-related issues.  I also feel there should be more gender diversity among the people of color—where are the men of color who are not police officers?  Whether intentional or unintentional, there seems to be an out-of-balance power dynamic when the police officers are almost all White males and the citizens are all women of color.  Also, since this is a city government organization, I don’t see why City Council members should be banned from attending task force meetings.  I am aware that Councilmember J.C. Harris has asked to attend the task force meeting and was denied, and I am not sure I understand why.  It would seem to me that complete transparency would be a good thing.

I’ve attached some articles for your information.  I hope that in the near future you are able to determine what your diversity and inclusion goals are and accomplish them.

And I strongly urge EVERYONE on the task force to read “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo.

Also, I think you will find this an eye-opening video to watch:  A Conversation With the Police – Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man – Emmanuel Acho has a conversation with the Petaluma Police Department “Proximity breeds care; distance breeds fear.” –  Emmanuel Acho

Meg Tapucol-Provo

Notes on the attached articles:

  1. “10 Things We Know About Race and Policing in the U.S.”, an excellent article by the Pew Research Center.  One big takeaway from this article is that Black police officers view fatal encounters between law enforcement and Black people very differently than White police officers.  The majority of Black police officers view these incidents as signs of a larger problem between the police and Black people, whereas only 26% of White police officers believe this to be true.  In fact, the majority of Americans, both Black and White, believe Blacks are treated less fairly than Whites by law enforcement and by the criminal justice system.
  2. “The Numbers Don’t Speak for Themselves: Racial Disparities and the Persistence of Inequality in the Criminal Justice System”.  A great article exploring the way different people interpret statistical analyses about racism based on their own stereotypes about different groups of people and strategies on how to mitigate the unintended consequences of these stereotypes.
  3. “Racial Bias and Disparities in Policing”.  A thorough exploration of the racial bias and disparities in policing.
  4. “Federal judge holds Seattle Police Department in contempt for use of pepper spray, blast balls during Black Lives Matter protests”.  Seattle Times article shows that Seattle police did in fact use violence on peaceful BLM protesters, in contrast to what was claimed during January task force meeting.
  5. “The Inaction of Capitol Police Was by Design”.  “In December, a 111-page investigative report about the New York Police Department revealed that last year’s Black Lives Matter protests had been grossly mishandled by officers. The report, conducted by a city oversight agency, confirmed what millions of Americans had seen after the killing of George Floyd on May 25: Police responses during peaceful protests were characterized by “excessive enforcement” and the violation of First Amendment rights. Yet one month before Floyd’s death, on April 30, the country had watched as white protesters, some of them heavily armed, swarmed the Michigan state capitol to object to stay-at-home orders, resulting in little incident from Michigan State Police troopers and only two arrests.” – Excerpt from the article
  6. “Police Shrugged Off the Proud Boys, Until They Attacked the Capitol”, New York Times article does a deep dive into local police departments and how sometimes they have even appeared to side with the Proud Boys, especially when they have squared off against leftists openly critical of law enforcement.
  7. “Stop Turning Your Head: Black Cops Speak Out Against Blanket of Racism”,   “A department leadership that condones or ignores these levels of racism among its officers and fails to establish strict policies against it, or hold officers who break those policies accountable creates a culture of acceptance, denial and inaction that breeds bad behavior, Williams and others told The Crime Report.  ‘Old habits, old traditions, old structures are hard to break,’ said Williams. ‘It’s easy when you’re not affected by it to make an excuse for it, deny it, and just turn your head.’ However, willful ignorance by the leadership feeds a culture that can have dangerous consequences for communities around the country.” – Excerpt from the article.

Weekly Update: 03/14/2021

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

Public Service Announcements

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

This Week

Monday: Destination Des Moines meeting

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

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

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

Thursday: Transportation Committee Meeting (cancelled)

Thursday: Environment Committee Meeting (cancelled)

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

Last Week

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

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

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

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

FAA Neighborhood Environmental Survey (NES)

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

My uncomfortable phone call with the Port

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

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

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

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

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

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

State Of The City

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

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

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

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

Grading on a curve

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

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

Weekly Update: 03/07/2021

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

Public Service Announcements

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

Last Week

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

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

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

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

This Week

Monday: Arts Commission

Wednesday: SR3 Webinar

Thursday: 30th Leg. Meeting

FAA Neighborhood Environmental Survey (NES)

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

City Council Meeting Recap

(Agenda) Bonnie’s recap.

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

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

Finances

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

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

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

New Feature

And speaking of audibles at the line of scrimmage…

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

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

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

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

Good Accounting Tells A Story

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

Good accounting tells a story.

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

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

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

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

Public Money

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

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

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

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

Weekly Update: 02/28/2021

Posted on Categories Transparency, Weekly Updates2 Comments on Weekly Update: 02/28/2021

Last time I said that there was simply too much stuff going on to fit into one post. And then I got waylaid with ‘life’ and I abandon the whole ‘bonus’ thing. And then I got double-waylaid by life and my next fallback was, “I’m takin’ the week off. Screw this ‘weekly update crap!” 😀 But all that does is fill my Inbox with people who think they’re ‘Unsubscribed’. (Which doesn’t happen.) The problem is that a lot of the time the issues I want to write about require a certain amount of research to do justice–which is why nobody writes about them. 😀 Anyhoo… if you don’t get this thing on Sunday… or Monday… or even Tuesday, I HAVEN’T QUIT. Or died. Or whatever. It probably just means that the wind died or I ran outta gas and didn’t make it back. 🙂

Public Service Announcements

  1. SBA Webinars on new PPP Programs start March 3rd!
  2. Virtual Open House on SR 509 I-5 to 24th Ave
  3. 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.
  4. There are new State Unemployment Benefits. But you gotta read and follow the instructions!
  5. 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. 🙂
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.”
  9. If you wish to sign up for future City Clean Ups Michelle Johansson Fawcett: cleanuri.com/pj4RQ5
  10. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Thursday: Public Safety Committee Meeting (Agenda) Meet the two K-9s.

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda)

Sign up for Public Comment here. Watch on Channel 21 (Comcast) or on the City’s Youtube Channel.

All Over The Map

8th Avenue Rebuild

My report that 8th Avenue between 223rd and 227 is getting redone got several letters. Which surprised me because I figured everyone knew about it. I honestly don’t have any more details right now except to say that the City and Water District 54 are partnering on this and that it’s going to happen this summer.

Transportation Committee Meeting (Agenda)

Work on the both the light rail and SR 509 are really starting to move. You can see SR 509 happening over on 200th and 24th.

You can also see work happening at the 216th bridge over I-5. That is the beginning of a tunnel portion that will go under 216th near Military and will be done over a‘long weekend’ around July 4th.

You can also see lots of columns being placed east of Pac Highway. Those columns are sixty feet deep (or more) because we live in kind of a swampy part of Puget Sound. If you go back 150 years a whole lot of what is now Des Moines was under water or part of a wetlands.

Environment Committee Meeting (Agenda)

We discussed two big deals and I wish the public could get more engaged on these Committee meetings. First, we had a presentation on WRIA, which has to do with salmon recovery efforts in the area. Massey Creek, which has been re-routed several times no longer has proper fish passage. The State will pay for opening up that creek so that it can drain properly out to Puget Sound a bit south of the Des Moines Yacht Club. If the City could purchase a bit more property in that area, we could conceivably create a whole new park or other opportunities for the area.

Another big deal is what is called ‘de-armoring’–removing the barriers on the shoreline. The State is insisting that as many beaches be de-armored for the sake of the environment. Burien has been struggling with this issue at Eagle Landing. And I learned last week that this will also include Saltwater State Park. When that occurs, the water will freely overflow the shore and we will likely lose a large amount of the parking lot or walking path. I don’t want to

Redondo Fishing Pier/Bathrooms

http://desmoineswa.gov/211/Current-Projects

Along with redoing the Pier we’re also doing bathrooms. Great idea but I want us to hold off on that for at least a year. Why? Because I want us to decide on a design theme for the Marina. You know, the overall ‘look’. Why? I think it is very important that we develop a consistent brand for Des Moines. All our parks should have the same look and feel. That’s what all great brands do. We kinda/sorta started a theme with the rebuild of 216th. We have the sailboats, the blue columns and so on. Any good artist/architect could expand on that and develop a look that we could then incorporate everywhere in Des Moines: The Marina, Marine View Drive, Redondo. We want visitors to know that they’re in Des Moines whether they’re at Redondo or North Hill and you do that by establishing a consistent branding. I want my colleagues, all our various civic groups and the general public to have time and multiple opportunities to consider what that theming should be and then start building from there.

Marina Bulkhead Repair

CM Martinelli voted against moving ahead with this repair as part of a very convoluted series of three motions. He kinda made a good point, but not for the reasons I would have.

The repair was held up for over two years waiting for a permit from Federal Agencies. What was frustrating is that the Council never received an explanation as to why this was held up. And that bugs me.

Ultimately, I want us to move forward immedaiately because with climate change there is now a serious risk that a large storm (see: King Tide) could put the entire marina floor at risk.

The City has maintained that the permits (there’s more than one) have been held up by ‘politics’. Adam Smith was asked to try to intervene at a few points (which is, at the Federal level, like asking a CM to intervene at a City level—not a lot he can do.)

But the feds do have some logic behind why they held up the permits. I have asked repeatedly for the substance of the objection. But all I’ve been told is that it’s ‘complicated’. I have not been able to see a ‘complicated’ document which explains the various objections. And whether or not I’m too dumb to understand the issues in play, I’d still like to have a crack at it. You know–put some of that there collidge edjercashun to work. 😀

The argument from some of my colleagues (the City has not said this directly). is that it’s costing the City ‘millions’ in delay. I can’t say whether it did or did not. Frankly, I doubt we would’ve done much last year with COVID anyhoo.

But regardless, we needed to move forward because of the frailty of the current structure. But I’m left with the nagging feeling that I’m contributing to some form of environmental damage to our shoreline and that is not a great feeling.

I do get letters

Doing this Weekly Update brings up some real problems. Obviously it takes a certain amount of time to write these. The number one comment I get is ‘TLDR’ (too long, did not read). I don’t know how to strike the right balance, but I’ll keep trying. Please let me know what you think: shorter/longer?

Oddly, another problem is ‘not enough context’. Basically, people who do not watch the meetings will want me to explain every damned thing that happened so that they can ‘get’ the commentary. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day for that, folks. You have to watch the meetings. The recaps that the City Clerk does are great, but they don’t explain the why any more than the agendas or minutes do.

Finally, I always get a few “You’re making the City look bad” comments. And I’ll just reiterate what I say about that: I hear you. But I’m not doing anything–except pointing out some real problems that matter. This is not like an episode of The Office where I’m complaining about the order of pencils on my desk. When the meetings don’t run well, one side is taking advantage of that either to move their policies forward or to prevent me from furthering my ideas. Yes, politics is a game, but if you can’t believe that the game is being run fairly, there’s almost no point.

Occasionally I’ll hear a variation on this from my colleagues, “Developers will be turned off by our City if we aren’t unified as a Council.” That is factually inaccurate. A developer chooses to do a project in Des Moines if the numbers are right. They could mostly care less about our City Council. Really. Because with Council/Manager government they don’t deal with the Council. They deal with the Administration. The Council could be having daily food fights like in a Marx Brothers movie and no developer will care so long as they are being dealt with fairly by the Administration.

One last note. At some point, I’m gonna start posting old issues of The Des Moines News. And if you haven’t been here long enough to remember (or if you’ve just forgotten) we have always had friction on our City Council. The only reason it didn’t seem like it for the past few years is because we don’t have a newspaper. Trust me. If you think this is messy, just wait til you seem some articles from 2002! 😀 (The above is an article documenting a typically rancorous meeting during the Third Runway fight.) We survived then and we’ll survive now. And maybe when we come out the other end we’ll have some calm that is earned by virtue of a better running system.

Weekly Update: 02/21/2021

Posted on Categories Transparency, Weekly Updates4 Comments on Weekly Update: 02/21/2021

Public Service Announcements

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

This Week

I’m spending most of the week at a ‘Virtual Conference’ held by UC Davis on aircraft noise and emissions. This is the pre-eminent get together of people across the nation who are working on airport issues. I know that CMs from other cities will be there.

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Noise Contractors forum. The Port is attempting to loosen requirements for contractors who are eligible to install sound insulation systems. This is key to getting all the remaining homes completed–and existing packages updated.

Wednesday: Sea-Tac Airport Roundtable (StART) This will be my first chance to see our new community representative Peter Philips.

Thursday: 30th District Legislative Call (A chance to hear from our State Reps. Jesse Johnson, Jamila Taylor and Sen. Claire Wilson in the south end of town.)

Thursday: Economic Development Committee (Agenda)

Thursday: Municipal Facilities Committee (Agenda)

Friday: South King County Housing and Homelessness Partnership.

Last Week

  1. Tuesday: Setting up the Coho Pen at the Marina to help with the next batch of hatchery fish.
    Picture from City Of Des Moines
  2. I attended the Water District #54 Board Meeting. The Water District just got financing to start work on replacing the pipe on 8th Ave between 223rd and 227th. The City is partnering to simultaneously rebuild the road. It’s about time! 🙂
  3. Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines!
  4. Thursday: 3:00PM Transportation Committee Meeting (Agenda)
  5. Thursday: 4:00PM Environment Committee Meeting (Agenda)
  6. Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda)

Both the Environment Committee and Transportation Committee meetings were so action-packed that I will be doing a recap of those in another post. Check out the Agenda Packets for a preview.

My City Council Meeting Highlights

Bonnie’s recap

  1. Coming just a week on the heels of the City helping the Port purchase the 14 acres of wooded area next to the Des Moines Creek Business Park for the purpose of adding more warehouses. We made another Port-related decision. The City Manager appointed Peter Philips to be our newest representative on the Sea-Tac Airport Roundtable (StART).Not a resident of DM. His qualifications do not indicate any background in aviation, environment, health or community work. However, he has been a big proponent of maritime business (and a paid consultant on a private passenger ferry service to link up with the Port.) Mr. Philips’ company also publishes our quarterly newsletter City Currents. Which is nice.
  2. On the Consent agenda was $25,000 to fill up the tank on the minor home repairs program. Hopefully now, pending requests will be fulfilled.

Hazard Pay

CM Martinelli prevailed upon our City Manager to bring up the matter of ‘Hazard Pay’ for Essential Workers. And if you’re wondering why that item was able to get on the agenda and my idea from the previous week was not? See below.

Anyhoo, the idea has been remanded to the Economic Development Committee for discussion. It’s such a thorny issue I’ll just leave it there until it actually comes before the Council.

Response to last week’s unpleasantness

During their comments, my colleagues took turns berating me. I could go into detail, but why bother, right? 😀 I just wanna push back on a phrase Mayor Pina used, “We can disagree without being disagreeable.” I disagree. (See what I did there? 😀 ) Below is an example of why we can’t.

The broken process…

The following is a description of events last year when I attempted to propose an idea to bring Internet service to school children doing without in Des Moines. I’m providing this single issue to give you an example of how frustrating and broken our current Council system is.

Despite what some of my colleagues might say, normally, I would not and do not share much, if anything, about private conversations with fellow CMs or the City Manager. I do not generally discuss ideas on social media. I believe that you elected us to represent you, and that means working ideas out among one another on your behalf.

I’m presenting this because it demonstrates clearly the very core of my disagreement with the way our city is currently being run and with the current majority.

The issue: Internet for school children without

On June 30th of last year I learned about a partnership that Burien was considering with Highline Schools and Comcast to provide internet access to low income and homeless students. Although Highline Schools has a program of mobile WiFi hotspots, there have been many complaints that they do not work well. I have tried them myself and they are indeed frustrating. I cannot see how any child can do effective distance learning without a stable internet connection with a baseline speed.

As some of you may know, Comcast has a $10 a month broadband plan for low income residents. However there are a number of ‘strings’ to the program which puts it out out of reach for many families. I thought the idea was worth researching so I got background information from Highline Schools and Burien. I wanted to know not only the details of the proposal, but also how many students are impacted in Des Moines.

The basic idea was that Burien would use a portion of its CARES money to pay Comcast the $10 monthly fee for one year for a certain number of families that have poor or no internet. In theory, this seems like a good thing to explore, again given the fact that without good internet, students cannot get a good education in 2021.

After speaking with Highline Schools and researching the demographics, I determined that there were as many as ‡800 children in Des Moines who might qualify for a similar program.

Wanting to get this legislation considered, I left message for the three members of the Economic Development Committee and the Mayor to get it into that group’s discussion. (If you watched this week’s meeting, legislative ideas are supposed to be brought to a Committee, researched and if approved then brought to the full Council as a Resolution or Ordinance.)

I did not hear back from Councilmember Bangs.

I did get a call back from Chairman Nutting and he seemed willing to at least consider the idea. This made sense to me at the time since he and his wife are very active on education issues.

I also got a call back from Deputy Mayor Mahoney and he too sounded cautiously optimistic, but he said one thing that, at the time, I thought was a bit odd so I wrote it down. “I’ll run it by Michael and we’ll see what we can do.”

And finally, I got a call from Mayor Pina. Even on the phone I could tell that he was angry. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that I had no business talking to Highline Schools about anything and that doing so could somehow jeopardize the City’s relationship with the School District. Any contact between the City and any external organization should be via the administration. And I should not have tried to bring it directly to the Committee. I pointed out that my job is supposed to be legislation, so how was I supposed to do that under those circumstances? And his reply was, “Well, you could bring it to Michael.”

[EDIT: 0222211602] Now here’s a funny detail I forgot to put into the original post. The Mayor is not on the Municipal Facilities Committee. So truthfully he should have absolutely no say in whether or not an item gets discussed in that committee. Nevertheless, after my conversation with him, I never heard back on the issue again.

Outcome

At the 20 August City Council Meeting, Mayor Pina proposed that the Council contribute towards paying Comcast for twenty homes to take advantage of the Comcast program, using the Council’s *Hearts And Minds Fund. Twenty.

So what the Mayor and Deputy Mayor made clear to me is that, in Des Moines, the City Manager is the gatekeeper of everything that is to be considered by the City Council. This is completely backwards and it is not how Council/Manager government is supposed to work.

Appropriate?

Contrary to what the Mayor said, what I did was not only appropriate it was actually the way things are supposed to work. The actions I took are similar to that used in every other City with Council/Manager form of government. Some Cities–like Burien have slightly different structures but the overall idea is the same: Councilmembers propose ideas, obtain research, then ask a Committee of some kind to take up the idea. This process occurs with the active support of staff. Staff including the City Manager do not act as gatekeepers or impede any Councilmember from putting forward their ideas. Quite the opposite. It is up to Councilmembers to decide which ideas live or die, not the City Manager.

Process

†Now contrast that with the way CM Martinelli got his Hazard Pay moved forward. Like myself, CM Martinelli has been frustrated in getting any idea put on an agenda. And apparently he’s had an ongoing back and forth with the City Attorney over the legality of all this. The upshot of all that ‘behind the scenes’ stuff is that the City Manager stepped in and put the item directly on the Agenda, bypassing the Committee process. The Council then agreed informally to send the idea back to the Economic Development Committee for research.

Alert readers will note that this is almost exactly the reverse of the process I attempted. The Hazard Pay issue was the wrong way to propose legislation, although it was the only way, if you take my meaning. I got yelled at for doing it the right way, and the appearance is that Mr. Martinelli was somehow being ‘rewarded’ for doing it the wrong way. That is not what CM Martinelli was doing. But this is one road to corruption.

Let me make clear that I am not scolding CM Martinelli. As I said, that was the only way to get the idea on the Agenda so he agreed.  You’re elected to get things done and that is a powerful motivator. So even if you dislike the process there is a tremendous incentive to just roll with it.

So if you favor an idea like Hazard Pay, you may be thinking right now, “Forget you, JC. Martinelli got the idea moved forward and that’s all the matters.” So long as a good idea gets into the mix, who cares about ‘process’? I do. And you should too.

What it all means

The City Manager uses the control over the Agenda and access to staff as carrots and sticks. If you play ball, we’ll help you get your idea going. If not? You’re out in the wilderness. I don’t care if the idea is one with which I agree or not. Councilmembers should not have to have the permission of the City Manager in order to get their ideas researched or heard. Those decisions should be made by the Councilmembers.

This is a culture that must end.

Because remember: this authority is not in any law. It is given to the City Manager by a vote of the Council. He only has this power because the majority gives it to him. I cannot recall the last time that a Councilmember put forward an idea to a Committee for consideration. I know it has not happened on any Committee meeting I have attended since I have been in office.

The practicalities

Honestly, I have no idea if the Hazard Pay thing is a good idea or not because it is a tremendously complicated idea. But I do know that, if it comes back to the full Council, I will have trouble voting for it simply because, regardless of any merits, the process by which it was born was bad. As I keep saying, the ends cannot justify the means.

And, at the risk of sounding self-serving, there are still hundreds of children in Des Moines who cannot properly do their home-schooling, in part at least because I made the ‘mistake’ of proposing legislation in the proper manner.

You elect Councilmembers to represent you. We cannot do this if the majority allows the City Manager total authority over the workings of the Council itself. This system must end.

*The Hearts And Minds Fund is an account that each Councilmember pays into out of our own salaries. It’s usually used for things like funeral wreaths or other ceremonial expenses.

†Here is the original text of this paragraph. I edited it at CM Martinelli’s request because it may have created the impression that it was he who prevailed upon the City Manager to put the item on the Agenda. In fact, he told me that he would have preferred for the idea to be raised in the proper fashion.
“Now contrast that with the way CM Martinelli got his Hazard Pay moved forward. CM Martinelli went directly to the City Manager, bypassing the Comittee process entirely. The Council then agreed informally to send the idea to the Economic Development Committee for research.”

‡Highline Schools would only give me an approximate number because the specific list of names is protected by Federal Dept. Of Education privacy laws.

Weekly Update: 02/14/2021

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

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

Public Service Announcements

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

This Week

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

Last Week

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

My Council Meeting Highlights…

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

OK, there was one other highlight…

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

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

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

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

Where’s the pants on fire emoji?

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

Rules are so boring

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

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

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

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

Yeah, it really is as bad as that

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

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

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

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

But it’s not illegal

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

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

So what is a politician’s promise worth?

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

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

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

Vouchers

Posted on Categories Policy, Transparency

Let’s talk about vouchers for a few minutes. What are vouchers? They are the bills the City has to pay. The City Council votes to approve these payments as part of the Consent Agenda generally once a month.

Vouchers are one of the most important parts of running a City. And in Des Moines, they’re kinda like the sewer system of City Government. They’re absolutely essential, but we almost never see them. But we should.

Now as I just wrote, vouchers are on the Consent Agenda, which, as I’ve written about before is an up or down vote on items that are considered totally routine and thus do not require discussion. In every other City, the vouchers are presented as part of the City Council Packet. The public (that would be you) can inspect them and then, if you found something hinky (do people use that word here?) you could comment on it. Because after all, it’s public money. It’s your tax dollars. And it’s usually around $2,000,000 that never gets talked about.

Because in Des Moines, the list of vouchers are not made public. That list of $2,000,000 in payments is sent only to Councilmembers. They aren’t even published on the City’s web site! Frankly, I doubt my colleagues even read them. That may sound unkind, but in all the years I’ve been watching Des Moines City Council meetings I have never seen a Councilmember ask a  question about any voucher. (Except for moi, of course.) Maybe they ask questions in private. But that’s bad in another kind of way. More on that later.

Why should you care?

Now: what can you find on those vouchers and why should you care? Well, it’s every bill the City pays in detail. So, if you wanna know how much employees get paid? It’s right there. If you wanna know what companies the City does business with and how much they’re paid? It’s there. You can learn a lot by studying somebody’s checkbook.

Now, like many of you I used to run a business. We all sign batches of checks. And in my case, the bookkeeper would bring me the stack of checks to sign and the invoices they were paying for. Which is normal, right?

But we don’t do that in Des Moines. In Des Moines, the City Council sees the list of payments, but not the underlying invoices we are being asked to sign off on. A Councilmember such as myself has to ask to see these. I literally have to ask permission to see the invoices I’m being asked to approve.

OK, I see you getting nervous.

I gotta stop for a second to calm your nerves, dear reader. I want to reassure you that State law protects me from any harm from approving bogus or even harmful expenditures. We might approve spending that is not only wasteful, but even dangerous or downright illegal, but fortunately, your electeds are not subject to any consequences. So who cares if I examine the bills or not, right? Whew! I know you feel better. I certainly do. 😀

Meanwhile…

In other Cities they do what I used to do–they give Councilmembers not only the bills to be paid, but also the underlying invoices for review. That way the approver can provide oversight. And the reason I’m so skeptical that my colleagues bother to read the vouchers is this: In all the years I ran my business, I can’t think of a check signing session where I didn’t question at least one bill. When you read through a bunch of bills to pay, you will have one or two routine questions.

My process…

Now, what I often do after I read the vouchers, I pick up the phone and call a Councilmember in another City and I say, “Hey *Phyllis. How much are you guys paying for xxx?” And if Phyllis gives me a number that’s 30% lower than what I see? I get upset and make a note of it. But if she gives me a number that’s 30% higher than what I see? I say, “Thanks, Phyllis.” and hang up. (I’m keeeeeding. In that case, I would gently let her know she might wanna look at that. I’m not that big a jerk.)

Check this metaphor

As I said, vouchers are like the sewer system. It’s another one of those tiny, boring details that you just have to have working smoothly. But in Des Moines, it also kinda stinks. (See what I did there? That’s world class comedy, right? 😀 )

What to do…

This is another issue of transparency where we are pretty much dead last in. And I keep hammering on about the City’s web site because this is another issue that would be trivial to fix but would do wonders for public engagement.

  1. We should make the vouchers apart of the packet so that you, the public can weight in on any payment the City makes.
  2. We should automatically provide the invoices to be paid to Councilmembers. There should be no need to ask.
  3. We should create a culture where the Council can freely ask questions about any payment ahead of the City Council Meetings. I’ve talked about a Councilmember Information Request many times and this is yet another reason to implement this. Councilmembers should all be able to share information about the bills we’re paying.

The practical benefits…

As I’ve mentioned, my company used to write financial management software. Improving accounting processes for organizations was my job. And I can tell you one very simple fact: One of the best ways to reduce costs is to enable more eyes to be able to see the expenditures. The more people that can see what’s being paid, the easier it is to control spending. Duuuuh.

I have been reading the vouchers for the past year. And let me tell you, Sonny Jim, as soon as I have the votes, there will be some changes to this process.

*Phyllis is, as they say in Hollywood, a composite character. 😀

Weekly Update: 02/08/2021

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

Public Service Announcements

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

This Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting (Agenda). This is one of those ‘details’ that you should care about. The Port will be purchasing 14 acres of wooded area next to the Des Moines Creek Business Park for the purpose of adding more warehouses. This is to support cargo aviation. Which means more air traffic over Des Moines. My colleagues on the Council have publicly stated that they are all-in on this development. It’s shameful. Those will likely not be Des Moines jobs. This will definitely add to the noise, traffic and pollution.

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

Thursday: Public Safety Committee (Agenda)

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda)

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

Last Week

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

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

Mea Culpa!

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

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

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

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

At the risk of sounding defensive…

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you do anything long enough…

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

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

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

I can see it all from here…

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

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

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

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

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

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