Weekly Update: 02/01/2021

Posted on Categories Environment, Transparency, Weekly Updates2 Comments on Weekly Update: 02/01/2021

Public Service Announcements

  1. 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.
  2. There are new State Unemployment Benefits. But you gotta read and follow the instructions!
  3. 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. 🙂
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.”
  7. If you wish to sign up for future City Clean Ups Michelle Johansson Fawcett: cleanuri.com/pj4RQ5
  8. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This 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: Meeting with UW DEOHS, Senator Karen Keiser and Rep. Tina Orwall on harmonizing State funding for her indoor air quality proposal with SeatacNoise.Info’s outdoor air quality monitoring proposal.

Last Week

  1. Monday: SCA Meeting with King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci. This was very useful.
  2. Wednesday: PSRC Operations Meeting
  3. Thursday: I had a good phone call with our Police Guild President Justin Cripe. I rarely talk about these sorts of things because the discussion is private, but they are a part of my weekly ‘diet’. Officer Cripe is studying for the Sergeant’s exam and I have no doubt he’ll nail it. And in the ‘small world’ category, he is the son of Quiet Skies Coalition activist Larry Cripe–someone many of you know as spearheading Burien’s successful lawsuit against the FAA last year.
    One thing we discussed was what it means to be ‘fully staffed’. This is from a 2017 FAQ on the Des Moines web site:


My colleagues often tout ‘fully staffed’ as meaning ‘we have all the polcie we need.’ I think the graph speaks for itself. We had less police officers during the Great Recession and as times have improved, we’ve re-hired. Good. But we’re still ten officers less than 2007. So while we may have enough officers to cover each shift, I do not think we have the number of officers that we actually need. And I think the increases in property crime over the past few years bear this out.

  1. Thursday: 3:00PM Municipal Facilities Committee Meeting (Agenda) This meeting was action-packed. It mainly set out the yearly calendar, but the amount of stuff. I’ve groused since forever that these meetings are simply too short. Just as Chairman Nutting was preparing to end the meeting, I was pleased to see COO Dan Brewer interrupt and suggest that either more meetings be added or meetings be lengthened. Good idea. The other thing: The City is attempting (not a sure thing) but attempting to get a grant from Puget Sound Electric for a charging station at the Marina. I know this is something many of you ask me about all the time. And I know this is a baby step. But as was pointed out, the City has no experience with this stuff yet. So doing a single site on someone else’s dime makes sense. Once we have a win under our belt, my hope is that the City will be quite aggressive in siting charging stations in appropriate places all over Des Moines.
  2. Thursday: 4:00PM Economic Development Committee Meeting (Agenda). 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.

    Councilmember Buxton also brought up the fact that we require all landlords (even people just renting a single home) to have a business license. I think I should take some blame (or credit) for that. I was pleased to see that the Mayor and City Manager spoke up in favor of maintaining that requirement which I fully endorse. And here’s why. I loooooooooooove Code Enforcement. 🙂

A couple of updates

I got a number of scoffs to last week’s article talking about the 47 times I’ve received no response to requests for basic information. People seem to think I’m exaggerating the problem. A couple of points.

  1. Our Mayor re-scheduled our next City Council Meeting. When I asked ‘why?’ I got no response. So let’s call that #48. 😀 According to Robert’s Rules Of Order, whenever a meeting is to be re-scheduled, it is customary to provide a reason. (By the way that also goes for when Councilmembers are absent. The body deserves an explanation for that as well.)
  2. And to the thing I was writing about. Two quick things. They say ‘one piccie is worth a thousand bucks.’ I dunno about that, but here is what I was asking our IT guy to do:
    • Add a link to the bottom of the home page for our Community Services Directory. That’s literally a two minute job.
    • Change the Community Services Directory to be a web page instead of a PDF. I guessed it would take under an hour. Well, I did it. It took me about 15 minutes. (I know it’s got a lot of mistakes. I’ll take another 15 and fix them at the weekend. It was just to show that this ain’t rocket surgery.)

Now why do I grouse about these details? In my former life, my company used to consult on what is called Section 508 Compliance. It’s sort of like the Americans with Disabilities Act for web sites. We would make sure that everything at a company (including the web sites) were usable by people with disabilities–which as you know is a lot of Des Moines. When the City web site doesn’t properly serve people with disabilities it literally shuts out thousands of people. And PDFs are big offenders. For example, PDFs are pretty hard to use on a mobile phone (try to read or search through a PDF on yer phone, you’ll see.) And they don’t work for people with really bad vision or people who need to use screen readers (the reader can’t ‘read’ the text aloud.) And worst of all: the content of PDFs is generally not part of the web site’s Search function. So if you search for something like “School programs” (something that’s in the Community Services Directory) it won’t be found by the Search. That’s ridiculous. No City our size, with our number of seniors and disabled should have a web site like this.

Again: the Community Services Directory is one of the most used documents on the site. So if it only take a few minutes to fix a problem like this and it benefits a large number of residents, why wouldn’t you do it?

And while I’m on a roll, number 123 on my list of web site gripes that would take 30 seconds to fix: The various Committee Meetings now show up on the City web site calendar. But of course, the link takes you absolutely nowhere. So a visitor still has no idea how to find out what things are being discussed, how to participate or even when they occur. People ask me all the time how to get involved with the City. But if the City can’t even be bothered to make it easy for people to attend the meetings, why should anyone attend? And perhaps that’s the point.

Weekly Update: 01/24/2021

Posted on Categories Environment, Transparency, Weekly Updates3 Comments on Weekly Update: 01/24/2021

Public Service Announcements

  1. 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.
  2. There are new State Unemployment Benefits. But you gotta read and follow the instructions!
  3. 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. 🙂
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.”
  7. If you wish to sign up for future City Clean Ups Michelle Johansson Fawcett: cleanuri.com/pj4RQ5
  8. 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 am doing a ton of site visits for SeatacNoise.Info. Checking on Port Packages that are breaking down or have mold. If that sounds like you? Please e-mail them.

  1. Monday: SCA Meeting with King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci
  2. Wednesday: PSRC Operations Meeting
  3. Thursday: 3:00PM Municipal Facilities Committee Meeting (Agenda)
  4. Thursday: 4:00PM Economic Development Committee 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

  1. Thursday: Environment Committee Meeting (Agenda)
  2. Thursday: Transportation Committee Meeting (Agenda)
  3. Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda)  (Video)

For both the Environment and Transpo Committees, the meetings were basically about setting the yearly Calendar. On the Environment Committee, I asked (again) for some background information on ‘Storm Water For Dummies’ and was once again rebuffed. (And just to be clear ‘Storm Water’ is about 90% of the Environment Committee’s calendar.) This did not make me happy and assuming I stick around long enough to see the wheel come round, this will change. Every Councilmember who asks a reasonable question deserves a cheerful, prompt and fulsome answer from staff. I’m not picking on any individual. But it’s ridonculous.

Council Meeting Notes: Homelessness

(Agenda)  (Video) Bonnie’s recap

We had a presentation on ‘homelessness’. I don’t wanna sound harsh. The staff had some very good things to say. But it did not exactly kill me for a couple of reasons. First off because it seemed to (unintentionally?) conflate ‘homelessness’ with criminality (eg. there was a crime graph displayed which had nothing to do with the presentation.) This is not only untrue it’s unproductive. We spend a lot of money on policing this issue and everyone agrees that it doesn’t work. Secondly it furthered the constant narrative that the problem is ‘so big’ that small Cities can do very little which I also find unhelpful. I’ll leave it there for today.

That said, I want to praise the City and Chief Thomas for Item #6 on the Consent Agenda–basically a State grant to have mental health pros ride-along with police on appropriate calls. This is not only good policy, it’s good politics. The police needed someone else’s money to test the waters and see for themselves that this can work. If it tests out as well as it has in other places around the country, it will give small Cities like DM the confidence to then re-allocate our own resources towards more effective policing strategies. Smart.

Research

Please read the following short email exchange. In it I’m asking our IT Manager, Dale Southwick how long it would take him to make a very minor change to the City’s web site. As required (it’s a social norm to always CC the City Manager when contacting staff), I cc’d the City Manager. Instead of getting an answer from Dale, I got a reply from Mr. Matthias.

From: JC Harris
Sent: Tuesday, January 19, 2021 11:23 PM
To: Dale Southwick <DSouthwick@desmoineswa.gov>
Cc: Michael Matthias <MMatthias@desmoineswa.gov>
Subject: Question re. web site

Hi Dale,

Hope ya well.

I have a quick research-y question re. the web site--specifically this thing:

1. Roughly how long would it take you guys to re-do the Community Services PDF into an HTML page using the current platform? Does the CMS theme auto-magically format things to be mobile-friendly or do you have to actually write html/css?

2. How much work is it to redo the links to be a bit more friendly? ie. Can you do redirects like /community-services-directory without all the /DocumentCenter/View/4/ goop?

3. Finally: How long do you think it might take to put a link to the aforementioned page on the home page of the web site? Are we talking man-years here? :D

TIA,

--JC

From: Michael Matthias
Sent: Wednesday, January 20, 2021 11:22 AM
To: JC Harris <JCHarris@desmoineswa.gov>

If there is a policy question here (and direction to evaluate policy options requires a majority vote by the City Council) you can ask me, otherwise I have asked Dale not to spend valuable time on a response.

Five Minutes

Before we dig into why this matters, I want you to understand that the task I asked Dale about would take less than an hour to complete. And it woulda taken Dale about five (5) minutes to write back to tell me that.

Also, full props to Mr. Matthias. The reply is wonderful writing: concise, clear and packed with information. In one sentence, he manages to sum up everything that is wrong with the current government.

The point: Mr. Matthias is saying flat out that he will not allow an individual Councilmember to ask any question of staff without a vote of the majority of the Council (which can only happen in a Council Meeting prox. 20 times a year.) No matter how big or how small, you gotta get the majority to vote on it.

Can he really do that?

That’s the question I am most often asked when I’ve brought this up. The answer is ‘yes’. Under State law, a City Manager is basically God.  There are literally no laws concerning ‘conduct’ or ‘ethics’. The power and behavior of a City Manager is almost solely constrained by a majority vote of the  Council. Now in order to keep their jobs (and be ethical human beings 🙂 ) there tend to be ‘norms’ that 99% of City Managers follow, but those are only social norms. But neither he (or the Council) currently follow those norms. And I need you to understand just how exceptional Des Moines is in this regard.

Also, again under State law, a Councilmember has only two main jobs: legislation and oversight of the City Manager. All that jazz of parades and doing public events? Strictly optional. People may vote for someone after seeing them do all that fun stuff, but that’s not the j.o.b.

Two problems

The City Manager’s policies create two problems. First, you can’t create legislation if you can’t get the government to help you do research. In the example above, I wanted to know how to make a tiny improvement to the City’s web site. So I asked the IT guy for a simple cost estimate. If it had been a big deal? I wouldn’t have asked. But it would be the same deal if I wanted to suggest something bigger like a crosswalk or anything, regardless of scope.

Which is why the Port, County, State and Federal governments all have research staff for their legislators. Small cities generally don’t have the budget for a dedicated research staff.

So one of the ‘norms’ I mentioned is that the staff in 99% of Washington Cities are expected to allocate at least some time every week to answer questions from electeds. Just not Des Moines.

Second problem: Oversight. That means occasionally obtaining documents and asking questions of staff to verify the work carried out by our City.

Why Social Norms matter

Both these problems indicate why the violation of ‘social norms’ I mentioned is so poisonous. If the City Manager doesn’t want a Councilmember asking questions–and the majority supports that–there is simply no possibility to craft legislation or conduct oversight. You literally cannot do the job that is mandated by the State Of Washington. (You’re totally free to do the whole parade thing, of course, which is doubtless what the City Manager and majority would prefer. 😀 )

The enablers

Speaking of which, let’s be clear: This is obstruction and stonewalling, pure and simple. And the support of the current majority (including Mayor and Deputy Mayor) is what makes this possible. They are completely aware of the situation and 100% on board. I know this because I’ve asked four of them directly. The other doesn’t return my calls. 😀

Whether you agree or disagree with me on various policies, you should definitely not want this to continue because it is so blatantly unethical. It cannot be the case that such undemocratic behavior is good for Des Moines because it takes away that whole things about ‘checks and balances’. Unless of course you believe that might makes right. Or the one book you keep by your nightstand was written by some guy named Machiavelli.

You don’t know what you don’t know

Going back to the City Manager’s report, once again, bear in mind that you’re always getting the Administration’s point of view (which is why Councilmembers are well-advised to get out and see how things are done in other places once in a while.)  But if a Councilmember needs the permission of the majority to conduct any inquiry? You can never get an accurate read as to how biased the Administration’s message really is.

Because that’s the thing: this isn’t just about obtaining information. It’s also a practical matter of building trust. If you can’t get even get an answer to a 5-minute question, it then kinda makes a guy wonder what’s going on with all those big ticket items we routinely vote on without so much as a single question.

One number

And just so ya know, as of this writing I’ve been in office about 384 days. And this is the forty seventh (47) time I have gotten a refusal to answer a simple question like this. That’s about one every two weeks. Sometimes they even come with a bonus letter from the City Attorney.

This must change. All Councilmembers deserve to be able to fully do the job  as described by the law. And you should ask my colleagues why they think it’s OK that any Councilmember be denied a 5-minute reply from staff to reasonable questions concerning research and oversight.

Weekly Update: 12/13/2020

Posted on Categories Airport, Engagement, Transparency, Weekly Updates1 Comment on Weekly Update: 12/13/2020

The universe is telling me to slow down. I broke my toe last week which has limited my ability to get out–and provided yet another convenient excuse to be a day late. 😀

Public Service Announcements

  1. Working Washington Small Business Grants (Round 3) If you have a small business of any kind do this now!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.”

This Week

Tuesday: South County Combined Are Transportation Board (SCATBd) Meeting.

Tuesday: Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) Ferry Study. This is different from the study the City has launched with private consultants. The PSRC did not find evidence of sufficient demand for a State-run ferry. This matters because a private ferry system would likely be funded by airport and cruise ship operations. And the last thing in Des Moines should be doing is enabling more flights from Sea-Tac Airport.

Wednesday: A conference with Congressman Adam Smith regarding an FAA Rule Change which would, in effect, make the language of the State law HB 2315 (which allows the Port to repair and update pre-existing sound insulation systems) as a Federal regulation and thus of benefit to all American airport communities. I cannot stress enough that this is how all airport mitigations will be done in the next decade and it is the single biggest error our local leaders have made. We must focus our attention on local mitigations which then propagate up to the Federal level, rather than waiting for some mythical ‘bi-partisanship’ to help us from the top down.

Last Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Meeting (Agenda). On Page 3 is the Port’s 2021 Legislative Agenda which has some very fine ideas about Federal legislation to reduce noise and pollution. The Port is supporting its own interests, which do not currently include anything that would reduce their revenues. They are not ready to take a hit financially in order to reduce noise, pollution or work substantively on climate change.

Wednesday: Rotary Club. I gave a speech on Sea-Tac Airport and new opportunities for airport mitigation that I urge everyone to read it.

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Council Transportation Board. The notable item for me was looking at how much funding each City is getting. Des Moines got grants to work on the Highline College segment of Barnes Creek Trail, which is great. But I sure wish we could get more!

Friday: Sound Cities Association Board Elections. Both Traci Buxton and I ran (and lost) to represent the City Of Des Moines on the South Board. The winners were basically chosen because they had more experience so the decision made sense. My goal was simply to get my name out there–which has been challenging in the pandemic world where almost all the normal ‘schmoozing’ opportunities have been cut off.

City Currents Magazine

*Hopefully by now you have received your copy of the City Currents Magazine (and if you’ve visited the Post Office, you can’t help but be inundated by copies). Many of us just sort of toss them away, perhaps after a quick browse. But the thing is often packed with really useful information and I would encourage residents to really read it.

My biggest issue (get it? 😀 ) with the City Currents is actually the same thing I like most about it: the fact that it does provide a lot of really useful information, summarized in a nice, digestible format. It’s just that it only gets out into the world four times a year. I’m not at all suggesting that the City put more money into printing; actually the opposite.

I go on a lot about how much I hate the City’s web site. And occasionally someone will ask me to ‘stop criticizing and give a positive solution’. OK, the positive solution is to simply make the City web site do what the City Currents does: clear, easy to understand information that’s easy to get through.

Just in this current issue, you’ve got:

  • A wonderful directory of your City Employees
  • A nice one page summary of City Council ordinances and resolutions
  • A letter from Mayor Matt Pina summarizing the Council’s work over the past quarter
  • A super nice City Directory with phone numbers
  • A summary of the City’s EATS program for seniors and Vets
  • An explanation of work being done at the Field House Park
  • An article on the City’s ongoing Minor Home Repair Program
  • A nice update on all the great things happening at Midway Park
  • An update of the Senior Activity Center
  • The first thorough description I’ve seen of the City’s GRO Business Grant program (including recipients)
  • An article on proper storm water discharge practices

That is all good stuff, much of it I’m sure most of you haven’t hear about yet. Which brings up my two big niggles:

  • First, almost all of this is not ‘news’. Almost all of it is months behind the actual events.
  • Second, again almost all of this could be put on the City’s web site in a fun and easy to find format that would engage the public the moment you get to the City’s home page.

The home page

In effect, the City’s home page should be the City Currents magazine. And it should be available to the community as events happen. The web site should also have a very prominent calendar, which allows the public to drill down to all events, both municipal and civic, so as to maximize the number of people who can learn about and participate in all our great programs (including volunteer opportunities.)

What we currently have is a web site that technically has a lot of information, but much of it is just buried so deep good luck finding it. And the current (cough) ‘calendar’ doesn’t work the way people expect it to. It is missing many, many events. And even with those that are listed,  it tells them ‘what’, but it doesn’t lead them to the information they want. The net effect of all this is to reduce the number of people who engage with our City on all levels, from volunteering to attending meetings, to finding out about available programs and on and on…

I don’t want to keep beating on this, but most of our sister cities do a much better job in these regards. It’s not a lack of capability, it’s just that we haven’t made the effort here. Yet.

Hang onto your City Currents!

And until we do, I urge you to really read and then keep your copy of City Currents (and if you’d like a copy I’ve got extras). The list of phone numbers alone may come in handy. But the information in every issue gives residents insights into what the City is doing and planning that do not happen all that often.

*The most current online version should be available soon.

Weekly Update: 12/06/2020

Posted on Categories Transparency, Weekly Updates1 Comment on Weekly Update: 12/06/2020

Updated 12/8/20 @12:08PM. I forgot to send to email list. Oops!

Public Service Announcements

  1. Working Washington Small Business Grants (Round 3) If you have a small business of any kind do this now!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”

This Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Meeting (Agenda). On Page 3 is the Port’s 2021 Legislative Agenda which has some very fine ideas about Federal legislation to reduce noise and pollution. The thing that I struggle with all the time in this blog is to speak ‘politician’ or speak ‘reporter’. The politician, which is 99.999999999999999999999999999999999% of my colleagues on planet earth, would say something like, “I’d like to thank the Port for their ongoing efforts to address… yada yada… Working together we can… yada yada…” The reporter in me has to be clear that the Port is supporting its own interests, which do not currently include anything that would reduce their revenues. They are not ready to take a hit financially in order to reduce noise, pollution or work substantively on climate change. That’s not being snippy, that’s just reality and the City Of Des Moines should use that to be clear-eyed in our relationship.

Wednesday: Rotary Club. I’ll be giving another speech on Sea-Tac Airport and new opportunities for mitigation.

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Transportion Board.

Friday: Sound Cities Association Board Elections. I will be running to represent the City Of Des Moines on the South Board. I am not super-optimistic about my chances–considering that one of my opponents is our own Traci Buxton 😀 It is very unusual for two Councilmembers from the same City to vie for the same seat. But with the current polarization on our Council there’s no other way to get one’s foot in the door. And I’m committed to helping Des Moines become a bigger part of that wider regional conversation.

Last Week

Monday: As I wrote, my other group SeatacNoise.Info has been really going to town on various interviews for a book on the history of Sea-Tac Airport. The reason we spend so much time on this is because the longer I work on this the more I understand how poorly all of us understood this story–I mean from Senators down to residents. But the story has it all. It’s one of the largest construction projects ever completed in the region. There’s serious corruption. 300% cost overruns. Amazing environmental impacts. Tremendous ongoing socio-economic issues for the entire area. It’s fair to say that our entire area would look entirely different had we not built the Third Runway. And the really odd thing (to me) is that it all happened less than twenty years ago–and yet, that controversy is largely forgotten now. Our goal is to provide much better information for decision makers, since, as our Mayor often says: We’re not going anywhere. And they’re not going anywhere. 🙂

Tuesday: Back to counting salmon at McSorley Creek with Trout Unlimited. So far? I’ve seen zip. Although, here’s some video from an earlier sighting at Des Moines Creek. In one sentence: It ain’t lookin’ good for our fish friends.

Thursday: There was a presentation by the State Auditor’s Office as to how things went in reviewing this year’s financials. State Auditor 2019 Exit Conference Packet. (Video). I suppose the headline should be “City gets certificate passes.” But I gotta point out two slightly irksome items:

  • For some reason, the City chose to put out as their press release, the one small portion of the report which concerned the never-ending Des Moines Legacy kerfuffle. Look, if yer gonna put out one takeaway, it should be that the City passed the audit, not keep focusing on an issue almost two years after the fact.
  • Council received that information packet five minutes after the meeting began. We had no time to review the information and thus had no way to prepare and ask any serious questions. For an ‘audit’ I find this outrageous and if you’ve been reading along this year, this is a pattern whereby presenters do not provide Council with adequate information until after a vote is taken.

Thursday: Public Safety Committee Meeting (Agenda). The discussion item was the current drone program. And it actually was very interesting.  Presentation.

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

Saturday: Beacon Hill Air & Noise Pollution Community Meeting. Boy I wish I had the presentation to share. For the past three years, this group has been hitting it out of the park, with great community organizing, by obtaining EPA grants to do real science and then working with UW to quantify the health impacts of the airport. They’re doing work we can and should be doing here.

City Council Recap

(Agenda) (Video)

I pledge allegiance to the star spangled banner…

The highlight of the year (for me) was the complete mess I made of the Pledge Of Allegiance. If you need a cringey laugh today, I urge you to watch just the first two minutes of me butchering that little poem. 😀

In my defense, I was watching a musical with the grand kids on The Declaration Of Independence’ and for some reason, all sorts patriotic prose ranging from Four Score And Seven Years Ago to This Land Is Your land just sort of floated into my noggin all at once. 😀

Expanding Midway Park

We made a modification to the 2035 Comprehensive Plan. The nugget is that the City is buying some rundown houses along the perimeter using the same type of conservation grants used to buy/renovate the Van Gasken House. And as you know, those types of grants require using the land strictly for parks. Which is OK, but would not have been my first choice. Everyone knows how much I value the park, but I’m also concerned that we should be working to add quality housing for the surrounding neighborhood.

Body Cameras

I was the lone vote against the motion on body cameras. I’ll just add in reply to a comment made by a colleague that this is not just being ‘different to be different’. I’ve testified publicly on real police reform. But this vote was actually about holding back $140,000 of public safety money we could be utilizing now; not about ‘body cameras’ per se. And it was the wrong decision. Here’s why.

My End Of Year Comments

This is a bit more organized version of my ramblings from the dais. When I was eight or nine I begged my uncle for months to let me go out with his professional fishing crew. And after I got it? It was kinda miserable. 😀 At least at first. But I asked for it! I think there’s a lesson there. Somewhere.

I want to thank the voters, who gave me the opportunity to work my tail off to get elected… so I could then get thrown into this. Because I asked for it. 😀

The thing about this job is that you decide how much work to put into it. It’s up to each CM to determine how much they want to learn about the nuts and bolts. Some Councilmembers, like me, really like the details. Others, not so much. Either approach can be very effective. But for what I am trying to accomplish, it is necessary for me to learn a lot about the mechanics. It would not be appropriate to come into this situation with a change agenda without having a baseline of knowledge about the City’s inner workings.

It’s complicated

A city government is very complicated. But it’s not so complicated that you can’t understand it. It’s sort of like how complicated cars used to be before they got onboard computers. You can understand all the various systems if you are willing to work at it, while also gaining a full appreciation for just how much stuff there is to do. And how much skill and commitment it takes to do it all well. And the more I learn about our City the greater my appreciation for all the people who work every day to make it work.

So I want to thank the entire Staff of the City Of Des Moines, which does such a great job–especially during COVID-19.

Direction

It’s no secret that I have differences with my colleagues. But never think that it has to do with how that ‘car’ is functioning. You can have a car that runs great. But still not get where you really want to go.

Most people who run for City Council simply want to serve. They’re not trying to  change things all that much. And that’s fine. But everyone I’ve known since I first sailed down here 25 years ago has said the same thing, “Why isn’t Des Moines living up to its potential?” And after a couple of decades, I decided that we have to move in a different direction if we’re ever going to live up to that “destination” ideal.

And I also recognized that it was going to take an absolute ton of work, because we have invested so heavily in the current direction we’ve been going.

Obviously, my colleagues see it differently. And that’s fine. They think ‘the car’ is going in exactly the right direction at exactly the right speed. I didn’t expect to win any votes this year. (If you recall from my campaign, the current majority would get so testy that I constantly brought up their 7-0 votes. Guess what? In 2020 those five people again voted 100% of the time together. I wasn’t exaggerating.)

<This is the place where I intended to thank my colleagues for welcoming me onto the Council for 2020. Although we often view policy very differently, I appreciate the fact that we have been able to disagree without being disagreeable.>

Playing fair

Sure glad I didn’t tack on that last bit! 😀 Because right after I finished my remarks, the Deputy Mayor (once again) decided it was a good idea to respond to me with a personal attack (in the form of helpful advice, of course.)

This is the only thing that ever annoys me in any way–when my colleagues and the administration do stuff like this.  This year, our Mayor, Deputy Mayor and City Manager have said things to disparage me that are simply not true; some have repeatedly tried to ‘shame’ and ‘scold’ me from the dais as if I were some wayward child. And the rest of the majority have enabled that bad behavior by never objecting in any way. Worst of all, they have colluded with our City Manager to enable an almost complete lack of cooperation for even routine requests–which has prevented me from doing my job and robbing the public of their essential right to know.

This treatment has been disrespectful and contemptuous, not only of me but of the office you voted for me to hold on your behalf. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there was really only one 100% sincere form of reply to his remarks. This Four Horseman is the best ‘life advice’ I have ever come across:

He gave me his unasked for advice on personal growth and there is mine. I leave it to the public to decide which approach is more constructive.

*

Now being part of an elected body is not exactly like being married; in fact, constructive criticism (oversight) is literally the main statutory purpose of the office. You gotta be constructive and sincere and kind and you also gotta be willing to take it as well as dish it out, but you gotta be able to find flaws or yer just not doing the job.

Weekly Update: 11/29/2020

Posted on Categories Transparency, Weekly Updates2 Comments on Weekly Update: 11/29/2020

PSA: 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.

PSA: 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. ”

PSA: So, I’m now officially out of quarantine. FREE! 😀 However, even though I’ve dodged a bullet, I’m noticing more and more people not taking this seriously now that a vaccine seems to be on the way. Not to burst yer bubble, but here is a good summary of how the roll out is likely to occur. And the detail I want you to notice is this: The vaccine does not prevent you from transmitting the disease. It protects you, not the people around you. Show of hands: who wants to be the jerk who infects someone so close to the finish line? Or worse: in April. Follow the guidelines. They work.

This Week

Monday: I’m getting down to the wire on various interviews for a forthcoming book on the history of Sea-Tac Airport. What’s interesting is the number of people who have started on this over the past forty years and then gotten fed up and just tore up their manuscript. A lot of people just

Tuesday: Back to counting salmon at McSorley Creek with Trout Unlimited. The news so far is slightly better than last year for some reason. 🙂

Thursday: There will be a presentation by the State Auditor’s Office as to how things went in reviewing this year’s financials.

Thursday: 4pm is the Public Safety Committee Meeting (Agenda). The discussion item is drones. Which sounds exciting? 😀

Thursday: Regular City Council Meeting. (Agenda). There will be a redux of the whole Body Camera discussion which the Public Safety already signed off on in September. There will be an amendment to the current 2035 Comprehensive Plan which I’m vaguely OK with. One element: we’re purchasing some run down homes along the perimeter of Midway Park in order to expand it, which sounds like a no-brainer. Except that it cuts into usable land for housing. We have a serious shortage of land for housing . and as much as I love Midway Park (I’ve been present for all their clean-ups and garden events), I love good housing options even more. You can’t have a thriving neighborhood if you take away all the places for neighbors to live. 🙂 My point is that there are a lot fewer no-brainer decisions than you might think.

Last Week: Rule 9

Confession: I’ve never actually watched Plan 9 From Outer Space all the way through. But there’s this line where the aliens say something like how they decided on Plan 9 as ‘the most effective solution for dealing with difficult people like…’ 😀

Anyhoo, I did receive a reply from the City Attorney as to my question last week about failed motions:

In response to your question below, I reviewed your blog and I agree with this statement that you made.	 

	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.)

He then goes on to mention Rule #9 of our Council Rules Of Procedure.

In addition, before making a motion, the business item needs to be on the agenda. This is accomplished in accordance with City Council rule 9 (below). Finally, motions for reconsideration can be made pursuant to Council Rule 28 (also below).

And that’s a whole other kettle o’ fish. And I don’t mean the fresh, delightful, sashimi grade tuna. 😀

Because he dreaded Rule #9 tells us how things get on a City Council Meeting Agenda. And for years and years it used to be thus:

This rule specifies the method of preparation of a Council meeting agenda for meetings other than study sessions. The Presiding Officer, three (3) Councilmembers, or the City Manager may introduce a new item to the preliminary agenda. The Presiding Officer shall have the option of deleting any item, other than those items introduced by three (3) Councilmembers, from the preliminary agenda until the next regular Council meeting when the full Council shall vote on whether to introduce the item on the agenda for a subsequent Council meeting. The City Clerk, under the direction of the City Manager, shall arrange a list of such matters according to the order of business and prepare a preliminary agenda for the Council. After the preliminary agenda has been approved by the Presiding Officer, a copy of the agenda and supporting materials shall be prepared for Councilmembers, the City Manager, and the press by close of business Friday prior to the Regular Council Meeting, except in case of an emergency.

Blah, blah, blah-dee-blah…. Blah. Right? 😀 You didn’t read any of that because it’s so boring. And that’s fine, because this language is pretty much the same in most cities. But in our City it was amended a year ago on the last vote before I took my seat on the Council to add the following:

Any Councilmember seeking to bring forward a new community event or project for consideration shall provide the details of the proposal to the City Clerk in written format, to include the estimated cost and staff time for the proposal. Once received by the City Clerk, the proposal can be placed on a preliminary agenda in accordance with the requirements of this Rule.

And this is why we all hate lawyers

That one tortuous sentence actually does a whole lot. Here it is in plainer language:

“Look, we don’t want you wasting valuable meeting time trying to bring up anything that hasn’t already been pre-approved. And to make sure, you’ll need to send anything you want to talk about to the Clerk ahead of time. With a cost estimate, of course. Just so we can give it the once over. K?”

As you can tell by the snarky tone, I’ve got any number of problems with this seemingly innocent language. Here’s just one: “How do I even obtain a cost estimate without the cooperation of the Administration?”

Why it matters

Not to belabor the obvious, but the language was added as sort of a ‘belt and suspenders’ way to make doubly certain that City Council Meetings are now pro-forma affairs.

A big part of being in the minority is simply finding a way to break past that wall and get your ideas across. You don’t expect to win votes; with the current majority (which always votes as a bloc) that is impossible. But what you do expect to be able to do is to bring up ideas that you think think the public should know about, whether the majority or the administration approve. It’s called democracy. And it matters.

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.

State Of The City Presentation To DMMA (November 11, 2020)

Posted on Format VideoCategories Economic Development, Neighborhoods, Policy, Transparency1 Comment on State Of The City Presentation To DMMA (November 11, 2020)

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.

Part I

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.