Weekly Update: 05/17/2020

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This Week

Tuesday 9AM: SCATbd Meeting. If you have concerns about anything transportation-related, check this out.

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee Meeting (note their calendaring system? 🙂 )

Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines Zoom Meeting

Wednesday: Puget Sound Regional Council CARES Act recovery webinar

Thursday: 30th Legislative District COVID 19 phone call.

Last Week

Monday: Disassembling the Coho Pen at the Marina. Thanks, as always to John Muramatsu and Trout Unlimited and the Des Moines Marina crew.

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle General Meeting

Wednesday: Officer Boehmer/K9 Daric meeting with Police Chief Ken Thomas. My comments are here.

Thursday: MRSC Meeting on Utility Management. Although Des Moines does not run its own utilities, understanding how they work and having strong relationships with those authorities is critical because we currently derive about one third of our revenue from utility taxes.

Friday: Another webinar from the Seattle Southside Chamber Of Commerce. The topic was ‘how to re-open’. I have a link to the video on my Facebook Page and I recommend that every business owner watch it. The challenges to re-opening are significant. Without getting into a whole discussion, the point isn’t so much to ‘re-open’ as it is to find ways to re-open and actually make money.

Fifty Years Ago

If you asked most people to think of one image that represents Des Moines, 95% would imagine the Marina. So I was kinda disappointed that we didn’t have anything like a ‘celebration’ of its fiftieth anniversary last week. For me, the Marina is Des Moines and the dedication on May 10, 1970 was one of the top 3-4 events in our short history. I encourage you to read the clippings from the Des Moines News posted by our Clerk Bonnie Wilkins last week.

Good Leadership Moves

According to the article, the first thing the City Council did was take surveys of residents and get buy-in before moving forward. That was smart. Because what the article doesn’t point out is that the Marina was controversial (Odd, right? Can you imagine Des Moines without the Marina now? I can’t.)

One thing that is not mentioned is that at least some of those leaders had a long term vision for Des Moines.  They thought the Marina would be transformative for the city–and to a certain extent it definitely has been. But I would argue, not as much as they might have hoped. I think the hope that many of us have had over the decades would be for Des Moines to become as vibrant as other waterfront communities. The one word you often hear from residents since the Marina’s building is ‘potential’. People are always writing how loaded we are with potential. But somehow, that potential never gets fully realized.

Sure there have been good reasons (like the occasional recession or a pandemic (!) for example). But at a certain point, one has to accept that the stars will never align to make developing Des Moines easy. If it were easy it would’ve happened by now. And if we’re ever going to live up to that potential, we will have to do something dramatic in order to make it happen.

Long Term

When I ran for office, I talked a lot about the long-term and frankly I think a lot of residents just nodded along (as my kids tend to do when they’re politely humouring me. 😀 )

But this actually matters. There are two broad concerns of city government: short term and long term. The short term is what most residents (and politicians) think about: public safety, building permits, speed bumps, human service stuff and so on. The long term is the part the public rarely sees and that’s the part I think about most: where we’ll be twenty five years from now.

But why should you care about twenty five years from now, right? We won’t even be around then (OK, you will, I definitely won’t. 😀 ) Now is where you can make residents and businesses happy today–especially post-pandemic. So maybe it seems like the wrong time to be thinking about twenty five years in the future. But I would argue that there will never be a convenient time to do so. Like many cities, Des Moines seems to swing from one crisis to the next and so we never have any easy chance to finish the job of becoming who we’re supposed to be: a true ‘destination’.

So what does that mean in practical terms? Hey what do I look like, The Amazing Kreskin? 😀 (I gotta stop referring to things people under 50 won’t get.) A few quick thoughts:

  • I do know what the outcome should be: making Des Moines a place that leverages its great physical beauty to become much more prosperous. We’ve needed to do that for decades because it’s the only way to sustainably achieve the amenities and services we’ve all wanted for so long.
  • We also need to do something big in order to protect this place. There is always a pressure to industrialize cities in South King County–especially near the airport. Long term, this is neither in the interest of the environment or our residents.
  • At least part of it involves the south end of town. We’re a city of a zillion annexations but so far we’ve done precious little to tie them together–all the improvements still tend to go in mostly the same places.
  • Finally, I’m also pretty sure that we can start by taking a lesson from the City Council in 1964: ask the public–get buy-in first, and then think big.

One-Time Money

There is an adage you hear repeated over and over (and over… and over) in municipal budgeting: one-time money for one-time projects. Despite that mantra, there will be a tremendous pressure to use any such grants to prop up existing spending and avoid short-term pain. (Not too many of us used those $1,200 checks for savings accounts, right?) However, I would like to see at least a portion of such monies automatically set aside for something truly transformative because I’m convinced of one thing: making Des Moines that ‘destination’ will not be easy and it will not happen by itself.. In fact, to make Des Moines a real destination city will require an effort from the public and the City as large as building the Marina. But I believe it’s worth it and I also believe that the longer we wait the less likely it becomes.

We now have two bags of money coming our way as a result of COVID-19: a small one from King County (thank you, King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove) and a much larger one from the Federal government. There will be others. So far, there has been no discussion as to how to use these with the Council and I think there should be for all the reasons I just gave. I think we should be investing in the future now.

Anyhoo, none of this starts tomorrow. But I want you to understand where my primary attention will be so long as I serve you. I want to work with you to finally achieve a Des Moines that lives up to all that ‘potential’ previous leadership was striving for back in 1964. They did their part. Now it’s our turn.

Happy 50th Anniversary Des Moines Marina. 🙂

Weekly Update: 05/11/2020

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I get complaints from  the public (and my colleagues) that I’m over-simplifying or trivializing some topic by being so short. And I try to say that these things are already too frickin’ long! If I don’t simplify, every post would be like Municipal War And Peace. (Boy I really want to read that. Not.) Also, I can’t assume that y’all actually watch these meetings. So if I go on with too many details, nothing will make sense–and I definitely don’t want this to be like a ‘cast commentary’ on some really low-budget DVD. Anyhoo, I’m trying an experiment this week by breaking down some of the key items into separate posts because there were several details of procedure I care about a lot. Most of you will just read this. But if yer a real local politics nerdlicant (or just like trolling for incriminating evidence. 😉 ), by all means, drill down for more details.

This Week

Monday: Disassembling the Coho Pen at the Marina. With the good weather, the Marina needs room for more boats.

Thursday: City Council Meeting? 5pm? There’sNo agenda received, which is kinda weird because we’re supposed to get it the Friday before the meeting so we can prepare. Here is all I got from the Futures Report.

Just heard from the City Clerk officially that the next meeting is actually 28 May (the Mayor mentioned that at the end of the last meeting but I wasn’t sure as the web site hadn’t changed.) You can still use the Futures Report if you want a look at what is likely to show up there.

Friday: Another webinar from the Seattle Southside Chamber Of Commerce. This time on ‘how to re-open’. So far, these have all been very good. If you have a business or organization, I recommend you check it out.

Beyond that? Total mystery. Why not call me for a chat? (206) 878-0578.

Last Week

Monday: The City unveiled its  EATS Restaurant Voucher Program to support restaurant owners, seniors and vets. Discussion below.

Thursday: 5pm City Council Meeting (Video) (Agenda). Discussion below.

Friday: A really good Zoom presentation by Katherine Kertzman, President of the Seattle Southside Regional Tourism Authority (RTA). If you have any kind of business related to hospitality and tourism you should watch this.  The video is here: https://www.seattlesouthsidechamber.com/smart
You can download the Presentation File here: https://buff.ly/3blwqgV

Meeting Drill Down

First off, why was CM Matthias absent? Whenever anyone is MIA, I want an explanation in the public record. It’s one of my procedural pet peeves. For others, see below. 😀

National First Responders Day

In my comments I made two motions. The first was A proposal for a National Holiday for First Responders. The City will be sending a letter in support of the idea to Congressman Smith and Senators Murray and Cantwell. Given that this passed unanimously, I’m kinda surprised at the skepticism I’ve received from a few peers in other cities. In the comments I put my  reply to one of them. This makes me really appreciative of our Council taking action. I hope that they, in their contacts with other cities evangelize for this. It’s the right thing to do.

City Manager Reports

My second motion was to direct the City Manager to provide weekly reports. And I discuss it here. If you’ve read these Weekly Updates, you know that one of my ongoing frustrations is that I have no idea how so much of day to day operations get done. I feel like these sorts of reports are critical to the Council’s decision-making.

Emergency Operations

We had an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) presentation from Shannon Kirchberg which was really good. The work the City is now doing with the Food Bank shows some great coordination. And by the way, the entire community has stepped up in some pretty big ways. A shout out to resident Kevin Isherwood who’s company GEICO (are they the lizard or Flo?) Anyhoo, they provided a $5,000 donation! You couple that with recent big ticket donations from Rotary and Legacy and now we’re getting somewhere!

One reason I had been previously critical of the City’s response was this: Des Moines, like many small cities has several organizations that are not ‘the city’ but kinda are. These include the Food Bank, the Farmers Market, Legacy, Destination Des Moines, etc. All these groups have been tightly integrated with the government, providing much needed services that, frankly, the government does do in many other places. We’re proud to be a very volunteer-oriented community. So when an emergency appears, it is critical that we engage without delay with all these organizations because together we can leverage much better results.

EATS Program

The briefing on the EATS program was also good. My comment was that even though it’s just getting started I hope it rapidly expands to do a lot more. This is what I was talking about last week regarding planning. The EATS program was designed to get cash to restaurant owners and to help Seniors get meals on weekends. Great start! Now: expand it. Make it open to seniors all over town–not necessarily as free vouchers, but perhaps at a 1:1 match for residents of Wesley, Judson, Adriana, etc. I know I sound never satisfied, but it’s because the situation for our local restaurants is so critical.

The Budget

Another really good presentation and I encourage you to watch the slides. To save time, I deferred my questions (I had a gazillion) to a written note. I’ll let ya know.

Anyhoo, you’ve probably heard that we’re cutting $2.1 million dollars now in expectation of a 16% overall reduction to 2020 inflows. The important thing for me is that these adjustments are the easy ones (I hesitate to call them ‘cuts’ because none of these are things the public dreads.) And both the COO and Budget Director were quick to point out that, for now, we’re in a good place. But these adjustments only cover a couple of months of cash flow.  This is just the beginning.

Now: I have been a fierce critic of the 2016-17 recovery strategy because it depended so much on fees I feel are not in the City’s long-term interest: paid parking, red light cameras, utility taxes, etc. And I still hate them all. However, it must be said that COVID-19 makes them necessary for the foreseeable future. The Cities that currently depend on sales tax revenue (which is what I would prefer in a normal world) are going to suffer the worst as the entire retail market has collapsed. So despite my criticisms, I have to acknowledge that our current portfolio is probably not a bad place to be. At least until the small business market regains some clarity.

An Apology

I wrote a letter of apology to COO Dan Brewer. I raised my voice to him during the meeting and that was discourteous and unkind. People who follow these meetings or read my Weekly Updates know why I get so frustrated but I won’t re-hash that as some half-assed excuse.

Consent Agenda Kerfuffle

Near the end of the meeting, there was some heartburn because I voted ‘nay’ on the Consent Agenda. Which, it turns out, is a procedural problem because it’s actually called the Unanimous Consent Agenda. If it ain’t unanimous? It ain’t a consent agenda. This article explains the procedural issue and then discusses the importance of Meeting Minutes.

Good Husband Move

And last but not least: Over the years, I’ve groused about a lot of ‘unnecessary’ things at City Council Meetings. But every year, Harbormaster Scott Wilkins does some little ‘surprise’ Happy Birthday greeting for his wife, our Communications Director and City Clerk Bonnie Wilkins. It’s become something of an annual tradition at Des Moines City Council Meetings and I find it utterly charming.

Bring Back City Manager Reports

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My second motion at the 7 May City Council Meeting was to direct the City Manager to provide weekly reports. This actually was the practice for many years (and continues in many other cities our size and larger.) It was cut back to a Monthly Report in 2018 and then dispensed with entirely in February 2019. We now get quarterly presentations from main departments which is OK. I guess. (Insert Red Green Man’s Pray here.)

But those reports are a list of accomplishments. That ain’t what I’m used to as a manager. I’ve spent most of my working life in jobs where people put in time sheets or talk about how their job works. Or at least, I’d occasionally get to walk the factory and see how the sausage gets made. Most residents are surprised to know that councilmembers have no more access to City Hall than they do–and that is weird to me.

So… what do you guys exactly do all day?

What I’m trying to say is that I have almost no understanding as to what a lot of the staff (including the CM) actually do all day. A list of accomplishments without context is not great for a guy like me. It’s like telling me you painted your house (impressive) but neglected to point out that it took you five years (less so).

Now here’ something: everybody hates doing these reports: hate, Hate, HATE. And I say that with some conviction because I did them for years and hated every minute of it. However, when I started my own company, we did them. My kid does them at his law firm. People at all levels of management do them. It’s sad that people hate them, but like regular visits to the dentist they’re really useful. 😀

And the thing is: Like most of us now, the City Manager has a calendar. So it’s already there; there’s no effort involved in preparing such a report. It’s actually less work than having to write a quarterly list of accomplishments.

Hanging out at the Marina

I was speaking to our harbormaster this morning and as we chatted I had the realization that I know how the Marina works because I’m there literally every day. And that makes me feel really comfy that its run well. I mean, I know this because I see it. I talk with people at their slips and they tell me that the service is great and so on.

Now here’s the thing: that’s maybe the first time I’ve actually had a conversation with Scott in twenty plus years. He saw me walking by and was kind enough to say hello. I rarely ever spoke with his predecessor, either. I think I’ve actually been in the office maybe 4-5 times. I’m not somebody who ‘monitors’ people. I just like knowing how things work and I’m routinely puzzled that my colleagues seem to have so little curiosity.

See that’s a key difference between myself and the majority. I value that kind of reporting and learning about people’s jobs. My colleagues feel like, “We hired the guy. Let him do his job.” (that’s a quote)

So… why do I bother?

I withdrew the motion only because I thought we had three votes to bring it to a formal agenda item at the next meeting. But… one of my colleagues changed their mind. My colleagues said they would only consider voting for this motion if the City Manager  were present, which I found slightly disingenuous. Because, of course he doesn’t want it. If he wanted to do it, he wouldn’t have stopped doing it two years ago. Because, like I said, nobody enjoys doing them–even if someone else does them for you.

So I’ll leave the issue with this observation: Since my election, that was the first meeting I’ve with all my colleagues where the City Manager was not present. And it’s telling that they said they did not feel comfortable taking action without him there. In fact, he was even present during his job review–which is also kinda weird to me.

Why Meeting Minutes Matter

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It’s always great to begin with an alliteration, right? 😀

This article explains why I objected to the Consent Agenda at the 7 May City Council Meeting which caused something of a ‘consent agenda kerfuffle’ and then goes on to discuss the importance of ‘Minutes’.

This Week’s Hate Mail

I do get hate mail after every meeting. 😀 It’s generally from the same people every time and generally harmless. In this case the complaint had to do with the fact that I voted ‘no’ on the Unanimous Consent Agenda (UCA), which caused a tedious extension to the meeting. To recap: the whole point of a Consent Agenda is to save time–the group simply votes up/down on a list of (supposedly) uncontentious items. What people often omit is the word ‘unanimous’. The group has to show its agreement that these are routine items by voting unanimously. By voting ‘nay’, I broke that process.

Did I intend to cause this kerfuffle? Of course not. I don’t show up with goofy plans to annoy the majority. But I gotta say, it was fascinating from a procedural standpoint. And I have to give props to City Attorney Tim George. I honestly don’t know, but I think he could have interrupted the meeting right when I voted ‘no’ and pointed out what the effect would be. But for whatever reason, he let things play out and I really appreciate it. If he had spoken up, it would’ve put pressure on me to vote ‘Yes’.

Why Minutes Matter

Now, here’s why I voted no. Item #2 on the Consent Agenda  was to approve the Minutes of prior meetings. ‘Minutes’ should be the least controversial part of the UCA. It’s just a summary of the meeting. In fact, we use what are called action minutes, which means the clerk provides a very short (often one-line) descriptor of what was done but not all the talking.

OK, so here are the Minutes for Councilmember Comments from the 9 April General City Council Meeting:

Pretty dull, right? Now please refer back to the 9 April City Council Meeting Video. And (finally) we get to my point. And please understand I am not being petty here. This really matters to me and I hope I can convince you that it should matter to the City.

Where Deputy Mayor Mahoney talks about “social media comments” and “emergency operations center” what he was actually doing on the video was taking five minutes to ream me out. Similarly, the Mayor’s “Councilmember’s Actions in the Community” was actually an almost ten minute list of complaints against moi.

I will always want the Minutes to reflect what really happened. So I was prepared to make the following motion:

I move to modify the April 9th Agenda as follows:

  1. Change the description of Mayor Pina’s comments to read: Mayor Pina expressed numerous concerns over Councilmember Harris’ conduct.
  2. Change the description of Deputy Mayor Mahoney’s comments to read:  Deputy Mayor Mahoney expressed numerous concerns over Councilmember Harris’ conduct

Because that is what actually happened.

Now, why do I give a shit about something so apparently picayune? Am I really that petty? Nope. Very few people in King County actually read these things. I’ve read hundreds of Minutes from hundreds of meetings over the years in doing my research on Sea-Tac Airport. And if the Minutes don’t reflect what really happened? History is screwed. Until HAL 9000 allows for people to do keyword searches on video, it is virtually impossible to find information on a particular public meeting video unless you know ahead of time what you’re looking for. Having those descriptions be meaningful doesn’t seem to matter until you have to actually try and find something. Then, if you are a researcher or a reporter it’s imperative. So I take this deadly seriously.

(I leave it as an exercise for the reader to review Minutes from key past meetings of various City Councils and the Port. Eg. virtually every meeting near the end of Don Wasson’s time or at the Port near the end of CEO Yoshitani’s tenure. From the Minutes alone you might not know much was wrong.)

Descriptions are sanitized with perfectly good intent–to be polite, of course. Which is lovely. But I don’t want polite. I want what actually happened: good, bad or ugly. Not just in this case, but in every case, regardless of who is involved.

Now, if I feel that strongly about it, why didn’t I raise the motion? Wait for it… to be polite, of course. 😀 Seriously. The meeting had already gone on three hours, it would’ve started an argument, some of the Councilmembers were visibly close to blowing a gasket so I let it go. But if I’d had the votes? I would’ve gone ahead, regardless of the blood pressures of my colleagues.

Weekly Update: 05/04/2020

Posted on Categories Airport, Policy, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesTags , 1 Comment on Weekly Update: 05/04/2020

This Week

Monday: The City will unveil its  EATS Restaurant Voucher Program to support restaurant owners.  Very cool idea. I have a question about re-purposing the original grant funding from King County (which was intended for something slightly different), but I’m assuming we got permission so that’s fine. Just so long as it doesn’t short circuit another targeted seniors program. I’ll ask. 🙂

Thursday: May 7, 5pm City Council Meeting (Agenda). This will feature  (ta da!) Zoom! Public Comments! Another highlight will be a budget update.

Last Week

Monday: Phone call with 33rd State Rep. Tina Orwall to discuss air quality monitors around Sea-Tac Airport. She had high hopes for getting air filters installed at local schools. But that got killed at the last minute by a line-item veto from the Governor as a response to COVID-19. Here is an article that explains why this may provide amazing bang for buck in terms of health outcomes for our children.

Tuesday: MRSC presentation on how cities can plan for life after COVID-19. I say it over and over, but it’s always great seeing how other cities do things.

Thursday: 30th Legislative District Call with Senator Claire Wilson and Reps. Mike Pellicciotti and Jesse Johnson. One thing that was discussed quite a bit was ‘the digital divide’; the fact that we have so many low-income families in South King County without decent Internet access. If you’re like me (the average voter in DM in their mid-50’s/60’s) you may still think of this as merely an inconvenience. But if you have kids in school today, affordable, reliable Internet is as important to their education as pencils.  We have got to find a way to make that service universal for all our kids. Soon. Whether COVID-19 sticks around or not. It is important for the City to start advocating now for ways to bridge that digital divide.

Friday I had a meeting with the UW researchers working on the MOV-UP study and various air quality issues. I also chatted with Puget Sound Clean Air Executive Director Craig Kenworthy. PSCleanAir is another one of those agencies most people are unaware of (unless you hear about ‘burn bans’) but Clean Air Agencies are a creation of the original Federal Clean Air Act/EPA fifty-ish years ago and they are supposed to monitor and enforce air quality. They have made remarkable progress for us over the decades–well except when it comes to airplanes. (D’Oh!) So SeatacNoise.Info among other groups are pushing to finally get air quality monitoring around Sea-Tac Airport. It seems incredible, but the nearest air quality monitoring station is in Georgetown! Now is the time to get permanent air quality monitoring in placebefore the flights start ramping up again.

The Master Plan

Now near the bottom of that EATS memo, the tone sounds as though there has been sort of a master plan all along regarding the City’s management of COVID-19. Phase one was setting up the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). And now that is done, Phase 2 seems to be providing help to residents and small business. Sounds reasonable.

But the City government (and always remember that when I say that I mean ‘the municipal corporation’ led by the City Manager, the City Council is not the government) has done a great job of keeping the Council (or at least me) in the dark. So I am slightly skeptical. I literally read about it on social media at the same time as most of you.

But that said, it feels to me as though the City is simply reacting to activism by a number of local organizations and then myself and Councilmember Martinelli on any number of fronts. I say that because that has been my experience in watching the City over the years, we have typically not been proactive on any number of issues. We tend to respond only after other cities else leaps into the fray (or there is a public outcry.) It’s one of the reasons I ran.

I also tend to think this because the memo credits Mayor Matt Pina and Michael Matthias–stating that this is their joint effort, not that of the Council.  The usual custom is to credit the full Council for any action like this and the City Manager is as un-noticeable as possible (Or at least that’s what they taught me at Councilmember School. 😀 ) I’m a bit puzzled whenever any Councilmember (including the Mayor) takes individual credit for a City initiative. Don’t get me wrong: the program is helpful and if I were a local restaurant owner I’d be thrilled. But it also feels political.

Lessons Learned

Anyhoo, back to COVID-19. I don’t think it’s too early to start thinking about things we might have done a bit differently–not to assign ‘blame’ but, again, dumb engineer me, it’s appropriate now to do some lessons learned. These are my thoughts:

First: Communicate. If the City had/has a multi-phase plan (and if it didn’t? See above.), it should have communicated it clearly from the beginning, first to get Council input and then to the public so we would all have aligned goals. A lot of business owners are struggling with high levels of *FUD. So anything the City could have done from the git go to provide a bit of ‘help is on the way’ would have made a real difference.

Second: Collaborate. We already have several local organizations that are dedicated to helping promote the City and business. We could be working together, leveraging their efforts to make promotions with much higher visibility; programs that could extend far beyond just seniors and local residents. In other words, this could be an opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons and (finally) have a cohesive promotional campaign for the City Of Des Moines–something I’ve been yammering about since about 2012.

Third: Think long term.  Many of our businesses will need planning help. I hear some of your eyes rolling already (yes, I can hear eye rolls over the Interwebs). I read all the time, “the city should not do such and such…”  As a dumb engineer, I gotta tell ya: I hate the word “should”. My belief is that ya use whatever tool works best to solve the problem in front of you. And right now, our small businesses (all of them, but let’s start with restaurants) need new tools because profitable sit down service may not make a come back for a while. Many of them are now doing takeout, but some are executing this much better than others. OK, perhaps take-out is a long-term trend, not just something that gets dropped when the emergency is over. Restaurants that do takeout particularly well will have a competitive advantage (safer, faster, more convenient?) And if we can find ways to help all our restaurants do that better than other cities? Our city (literally) takes their lunch. We don’t have a Chamber Of Commerce, so it seems to me that the City has a role to play in this sort of long-term business support, perhaps by making management experts and seminars available. That’s just one thought. I’m sure there are about a dozen other really good ideas to help our business community adapt.

Emergency Response

I do not want to be overly critical of our City’s response. I have no doubt that all our Staff have performed admirably and I salute them for their service. I’m just saying that I don’t see where our actions have been demonstrably better than our peer cities. And it’s worth noting because our management and the current majority have made that one of their key talking points for the past three years. We even have a special place in our budget for Emergency Management that other cities do not. And at the risk of ruffling even more feathers than usual, I will point out that this is one of those times where having a City Manager who is also Economic Development Director may have not been the best configuration. The City Manager understandably had more than a full plate during Phase 1. If there had been another person in the Economic Development role, perhaps we could have worked on Phase 2 concurrently and, again, provided more immediate support to local businesses.

I’m not trying to be ‘hard’. I’m just saying that this sort of review should be happening at every level of government. Our City Council should be reviewing how we can be doing better in Phase 2 (and beyond) right now. And again we need to do more because we have to expect that COVID-19 will be with us for a good while (and may even resurge.)

*FUD: fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Weekly Update: 04/27/2020

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Note #1: I know the web site has been flaky the past week. Sorry. I think it’s reIatively glitch-free now.

Note #2: Yeah, I’m late again. My web server is broken. The sun got in my eyes. My dog ate my server.

This Week

Monday: Phone call with 33rd State Rep. Tina Orwall to discuss air quality monitors around Sea-Tac Airport. She had high hopes for getting air filters installed at local schools. But that got killed by a line-item veto from the Governor as a response to COVID-19. Here is an article that explains why this may provide amazing bang for buck in terms of health outcomes for our children.

Tuesday: A King County presentation on how cities should be planning for life after COVID-19

Last Week

Monday was my Letter To The Waterland Blog (more below).

Tuesday I had a virtual meeting with people from the Port Of Seattle to work on the whole Port Package Update program.  One challenge I’m having is balancing my advocacy against noise and pollution with a certain empathy for the Port’s current predicament with COVID-19. For some background, you have to understand a certain hubris the airline industry has had over the past decade. In 2015 the Chairman of the parent company of United Airlines famously stated that he thought there was no way airlines could ever lose money again. Ever. Sea-Tac Airport has been so successful that the Port must have also felt somewhat invulnerable.

Tuesday those great people from Trout Unlimited released the Coho Fish Pen down at the Marina.  Even without the social distancing it’s not the most dramatic thing to witness. But it does matter. May they return in great numbers in a couple of years.

Tuesday night I volunteered at the Food Bank. I only keep mentioning it because the one thing they need are volunteers. It’s totally safe and it’s one of the biggest bang for buck things you can do to help Des Moines.

Wednesday was a virtual StART Meeting. Like all StART meetings it was pretty content-free in terms of noise and pollution. However, it had some useful metrics from the Port Of Seattle and Normandy Park, Tukwila and SeaTac as to municipal finances. And in two words: it’s bleak. One example: last Tuesday the airport processed 2,500 passengers. A typical day would be more like 60,000! I know there is a big tendency among airport activists towards Schadenfreude, but it affects us in that if the Port is broke, it cuts into their ability to meet their commitments to us.

Friday: Was the King County Climate Collaboration virtual meeting. As they say, we simply cannot let this crisis go to waste. We’re experiencing better air for the first time in decades and I want to keep it!

Follow Up

After the Mayor and Deputy Mayor started attacking me from the dais and in the Waterland Blog I started asking what the specifics are behind their  complaints. So far I’ve only received specifics on one item–and this second hand–referring to my Weekly Update where I mentioned the Joint Emergency Operations Center. I stand by those comments and if anyone has comments or concerns over them, they should speak with me directly. As always, I welcome everyone’s input. 🙂

Now: what I’m about to write has nothing to do with that specific event. It’s just my general feelings about how presentations before the City Council should go.

Towards Better Presentations

City Hall is, for me, something of a sacred space. Over the years I have witnessed waaaaay too many poor presentations at City Hall. In fact, many of them were more performance than presentation. Insiders know exactly what I’m talking about. When I ran for office I told you that I wanted better government. For most of you that sounded kinda abstract. Well, this is one specific, nuts and bolts example of we improve government: better presentations.

If someone speaks before the Council for twenty minutes when a crisp five would have been more appropriate? If they engage in grandstanding or other self-serving behaviors? If they don’t make themselves available for questions? That’s not good for  government and I’m going to say something. Presenters should feel an obligation to be clear, concise, informative and non-performative when speaking before the Council. And when appropriate, presenters should cheerfully submit to thorough questioning.

The above seems commonsense to me. If this irritates some people, so be it. It is definitely not meant to. Presentations should not be about the presenter. Presentations should be about giving the Council (and the public) the information to make the best possible decisions.

Now look, 9x percent of presenters already do all that. They’re great. Most people who speak at the podium are not politicians or public speakers, they’re Staff or the public. They have no desire to accomplish anything but give the Council the best possible presentation. They’re not the ones I worry about. It’s the people who are comfortable at the podium: those are the people you have to worry about! 😀

One last thing: I don’t want to create the impression that I’m a ‘tough audience’. Quite the contrary. And the last thing I want to do is discourage the public from making public comment (we need to do a lot more to encourage people speaking at City Council Meetings in my opinion!) At bottom, what I want is a genuine conversation with anyone who speaks before the Council. No intimidation. But no bells and whistles either.

Weekly Update: 04/19/2020

Posted on Categories Policy, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesTags , ,

Port of the masked artist and dog at North Hill Elementary. Bear maintaining correct social distance.

This Week

Tuesday I’ll be having a virtual meeting with people from the Port Of Seattle to work on the whole Port Package Update program. I’ve cajoled, begged, nagged and wheedled enough to residents to contact SeatacNoise.Info if you have issues. So I won’t do that anymore. 😀

Tuesday is also the release date for the Coho Fish Pen down at the Marina. Swim free, little fish. free! Free! FREE! 😀  Even without the social distancing it’s not the most dramatic thing to witness. But it does matter. May they return in great numbers in a couple of years.

Wednesday is a virtual StART Meeting. Now for those of you concerned with airport issues, next week (April 23) is the deadline for submitting comments to the Dept. Of Commerce Study On Impacts From Sea-Tac Airport. Send your comments to Gary Idleburg gary.idleburg@commerce.wa.gov. Your comments matter because this is a long game. One ‘silver lining’ from COVID-19 is the reduction in noise and pollution. Many of us newer residents have never experienced how our City is supposed to be. So it’s often been tough to get newer residents to understand how bad things have gotten. We’ve just gotten used to it. Well, ironically this quiet and clean air is the real Des Moines. And my goal is to preserve at least a portion of these quieter and clearer skies as one positive outcome of this crisis.

Friday: King County Climate Collaboration virtual meeting. Ditto. As they say, we simply cannot let this crisis go to waste. We’re experiencing better air for the first time in decades and I want to keep it!

Last Week

Monday there was a Virtual Town Hall with Adam Smith at 5:00pm covering some great information on the new State unemployment benefits. I posted some details my Facebook Page, basically how to make sure your app gets processed smoothly. I asked the Congressman to see what he could do to provide a second round of stimulus specific to Cities like Des Moinesspecifically for long term capital projects. I also passed along the frustrations I’m hearing from local businesses regarding the SBA Loan process.

With the help of several activists, I’ve assembled a small  roster of private individuals who are willing to provide free translation service for people who need help filling out and submitting all those forms. I’ve done this after finding out that there are a surprising number of very hard working business people who struggle with paperwork (me too! :)). It’s ridiculous that any valuable business in Des Moines might miss out on any government program simply because of that ‘last mile’ in communication. If you know someone in this situation, please contact me!

Somewhere in there I helped Michelle Fawcett (of Salon Michelle and Destination Des Moines) put together a promo video for the Quarterdeck restaurant where they generously donated all the profits from a full day of service to the Food Bank. Michelle is one of the most tireless boosters of local business in Des Moines and took the footage for the TakeOutDesMoines promotional campaign we’re working on to get people to try Des Moines restaurants.

Wednesday I attended the Reach Out Des Moines virtual Meeting, where we saw a presentation on Phenomenal She, a great program for girls and young women of colour. I wish there had been programs like this for my kids back in the day and I am just thrilled to see it expanding to Des Moines.

Thursday was the 30th District COVID-19 Meeting. The most notable aspect of the meeting was the attendance of our Mayor and our Deputy Mayor. Not much new to report–everyone is still struggling to get basic things like PPEs and tests (more below).

Thursday also saw not an event, but a Letter From Matt Mahoney in The Waterland Blog, which (as with the previous week’s coverage of our Mayor’s beatdown) took up a certain amount of bandwidth. I was curious as to what is called in advertising ‘reach’. So I wrote the editor asking how many clicks and how much ad revenue those two posts generated (hey, I’d like to think that someone was getting something positive out all this.)

Friday I attended a virtual presentation given by the great Ann McFarlane of Jurassic ParliamentAll candidates should get to know Ms. McFarland and JP. It is great training. This seminar was called ” What’s Working On-Line Meetings” and was attended by eighty or so electeds. I attended this one mainly to see how other cities are dealing with ‘virtual city council meetings’. I came away more frustrated with the state of our situation in Des Moines. The overwhelming number of cities have been successfully conducting city business using relatively low-tech solutions like Zoom, GoToMeeting, etc. We are falling further behind other cities in our basic Council functions.

The Natives Are Getting Restless

I am hearing more and more from residents and ‘influencers’ that “It’s time to re-open Des Moines”. To which I can only say, “guys, Guys, GUYS!”

None of the data support this point of view. Every reputable scientist I’ve read or spoken with has said quite clearly that ‘the curve’ has to be going downward for two weeks before we can consider the infection to be controllable. We have not even peaked. We’re still going up, Up, UP! And not just here in small doses, but everywhere. As in planet earth everywhere. Almost every country that looked like it had gotten things under control is now experiencing a second wave. Meaning that, the moment they pumped the brakes, the disease comes back just as strong as before.

Plus: we have nothing like the proper gear to do so and will not for at least a month. The whole thing about ‘re-opening’ only works if everyone has gloves, masks, gowns and above all squillions of tests. We have none of that. We’ll need to be doing millions of tests every day. We currently do like 150k and–here’s the joke: only on people who we suspect of having it. That makes every statistic ridiculous to me. Now, can you imagine going to a hairstylist who doesn’t have PPEs? How about restaurants? Bars? What about that tight cubicle your spouse works in?

And last but not least, there’s you.How many of you are actually wearing masks in public–even in close quarters like the grocery store? Be honest. Do you really think that at least 90% of us will follow best practice after we relax the rules when I can’t get you to do it now? 😀 In short, if you favour re-opening, you’re insisting that we do so without the public having demonstrated the ability to follow some of the most basic rules of prevention. You want to re-open faster? I’ll tell you what you can do to speed the date: start wearing a mask in public. Model best practice. Please.

Now, why am I being so huffy about this? Oh, I dunno. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we have three major senior communities in town? (And they vote! 🙂 ) Plus many, many in-home care facilities. Not to mention a ton of other at-risk groups. And the fact that we have seen how you get one infection in any of these settings and you have problems. And by that I mean the kinds of problems like that Mayor with the snappy suit in Jaws who re-opened the beach too soon.

I will not support any ‘re-opening’ unless and until we are following the above recommendations from the scientific community. When we do re-open we must expect a second wave and it needs to be manageable. I completely understand that businesses are hurting, families are hurting and frankly many of you are just going stir-crazy. But the idea that we might have gone through all this sacrifice and then still have recurring waves of serious illness is galling to me. I feel ya. But please try to hang in there.  When this is all over? The drinks are on me. (Subject to PDC guidelines, of course. 😀 )

Weekly Update: 04/13/2020

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Neighborhoods, Policy, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesTags

I’m late (again) because of the holiday. It’s a funny thing what with the whole COVID-19 deal. The Internet is a wonderful invention and it definitely helps in coping. However, especially at Easter, I’m reminded me how much we all need physical connection. Which is to say, I hope you all found new ways to connect and have a blessed holiday (Easter, Pesach, etc.) in spite of the current obstacles. 🙂

This Week

Today there is a Virtual Town Hall with Adam Smith at 5:00pm covering some great information on the new State unemployment benefits. I’ll have posts on my Facebook Page soon. I asked the Congressman to see what he could do to provide a second round of stimulus specific to Cities like Des Moines–specifically for long term capital projects. I also passed along the frustrations I’m hearing from local businesses regarding the SBA Loan process.

Beyond that? Not a clue. 😀

Last Week

The response from the Take Out Des Moines Restaurant Flyer  has been pretty great. And we’ll be doing more… a lot more… soon. For now? Please download that flyer or go to the Take Out Des Moines web site and start ordering some great local food tonight!

So many forms…

I spent a good part of last week doing something pretty basic: Filling out forms. Most of the businesses in Des Moines have rushed to apply for the various SBA Coronavirus Loans and now State grants. But sometimes the biggest hurdle? Simply doing the paperwork. Boy, I wish I spoke about five more languages because translation service is something that a lot of our small businesses need help with.

April 9 City Council Meeting

Thursday was the April 9th City Council Meeting Video, Agenda. This is the second meeting conducted by telephone. There was a brief presentation on the state of the City’s finances (more below). And then there was the big todo you may have seen on social media. There will not be more below. As I’ve said before, when Henry Robert wrote his rules Of Order he was pretty clear that when the meeting is over, the meeting is over. Let it go. I will only say that I know the rules and I am happy to be judged by the voters and the constituents I try to serve every day. And I strongly encourage you to watch that video, write me and tell me what you think?  I have written both the Mayor and Deputy Mayor expressing my concerns and we’ll see how that goes. (Note for fans of transparency: You (the public) can make a Public Records Request at any time to find out how this plays out because all our emails are a matter of public record. Ironic, no? 😀 )

One notable thing is that the next City Council Meeting is set for a month from now May 7. Remember: we still have not had a single committee meeting. What this means is that no new legislation is even being considered right now. If you look at our neighbour cities they have all mastered remote meetings and are conducting council business in a situation pretty close to normal. I’ve been slammed for being critical of our emergency response, but c’mon… we have not found an effective way to keep our Council business running fully and that too should be a high priority in emergency planning. It should have happened by now–especially considering that the current social distancing may be around for a good while longer.

Shiny Penny…

At that City Council Meeting, I made the second vote so far that I regret (I’m not telling what the first one was. 😀 ) I voted twice to give the City Manager authority to spend down one-time revenue in order to offset possible revenue shortages due to COVID-19.

Why I am filled with remorse? Well first off, in a way being in the minority is an enviable position. I haven’t a care in the world. I can vote however I want and it makes absolutely no difference.  Pretty sweet, huh? So sometimes, the hardest decision I have at the dais is: “Do I vote my conscience and slow things down or do I just give in and maybe I’ll get brownie points for being cooperative? 🙂 ” Decisions, decisions.

Anyhoo, there is a somewhat complicated dance one does in passing budget resolutions like this because normally such things require not one but two meetings to become law.  I was always going to vote for the actual resolution (the second vote) because we will likely need that dough to cover current operating expenses. It was the first vote that I regret.

Confused? You weren’t alone 😀 It’s a big deal going outside the budget process, so at the first meeting you introduce the resolution, have a discussion and then decide whether or not to move to the actual vote at the second meeting. You take a couple of extra weeks to mull things over. Our first vote (the one I regret) was to bypass that second meeting because of the state of emergency. I should not have voted for this. I should have voted to delay the resolution to the second meeting.

Still with me? See, I guess I was going for the brownie points. I knew I was voting for the actual resolution (second vote) and frankly, by that point I admit I was pretty disgusted with the meeting. So I just went with it. Bad City Councilmember! Bad City Councilmember! I promise, I’ll never do it again. OK, I’ve confided in you. I’m trusting you. Just. Don’t. Tell. anyone.

Now regarding the budget presentation. I’ve asked several times over the past month for any kind of specifics as to the forecasting and I’ve been told it’s not possible, as in “Gee, I forgot to bring my crystal ball with me.” And given that? I should’ve made as big a stink as possible to get that second meeting. At least then we would’ve had a couple more weeks to try to get more details as to the financial impacts to Des Moines from COVID-19. Even though I had no chance to win that vote, I should’ve pushed harder to as much detail as possible.

Our neighbour cities have been publishing fairly detailed forecasts. I know because… wait for it… I’m able to watch their City Council and Finance Committee presentations using their space-magic-on-line-tech.. (Sorry for the snippy, I’m sooooo frustrated about this.)

The estimates I heard from City Manager Matthias were in the range of 10-20% drop in revenue. And that seems fair because every State and Federal forecast I’ve seen is for something like a twenty percent drop to GDP. So I’m nervous for detail. And… I don’t have the votes to demand more detail.

What I’m trying to say is this:  I’ve gotten a lot of very nice, supportive emails regarding the beating I took at this meeting. Thanks. Really. But I’m going to suggest to you that this may have been an unintended *shiny penny trick. What you should be writing the City Council about is, “I want more details as to financial forecasts!” Maybe the government is already doing all it can and there are simply too many unknown, unknowns. But given the poor level of communication I currently receive, I can’t say. I don’t see ‘the sausage being made’ so I have no way to know. So that’s the thing we should be focused on now, not the bad theatre you keep seeing from the dais.

*I’m always surprised that more Americans haven’t heard the expression ‘shiny penny trick’. It simply means when a children’s magician misdirects the audience away from what is really going on with some distraction (the shiny penny).