Weekly Update: 08/30/2020

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

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

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

This Week

Nothing. I got nothing. OK, nothing I can tell you about. ๐Ÿ˜€ But you can always tell me something. Give me a call (206) 878-0578 or let’s schedule a socially-distanced meeting. I promise: it’s always on the down-low.

(Well, unless you’re actually looking for advertising for an event.ย  In which case, hell yeah, I wanna tell everyone about it! ๐Ÿ˜€ )

Last Week

Monday: Helped out local businesses fill out those G.R.O. applications ๐Ÿ™‚ If you would like assistance–especially if you need a translator, please give me a call (206) 878-0578.

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

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

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

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

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

Advisory Committees

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

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

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

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

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

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

The choices

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

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

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

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

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

Now choose something else.

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

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

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

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

Then what?

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

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

The Aviation Advisory Committee? I think everybody quit. Not quite sure. ๐Ÿ˜€

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

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

And then there are the other organizations

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

Bringing back the band

Basically, a lot of these Advisory Committees just need a few more people to get involved. If you step forward, you can have an immediate impact on the City simply because no one else is doing that thing. You just need the initiative to organize a bit. Don’t worry about the ‘how’. There are lots of people who will come forward to help if you take the first step. Really. It happens whenever anyone decides to take on something worthwhile in Des Moines and it’s one of the best things about our town. ๐Ÿ™‚ And by all means do not be dismayed if the City kinda blows you off. Again, you will probably have to move forward and then get the City on board later. I know that sounds weird, but just trust me on that.

Start your own band.

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

For example: the (not dead, only mostly dead ๐Ÿ˜€ ) Citizens Advisory Committee doesn’t seem to have a Redondo representative. Well, why not start a new Redondo Citizens Advisory Committee. Certainly there are enough people upset about ongoing issues of public safety, traffic, parking, noise, the pier, etc. If you want ongoing attention from the City, that’s the way forward: create the group and make an opportunity to report to the Council on a regular basis.

How?

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

Whether you’re trying to revive an existing group or start a new one, you may be concerned that you don’t know how to organize meetings. Not to worry. The toughest challenge is ordering a gavel on-line. ๐Ÿ˜€ Seriously, the City will help you with all that parliamentarian jazz. If you can demonstrate that you have the bodies to create such a group? The City should back you. And again, you will find lots of residents who want to help you succeed.

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

It’s not me. It’s you.

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

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

OK, boomer

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

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

Bait and switch

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

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

Why are you always picking on the web site?

At the beginning of this article I said that the web site and the Advisory Group problems were linked. They are, but I’m not a good enough writer to artfully weave the two together. So I’m jamming this bit onto the end. ๐Ÿ˜€

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

One thing is for sure: Power abhors a vacuum. If you don’t help make decisions in Des Moines, someone else surely will. And probably the same person who’s been doing it for the past decade. ๐Ÿ˜€

Coda: The obligatory disclaimer

Look, I don’t wanna dunk of the City here too much.(Too late? ๐Ÿ˜€ ) I talked a lot here about values. You can tell what any organization values not by what they say but by what they do. There are a ton of things the City does which are best in class. Clearly, we have staff who know how to do great things. And those are the things that the City actually values.

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

Half-Weekly Update: 07/01/2020

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Just a quick note: Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. After thirty three ‘Weekly Updates’, I finally missed my deadline. So consider this a half-assed weekly update.

This Week

Monday: I attended a very good meeting hosted by our State Representative Tina Orwall to try to move forward on her HEPA Interior Air Quality Study. Also in attendance were Mayor Matt Pina, officials from Highline Schools as well as State Senator Karen Keiser. There have been several encouraging studies now that seem to indicate that better air filtering in schools can lead to not only healthier kids, but also higher test scores. This study will provide valuable information on how we can improve air quality in public buildings and our homes–and what benefits that might yield.

Tuesday: I gave testimony at the Port Of Seattle’s Special Meeting on Policing. Here is the letter I sent to the commissioners. I think their willingness to have a meeting where the public could vent a bit is important and it’s something we should do here as well. I’m also pleased to reportย  receiving personal replies from two commissioners.

Tuesday: I attended a Highline Good Neighbors Group meeting in Burien. This is the group Melissa Petrini started last year to try to unite residents from all our communities to discuss issues of public safety, homelessness, drugs, etc. The group had made great progress until COVID-19 made things impossible. She’s starting up again with a group of twenty and we’ll see if we can get the ball rolling again. I really think this is the sort of community work that needs to happen in order to make the area safer and–and also tamp down on some of the polarization. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, just email Melissa with “Highline Good Neighbors” in the subject line.

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

Wednesday: I’ll be speaking with Mark Finstrom the Chief Technology Officer of Highline Schools. The school district intends on a levy to provide better Internet services for students.

Thursday: a briefing from King County Metro on the fiscal challenges facing Metro, and the service changes you can expect this fall.

Saturday: I may (or may not) be doing a 10K run with the Destination Des Moines/Rotary Running Of The Flags fun run (or in my case, dignified stroll. :D) If I do, my route will be the same fairly straight shot I used to do during my campaign: start from the northern most point in DM on Des Moines Memorial Drive and head down to 272nd and 16th Ave. That’s just about 6.2 miles (and 10k). But whether or not I punk out miserably? I’m counting on you to sign up and take your place in history, glory, etc., etc…. ๐Ÿ˜€

Last Week

Tuesday: Association of Washington Cities (AWC) ‘virtual’ annual conference.

Tuesday: Another one of those darned Port Of Seattle meetings.

Wednesday: An AWC training class. Plus one on one meetings with members of the Puget Sound Clean Air Advisory Committee.

Wednesday: Lunch at the Senior Center. Got me an EATS voucher!

Wednesday: Sea-Tac Airport Advisory Roundtable (StART) Meeting. It’s less of a roundtable nowadays–more like a semi-circle, since Des Moines, Burien and Federal Way left. But it still matters.

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) General Assembly. Some time soon I gotta do an explainer on the PSRC. Like I say over and over, it’s the most important government agency no one’s ever heard of.

Thursday was the first Committee meetings of the year. Woo Hoo! Municipal Facilities, Economic Development. (More below.)

And a City Council Meeting to boot! (Agenda and directions on public comment) ย Public Hearing on Transportation Plan (2021-2040)

The Committees essay

So, last week was the first City Council committee meetings. And I just want to remind everyone (including the City) that these are public meetings. Which means that you can attend (or watch them in the case of Zoom) by signing up just like any other City Council meeting. Now currently, the City is not accepting ‘live’ public comment, which grinds at me, but you can (and should) be aware of the members of each committee on issues you are interested in. And you should reach out to them by phone or email because it is at the committee level that policy is actually made. That’s important: by the time an issue has made its way to the full council it’s usually a ‘done deal’; the full council is simply approving the actions created by the committee. The time to make your voice heard is when things are being formulated in committee, which is months and months ahead of the full council.

Overview

So, as per usual, I’m gonna get yelled at for ‘over-simplifying, please go here for more on the constant struggle to keep these things short.

There are five main Council committees in Des Moines:

  • Economic Development: Jeremy Nutting (c), Traci Buxton, Matt Pina
  • Municipal Facilities: Jeremy Nutting (c), Luisa Bangs,ย  Matt Mahoney
  • Public Safety: Luisa Bangs, Anthony Martinelli, Matt Mahoney
  • Transportation: Matt Mahoney, Matt Pina, JC Harris
  • Environment: Matt Pina, Luisa Bangs, JC Harris

There is nothing special about these committee names or their functionality. Other cities have other names for similar functions. And many cities have waaaaaay more Council committees. Eg. Burien has an Airport Committee. SeaTac has a Finance Committee. The full City Council could decide to create a new Committee at any time if it felt the need.

The members of each committee are decided by the Mayor at the beginning of each year. Usually Councilmembers present their choices to aid his decision-making. This process does not thrill me, but to be fair Mayor Pina did give me the choices I told him were most important to me.

Speaking very broadly, the process of each committee is similar: The group works to create one or more short term and long term plans of some sort and then spends the rest of the year fleshing out those goals (schedule, cost) and getting them ready to bring to the full Council for a vote as part of a budget. It’s that annual budget that actually drives pretty much everything. You don’t just pass laws here and there in an ad hoc fashion. You pass them as part of that one main budget process. So the committees are constantly interacting with other teams (eg. Finance) so that all the needs/wants/desires are balanced. Remember: we have to present a balanced budget every year so no committee works in isolation.

A very different year

As it has been in so many ways, this year was different from others in that at the last Council Meeting, we voted on that Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) mentioned above–even though the Transportation Committee (TC) hasn’t yet met. But if it were a ‘normal’ year, a group of residents, say from Redondo, might have shown up at an early TC meeting and lobbied to get action onto the TIP to remediate complaints of noise, speeding, etc. That’s how it should work.

Ad hoc requests

What the public is seeing in the new Council is somewhat chaotic. Part of that is because of COVID-19 (and not as some people grouse, due to ‘the new guys’.) The Mayor and City Manager shut down the committees almost immediately after the pandemic began and kept them closed longer than any other nearby city. So that has made everything more of of a hash.

A few meetings ago, I made a motion from the dais for the City to purchase patio tables for the Senior Center. As I’ve said, it was something of a stunt–just to get the Senior Center some attention; and frankly to set the stage forย  ‘explainers’ like this one. To begin with, I’m not even on the Municipal Facilities Committee (MFC), which controls that sort of spending. I can however, do exactly what I encourage you to do, show up as a resident and try to present public comment–or send them a letter saying what I want, “We want Patio Tables! When do we want ’em? Now!” At that point the members of the MFC might choose to add that purchase to the current year’s work plan and get that into the annual City Budget. That is how laws are supposed to get made: you put down your ideas at the committee level and you get them looked at early enough in the year that your request has a chance to be included in the annual budget. Eg. at the first MFC meeting, Luisa Bangs brought up the notion of a new project for Midway Park. So that will now become part of the discussion in future meetings. That could have been you raising that idea.

Now: as with my ‘patio tables’ some of my colleagues have been proposing legislation outside the committee process–and doing it with abandon, in order to try to get immediate action from the full Council. I get the sentiment: when you don’t have committees, there’s no other way to do legislation. But I want to emphasize: that is not how City government is supposed to work and believe it or not, I do not want it to become routine. City Legislation is supposed to be done according to a really boring, regular process. It’s gotta be a godawful emergency for me to vote for any change in routine procedure. That’s really how I feel. (Don’t believe it? That’s why I always vote against motions to skip second readings on various ordinances that require two meetings. What’s the frickin’ hurry?) But, I digress. ๐Ÿ˜€

So… how do I find out more?

Now, here’s the challenge–and why I kinda regret not asking to be on the MFC (hey, a guy can’t be everywhere, right?) Because one of the things the MFC controls is… wait for it… the City’s web site and communications. And as you know, it drives me beyond nuts that so many things the City does (like committee meetings) are not well-advertised.

Because if you’ve been reading along, and you’re almost ready to buy into my notion of trying to participate in committee meetings, a question has probably occurred to you: How in the hell do I know when to show up? That’s a very good question. Currently, we don’t make it easy for the public. And frankly, I think that’s kinda intentional.

If you go to any number of committee meetings in our neighbour communities, you’ll often see a whole bunch of residents. In DM, you rarely see civilians at such meetings–and when you do, they tend to be ‘insiders’, people who are part of the big groups which are tightly aligned with the City. You almost never see a Joe/Jane Average at these meetings. Now take a look at the Burien Web Site. See how you can get a list of every meeting–including committees and easily drill down to specific agendas? That is what we should have here.

But I hope you will work with me to change that. These are public meetings and by law you are allowed to be present. And you are allowed to provide your input in some fashion. And as I’ve tried to explain, this is exactly the place where you should provide your input, because full Council meetings are a lot like yer typical Wedding Band: We generally don’t take requests. ๐Ÿ˜€

The Futures is where it’s at, baby

Until the City makes committee meetings part of the public schedule, the only way I can think of for the public to be aware of what’s coming up is the Futures Agenda, which is basically a Word document consisting of the tentative schedule of the City Council and Committee meetings. It’s not very detailed, and it’s definitely subject to change from week to week. But for example, the first meeting of the Transportation and Environment Committees (which I’m on) is July 9th. But then our next meetings aren’t until September 10th–which seems a looooong way off given how late we are at getting started. You kinda just have to keep looking to see where and when.

So… I’m gonna do my best from here on out to advertise committee meetings both here and on my Facebook page. (Shameless plug: If you sign up to receive these Weekly Updates in yer Inbox you’ll automatically be notified in advance about committee meetings.)

Summary

In short, for most of the issues residents care about, Committees are where the action is.ย  If you want to get your ideas addressed, you need to get involved at that level. And you need to get your ideas presented before the annual budget meetings if you want to have a chance of getting something done in the next calendar year.

I know that’s a lot of information. Fortunately, there will be no quiz. ๐Ÿ˜€ But I’m trying to give you tools to get your needs/wants/complaints addressed most effectively. And knowing a bit about these committees gives you a leg up. Because if there’s one thing I want you to keep in mind, if you’re an engaged resident, it’s this: There are always going to be a lot of people in Des Moines who want a lot of things. And usually, it’s the people who want ‘it’ the most who get the most attention.