Weekly Update: 06/20/2021

Posted on Categories Weekly Updates1 Comment on Weekly Update: 06/20/2021

Happy Fathers Day!

The world seems to be getting back to normal. Ish. I was honored to attend the first unmasked event I’ve been to in over a year: a combo Fathers Day/Graduation party for the son of one our residents. This is a real American success story. The father immigrated here, started a business, bought a house in Des Moines that had been a code enforcement problem for years and transformed it into something you’d see in the Seattle Times Sunday Magazine. So to celebrate the first member of his family graduating college, he did it right: He hosted a full-on Banda–a traditional Mexican group with tuba, accordion, mariachis. It’s gonna take me a bit of work to get used to hearing people celebrate in public like that.

Public Service Announcements

There are now vaccine appointments available every day now, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. The Des Moines Waterfront Farmer’s Market is now officially open every Saturday. And parking on Saturdays is free, Free, FREE!
  2. Sign up for the UW Airport Communities Solutions Summit Friday, June 18th and learn what we can do to reduce the noise and pollution
  3. Downtown City Cleanup, sponsored by Destination Des Moines is Saturday June 19th, 10:00AM at Big Catch Plaza! Email Michelle to sign up: michellefawcett@comcast.net
  4. You like running, right? Biking? So sign up for the Running Of The Flags  and support the Legacy Foundation, Destination Des Moines and Rotary!
  5. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Please send your questions to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  6. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  7. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  8. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  9. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Monday: I attended a seminar on Chronic Homelessness hosted by former Governor Christine Gregoire. Here is the presentation. I’ve been studying this for a good while now and I asked a question that I can never seem to get an answer to: “How many?” How many homeless people are there specifically in Des Moines? The only data anyone ever points to is this ‘one night count’ the County does every year. It is wildly inaccurate but no one ever proposes anything more rigorous. At the risk of being my usual cranky pants, this is obviously intentional. People in the field seem not to want to do such detailed mapping because they don’t want NIMBYism to get into the discussion. They’re terrified of the common resident complaint against any affordable housing “If you build it they will come.” ie. that we should never do anything because all that would do would be to act as a magnet for homeless people from all over. I strenuously disagree. I think that the public is deeply cynical about the entire issue. They see how much money has already been spent, without great results, and that lack of transparency only feeds into their skepticism. At some point, we need to get public buy-in and we need the same analytics to this issue as we would demand from any other public policy.

Monday: Destination Des Moines meeting. Apparently, the Fireworks are canceled. Now: this was the first time I’ve actually said anything since I’ve been attending. I brought up the notion of printing restaurant flyers to distribute to Wesley, Judson and the FAA people. That was the whole point of creating TakeOutDesMoines last year. But for a bunch of stupid reasons, the flyers never got distributed. I hope the group makes that happen this year because I keep trying to tell people that there are a lot of people in these three places who have no idea about our restaurants but who are potential lunch customers. 🙂

Tuesday-Thursday: Association Of Washington Cities (AWC) Annual Conference. I love this thing. It’s a get-together of local electeds from all over Washington. What always puzzles me is how very few people attend from around here. Some attend their first year just to see what’s what, but every year there are a gazillion seminars on local government that are extremely helpful. When you hear me talk about ‘how other cities do things’, this is the value. You learn that every city is facing similar challenges and its fascinating to see how many different ways there are to tackle them.

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting (Agenda) Many of you are objecting to the parking lot project which would eliminate North SeaTac Park. The advocates don’t particularly need my help, but I commented because I felt like I needed to emphasize for those activists that the Port’s standard line “we’ll address this fully in the environmental review process” is simply disingenuous and they should not be distracted by that. I know it  seems counter-intuitive, but the NEPA/SEPA process is not meant to save that park. If the Commission does not act pro-actively, the likely outcome would still be a parking lot–but with some doodads to make it more ‘environmentally friendly’.

Thursday: South King County Housing Homelessness Partners Executive Committee. My comments re. Governor Gregoire’s Webinar would apply here as well. SKHHP has been at this now for almost two years and I honestly can’t see anyone, you know, building any housing any time soon: market-rate or otherwise. I’m no rocket scientist, but my guess is that, if you want to deal with a chronic shortage of affordable housing, you’re gonna have to actually start building some affordable housing. (Actually even before that, you gotta stop making ‘affordable’ a dog whistle for “crappy”.)

I’m cranky about it because, as the pandemic comes to an end, we’re about to see a whole lotta disruption. Eviction bans will end. The utility districts will come looking for all their back due money. Average rent in DM is now pushing $1,600. In Kent, it’s over $2,000. You’re starting to see these signs now, right? I saw them in 2008 and I am concerned.

You should care about this, because instability in any neighborhood makes every neighborhood less safe.

Last Week

Tuesday: South County Transportation Board (SCATBd). There was a presentation on the national legislative agenda of the Biden administration on transportation planning. It’s fascinating at a macro-level.

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee Meeting I’m continuing to pitch the SeatacNoise.Info Remote Works Better proposal to all the airport communities. Basically, let’s get every government to start thinking about remote work and reducing the number of flights by continuing to use Zoom.

Thursday: Both the Environment Committee and Transportation Committee meetings were cancelled with no explanation. For those new to the show, although these are labeled as ‘Council’ Committees, the staff actually runs the show. So staff can (and do) cancel meetings. Or the Chair will do so without asking fellow Committee members. And if a Committee member asks, “Why?” the response will be, “Well, the staff had better things to do.”  Add this to the list of things that will change.

So, JC, why does that bug you so much?

Glad you asked: These meetings are max forty five minutes. A new Councilmember comes into any of these committees and struggles to learn the material. The meetings are a venue to learn about the nuts and bolts. And I don’t think asking staff to spend 45 minutes a month educating the Council (their bosses, mind you) is a lot to ask. Long time City watchers (you know, all three of you 😀 ) will recall that immediately upon leaving City Council in 2017, Dave Kaplan was hired by the City Manager as a transportation consultant. CM Kaplan had been the CM assigned to SCATbd. And the explanation given for his consultant contract was that the City “needed Mr. Kaplan’s transportation experience at a critical time in the SR-509 process. New Councilmember Mahoney was  “not ready”. Uh huh. So, if committee experience is so danged valuable, we should do everything possible to get CMs trained up as quickly as possible.

Also, committee meetings are the time when CMs can bring forward new business. We’re supposed to legislate from time to time. So when staff cancels a meeting, it cuts off any CM from an opportunity to present their ideas.

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) (Video)  See below.(you can sign up to watch or comment from the Agenda.) There’s some Consent Agenda stuff that actually mattered–we’re moving ahead with the bulkhead replacement.

Saturday: I attended a candidate forum at Wesley Terrace with Gene Achziger and Soleil Lewis and about a dozen residents. The residents asked some great questions and what struck me was the fact that all of them were about things not having to do with Wesley. They asked about homelessness, public safety, programs for kids, the downtown and a lot of nuts and bolts about how Council-Manager government works.

I have railed many times about how difficult it was for me to campaign at Wesley and Judson in 2019 (I was constantly being ordered of the property by management, even when invited by residents.) The fact that the residents of Wesley were able to do this with the blessing of management is a very positive step! Seniors vote in the highest percentage in Des Moines so it’s critical that candidates get to know them.

Council Meeting Recap

Bulkhead replacement

We voted to approve the Marina North Seawall replacement on the Consent Agenda. Candidate pro-tip: One of the many procedural things I hope to change is that we do this weird thing where we have items on our Consent Agenda, but still have a full presentation and discussion. My feeling is that, if an item of business has a presentation and a discussion, it should not be on the Consent Agenda.

Anyhoo, there were several rhetorical questions from my colleagues and I had one myself: I bothered the City Engineer to note that four items from our Capital Budget, totally about $350,000 were being pushed off into the future in order to fund this project. I did this to make a point: We’re strapped!

Thank you. 🙂

Seriously, one of the ongoing disagreements I have with my colleagues is how to characterize the state of the City’s financial health. Yes, the City was on the edge of bankruptcy six years ago. Yes, we pay the bills now and have the proper reserves. Great. But we struggle to do anything more than that. Even with a generous grant from the State, we still had to stop work on things like playground equipment and Barnes Creek Trail and a road improvement project in North Hill that people have been waiting on since for-ehhhver. I want the public (and candidates) to understand where we’re really at. Candidates tend to promise stuff, not realizing the money has to come from somewhere. And the public often gets confused–they hear the City saying how ‘well’ we’re doing, then wonder why more things don’t get fixed.

Farmers Market Kerfuffle

I pulled the Farmers Market rental agreement item from the Consent Agenda. It was yet another one of those, “The City Manager won’t answer my question” deals. The City Manager decided to reduce their annual rent from $35,000 down to $100 for the second year in a row. I simply asked,

“Did the FM Board request this or did you offer it?”

And the reply I got was basically “Why do you want to know?” (sigh). So CM Buxton then replies with, “I talked with their board. I know the answer. But I won’t tell you until you first tell me why you want to know.”

I replied to both as follows:

It. Doesn't. Matter.

If -you-, or any other CM, asked a question of the administration (and
-especially- if it concerned an agenda item), I would expect that you
receive a full and cheerful response. 'Why do you want to know?' got
nothing to do with it.

If a CM wants to know? Don’t argue. Just answer the question. When I’m filling out my taxes or some other government form I can’t put “Why do you want to know?” on line #29.

But how’s this: We’re effectively giving them a $34,999 grant. I’m not used to giving people organizations money unless they ask for it. And if they ask for it, I then want to know, “Why do you need it?” That’s not a nosy question. It’s your tax dollars. There’s supposed to be an application and a process.

And then there’s this: A lot of the public has a natural curiosity as to how well the FM is doing. Last year, it was obvious that they needed a break. This year? I have no idea. So my hope was to gain some general sense of how they expect to do this summer.

Plus, remember that a big part of the sales pitch for the Marina Redevelopment is “Year Round Farmers Market!” Which sounds pretty fab, right? But the other part of that sales pitch is that the Adaptive Purpose Building is meant to be a primary revenue generator for rebuild the docks. That being the case, we need to know the realistic cash flow potential of all potential tenants.

Now: everyone loves the Farmers Market. Including moi. I shouldn’t even have to say that. But one of the things I truly resent is the fact that every time I as perfectly reasonable questions regarding your tax dollars, I get push back like, “Oh, you must really hate the Farmers Market.”

LGBTQ Pride Month

The City read a proclamation declaring June LGBTQ Pride Month. I kinda wish we had members of the public show up and give us some ideas on how to do more to celebrate. If you have some thoughts, please let me know. I’ll just mention again, on my auto-play rant on ‘volunteerism’ that, if you want some other form of celebration (parade, etc.) you gotta show up to make it happen. 🙂

Police Update

Chief Of Police Ken Thomas did a presentation called ‘Police Update’. Ahead of the meeting I asked our City Manager: “Can you give me a one sentence preview of what this will be about?”

To which he replied:

Not sure what value a quick preview will provide to you prior to City Council hearing this Police report.

Ignoring the rank insubordination, I’ll tell you, Dear Reader the ‘value’. In the past two weeks the City Council received more letters concerning public safety than at any time I have served. If the public knows the general subjects to be covered, they are more likely to tune in and feel like they are being heard. Add this to the list of things that need to change.

Salmon Recovery

There was a presentation on WRIA 9, salmon habitat recovery, which for you, largely concerns ‘de-armoring’–getting rid of hard seawalls near places where salmon spawn. Salmon are seriously picky when it comes to procreation. They hate seawalls. If we had tried to build a Marina today, I doubt we could get permitting because any man-made barrier lowers fish counts. The only good news is that, by participating in these programs, we are eligible for all sorts of grants to redevelop areas like Massey Creek at the south end of the Yacht Club.

Committee Recordings

Under New Business, I proposed that the recordings of Committee Meetings should be made public. As I’ve been saying for a while, everyone would see the little red ‘recording’ light on the Zoom window, but the City would insist “Nope, we’re not recording ’em. No sir.”

This is another flavour of the kind of routine frustration I just mentioned with the Farmers Market. The job of Councilmember is at least ninety percent oversight. You gotta be able to ask reasonable questions about everything without having to worry that you’re being insensitive or unsupportive.

Now just as a review, New Business items are not votes to take action. They are decisions to put a proposal on a future City Council Meeting Agenda. You propose something and, if you get the support of two other CMs (DM Mahoney and CM Martinelli in this case), it moves forward. The entire discussion consists of making the Agenda item specific enough so that the administration can research the particulars of cost and language.

We decided to move forward on two related but separate items:

  1. We will vote to make any existing Committee Meeting recordings public and also to make any future Committee recordings public. I was a bit of a stickler for language on this because, as you can tell if you watch the Mayor’s comments, the Council still does not know exactly when the City began recording Committee Meetings. (See above frustration. 😀 )
  2. The administration will come forward with a budget and technical requirements to record future meetings when we go back to conducting committee meetings ‘in real life’. One objection to doing this was always that the North Conference Room (where meetings are held) is kinda small and the IT guys said it was challenging to set up video gear. Not sure I always bought that 100%, but we’ll see. 🙂

My Comments

The rest of my comments were basically to encourage the public to get organised. I make comments like this all the time, I know they annoy staff (as an engineer, they would annoy me) but… tough noogies. 🙂

At bottom, a City is a customer service operation: We respond to customer requests for police, transportation, permitting and on and on.

Every week the City Council gets complaints/suggestions about various neighbourhood problems–often traffic or public safety. We seem to be getting them a lot more these days for various reasons.

Most of the time these letters read to me like the resident is trying to inform the City of something they assume it doesn’t already know.

I dunno if this will be comforting or annoying but, NEWSFLASH! 99.99% of the time, whatever you’re reporting or wherever you’re reporting about, it’s something the City has already heard about between one and four squillion times. 😀

City engineers periodically take an inventory of roads, accident reports, traffic data, etc. They use a data-driven scoring system to prioritise what/when/how to address these things based on how much money we have to spend every year. It’s technocratic and fair.

But, let’s be real girlfriend. If you look at the Transportation Improvements Project sheet or any ‘analytics driven’  City service, there are a lot of projects that score similarly. So there is absolutely no reason why, if your neighbourhood is more engaged, that you shouldn’t get your project done first. And in fact, that is exactly what happens here on Planet Des Moines.

The neighbourhoods that are better organized get more attention. You can call it ‘democracy’, ‘the squeaky wheel’, but if you care about your neighbourhood, you should pay attention.

DPW Carver was right to say that ‘this is not a popularity contest’. But this is democracy. If your neighbourhood wants something enough, all things being equal, it deserves a bump on the priority list.

Redondo is getting attention now, frankly not based 100% on ‘analytics’. I love y’all, but if you think Redondo is objectively ‘worse’ in some regards than any of a number of DM neighbourhoods? That’s because you don’t get around as much as I do. 😀 And that’s fine. Again: that’s democracy.

Reporting is not complaining

That said, the City (including policing) has a fixed number of resources. We have to know what’s going on in order to allocate properly.

What concerns me is when residents say, “I don’t like to complain.”

This whole notion of ‘complaining’ has gotsta go! The word ‘complaint’ has become code to shut down perfectly reasonable discussions. Stop saying “complain”. Instead, say “report”. Every time you have an issue? Report it. You’re not ‘complaining’. You’re providing the raw data, the police or the engineer needs to move your issue to the top of the stack.

When people tell me, “JC you complain so much.”, I politely tell them to stop complaining so much. 🙂

It’s your neighbourhood

And one last thing: I’m trying to get you to build your neighbourhood. I first got involved in local politics because my street was going downhill. I bought my house because I loved my neighbours. But after the Great Recession one guy sold his house to some no account landlord–who rented it to a copper-thieving tweaker. And all it took was that one guy to ruin the entire street. One by one, all my long term neighbours moved. It’s taken a decade for my street to recover. Sound familiar?

Your issues are probably quite different. Doesn’t matter. I want you to report and advocate for your street because I want you invested in your neighbours and your neighbourhood. This is as essential to securing the future of Des Moines as any City service we might provide.

Weekly Update: 06/13/2021

Posted on Categories Weekly Updates2 Comments on Weekly Update: 06/13/2021

Public Service Announcements

There are now vaccine appointments available every day now, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. The Des Moines Waterfront Farmer’s Market is now officially open every Saturday. And parking on Saturdays is free, Free, FREE!
  2. Sign up for the UW Airport Communities Solutions Summit Friday, June 18th and learn what we can do to reduce the noise and pollution
  3. Downtown City Cleanup, sponsored by Destination Des Moines is Saturday June 19th, 10:00AM at Big Catch Plaza! Email Michelle to sign up: michellefawcett@comcast.net
  4. You like running, right? Biking? So sign up for the Running Of The Flags  and support the Legacy Foundation, Destination Des Moines and Rotary!
  5. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Please send your questions to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  6. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  7. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  8. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  9. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Tuesday: South County Transportation Board (SCATBd)

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee Meeting I’m continuing to pitch the SeatacNoise.Info Remote Works Better proposal to all the airport communities. Basically, let’s get every government to start thinking about remote work and reducing the number of flights by continuing to use Zoom.

Thursday: Both the Environment Committee and Transportation Committee meetings were cancelled with no explanation. For those new to the show, the notion that these meetings get cancelled by who knows who, without explanation or input, has gotta stop at some point.

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) (you can sign up to watch or comment from the Agenda.) There’s some Consent Agenda stuff that actually matters–we’re moving ahead with the bulkhead replacement. But among the things that will actually be discussed:
1. The City will read a proclamation declaring June LGBTQ Pride Month.

2. The City Manager will do a presentation called ‘Police Update’. No idea what that means, however there has been a flurry of resident complaints about noise and disruption from cars–in both Redondo and other neighborhoods, including the Marina District.

3. There will be a presentation on WRIA 9, which means salmon habitat recovery. This is (yet another) one of those things where it’s easy to be cynical. I hope by now you understand my sincere concern for environmental issues. However, the most practical aspect of a lot of these projects is that they afford the City really significant monetary opportunities to develop the affected areas (under the guise of salmon recovery). So far, actual improvement of salmon returns has not been achieved here. I’m not it’s not worth it to keep trying and the money is definitely nice to have. I’m just trying to be clear that, as a State we are spending an unbelievable amount of money on these fish–and so far, they just aren’t showing proper appreciation, by, you know, surviving.

Friday: UW Aviation Solutions Summit (sign up!)

Saturday: Destination Des Moines sponsored Downtown Cleanup (sign up!)

Last Week

Monday: Meeting with 33rd State Representative Tina Orwall. I’m pitching something pretty mundane sounding called Remote Works Better. This may be the only good idea I ever have for immediately reducing noise and pollution around Sea-Tac Airport. The notion is pretty simple: with Zoom we were able painlessly reduce a whole lot of flights and car traffic and we just keep doing that whenever possible. A lot of air travel is simply unnecessary. We just have to realize that in 2020, we proved it.

Monday: I spoke with Noemie Maxwell, who is organizing to stop the removal of the North SeaTac Park in order to build an airport parking lot. The loss of tree cover has been brutal for all the communities surrounding the airport. Please sign her petition: https://www.kctreeequity.org/

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Meeting. (Agenda) The notable thing here was a presentation on their 2021 Legislative Agenda. You can tell how a government really feels based on two things: their budget (what they spend money on) and their LA (what they are lobbying for.) And frankly, it’s not looking good. After several years of some minor optimism, I have to tell it like it is: the Port is becoming steadily more entrenched against the environmental interests of all airport communities. It has done an absolutely magnificent job of appearing to care about environmental issues, but doing almost nothing material. The pandemic has given the Port the perfect excuse to be even less aggressive (if that was possible) on these issues and leadership in all the fence line communities seem perfectly fine with the notion that “this is as good as it gets.”

Wednesday: Meeting with King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove on the County Climate Action Plan—see Monday. :D. Same topic.

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association Meeting. Most of the time was spent discussing ‘dry stack storage’ which we gotta get into at some point. I guess the main stat I want to mention is that the total paid membership is less than 40–so there are, what, seven hundred freeloaders? 😀 But more seriously, the total attendance at these meetings tends to be less than ten–which includes two Councilmembers (the Deputy Mayor and I) and two City Staff. Usually zero members of any Condo association and certainly none of the general public. All I’m getting at is that what is driving a lot of the Marina Redevelopment–is truly only a handful of people. Because oftenn when the discussion seems only of interest to boaters, a lot of the time there is crossover. More soon.

Sunday: I attended the ribbon cutting for the new Organic Blend restaurant off of Marine View Drive and 225th. (I gotta be honest, the address on Google says 22341 but that’s a bit confusing.)

2003 Furniture Store Guy

Another old guy reference: There’s this moment in the movie Amadeus, where the Emperor walks in on a rehearsal of Mozart’s newest music and he sees something so obviously wrong he’s rendered speechless with confusion.

My ‘fix the web site’ proposal

At last week’s City Council Meeting, I felt a lot like this guy (not like an Emperor 😀 ). You have an issue you care about and you can’t understand why other people don’t see what you see. It’s just obvious. 😀

That’s how I feel about our City’s web site. So I made one of the the stupider speeches of my relatively short career–basically along the lines of

“um… er… could… um… er… somebody… um… you know… please… er… uh…  well… fix it?’)

Really productive.

I’ve been thinking about this because, at the end of the day, you get elected to convince people to do things, not to be ‘right’. If neither your colleagues  (or the public) sees what you see, you’re kind of a failure.

Two other issues…

Beyond the transparency and public engagement issues there are two other problems that I thought were kinda obvious for both my colleagues and the public. They are not and I guess that’s also on me. I’ll summarize here and then, if you give a crap, some details below.

  • The current web site is challenging for a significant percentage of our community–many seniors, but also people with disabilities and ESL. That is a not small number of residents (Have I mentioned recently that seniors vote upwards of 90% in some neighborhoods? For a City that prides itself on a commitment to seniors that’s not great.)
  • Our digital presence does not properly promote the City’s image and values. It does not look like the web site of a $100 million corporation that wants to attract entrepreneurs and growth.

These are not separate deals. They demonstrate a mindset that goes way beyond a web site. At my old company we had a nickname for it, we called it “Furniture Store Guy”.

Ah, the good ol’ days…

At the dawn of history, when many organizations still had either no or terrible web sites (you know, 2003 😀 ), my company would have a fairly regular argument with skeptical clients about ‘good enough’. How much dough did they really need to put into their digital presence? Here’s a quote from a client who owned a chain of furniture stores (the kind that used to advertise every week in newspapers.)

“Nobody visits the web site, so why are you telling me to spend money on the web site?”

Now I have some problems with this logic, but this guy was no dummy. He had built a successful business. He felt that it was the best use of his resources to put money into things that had been working for decades. However, he didn’t see that the world about to shift from newspapers to smartphones. And he didn’t see how the rest of the world was starting to see his stores as kinda long in the tooth. So he made the decision to have a digital presence that he considered ‘good enough’.

This is democracy…

It took me a while to grasp that the City’s digital presence is really my problem. It’s not only OK with my colleagues and the administration, it’s also just fine with a lot of our businesses and residents.It never dawned on me (really) that so many people don’t see what I see.

I think there are two reasons for this:

  • For some, it’s likely because they already have the digital literacy to navigate the site as it is. They don’t recognize how much of a struggle it is for others.
  • And for a lot of people and businesses, they just don’t seen the value of the City’s digital presence for them. They don’t see a good digital presence as being the business card, the branding of the City Of Des Moines for the outside world and for our future.

City response…

Early this week I sent an email to the administration with a laundry list of things I see as important fixes. This was totally cringey for many reasons, not the least of which being that I’m sure it comes off as the worst kind of ‘back seat driving’ to staff. But if yer asking people to work on something they don’t see, you gotta be specific.

On Friday, I received a detailed  and thoughtful reply from our IT department to each item, which I will over-simplify as “We were already working on it–we had planned to get this done over the summer.”

Which is good and bad. I am glad that some of the major (not all) issues I raised  will be addressed. But it’s bad because the City felt like these issues were just not that urgent.

My takeaway:

  1. Our digital presence is just not a high priority, either to my colleagues or the administration or a good deal of the public. It’s good enough.
  2. This is exactly the kind of thing that could (and should) be handled in private. But because the relationship between Council and the administration is so verkachte, the only way for me to raise this sort of issue (even to get an update as to what is going on) is to raise it from the dais.

Everything comes down to marketing…

Look, I did a terrible job of explaining why people should care about our City’s digital presence, but this is not about ‘fix the web site’. One of my main goals is to market Des Moines. When people perpetually ask “Why hasn’t Des Moines reached its ‘potential’?”, it hasn’t just been a money issue. It’s also been a marketing issue. A large portion of our residents wanted (and still want) to stay a ‘hidden gem’. For a long time, I was one of those people. We never properly marketed the City. That has to change.

My colleagues often talk about promoting business. The first thing interaction most of the world will have with Des Moines is through some form of digital presence–likely our web site. That’s the first impression, the chance to show a potential resident or business owner or developer who we are and what we value. We can look relatively sophisticated and innovative, or… you know… not.

The best way to look sophisticated and innovative is, you know, to actually do something sophisticated and innovative. 😀 Great marketing tends to be very expensive and time consuming. A decent web site is a cheap way to show the world (and our residents) the kind of community we are and the entrepreneurs we want to attract. At the end of the day, all this jazz about ‘transparency’ and ‘engagement’ and ‘accessibility’ and ‘branding’ is just good marketing. And marketing is what this city has always needed as much as any new building project.

At the risk of sounding passive aggressive, I misunderstood how much selling there is to do here. It’s my fault. At my old company, we turned Furniture Store Guy into a running joke for being stuck in the past. But again, he was not a joke. He rationally chose to stay on a path that had always worked for him. We failed. It was our job to show him that times were changing and that it would be in his best interest to invest in his digital presence.

Because here’s the thing: by the time it became obvious to him that he needed a better digital presence, it was too late. Someone else, more savvy, came into his market and became dominant. He didn’t go out of business. He just never reached his potential.

A specific use case

Since I have so many bitches, and I’ve already traveled deep into cringey back seat driving, I figured, what the hell? I should give you at least one specific example of what ‘better’ looks like. This is a modest City web site that punches above its weight… and it’s right next door: https://normandyparkwa.gov/  🙂

It’s not just that it’s more accessible. Or that it actually invites feedback from visitors on how better to serve. What catches my eye is that their government had the very sensible notion to hire a for realz marketing agency to develop and project an image and a message. They took their branding and image seriously. It’s not the specific image or branding or message that matters. Or even the fact that they hired an outside company.  What matters is that any visitor (whether they are conscious of it or not) immediately sees that the City Of Normandy Park really cares about the image they’re trying to project.

Footnote: Some previous rants I’ve had about the site’s lack of accessibility:

  1. Apart from any of the other shortcomings of the web site, at least a portion of this discussion trivialises the lack of accessibility for a very large number of our residents.Using any performance metric such as the number of people watching Council meetings or searching for information is not only irrelevant it’s just plain wrong. By such logic, ADA ramps would never have been mandated.

    If the site isn’t easy to use for seniors, the disabled and the large number of people who speak other languages, we cannot call ourselves an ‘inclusive’ community.

    Inclusion means fair access for everyone, not just the people lucky enough to own an iPhone, have no disabilities, read English fluently–and already possess a level of digital literacy that is apparently taken for granted by people here. Maybe that’s still the majority in Des Moines, but even if it is I could care less.

    The web site is a cue as to what the City values, not just in terms of transparency, but in terms of which types of people.

    If it cost a million dollars to have a proper web site, I wouldn’t squawk. It doesn’t–it’s actually less than putting in a single ADA ramp.

  2. An explainer about Section 508 and making the digital world more accessible.
  3. Shortly after my election, before I was banned any communication with staff, I inquired as to when/if/how the City web site might be updated. I was told that there was no specific plan. However I was also told that in the past, when the City had previously done web site updates, they had requested input from residents and Councilmembers as to how it might be improved–and that such a process would be employed when/if any update would occur. The new site was rolled out with no prior notice and no opportunity for either public or Councilmember input.

Mid-Weekly Update: 06/09/2021

Posted on Categories Environment, Public Safety, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesLeave a comment on Mid-Weekly Update: 06/09/2021

Again, again, running a bit late. Having an ongoing battle with my  web hosting system. 🙂

I was informed by readers that in my last Weekly Update, the ‘This Week’ portion was empty. A little geeky detail: these articles are actually several independent bits that (somehow) get mashed together into the ‘Weekly Update’ you see by a team of highly trained hamsters. Apparently the guy in charge of that portion wasn’t cooperating for a while there. I regret the error.

Public Service Announcements

There are now vaccine appointments available every day now, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. The Des Moines Waterfront Farmer’s Market is now officially open every Saturday. And parking on Saturdays is free, Free, FREE!
  2. Sign up for the UW Airport Communities Solutions Summit Friday, June 18th and learn what we can do to reduce the noise and pollution
  3. Downtown City Cleanup, sponsored by Destination Des Moines is Saturday June 19th, 10:00AM at Big Catch Plaza! Email Michelle to sign up: michellefawcett@comcast.net
  4. You like running, right? Biking? So sign up for the Running Of The Flags  and support the Legacy Foundation, Destination Des Moines and Rotary!
  5. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Please send your questions to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  6. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  7. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  8. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  9. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Monday: Meeting with 33rd State Representative Tina Orwall. I’m pitching something pretty mundane sounding called Remote Works Better. This may be the only good idea I ever have for immediately reducing noise and pollution around Sea-Tac Airport. The notion is pretty simple: with Zoom we were able painlessly reduce a whole lot of flights and car traffic and we just keep doing that whenever possible. A lot of air travel is simply unnecessary. We just have to realize that in 2020, we proved it.

Monday: I spoke with Noemie Maxwell, who is organizing to stop the removal of the North SeaTac Park in order to build an airport parking lot. The loss of tree cover has been brutal for all the communities surrounding the airport. Please sign her petition: https://www.kctreeequity.org/

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Meeting. (Agenda) The notable thing here was a presentation on their 2021 Legislative Agenda. You can tell how a government really feels based on two things: their budget (what they spend money on) and their LA (what they are lobbying for.) And frankly, it’s not looking good. After several years of some minor optimism, I have to tell it like it is: the Port is becoming steadily more entrenched against the environmental interests of all airport communities. It has done an absolutely magnificent job of appearing to care about environmental issues, but doing almost nothing material. The pandemic has given the Port the perfect excuse to be even less aggressive (if that was possible) on these issues and leadership in all the fence line communities seem perfectly fine with the notion that “this is as good as it gets.”

Wednesday: Meeting with King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove on the County Climate Action Plan—see Monday. :D. Same topic.

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association Meeting. Most of the time was spent discussing ‘dry stack storage’ which we gotta get into at some point. I guess the main stat I want to mention is that the total paid membership is less than 40–so there are, what, seven hundred freeloaders? 😀 But more seriously, the total attendance at these meetings tends to be less than ten–which includes two Councilmembers (the Deputy Mayor and I) and two City Staff. Usually zero members of any Condo association and certainly none of the general public. All I’m getting at is that what is driving a lot of the Marina Redevelopment–is truly only a handful of people. Because oftenn when the discussion seems only of interest to boaters, a lot of the time there is crossover. More soon.

Thursday: Dentist. (just wanted to see if you were paying attention.) 😀

Saturday: 9:00AM Ribbon cutting for the new Organic Blend restaurant off of Marine View Drive and 225th. (I gotta be honest, the address on Google says 22341 but that’s a bit confusing.)  Hope it’s where I think it is–and hope to see you there! 😀

Last Week

Tuesday: Talking with airport community activists all over America. 🙂 The thing I’m trying to get to is what do activists actually want? Obviously, if you asked the average person who lives under any airport flight path, what they mainly want is for the planes to go somewhere else! But the moment you start to go into “how”, there just isn’t agreement. at the moment That’s the problem: a lack of shared strategy.

Thursday: Public Safety Committee (Agenda) The were three of things of note:

  • First off, I gotta let the cat outta the bag here: Committee Meetings are recorded. Not 100% on this, but I’m pretty sure they’ve been recorded since the City first began using Zoom last year. I can’t say exactly why I feel this way. OK, maybe it’s because every time one would attend a meeting the little red light ‘Recording’ left at the top left of the screen would blink? 😀 What is frustrating is that these meetings always include issues the public does care about. But if there’s no recording you’re stuck with my ‘reporting’.  Maybe that upsetting thought along might move the City to start throwing them up on Youtube? 😀
  • Second, the Committee continued work on a Street Racing ordinance that is designed to help with various issues in Redondo. You can see the draft version in the Packet. The only disagreement seemed to be about how severe to make the punishment. So it will likely be approved by the Committee at their 8 July meeting then be voted on by the Council at the following meeting. And no I’m not saying that is ‘the solution’.
  • Finally, there was a verbal-only presentation on the Bodycam Beta-Test which was deemed a success. There were a number of details that caught my.. er… ear.
    1. I guess the batteries need to be changed a lot.
    2. The PD has still not published a policy as to when the officer can turn the thing on and off.
    3. I heard no specifics as to redaction or storage policy. We saw that the video can be pixelated to protect privacy.
    4. However, because it was deemed a success, apparently full deployment is now moving forward– it does seem to require a final vote by the Council.

    Those last three do bug me… especially if we don’t get a vote without all that information. I want all those policies and procedures in public before we proceed. See that’s the thing about open government: it’s slightly inconvenient. I get that there is now apparent enthusiasm for body cameras by all my colleagues as well as the public on the right as well as by many on the left (but for very different reasons.) And that matters: Just saying you have body cameras, may look great. But until there are clear policies in place, I don’t think you can say that they actually provide real trust. No matter how popular, the City should never go ahead with an idea before the Council has all the important information.

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) (Video) (No Clerk Recap)

We passed a resolution and a proclamation, making Juneteenth a  paid employee holiday. I asked that this book recommendation be put into the packet. This part of American history is amazing: On Juneteenth Annette Gordon-Reed

Under New Business, I asked that the City fix the web site because, honestly, it’s worse than before. Now it used to be that many organizations would have a crappy commercial web site because a lot of old-school business people just didn’t think it mattered (“We should spend money on real things.”) I now realize that, for some people in Des Moines there’s something almost a fatalism along the lines of “Hey, nobody attends meetings so what’s even the point? And the following is my official line on this:

Apart from any of the other shortcomings of the web site, at least a portion of this discussion trivialises the lack of accessibility for a very large number of our residents.

Using any performance metric such as the number of people watching Council meetings or searching for information is not only irrelevant it’s just plain wrong. By such logic, ADA ramps would never have been mandated.

If the site isn’t easy to use for seniors, the disabled and the large number of people who speak other languages, we cannot call ourselves an ‘inclusive’ community.

Inclusion means fair access for everyone, not just the people lucky enough to own an iPhone, have no disabilities, read English fluently–and already possess a level of digital literacy that is apparently taken for granted by people here. Maybe that’s still the majority in Des Moines, but even if it is I could care less.

The web site is a cue as to what the City values, not just in terms of transparency, but in terms of which types of people.

If it cost a million dollars to have a proper web site, I wouldn’t squawk. It doesn’t–it’s actually less than putting in a single ADA ramp.

Friday: Adam Smith–the usual airporty stuff. (See above. 🙂 )

Saturday: Des Moines Waterfront Farmer’s Market Grand Opening! It was a great day. Check out the new logo! (And guess what? parking is now free, Free, FREE! on Saturdays!)

Mayor as majority leader

The following is a heavily edited version of a very wonky thing I wrote on one of those Des Moines Facebook Pages. In that post, a resident creates a poll of “who should be mayor!” and then discusses the job in terms of “Rule 5”.  I’m redoing it here because although it’s super-wonky and boring and repetitious, every once in a while I accidentally hit on something that matters about local politics and this is it.

Introducing: The Hidden World Below!

Now, the rest of my original Facebook comment reads to me a bit like one of those grade school film strips trying to get kids to appreciate the wonders of the public sewer system. You know, “The Hidden World Below!” 😀  I mean, OK, you can’t live without it, but do you really want to know what’s going on?

My goal here is not so much to get you to appreciate this particular wonder of local politics anymore than I think you should fall in love with the Midway Sewer District. But I do think you should know that it’s there, whether you see it or not. In fact, I wish there was an ‘explainer’ of the political roles of the Council and Mayor included in every voters packet (or at least as part of Councilmember training). At least then every voter would  learn that, yes even in small town Des Moines, politics is politics

The rules are not the game

The role of Mayor is described in our Council Rules Of Procedure–primarily in these two sentences from Rule 5:

The Mayor shall preside at meetings of the Council, and be recognized as the head of the City for all ceremonial purposes. The Mayor shall have no regular administrative or executive duties.

That makes the job sound pretty innocuous, right? Sort of ‘impartial referee’ at meetings and ‘ribbon cutter’ on weekends. But to describe the job of Mayor in CMG in those terms (or any of the other Rules) is to almost completely misunderstand (or misrepresent) what the position really is. Yes, even in a small town like Des Moines. I would never criticize any individual for putting it that way–after all, that is what the rules say, right? Plus, I’ve heard lots and lots and lots of people put it that way over the years. But we should stop doing that, K? Because Rule 5 is not only a small fraction of the actual job, putting it in terms of any ‘Rule’ can’t actually explain the job.

See the Rules Of Procedure are just like the rules to any game. Yes, they give you some basic instructions, but they can’t tell you how the game is actually played.

Mayor as Majority Leader

OK, so here it is, playah:

The unwritten, but real authority of the Mayor in Council-Manager Government (CMG) is as leader of the majority of the City Council.

It’s a lot like being the Majority Leader of the US Senate. That’s what the job really is in CMG. It was designed as a ceremonial and non-partisan position. But since the first day a majority elected a mayor, every CMG mayor on earth has functioned with that political authority. Yes, even in a small town like Des Moines. And anyone who tells you otherwise either doesn’t know what they’re talking about or wants you to believe something that is not true. (Perhaps because the notion that our lovely town might have a ‘political sewer system’ doesn’t sound all that appealing? 😀 ) Look, I don’t want to torture this metaphor. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s actually essential to how our Council runs. So don’t pretend it doesn’t exist.

The Mayor’s role as majority leader may not be written down anywhere, but again it should be (just like Majority Leader in the Senate). And let’s be clear: I’m not saying I have a better system laying about. I just think the public (and CMs) should properly understand.

Specifics

Now what does it mean to be majority leader?

First of all, a CMG City Council is 100% majoritarian. All or nothing voting. 24/7/365 the Mayor has exactly the authority that the majority supports. Note that I did not say ‘the Council’. Whatever authority a mayor has flows from the majority; not the full Council.

Second, the role presiding officer has an in-built potential for bias. Remember: he gets to vote on every issue, just like every other Councilmember. So to a very real extent, he functions as both judge and jury member. He was elected by his majority–at least in part, to further a shared vision, not because he’s some paragon of impartiality. That doesn’t make impartiality impossible, but this tension should always be freely acknowledged. He is the leader of the majority. Not some ‘referee’.

Third, the Council functions according to a written set of rules. Those rules define both the Council and the Mayor and they are what the majority says they are. These can be formally changed by a majority vote at any time.

Finally, however,  Council Rules are not laws. The City Council is self-policing–again (as always) by a vote of the majority. And that has three big features:

  • At any time, either on or off the dais, the Mayor has great flexibility to interpret or add to or reduce or modify his authority and even, to a large extent, ignore certain rules–so long as the majority does not object. Our current Mayor has done so many times. That’s not being snippy, it’s just a fact. Every CMG mayor does it (at least a teeny, weeny bit) from time to time. So long as the majority is cool? It’s cool.
  • If anyone has a problem with anything the Mayor or the Council does–the majority must agree to take action.
  • There are rarely any external penalties for bending or even breaking meeting rules. At this point, I should probably point out that this is neither complaint or hyperbole. Again, it’s just how CMG works in the State Of Washington. Feel free to Google ‘Open Public Meetings Act Violations in Washington’ (OPMA) or connect with me for specifics.

So… what does that mean for the public?

Well first of all, it means that you should probably understand what  candidates actually believe in–and who he/she is likely to align with and why when you vote. Because it is a member of that majority who will become the next Mayor.

Second, stop acting like we have a strong mayor. If you don’t like something the Mayor is doing? Tell his colleagues.

Focusing attention solely on the Mayor  is not only unfair to him, it’s misinformed and counter-productive. Because it stokes the impossible narrative that you can be a good CM who supports a bad Mayor. C’mon: a ‘good’ CM would always object whenever the Mayor gets out of line. (Did I mention we’re supposed to be self-policing? 🙂 )

Again, again, CMG is 100% majoritarian. All or nothing. Every action the Mayor takes is because of the support (or lack thereof) of the majority. Whenever a Mayor goes beyond a ceremonial function in any way, he is actually working for the majority, not the other way round.

Ironically, the only time I ever focus attention solely on the Mayor? Is in his ceremonial role–when he’s really in his Rule 5 mode. That’s when he is on his own. If he did a bad job at a ribbon cutting? I’d be upset. Our Mayor does a fine job with those sorts of things. 🙂

So it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that there no are good or bad Mayors in CMG. The Mayor can only be as good at any given moment as the majority.

OK, sorry, that was a bit over the top. 😃 There totally are bad CMG Mayors that don’t reflect their council majority. But not many. And BTW, regardless of our ‘differences’, our Mayor is not one of them.

Choose the right majority

If any or all of this seems like some thinly veiled grouse at our current Council, it’s not. All CMG Mayors and Councils have exactly the same incentives and challenges–and that’s the real point: the role of Mayor matters far less than the members of the majority. There are definite requirements for being a good mayor in CMG and they are not chopped liver. But if you have a fair and competent majority, you tend to have fairer rules and better governance regardless of who they choose to be Mayor. If you don’t? You can have all the rules you want, pal! Because, for the umpteenth time, it’s majority rules in this here town.

The purpose of this novella

Anyhoo, I just wanted to describe the political role of Mayor in CMG. Yes, it’s Rule 5, but just as the Senate Majority Leader, our Mayor’s real authority is as head the majority that voted for him/her to be their leader. A Councilmember may not put it like that. They may not like it much. They may not have even thought about it like that. But, not to torture the metaphor, this really is like “The  Hidden World Below” I opened with. You don’t have to talk about it, like it or even know it exists to use it every day. 😀

Weekly Update: 05/24/2021

Posted on Categories Environment, Public Safety, Transparency, Weekly Updates2 Comments on Weekly Update: 05/24/2021

Alright, alright, I’m late again. But in my defense, it was filing week for candidates and I seemed to have wall to wall phone calls with people who were thinking about running for various offices. Frankly, it’s kinda refreshing to have people ask for your opinion–since it happens so rarely on my own Council. 😀

Public Service Announcements

There are now vaccine appointments available every day now, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. The Des Moines Waterfront Farmer’s Market is now officially open every Saturday. And parking on Saturdays is free, Free, FREE!
  2. Sign up for the UW Airport Communities Solutions Summit Friday, June 18th and learn what we can do to reduce the noise and pollution
  3. Downtown City Cleanup, sponsored by Destination Des Moines is Saturday June 19th, 10:00AM at Big Catch Plaza! Email Michelle to sign up: michellefawcett@comcast.net
  4. You like running, right? Biking? So sign up for the Running Of The Flags  and support the Legacy Foundation, Destination Des Moines and Rotary!
  5. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Please send your questions to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  6. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  7. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  8. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  9. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Last Week

Monday: Destination Des Moines. They are gearing up for the Running Of the Flags, which you should sign up for here. And since the State is going to be opening up at the end of June, you can look for some in-person events in July–including (maybe?) fireworks! Woo hoo!

Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines. Lots to talk about. More KCS libraries will soon re-open. Check out YETI for some great activities for middle and senior high kids! And Seattle Humane for some animal-related fun stuff for kids.

Thursday: Transportation Committee Meeting (Agenda)

Thursday: Environment Committee Meeting (Agenda) There were several presentations that all revolved around water quality–specifically the many spills over the past year from Midway Sewer. I’m gassing on too much here, but as I’ve written before, it’s funding that’s the real problem. It’s easy to point fingers at Midway Sewer on these lapses, but the issue is super-complex and, ultimately, comes down to money. The fact is that our entire water and sewer infrastructure is at its end of life and is under-capacity. Residents (including moi) go ballistic at any thought of rate increases, so many agencies do the best they can to keep the pipes moving. But at some point, a new system to fund water and sewer will need to be found. Des Moines is blessed with a wealth of shoreline and creeks, but that also means that we have serious challenges ahead in keeping the system safe.

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) (Video).  Based on requests from several residents, I proposed a proclamation declaring June LGBTQ+ Pride Month in Des Moines. This passed 7-0 and should be on the agenda for our next meeting, June 3rd.

For me the highlight of the meeting was a presentation on our Court by our Judge Lisa Leone. This was not only one of the most informative, but thought-provoking presentations I’ve seen in a long time and I strongly encourage you to watch it. First off, the pandemic forced the City to re-think every process–especially the Court. Judge Leone’s team showed that you can run a Court better utilizing remote technology. (I was also very encouraged to hear that the City will be considering how it can continue doing as much employee work remotely on a permanent basis.) I am convinced that Remote Work is going to be key in making progress on climate change as well as resolving our complaints with Sea-Tac Airport. The amount of work we can now do remotely is huge; we proved it. If we don’t go back to our bad habits, we could reduce road and air traffic by a lot.

Second, with all the talk of ‘defund the police’ last summer, it often gets missed that the justice system–at least at the local level, had already begun a dramatic transformation based not so much on racism, but on m-o-n-e-y. The fact is that a lot of newer interventions, which do not involve traditional ‘punishment’, just work better. They cost less and they decrease recidivism. The DUI program Judge Leone mentions is a fantastic example. People who complete that program are far less likely to re-offend. The only trouble is that we don’t yet have enough available slots. But at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, I can see where the majority of what we now refer to as ‘public safety’ will be resolved without expensive jails or traditional courts. Obviously, the courts and police will continue to have a big role to play, but I’m sure that they will be as happy as anyone to be able to focus more of their attention on other matters (like getting my stolen car back! 😀 )

(One last note on this: The Des Moines Court is broadcast live on Youtube and here’s the channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIvlmdlOGbP5rBKJC5PgG_Q)

We also had a New Business discussion on providing Public Comment at Committee Meetings–something I’ve been pushing for since, well, forever. That was voted down 5-2. See below.

Despite that, I will continue to push for getting these meetings recorded, which I think is even more significant. As I keep saying, the real policy discussions happen at the Committee level. By the time an issue reaches the full Council it’s pretty much a done deal. Unfortunately, those meetings occur in the afternoon when most of you are working. The first step towards improving public engagement is to make those meetings watchable for you at your convenience. Other Cities already do this and we should too.

To sign up to provide public comment via Zoom or to provide written public comment, go here. To watch live on Youtube go here.

Public Comment At Committee Debates

I think there is a misunderstanding about the whole ‘public comment’ vote near the end of last week’s Cit Council Meeting. There seems to be a perception that the issue is just one more personality conflict over some minor ‘procedural’ deal. It was not. This is a difference in philosophy so basic that we cannot even discuss it without someone getting personally offended.

We have Councilmember Committee Meetings that are defined as public meetings under the state Open Public Meetings Act. However, these meetings, are neither ‘public’ or ‘committee’ meetings as most of you expect. And I say that because, if you watch the discussion, the City Manager and my colleagues repeatedly feel the need to do an explainer. They obviously feel like if the public understands the purpose, then they will understand that there is no need for public comment or any other reforms to Committee Meetings.

So you have to decide whether this is some ginned-up non-issue or whether the proposal was attempting to address a real problem.

Some background: Our Committee meetings are run by the administration, not by Council. The administration does not merely execute policy, it makes almost all policy. The administration schedules the meetings. They set the agenda for meetings. They cancel meetings if they don’t consider them necessary. A committee meeting consists of a staff presentation, followed by a few questions. That’s it. The vast majority of the time, the main reason for CMs to show up is because we are legally required to do so. The administration prefers this system and so do my colleagues for reasons they describe on the video so I’ll let them speak for themselves..

I disagree with this system. The law says that Councilmembers have two basic jobs: legislation and oversight. For the most part we do neither of those things at Committee Meetings. And I think we should.

For years I have watched many other governments work. And my experience tells me that when committees are driven by electeds and fully engaged with the public, this leads to better services for you, the taxpayer. I’m not talking about some abstract ideal of ‘democracy’. It’s about practical results: roads and public safety and permits and economic development, etc.

Most of you likely feel intuitively some kind of way about this, but honestly, very few of you can decide who is right based on evidence. We have no newspaper and almost none of you get to see how our government works—let alone how governments work in other places. It’s very difficult for you to fairly evaluate how well we’re doing compared with other places. Frankly, you often just have to take us at our word.

My interest in public comment and recording meetings and all the other ‘transparency’ jazz I go on about is somewhat self-serving: I believe that if more of you take the time to see how things actually work, you’ll agree with me and help our government (including our Committees) work more as you expect them. And again, I want to stress that a better process leads to better practical results for you: from public safety to roads to economic development.

My colleagues obviously disagree. They believe that the current system is not merely good, but best in class and that my complaints are not only without merit, but are tactics to make them and our City look bad. That has never been true.

It’s kinda hard to bridge such a wide gulf of trust. So I hope more of you make the effort to attend all our meetings and judge for yourself. I know it’s more challenging than it should be and I applaud those who get engaged.

Mid-Bi-Weekly Update: 05/19/2021

Posted on Categories Marina, Transparency, Weekly Updates2 Comments on Mid-Bi-Weekly Update: 05/19/2021

OK, I took last week off. And half of this week off. I feel bad about it because the last City Council Meeting mattered and if you didn’t watch, you should. But… apparently not bad enough to not take the week off. 😉 It’s weird (in a nice way) the number of notes I get when I don’t post on time. Like something is wrong. Nothing’s wrong. In the immortal words of Arnold…

its-not-a-tumor | Tumblr

(That’s something my kid used to say whenever I thought something was wrong but there was absolutely nothing wrong. It’s probably way funnier coming from a nine year old.)

Public Service Announcements

There are now vaccine appointments available every day now, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. The Des Moines Waterfront Farmer’s Market is now officially open every Saturday. And parking on Saturdays is free, Free, FREE!
  2. Sign up for the UW Airport Communities Solutions Summit Friday, June 18th and learn what we can do to reduce the noise and pollution
  3. Downtown City Cleanup, sponsored by Destination Des Moines is Saturday June 19th, 10:00AM at Big Catch Plaza! Email Michelle to sign up: michellefawcett@comcast.net
  4. You like running, right? Biking? So sign up for the Running Of The Flags  and support the Legacy Foundation, Destination Des Moines and Rotary!
  5. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Please send your questions to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  6. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  7. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  8. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  9. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Monday: Destination Des Moines. They are gearing up for the Running Of the Flags, which you should sign up for here. And since the State is going to be opening up at the end of June, you can look for some in-person events in July–including (maybe?) fireworks! Woo hoo!

Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines. Lots to talk about. More KCS libraries will soon re-open. Check out YETI for some great activities for middle and senior high kids! And Seattle Humane for some animal-related fun stuff for kids.

Thursday: Transportation Committee Meeting (Agenda)

Thursday: Environment Committee Meeting (Agenda)

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda).  There will be a public hearing on the Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP). We will also be addressing the idea of providing Public Comment at Committee Meetings–something I’ve been pushing for since, well, forever. I also want to find out what the deal is with getting these meetings recorded, which I think is even more significant. As I keep saying, the real policy discussions happen at the Committee level. By the time an issue reaches the full Council it’s pretty much a done deal. Unfortunately, those meetings occur in the afternoon when most of you are working. The first step towards improving public engagement is to make those meetings watchable for you at your convenience. Other Cities already do this and we should too.

To sign up to provide public comment via Zoom or to provide written public comment, go here. To watch live on Youtube go here.

Last Two Weeks

Tuesday May 4: The King County Council (Agenda) voted to approve making aviation impacts an official part of their climate and health action plan known as SCAP. This is a big deal as it ties in nicely with the airport communities’ shared efforts to monitor aviation emissions both indoors and outdoors. Read more here and at KUOW.

Thursday May 6: Public Safety Committee (Agenda) There was an update on ‘street racing’ at Redondo. The upshot is that the administration will bring back a draft resolution to the Committee to vote on next month to make racing a specific crime. The discussion was mainly on how strict the penalties should be–especially for first-timers. What I heard from the Chief is an obvious urgency to have some new tools to deal with the problems before summer kicks in–which is good. I don’t think residents expect miracles, but it’s a step. And I appreciate the residents who keep raising the issue. Redondo is an under-utilized asset for Des Moines. And getting it to be safe and quiet is the first step in making it more of a community draw. There was also a run-down on April 2021 Crime Statistics, which I know a lot of you are curious about.

Thursday: 6 May 2021 Regular City Council Meeting (Agenda) (Video). I pulled Item #5 on the Consent Agenda, which was basically the go-ahead to start designing the land side redevelopment plan for the Marina. I then made a motion to postpone the vote to proceed for a month during which time I wanted the City to host a virtual Town Hall Meeting to explain the redevelopment plan and to take comment from the public. This caused a kerfuffle and I was (once again) muted by the Mayor for asking for a final twenty seconds to speak to the motion. That motion, buried inside the Consent Agenda, represented basically everything I think is wrong about the Marina Redevelopment. But at this point, at the very least, I don’t see why the meetings themselves have to be so fraught.

Edit: The discussion on Marina Redevelopment starts here and I hope you’ll watch through to the muting because there’s this whole thing about how ‘engagement’ there’s been over Marina Redevelopment and I’d like to hear your reaction to that. The City Manager knew ahead of time that I intended to pull the item and discuss it (because I wrote about it here) and so he engaged in a pre-emptive strike, telling the administration’s story of how we got to this point. And I think that, and my colleagues’ comments, speak for themselves. Their idea of ‘public engagement’ and mine are obviously quite different.

Two Times

We have this Council Rule #19, which no other City has, where a Councilmember is limited to speaking more than twice on any issue… and no more than four minutes. It was introduced at this meeting, right after CM Martinelli and I were elected in November 2019 (Start at about 1:53):

I hope you watch the discussion, while remembering that this was the last time the full Council met before the new rules were implemented. And if you’ve seen any meetings since then (where CM Martinelli and I are members) you’ll immediately notice the difference.

As you can see from this video, before the new rules, meetings were far more conversational. Now, meetings don’t even approach what might be characterized as a real discussion. Councilmembers now just say their bit, a vote is taken, and boom that’s it. In the past, I’ve railed at how the previous Councils voted in lockstep all the time, but at least there were occasional real discussions. Now, it’s not only performative, it’s basically 100% pro forma.

At that 14 November discussion, several Councilmembers do try to soften the harsh edges of some of the new rules. They express concerns over the time limits and getting to speak only twice. Mayor Pina calms those fears by saying how reasonable and flexible everyone is going to be.

So much for flexibility. 😀

Personality or process?

There is this totally false narrative that somehow Councilmember Martinelli and I are to blame for the lack of harmony. Those meetings ran better (so the story goes) because that Council were more cooperative. In fact, it is these new rules, that the majority put in place at that meeting, that contribute to the bad environment. If you want proof, just attend any current Committee Meeting, where there are no such artificial limitations. There are few open hostilities and it’s mostly just down to business. And as soon as we start recording Committee Meetings, I’m sure more of you will be able to see what I’m saying. Fair process makes a difference.

I’m not saying that improved process will solve all problems. There is certainly personal animus on the Council right now. But these new rules are like itching powder that only exacerbate problems and I hope to convince my colleagues that it is in their best interest that they should all be rescinded. Because at the end of the day there are three facts:

  1. Whether Councilmembers speak twice or a hundred times, the majority still wins all the votes. These rules offer no political advantage.
  2. They do not speed up meetings (as was assumed.) No one wants to hear it, but our meetings are still, by a county mile, shorter than council meetings in other cities. And the only reason they ever went on in the past was because we had (sorry, guys but you know it’s true) some occasionally pretty windy speechifying from Councilmembers not named Harris or Martinelli.
  3. We have to work together. And given that fact, we shouldn’t have any rules that make the process any less pleasant than it needs to be. That’s in everybody’s interest.

Majoritarian… oh no, not another Civics lesson!

If I can accomplish only one thing in office to educate the public about our City it’s this: Council-Manager government (CMG), as we have in Des Moines, is 100% majoritarian.  The majority runs the table on everything, including the way meetings run, how much authority the City Manager or Mayor have. Everything.

So I never lay blame for the new rules or being muted or any of the crappy behavior solely at the Mayor’s feet. Again: it’s a majoritarian body. And since I joined the Council, every time something bad happens procedure-wise, none of my colleagues in that majority ever speaks up. Not once.

The incentives…

Unlike the State or Federal governments which you know a lot more about from civics class there is no ‘power sharing’ And there are zero ‘brakes’ or ‘veto points’ for the minority. CMG was designed that way. The base assumption is that in smaller towns most people will agree on things and so you want a system which gets things done with a minimum of fuss. And that creates certain incentives.

The first is that it gives a longstanding Council majority absolutely zero incentives to compromise, let alone collaborate. That’s why, sooner or later most cities with CMG devolve into blocs. The incentive to obtain a strong, single-minded majority is baked into the system.

Second, it encourages the City Manager to become a political actor–not to stay above the fray and avoid Council politics, but to actively and strongly align with the majority. Because that’s the most efficient way for the Executive to get things done. That’s not a slam against any individual. It’s just an incentive that all executives are subject to.

The counterbalance to these tendencies is, basically, good will–of the majority. Remember: the minority has no power! So everything, including the tone of the Council and any deference to opposing points of view on the Council depends entirely on the good will of the majority–and also, frankly, the ability of the City Manager to remain above that fray. It’s an honor system, pure and simple. And it’s asking an awful lot of people, even under the best of circumstances.

The Good Winner…

There is this huge thing in our culture about being a ‘good loser’. It’s one of the first things we teach our kids: how to lose gracefully. But what I’m trying to say to you is that Council-Manager government depends far more on ‘good winners’ to successfully represent the community.

Because that’s the thing: Even though everyone (including minority members) are elected by the same voters, if you’re in the Council majority, you win everything, all the time.

Think about that for a second: you’re in a softball league and you show up every two weeks already knowing the outcome of the game. Month after month or even year after year. That must feel pretty awesome if you’re on the winning side. But if yer not? Yeah, not so much.

So in my view, it just seems the gracious thing to do to treat the people who are inevitably going to be on the losing side with a measure of empathy and deference.

Seriously, under these circumstances who can more easily afford to be ‘big’ about things? The people who win every vote or those who always have to take it in the neck.

Weekly Update: 05/02/2021

Posted on Categories Airport, Marina, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation, Weekly UpdatesLeave a comment on Weekly Update: 05/02/2021

Public Service Announcements

There are now vaccine appointments available every day now, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. The Des Moines Waterfront Farmer’s Market is now officially open every Saturday. And parking on Saturdays is free, Free, FREE!
  2. Sign up for the UW Airport Communities Solutions Summit Friday, June 18th and learn what we can do to reduce the noise and pollution
  3. Downtown City Cleanup, sponsored by Destination Des Moines is Saturday June 19th, 10:00AM at Big Catch Plaza! Email Michelle to sign up: michellefawcett@comcast.net
  4. You like running, right? Biking? So sign up for the Running Of The Flags  and support the Legacy Foundation, Destination Des Moines and Rotary!
  5. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Please send your questions to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  6. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  7. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  8. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  9. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

Last Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting (Agenda)

Wednesday: Sea-Tac Airport Round Table (StART).

Both of these were very consequential for Des Moines–especially if you’re concerned about Port Packages, the obvious recent uptick in flights from the airport, plans for a second airport (somewhere?) and what the cities are doing (or rather not doing) about the SAMP expansion. Unfortunately, I’ve run outta time here. More in a few days.

Saturday: I met with several residents and local business owners in Redondo. There is a general sense that the ‘hot rodding’ is an issue that is not going away. The City has taken a number of steps during April to provide an increased police presence but I think it’s fair to say that residents are looking for a more permanent strategy. The thing is: it is a tough nut to crack. As this article shows, cities like Kent have been trying for a looong time. I’ve gotten a zillion suggestions from residents and I honestly am not sure which, if any, are better than simply assigning an officer to the area. For example, I know a lot of you want ‘noise cameras’ and I know they’re being trialed in Australia and the U.K. but so far I can’t find a single place in the US that is actually making them work. If your googling skills are superior? Please let me know.

Sunday: I visited with Heather and Jessica at the new North Hill Community Market which you should definitely check out every Saturday and Sunday. What I like about their approach is that they’re not in any big rush. It will take time to make people aware that it’s there and to build a larger roster of vendors, but I’m sure it will happen. It’s a great location and there are lots of families on both sides of 1st Ave. that will find it fun and convenient.

This Week

Tuesday: King County Council (Agenda) will be voting to approve making aviation an official part of their climate and health action plan known as SCAP. This is a big deal as it ties in nicely with the airport communities’ shared efforts to monitor aviation emissions both indoors and outdoors.

Thursday: Public Safety Committee (Agenda) There will be an update on ‘street racing’ and ‘street crimes’.

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda)

I call your attention to Item #5 on the Consent Agenda, which is basically the go-ahead to start designing the land side redevelopment plan for the Marina.

Some really good questions regarding Marina Redevelopment

If you’re 99% of Des Moines, you have no idea that the Marina Redevelopment is going on. Last month, the City asked for questions and comments from the public  which I urge you to read. But I am pretty sure you weren’t aware of that because the only outreach was in the form of flyers posted at the Marina and on the Marina’s web site. No outreach has been done for the residents of Des Moines.

Here is one question on that list, followed by the City’s response:

“I am a resident of Des Moines and to my knowledge there has not been a resident survey.”

You are correct. The residents do not pay for the Marina. While we would welcome their input, those who financially support the Marina enterprise fund is the top priority of the Master Plan.The City has held a number of community outreach meeting to help us understand the community’s desires for development options.

Let’s go back to Item #5 on the Consent Agenda (which I will be voting against.) Item #5 is to proceed with design and marketing of the land side redevelopment; not the Marina docks (ie. the moorage that boaters pay for–and the thing that actually needs fixing now.)

Get it? The only people the City reached out to for input on the land side were the boaters and the organizations already located at the Marina (SR3, Quarterdeck, CSR, Farmer’s Market.) Those existing stakeholders matter for sure. But let’s be clear: those are not the primary stakeholders of land side redevelopment. And neither are us boaters.

You, the residents of Des Moines, always have been and always will be the primary users of the Marina floor. And yet, you were not surveyed as to what you want for the future of the land side. There hasn’t even been a town hall to allow the public to weigh in.

The City is saying directly, “the residents of Des Moines are not a part of this decision making.” That is outrageous.

And about those stickers…

Now the last sentence of the response would seem to indicate otherwise–that the City has done ‘community outreach’. Yes, that did happen. Four years ago. In 2017.

And if you were one of the 300 or so people at that event in 2017, on the fancy Argosy boat, you were asked to provide your input on a number of ‘design options’ using colored stickers to indicate your preferred ideas. Supposedly this would help decide what design ideas should be implemented.

OK, let’s assume that input from 300 people, four years ago, using some stickers, constitutes ‘community outreach’ on the biggest public project in City history. I don’t, but if you want to understand how much all those stickers contributed to the current planning? I’ll make it simple: nothing. From what I can tell, the current design is exactly the same as the original renderings.

Sum it up…

Again, I encourage you to read those questions and answers because it captures perfectly what is wrong with the City’s approach. The City has had a plan for land side development in place for many years and they’re going ahead with it, full stop. There’s no interest in obtaining current community support and very little hard data to support many of the planning assumptions. That’s not my opinion; it says so right in the document.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about why so many public projects like this can feel so ‘inevitable’. Part of it has to do with the fact that it’s relatively easy to leave the public out of the process. But part of it has to do with the fact that a lot of things are hard to put into a sound bite. For example, I’ve had reporters ask me to give them a ‘twenty five words or less’ explanation of my objections to this process and I struggle. You need a certain amount of background to get it. This is as good as I can do for now. I know it’s an over-simplification, but you try to do better.

The docks (the waterside) are what needs fixing in about five years. But we blew all the money we set aside for updates so we can’t afford it. Now for many years, the City has had a plan to redo the land side, which is much more fun and will cost much less. So it is selling the idea that if we implement the land side plan now, it will somehow provide the ongoing revenues to pay for the docks later. In other words, we’re using the genuine urgency of the docks to ram through a decidedly non-urgent plan to redevelop the land side–with very little supporting data as to how much money it will bring in. A lot of the plan simply aligns with things that a small number of people have wanted for years rather than actual hard analysis.

Now, all that said, some of the individual ideas may well be very, very good. And I want to emphasize that. For example, the 223rd Steps portion makes perfect sense to me. Others, like a passenger ferry might be good ideas. But keep this in mind: the whole point is that all these ideas are supposed to pay for the docks. I am always skeptical when someone proposes that the things they already wanted to do perfectly align with the things that actually need to happen. And I think it would only make sense to get a second opinion from a completely independent source.

What keeps me up at night…

I’ll just close with the idea that keeps me up at night–and why I keep calling for more hard analysis and more community outreach before moving ahead:

In decades past, previous City Councils went all in on some ‘big ideas’ for ‘economic development’ that, in hindsight, now just seem like, What were they thinking? For Exhibit A I give you downtown Marine View Drive. Fifty years ago I’m sure that strip malls were a pretty easy sell for some developer. Now, we all have to live with those short sighted decisions.

I am all in favor of rebuilding the Marina, waterside and land side in a way that people fifty years from now will look back on with pride. The current plan has some ideas that may end up being great for Des Moines. But the process being employed to move them ahead is definitely not and I hope you will support me in my efforts to know a lot more before we plow ahead.

Weekly Update: 04/25/2021

Posted on Categories Airport, Marina, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation, Weekly Updates1 Comment on Weekly Update: 04/25/2021

Public Service Announcements

There are now vaccine appointments available every day now, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. The Des Moines Waterfront Farmer’s Market is now officially open every Saturday. And parking on Saturdays is free, Free, FREE!
  2. Sign up for the UW Airport Communities Solutions Summit Friday, June 18th and learn what we can do to reduce the noise and pollution
  3. Downtown City Cleanup, sponsored by Destination Des Moines is Saturday June 19th, 10:00AM at Big Catch Plaza! Email Michelle to sign up: michellefawcett@comcast.net
  4. You like running, right? Biking? So sign up for the Running Of The Flags  and support the Legacy Foundation, Destination Des Moines and Rotary!
  5. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Please send your questions to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  6. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  7. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  8. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  9. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

Last Week

Monday: Destination Des Moines. Planning their summer and fall events, which sounds like a lot of fun after the past year.

Tuesday: South County Transportation Board (SCATBd).

Thursday: Municipal Facilities Meeting (Agenda) There was a discussion of the Marina Redevelopment and and update on the passenger ferry.

Thursday: Economic Development Committee Meeting (Agenda) Marina Redevelopment and an update on the passenger ferry. No I did not accidentally hit Ctrl-V.

Thursday: Council Meeting Clerk’s Recap Agenda Packet Video The main order of business was something you did not see–an Executive Session involving an employee annual performance review. One is not allowed to discuss specifics of Executive Session, but there is only one employee that the Council reviews and it is the City Manager. And boy oh boy, I wish the public had seen it this discussion.

Century Agenda

I moved to amend the language on an item on the Consent Agenda involving a grant we received from the Port Of Seattle. The actual uses of the grant are fine. But I had a couple of problems with this thing: one having to do with process and the other with our City’s goals.

Process Matters

First: Our Council only sees grants after we win them and then legally the Council must vote to accept them. Our Council currently has no input in the application process or the language. So if one finds something objectionable in the grant, you’ve got two bad choices:

  • You can (maybe) go back to the grantor (the Port in this case) and beg them to redo the whole thing. That was the City Manager’s reply to my amendment.
  • Refuse the grant.

The City Manager was able to scoff at my amendment by ignoring the fact that there was no way for me to have objected earlier in the process. There should be at least some Council input on important grants during the application phase. The first time a Councilmember reads about the strings attached to a particular grant should not be at the acceptance phase.

Symbols Matter

In this case, the grant application mentioned that the City had previously shown it’s support for the Port’s Century Agenda–which is the Port’s list of big strategic objectives. Two of those goals are:

  • Double the number of international flights
  • Triple Air Cargo flights

Translation: More flights over Des Moines. More noise and more pollution. The official policy of Des Moines should never express alignment with those goals.

My objection to the language mentioning the Century Agenda was simple: it was unnecessary to obtaining the grant. All that was required was for the City to say that we were going to use the dough to increase tourism and economic development. Wonderful.

Hopefully, whoever filled out the form did it unintentionally–just to add a flourish to the application. But even if that is the case, it demonstrates a lack of policy.

Almost all arguments about not pushing back against the airport always come down to “We can’t do anything about it, so stop complaining!”

First of all, that’s untrue, but second and most important: symbols matter. Cities carefully structure the language of their official documents to show the public what they value–whether they can do anything about them or not. We discourage racism. We encourage various causes supporting the needs of women, children, seniors, veterans and many other constituencies. And we enact many proclamations to show our support of an array of goals where we in fact have no authority.

Now to effect any change, you need to start with simple, declarative sentences: This is what we want. How to achieve it comes later. But if you aren’t clear on where you want to go, you can never get there.

The SAMP ain’t just symbolic, pal…

This year, the Port Of Seattle is beginning work on the Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP) a plan to dramatically expand the number of flights at Sea-Tac Airport that very few residents are aware of. Each of the surrounding Cities has been and will continue to engage with the Port on your behalf to minimize its environmental impacts.

Increasing the number of flights would be bad for our City in any number of ways (health, property values, quality of schools, etc.), while providing only token benefits (a very few jobs, small grants like this.) Those are inarguable facts and we need to start educating the public a lot better because I know a lot of you believe otherwise. And when we as a City do anything that sends  an ambiguous message, it calls into question what your City actually believes.

Removing that one sentence about the Century Agenda may seem ‘only symbolic’, but symbols matter. We can’t create good policy if we don’t have a clear message ourselves. The public is often (understandably) confused as to how the airport actually affects them.

The Port is very clear about what its objectives in relation to Des Moines. So we must be equally clear about our objectives in relation to the Port.

The Minority Report (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of Councilmember Martinelli and my response to the State Of City presentation, published in the Waterland Blog last week.

This is the second half of our response to the April 15th State Of The City presentation. Part 1 discussed our objections to the way it was carried out. Here we’ll talk about some specific policy differences. For those of you short on time, you can follow along with this presentation packet.

As noted last time, one of the many ways the presentation was unusual was the fact that our colleagues were also presenters! That risks making our comments sound personal. We can also hear howls that we are somehow criticizing our great staff. Neither could be further from the truth. This is about policy, which is set by the Council and City Manager. The discussion stops there.

The big picture

Over the years, the number of Des Moines residents hasn’t changed much, but the composition has. Most notably, we are now younger and more diverse. Also, remember that the original City was very small and the current town is actually the result of many small annexations. But the majority of services and programs are still focused around that original core.

The City must recognize these changes and adapt to better address the needs of residents in all neighborhoods.

Challenges

In Part 1, we stated that the presentation was ‘all positive and no negative’ but at first glance a few slides imply otherwise. For example, Slide #6 showed an assessment of the City from a 1962 report outlining many of problems we still see today.

But far from (finally) offering some solutions, the message seemed to be that we just have to learn to live with most of these structural problems. We disagree. Most of these challenges come down to choices as much as ‘fate’. Governments decide which issues to tackle aggressively–and which to avoid.

The Past 5 Years

As Slide #7 states, the City is now on much better financial footing than after the 2008 financial crisis and our credit rating is now solidly competitive with comparable cities.

But what the presentation referred to as ‘diversified revenue streams’ actually means strategies like raising your utility taxes to the highest allowable rates. This disproportionately affects low and middle income residents and turns away businesses.

Balancing the books shows operational skills (good), but it does not automatically signal a long term strategy that benefits you or business.

Marina Redevelopment

The Marina discussion is being driven by the fact that the docks are at their end of life. This will be the largest and longest capital project in our history. But there is a separate discussion concerning the land side which is, unfortunately, being sold together as a ‘package deal’ and that is wrong.

To be clear: the Marina docks do require replacement and that work (and that work alone) should begin now. 

In 2017, the City installed a highly flawed paid parking system despite ongoing public opposition. That same year the administration held a single open house to gather public input on land side redevelopment. Four years ago. Last month, City Currents Magazine published a highly misleading editorial about passenger ferry service–with no vote or presentation to Council. And this month, the City finally unveiled its Marina redevelopment proposals, which appear identical to the renderings shown at that 2017 open house.

There is a pattern here: of poor public engagement, questionable decision-making and no transparency. The current majority is using the legitimate urgency of dock replacement to rush through a land side development with inadequate information, oversight or public buy-in.

The City should engage an independent professional to review any land side plans before moving ahead. We at least deserve a second opinion to confirm that we are headed in the right direction on such a large decision.

Economic Development

We are always happy to see new businesses in Des Moines. However, the essential challenges to the downtown and to all our business community are still not being addressed. Frankly, we have watched many small shops come and go over the decades and very few have been sticky. Almost none have leveraged more visitors to Des Moines.

We also appreciate the continued investment in Des Moines by Wesley and we look forward to their continued partnership. At the same time,  the City should be focusing economic development efforts far more on our increasingly youthful population.

We were far ahead of our colleagues in advocating for business grants at the start of the pandemic. The City responded too slowly, finally offering a program with no independent oversight. We gave over $500,000 to only 26 businesses located almost exclusively in our downtown. In fact there were hundreds of businesses throughout Des Moines completely unaware of the program. That was not only unfair and unethical, it’s just bad for business. All future business grant programs should be run independently.

Transportation

One thing to understand about transportation spending in Des Moines is how little of it there actually is. Almost all road improvements comes from highly competitive regional grants, currently limiting us to only one or two projects every few years. It may seem obvious, but the two best ways to fund more projects are to improve the business environment and increase our  presence in regional government.

The Community Connections Shuttle was a wonderful addition to Des Moines–five years ago. However, the majority of residents who need transit live in other areas–where services are poorest. We urgently need another such shuttle and we need much stronger advocacy for transit throughout the City.

Public Safety

We fully support our police department. In fact, we’d like to see more police deployed in your neighborhood. Although the administration refers to our department as ‘fully staffed’, the number of officers is now far smaller than in 2007.

We applaud the administration’s vocal support for police reform–such as adopting the #8Can’tWait campaign. However a recent letter of resignation from one member of the Diversity Advisory Committee raises concerns as to the City’s true commitment.

Parks, Recreation, Senior Services

The City groups several very important (and very different!) functions into one block called ‘human services’ and these are all undervalued. $175,000 out of a $24.5 million dollar general fund is simply not adequate–especially during a pandemic. Programs serving kids, seniors, families and people with special needs should never be outsourced.

We also acknowledge the recent work the City has done to improve places like Midway Park. But it is important to note that these upgrades began only after great volunteers laid the foundation. Currently, volunteerism for all City-related groups is at an all time low. We must do more to reverse that trend–including making the process much easier. It is volunteers who do so much to keep Des Moines running.

The Masonic Home

The Masonic Home is one of the most historically significant buildings in the entire state and has tremendous strategic potential. Yes, it has been problematic for years, but repeatedly the City chose to leave its fate to private developers–as if it were just another building. If and when a new opportunity appears we should be ready to provide every resource to support its rebirth as an economic engine for South Des Moines.

Sea-Tac Airport

The airport has been and will continue to be the single biggest threat to the City and its residents, having contributed to declines in our schools, property values and the health of our residents. Despite the public perception, very little of the airport’s money or well-paid jobs are in Des Moines.

The City has repeatedly made this situation worse for residents, publicly bemoaning the noise and pollution, while supporting the Port’s agenda in policy. Our Airport Advisory Committee resigned last year in frustration.

With little fanfare, Sea-Tac will soon begin a new expansion referred to as the SAMP. Unless vigorously opposed, this will add tens of thousands of flights over Des Moines.

There is a great deal we can do to improve this situation, but we must change our approach immediately.

In closing

This message is firm because the circumstances demand it. However it includes not only constructive criticisms but also solutions for improving our government and making your City better. In a letter like this, it is impossible to go into detail. But we welcome discussion of those details with both our colleagues and the public. It is offered to our colleagues and to all residents of Des Moines with sincerity and with absolutely no rancor.

It is our honor to serve Des Moines.

Councilmember JC Harris,
Councilmember Anthony Martinelli

Weekly Update: 04/18/2021

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Public Service Announcements

There are now vaccine appointments available every day now, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. The Des Moines Waterfront Farmer’s Market is now officially open every Saturday. And parking on Saturdays is free, Free, FREE!
  2. Sign up for the UW Airport Communities Solutions Summit Friday, June 18th and learn what we can do to reduce the noise and pollution
  3. Downtown City Cleanup, sponsored by Destination Des Moines is Saturday June 19th, 10:00AM at Big Catch Plaza! Email Michelle to sign up: michellefawcett@comcast.net
  4. You like running, right? Biking? So sign up for the Running Of The Flags  and support the Legacy Foundation, Destination Des Moines and Rotary!
  5. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Please send your questions to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  6. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  7. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  8. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  9. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Monday: Destination Des Moines. Planning their summer and fall events, which sounds like a lot of fun after the past year.

Tuesday: South County Transportation Board (SCATBd) No public agenda at deadline.

Thursday: Municipal Facilities Meeting (Agenda) There will be a discussion of the Marina Redevelopment (with questions from the public) and update on the passenger ferry.

Thursday: Economic Development Committee Meeting (Agenda) Marina Redevelopment (with questions from the public) and update on the passenger ferry. No I did not accidentally hit Ctrl-V.

Thursday: Council Meeting (Agenda)

Last Week

Monday: I attended the King County International Airport Roundtable. No, it’s not Sea-Tac, but we share the same air space and we need to work together on reducing the noise and pollution.

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission. I sent a letter on behalf of SeatacNoise.Info asking the Port to revise the Sustained Airport Master Plan (SAMP) in light of COVID-19. It is short and if you are concerned about the airport, I hope you will read it.

Wednesday: A presentation of the Marina Redevelopment Plan to the Des Moines Marina Association (DMMA). This will be their general membership’s first look at the proposal.

Thursday: I attended the Pacific Coast Congress Of Harbormasters Conference . The PCC is the big association that all west coast Marina’s belong to. Since this is our big marina re-development year, I thought it would be a good idea to check in and see what’s what.

Thursday: Environment Committee (Agenda)

Thursday: Transportation Committee (Agenda)

Thursday: City Council Study Session (Agenda) The topic will be State Of The City. If you wanna bone up on that, you can look at the version presented by the Mayor and Deputy Mayor last November at the Des Moines Marina Association.

A few words on utility taxes…

If we were being practical, our Environment Committee might be renamed ‘The Storm Water Public Utility Committee’ because functionally that’s 90% of what it does. We tend to think of ‘utilities’ as being separate governmental entities, but they don’t have to be. A city can run its own utility and in fact we do. The Environment Committee acts much like the Commissioners at our respective Sewer and Water Districts. (It would be worth a think to run the Marina in this fashion as well, but I digress.)

I dislike utility taxes because they are regressive (bad for you) and terrible environmental policy (bad for the world.) And that is because utilities are priced mostly based on usage which means that everyone pays the same based on how much they use. That sounds fair but actually? Not so much.

Years ago we stopped taxing sales on food because we recognize that $100 of food to someone making $2o,000 a year is a completely different thing from $100 to a person making $200,000 a year. The way we tax utilities has exactly the same unfair impacts on people. Additionally, many utilities encourage wasteful use because you pay a fixed amount regardless of your impact to the system and to the environment.

We bill you for storm water based on just a few very broad sizes of your property. It’s based on the idea that wealthier people have bigger houses. But since there are so few rates, it ends up costing most people the same.

The Environment Committee is going to decide later this year whether or not to raise rates because, just like the Marina, there is a lot of ‘stuff’ that is at or nearing end of life and we need to set aside money to pay for it. We can keep rates as they are and kick the can down the road a few year or we can ask you to bite the bullet now to keep us on schedule.

This conversation would be much easier for me if rates were set more equitably. The problem is that the current system has no way to adjust based on ability to pay. The first thing that probably flashed into your mind is keying it to income. The reason that doesn’t fly in small cities is at least partly administrative, but also it rubs a lot of people the wrong way to start connecting one’s 1040 to their storm water bill–even if it would save them some money.

The biggest tool the current management used to get us out of debt was utility taxes. I understood the concept, but such taxes are addictive–once they get started Cities find them almost impossible to kick. But on the other hand, we do need a certain amount of revenue to pay the bills.

In my opinion, one long term goal should be to re-examine the way we pay for all utilities; not just storm water, but everything, including internet. Utilities, by definition are, like food, necessary items. The City needs enough money to provide these services, but we also need to find a pricing model that is based on how the world works now.

Council Meeting: State Of The City

Clerk’s Recap Agenda Packet Video

See below.

The Minority Report (Part 1)

To the residents of the City Of Des Moines and to our colleagues on the City Council,

This letter is what would be called in State, Federal government, the Minority Report–the response from the party not in power to the April 15th State Of The City presentation. A minority report has become customary with the universal recognition that “State Of” speeches are largely political documents and do not provide an objective review of the strengths and weaknesses of the government. The Minority Report gives the public ‘the rest of the story’ and is an important part of a democratic process.

Many of us dislike thinking about ‘politics’ on our City Council. We don’t consider ourselves as part the ‘swamp’ often associated with state and federal legislatures. But politics is politics. The City Of Des Moines is a $100 million dollar corporation, with a complex government and the stakes are high. Especially in this election year where four seats and the majority are on the line.

We want to be thrifty with your time and attention so we’ll break this into two five minute reads: first politics, then policy.  Note that the majority took two hours to make their argument.

Thanks to our great staff!

First, we want to acknowledge that the presentation did contain some good information and we hope the entire public will watch it. Some of the items discussed are significant accomplishments. We supported these and actively contributed to several. It also highlighted some of the great work our staff is engaged in for all of us every day. We want to acknowledge their efforts and offer our deepest thanks.

A marketing presentation

However, this was unlike any ‘State Of’ speech  we have ever heard in that it was all positive and no negative. In fact it was simply a marketing presentation. Just to be clear: we always want to promote the legitimate accomplishments of our city to the greatest possible extent. However, there was not even a polite attempt to acknowledge any need for improvement or significant long-term risks. There are many of these and the public has a right to hear them discussed with candor.

No matter how glowing, every proper performance review includes that kind of discussion. It is one thing to put a positive spin on things, but a presentation called The State Of The City demands at least some sincere attempt be made to present a balanced picture.

Performance, not Study Session

If you do not regularly attend City Council Meetings you may have thought that the State Of The City presentation was the meeting. That is not accurate. This meeting was a Study Session, a legally separate type of Council meeting broken into two halves: learning followed by discussion.

But even if you knew that you still may have been confused because after a two hour presentation there was no discussion and not a single question. The reason for this, as you know from watching, is simple: the majority Councilmembers were also the presenters. (We wouldn’t have any questions either if we were actors in a scripted show!)

In short, this was not a Study Session it was a performance, pure and simple.

Public engagement…

Just as worrying, there was no comment from the public. The Mayor expressed amazement that no one had signed up to comment, at one of the most important meetings of the year, in one of the most important years in the City’s history. But he had no reason to be surprised: this lack of public participation has become the norm at all meetings and all forms of public engagement.

This lack of participation is partly a lack of awareness–and we can and should do a much better job of public outreach. The deeper problem is cynicism. Many of our residents now recognize from events like this that their voice is irrelevant. This combination of a lack of awareness and cynicism is toxic to good government.

Disagreeing without being disagreeable

The Mayor has repeatedly used the popular phrase ‘disagreeing without being disagreeable’ to express his laudable desire for a better working relationship on the Council. Perhaps it brings to mind something like this?

As we now know, many of the Founding Fathers actually hated one another. Somehow, they still managed to create the most enduring democracy in history.

It’s not quite as intense here. 😀 But historically, politics in Des Moines  has always been a bit messy–whether or not the public sees it. In every healthy government,  electeds will not agree on all things, all the time. And constructive disagreement can actually be a plus.

Though currently in the minority, a majority of voters elected us to represent you. So any presentation claiming to represent the State Of The City should contain our input.

Some improvements…

That said, we agree with the Mayor that we could work together more effectively and it is our hope to do so going forward. But doing so will require change, hard work and it will take time. We can begin by taking two small, but very significant steps towards making the State Of The City a much more balanced presentation.

  • First, these presentations should be developed with input from all seven Councilmembers; not only the majority. The last word may rest with the majority, but all voices should be given a meaningful place.
  • Second, if so desired, the minority should be provided an opportunity for a formal response. This could be given from the dais after the State Of The City or at the next City Council Meeting.

These changes are not about political ‘fairness’. The public needs to receive a balanced picture of our City.  But including the entire Council in this process and allowing for a minority response  would also send a powerful message to residents that their Council can work together and ‘disagree without being disagreeable.’

In closing

This message is firm because the circumstances demand it. However it includes not only constructive criticism but a simple and practical suggestion for improving our government and making your City better. It is offered to our colleagues and to all residents of Des Moines with sincerity and with absolutely no rancor.

It is our honor to serve Des Moines.

Councilmember JC Harris,
Councilmember Anthony Martinelli