Weekly Update: 02/09/2020

This Week

Tuesday is a regular Port Of Seattle Meeting. That night I’ll be speaking at the North Hill Community Club on various ‘airporty’ stuff.ย  There’s a lot to report, although beyond the Port Package Update bill, it’s not getting a lot of press. I’ll post some notes after the meeting–assuming I actually have some notes. ๐Ÿ˜€

Wednesday I’m at the Sound Cities Association PIC 101 meeting. The Public Issues Committee (PIC) is an important thing for budding city councilmembers to learn about. Sound Cities Association is sort of a ‘league’ of all us smaller cities to try to have more regional clout with the much larger Puget Sound Regional Council. My hope is that, all us airport communities can work together through this to change airport policy more to our benefit.

There is also a Des Moines Marina Association Meeting at 7PM. That also will be interesting because they also turned out in support of Luisa Bangs. I guess this is why they call it ‘politics’. ๐Ÿ˜€ Again, you’ve got an organisation with a shared interest (the Marina is in my top three concerns) but where we seem to disagree is on the process to get there.

Thursday is a Regular City Council Meeting (Agenda). The appointment for the vacant position will be decided. There will also be a presentation on the next big road project in Des Moines (wish we could do more than one at a time, right?) which is 24th Avenue from KDM to 223rd–the path in front of all the schools. One little detail: there is a Public Hearing scheduled for ‘clean-up’ of the Municipal Code. This one should be routine, but it’s like a ton of detail on all sorts of zoning. And I always get a little nervous when I see references to dozens and dozens of ‘tweaks’ to any document. It means lots of reading.

(Following the meeting, I will once again retire to somewhere for a post-whatever drink. I was joined by a few very nice people last week and it was a great way to unwind. The only challenge was that the All-Star is a bit loud if you want to hear tears descending mournfully into ones beer.)

Somewhere in here I also hope to chat again with all the contestants ๐Ÿ˜€ …er… ‘applicants’ for the vacant Council position. As I wrote before, I thought that limiting the process to one teeny, weeny question (and basically the same question over and over and over) was kinda weak. Most of the applicants were great and I hope to get to know them better. (By the way, not to complain too much, but in past appointments, the applicants were kept off-stage so that they could not hear each other’s answers. Am I the only one who thought it was stupidissimo to have all the candidate kinda saying the same thing over and over and over in response to hearing the guy before them? Maybe it was just me. ๐Ÿ˜€ )

Last Week

Wednesday I met with Police Guild President Justin Cripe and Vice President Isaac. It’s a weird thing because the Guild was (and is) a big supporter of Luisa Bangs (and the entire current majority). And why not? The current government has been responsive to the needs of the police department–and in many ways that has been good for Des Moines. What I tried to convey is that there is a significant gap between the public’s perception and the Police Department’s crime statistics. It’s not always thrilling news to hear that you’re not universally loved (trust me on this! ๐Ÿ˜€ ) but it’s critical to me that the residents feel safe–and feel heard.ย  A lot of that comes down to better communication. I talk to residents more than most so I hope I can help bridge that gap on both sides.

I did not meet with City Attorney Tim George to get a tutorial on how to write a Resolution. Me sad. Hopefully when we get past all these tough initial City Council Meetings. (The beginning of the year is hectic!)

Thursday was the Study Session. I’ve gassed on about that all over social media so I won’t belabour the point. On the positive side? I think that six out of the seven Applicants would be fantastic for the job. And that right there makes me feel good about the future of our City. My hope is that at least a few of those who do not get in see this as the kick-off to their 2021 campaigns.

The whole Board/CEO thing

There is a great article in the Seattle Times today on the Boeing Board Of Directors and I urge you to read it. The S/T has been doing really great coverage on the whole 737 MAX issue. Their writers keep promising me to provide more coverage of the SAMP, but they keep getting diverted to this cluster-f–k which has Pulitzer Prize written all over it so I can’t blame ’em.)

One of the first things you notice is the horizontal spread of all the Directors with their credentials. Note that only one director has any serious knowledge about aviation. (In fact, that one guy was the CEO they just fired.) You’ve got people in Big Pharma, heavy machinery, several hedge fund guys, three diplomats (one of the Kennedys!) Contrast that to the good ol’ days back when HQ was in Seattle and when their Board would be staffed by people with an intimate knowledge of, oh I dunno, airplanes? Perhaps you can develop a one word explanation for why things may have gone off the rails. And that word might be oversight.

What I’m getting at is that I’ve been getting a certain amount of flak regarding my (apparent) obsession with ‘process’ and ‘transparency’ at Council Meetings. The push back I receive is usually along the lines of, “Why keep complaining when things are going so well? Setting aside just how ‘well’ we’re doing, my grousing about ‘process’ is because I believe that the City Council’s number one job is to provide active oversight.

Although we are described as legislators, the truth is that the Council does very little actual legislating. Almost all items that appear on a Meeting Agenda originate from the City Manager. For example: as I’ve previous mentioned, one way a Resolution can appear on the Agenda is when three councilmembers vote to put it there. But when I recently asked Mr. Matthias how often that happens, he told me that he could not remember the last time that had occurred. See the vast majority of what the Council actually does is not legislation per sรฉ, but rather approval. Our actual work load is mostly just signing off on legislation that was created by the City Manager and his Staff.

And because we rarely actually make the laws, and because most of us are not exactly experts on any of the Agenda Items we’re being asked to sign off on, this can easily create complacency. When your only real job is to say ‘OK’, it’s easy to start letting the corporation run itself.

The flip side to this is, frankly, corporations kinda like it that way. There are few things most employees (including me) hate more than having some guy looking over their shoulder asking a passel of damn-fool questions. Just let me do my job, OK? The “interfering councilmember” scenario is so prevalent that it is actually talked about in State RCW/:

“Except for the purpose of inquiry, the council and its members shall deal with the administrative service solely through the manager”

Ah, but for me that clause “Except for the purpose of inquiry” is a biggee.

The Boeing debacle is an example of what happens when you have a Board that approves, but doesn’t actually “inquire” all that much. To the clueless Board, the company is making money; the employees seem happy; the investors seem happy. What could go wrong?

Now having watched and studied our Council for a while, my perspective is that when things are going well, we tend to give the City Manager and staff a tremendous amount of leeway–as we should, of course. So it’s easy for the Council to fall into a pattern of simply acting as well-meaning, part-time cheerleaders for Des Moines.

Cheerleading is good (especially in towns like ours, with no Chamber Of Commerce!) But as a Council, we also need to establish the kind of thorough oversight ‘hygiene’ that other cities already have in place. Otherwise we leave ourselvesย  vulnerable to blind spots.

Boeing makes the most complex machines on the planet and they have done so for decades with an astounding track record of competence. But if a company with their track record can fall into complacency and not do the right things in terms of basic oversight? That should cause small cities like Des Moines to also consider how we might improve our processes.

Everyone in government uses words like ‘transparency’ and ‘accountability’ so often that they can become meaningless.ย  But despite a lot of fine words, our city does not have a history of great oversight. And I hope to help change that. For what it’s worth, I hate the complaining even more than you do. ๐Ÿ˜€