Weekly Update: 02/21/2021

Public Service Announcements

  1. If you are a local business, make the Southside Promise from the South Side Seattle Chamber Of Commerce! There are grants of up to $1,000 to help you now.
  2. The new round of Federal PPP loan program just opened up. And it is much better than the first round last year. If you need more information, here is a presentation from the Small Business Administration with lots of links to more information.
  3. There are new State Unemployment Benefits. But you gotta read and follow the instructions!
  4. Last month’s article in the Seattle Times regarding the Masonic Home has gotten a lot of people talking. As you know, working to save the place has been on my agenda for years. Please contact me or Barbara McMichael of SoCoCulture.org at info@sococulture.org to get involved! She is compiling a mailing list and is coordinating efforts to save the place. 🙂
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Rental Assistance for Low Income King County Bar Association – The Housing Justice Project is requesting community based providers assistance to identify households who owe 10K or more in back-rent. “We can zero out $10K or more of rent for folks who are at 50% AMI or below these income limits. If you know anyone, can you have them email fwblackcollective@gmail.com for navigation with case managers or give them this link which has all the paperwork to complete and email to edmundw@kcba.org to get their rent payed out.   Forms to Eliminate Back Rent: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=1fUdYAwMFH_V_B1vTD_urmir_ltI8Wfnw.   Completed forms can be emailed to edmundw@kcba.org.”
  8. If you wish to sign up for future City Clean Ups Michelle Johansson Fawcett: cleanuri.com/pj4RQ5
  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

I’m spending most of the week at a ‘Virtual Conference’ held by UC Davis on aircraft noise and emissions. This is the pre-eminent get together of people across the nation who are working on airport issues. I know that CMs from other cities will be there.

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Noise Contractors forum. The Port is attempting to loosen requirements for contractors who are eligible to install sound insulation systems. This is key to getting all the remaining homes completed–and existing packages updated.

Wednesday: Sea-Tac Airport Roundtable (StART) This will be my first chance to see our new community representative Peter Philips.

Thursday: 30th District Legislative Call (A chance to hear from our State Reps. Jesse Johnson, Jamila Taylor and Sen. Claire Wilson in the south end of town.)

Thursday: Economic Development Committee (Agenda)

Thursday: Municipal Facilities Committee (Agenda)

Friday: South King County Housing and Homelessness Partnership.

Last Week

  1. Tuesday: Setting up the Coho Pen at the Marina to help with the next batch of hatchery fish.

    Picture from City Of Des Moines
  2. I attended the Water District #54 Board Meeting. The Water District just got financing to start work on replacing the pipe on 8th Ave between 223rd and 227th. The City is partnering to simultaneously rebuild the road. It’s about time! 🙂
  3. Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines!
  4. Thursday: 3:00PM Transportation Committee Meeting (Agenda)
  5. Thursday: 4:00PM Environment Committee Meeting (Agenda)
  6. Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda)

Both the Environment Committee and Transportation Committee meetings were so action-packed that I will be doing a recap of those in another post. Check out the Agenda Packets for a preview.

My City Council Meeting Highlights

Bonnie’s recap

  1. Coming just a week on the heels of the City helping the Port purchase the 14 acres of wooded area next to the Des Moines Creek Business Park for the purpose of adding more warehouses. We made another Port-related decision. The City Manager appointed Peter Philips to be our newest representative on the Sea-Tac Airport Roundtable (StART).Not a resident of DM. His qualifications do not indicate any background in aviation, environment, health or community work. However, he has been a big proponent of maritime business (and a paid consultant on a private passenger ferry service to link up with the Port.) Mr. Philips’ company also publishes our quarterly newsletter City Currents. Which is nice.
  2. On the Consent agenda was $25,000 to fill up the tank on the minor home repairs program. Hopefully now, pending requests will be fulfilled.

Hazard Pay

CM Martinelli prevailed upon our City Manager to bring up the matter of ‘Hazard Pay’ for Essential Workers. And if you’re wondering why that item was able to get on the agenda and my idea from the previous week was not? See below.

Anyhoo, the idea has been remanded to the Economic Development Committee for discussion. It’s such a thorny issue I’ll just leave it there until it actually comes before the Council.

Response to last week’s unpleasantness

During their comments, my colleagues took turns berating me. I could go into detail, but why bother, right? 😀 I just wanna push back on a phrase Mayor Pina used, “We can disagree without being disagreeable.” I disagree. (See what I did there? 😀 ) Below is an example of why we can’t.

The broken process…

The following is a description of events last year when I attempted to propose an idea to bring Internet service to school children doing without in Des Moines. I’m providing this single issue to give you an example of how frustrating and broken our current Council system is.

Despite what some of my colleagues might say, normally, I would not and do not share much, if anything, about private conversations with fellow CMs or the City Manager. I do not generally discuss ideas on social media. I believe that you elected us to represent you, and that means working ideas out among one another on your behalf.

I’m presenting this because it demonstrates clearly the very core of my disagreement with the way our city is currently being run and with the current majority.

The issue: Internet for school children without

On June 30th of last year I learned about a partnership that Burien was considering with Highline Schools and Comcast to provide internet access to low income and homeless students. Although Highline Schools has a program of mobile WiFi hotspots, there have been many complaints that they do not work well. I have tried them myself and they are indeed frustrating. I cannot see how any child can do effective distance learning without a stable internet connection with a baseline speed.

As some of you may know, Comcast has a $10 a month broadband plan for low income residents. However there are a number of ‘strings’ to the program which puts it out out of reach for many families. I thought the idea was worth researching so I got background information from Highline Schools and Burien. I wanted to know not only the details of the proposal, but also how many students are impacted in Des Moines.

The basic idea was that Burien would use a portion of its CARES money to pay Comcast the $10 monthly fee for one year for a certain number of families that have poor or no internet. In theory, this seems like a good thing to explore, again given the fact that without good internet, students cannot get a good education in 2021.

After speaking with Highline Schools and researching the demographics, I determined that there were as many as ‡800 children in Des Moines who might qualify for a similar program.

Wanting to get this legislation considered, I left message for the three members of the Economic Development Committee and the Mayor to get it into that group’s discussion. (If you watched this week’s meeting, legislative ideas are supposed to be brought to a Committee, researched and if approved then brought to the full Council as a Resolution or Ordinance.)

I did not hear back from Councilmember Bangs.

I did get a call back from Chairman Nutting and he seemed willing to at least consider the idea. This made sense to me at the time since he and his wife are very active on education issues.

I also got a call back from Deputy Mayor Mahoney and he too sounded cautiously optimistic, but he said one thing that, at the time, I thought was a bit odd so I wrote it down. “I’ll run it by Michael and we’ll see what we can do.”

And finally, I got a call from Mayor Pina. Even on the phone I could tell that he was angry. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that I had no business talking to Highline Schools about anything and that doing so could somehow jeopardize the City’s relationship with the School District. Any contact between the City and any external organization should be via the administration. And I should not have tried to bring it directly to the Committee. I pointed out that my job is supposed to be legislation, so how was I supposed to do that under those circumstances? And his reply was, “Well, you could bring it to Michael.”

[EDIT: 0222211602] Now here’s a funny detail I forgot to put into the original post. The Mayor is not on the Municipal Facilities Committee. So truthfully he should have absolutely no say in whether or not an item gets discussed in that committee. Nevertheless, after my conversation with him, I never heard back on the issue again.

Outcome

At the 20 August City Council Meeting, Mayor Pina proposed that the Council contribute towards paying Comcast for twenty homes to take advantage of the Comcast program, using the Council’s *Hearts And Minds Fund. Twenty.

So what the Mayor and Deputy Mayor made clear to me is that, in Des Moines, the City Manager is the gatekeeper of everything that is to be considered by the City Council. This is completely backwards and it is not how Council/Manager government is supposed to work.

Appropriate?

Contrary to what the Mayor said, what I did was not only appropriate it was actually the way things are supposed to work. The actions I took are similar to that used in every other City with Council/Manager form of government. Some Cities–like Burien have slightly different structures but the overall idea is the same: Councilmembers propose ideas, obtain research, then ask a Committee of some kind to take up the idea. This process occurs with the active support of staff. Staff including the City Manager do not act as gatekeepers or impede any Councilmember from putting forward their ideas. Quite the opposite. It is up to Councilmembers to decide which ideas live or die, not the City Manager.

Process

†Now contrast that with the way CM Martinelli got his Hazard Pay moved forward. Like myself, CM Martinelli has been frustrated in getting any idea put on an agenda. And apparently he’s had an ongoing back and forth with the City Attorney over the legality of all this. The upshot of all that ‘behind the scenes’ stuff is that the City Manager stepped in and put the item directly on the Agenda, bypassing the Committee process. The Council then agreed informally to send the idea back to the Economic Development Committee for research.

Alert readers will note that this is almost exactly the reverse of the process I attempted. The Hazard Pay issue was the wrong way to propose legislation, although it was the only way, if you take my meaning. I got yelled at for doing it the right way, and the appearance is that Mr. Martinelli was somehow being ‘rewarded’ for doing it the wrong way. That is not what CM Martinelli was doing. But this is one road to corruption.

Let me make clear that I am not scolding CM Martinelli. As I said, that was the only way to get the idea on the Agenda so he agreed.  You’re elected to get things done and that is a powerful motivator. So even if you dislike the process there is a tremendous incentive to just roll with it.

So if you favor an idea like Hazard Pay, you may be thinking right now, “Forget you, JC. Martinelli got the idea moved forward and that’s all the matters.” So long as a good idea gets into the mix, who cares about ‘process’? I do. And you should too.

What it all means

The City Manager uses the control over the Agenda and access to staff as carrots and sticks. If you play ball, we’ll help you get your idea going. If not? You’re out in the wilderness. I don’t care if the idea is one with which I agree or not. Councilmembers should not have to have the permission of the City Manager in order to get their ideas researched or heard. Those decisions should be made by the Councilmembers.

This is a culture that must end.

Because remember: this authority is not in any law. It is given to the City Manager by a vote of the Council. He only has this power because the majority gives it to him. I cannot recall the last time that a Councilmember put forward an idea to a Committee for consideration. I know it has not happened on any Committee meeting I have attended since I have been in office.

The practicalities

Honestly, I have no idea if the Hazard Pay thing is a good idea or not because it is a tremendously complicated idea. But I do know that, if it comes back to the full Council, I will have trouble voting for it simply because, regardless of any merits, the process by which it was born was bad. As I keep saying, the ends cannot justify the means.

And, at the risk of sounding self-serving, there are still hundreds of children in Des Moines who cannot properly do their home-schooling, in part at least because I made the ‘mistake’ of proposing legislation in the proper manner.

You elect Councilmembers to represent you. We cannot do this if the majority allows the City Manager total authority over the workings of the Council itself. This system must end.

*The Hearts And Minds Fund is an account that each Councilmember pays into out of our own salaries. It’s usually used for things like funeral wreaths or other ceremonial expenses.

†Here is the original text of this paragraph. I edited it at CM Martinelli’s request because it may have created the impression that it was he who prevailed upon the City Manager to put the item on the Agenda. In fact, he told me that he would have preferred for the idea to be raised in the proper fashion.
“Now contrast that with the way CM Martinelli got his Hazard Pay moved forward. CM Martinelli went directly to the City Manager, bypassing the Comittee process entirely. The Council then agreed informally to send the idea to the Economic Development Committee for research.”

‡Highline Schools would only give me an approximate number because the specific list of names is protected by Federal Dept. Of Education privacy laws.

4 thoughts on “Weekly Update: 02/21/2021”

  1. I enjoy reading your blog because it is informative but you have to stop the dear Abby dialog. Each week you share how you have been mistreated. Maybe it’s the way you approach the team. I don’t know about other’s but it makes you look like an ass. You have complained about everyone, sometimes you have to look at your behavior and maybe you are the problem. You were elected by people who want change but this constant fighting makes the whole council look like clowns.

    1. I dont know you madame but I know how JC feels. His views are ignored and he is given the cold shoulder by a council majority that just shuts him down because they don’t want to talk about something. That’s not how democracy is supposed to work. I’ve experienced this myself in my city. A click or cabal decides they have 4 votes and therefore ignore the others. Dont under estimate how manipulative city manager bureaucrats or mayors can be.can be.
      City council’s ought to be areas to debate ideas so the whole public can think about the issues presented. They should not be rubber stamp meetings where the public is left out of the debates. Democracy needs confrontational debate. I admire JC for his attempt to promote real freedom of speech and transparency.!

    2. I understand your feelings completely. I do not enjoy public display much. I have tried to solve these problems in private many times. But this is not ‘woe is me’ column. And your comment indicates to me that I’ve failed to get across just how important these problems are–that they -matter- to the basic running of the city.

      When you have a system like ours is currently, both Councilmembers and the public remain chronically in the dark. Just one example, I would love to have even basic information regarding real estate performance in DM. The City refuses to provide me with any of that (or doesn’t track that info itself.) I have to do painstaking personal research simply to learn the basics of how developers determine how/why the do what they do so I talk with them intelligently. Without that knowledge we cannot improve our tax base–which is the only way to bring more services to the public. That sort of information is freely available to Councilmembers (and the public) in other cities. And perhaps that is why they have been more successful with economic development.

      Anyhoo… for what it’s worth, I cringe every time I write this stuff and I’m sorry I’m rubbing you the wrong way. I guess it comes across like a family airing dirty laundry and I wish there was another way to fix things. There just isn’t.

      Thanks.

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