Weekly Update: 03/23/2020

Posted on Categories Weekly Updates 1301

This Week

Oh, you thought I’d miss a Weekly Update? It takes more than some ‘Pandemic’ to stop me from gassing on about Des Moines! Actually, I was kinda waitin’ to hear what Governor Inslee had to say at 5:30pm. Short answer: We’re on lockdown, folks.

I will not be at the Port Of Seattle Special Meeting (agenda) tomorrow. Although it will be of great interest to people in Des Moines and I urge you to watch it with me. Not on my couch, of course. But here. It will include a contract to (finally) sound insulate Villa Enzi condominiums on 216th and allocates the first money to the new sound insulation initiative I keep banging on about and finalizes the Flight Corridor Safety Program (aka ‘tree cutting along 200th’). Though originally slated to chop down 3,000 trees, it’s been reduced now to 170. Whew.

And I will (apparently) not be at City Hall for our City Council Meeting (agenda) at the extra-special time of 5pm on Thursday March 26th. But I will be attending ‘telephonically’ per our City Manager’s recommendation. Technically, you can’t prevent people from showing up to a public meeting, but we are encouraging people to stay home and watch on Channel 21. People who show up will be ‘screened’ –this simply means taking yer temperature and answering some basic health questions. Now normally I’d be like, “screw yer telephonic, mate” because every call-in-councilmember I’ve ever witnessed has been something of a joke. But speaking of jokes, the Agenda is such that that is the least of my objections. More below.

Last Week

I did not meet with City Manager Michael Matthias. More below.

I did a bunch of driving around, delivering food, running errands, whatnot.

I had a tele-conference training on Emergency Preparedness for the National Incident Management System NIMS, which was interesting. There is a whole system in place from top to bottom which is designed to keep all the governments running in case of situations like this. Thank God. I’m not entirely thrilled with how we all are handling the current Coronavirus thing, but I’m probably a little calmer about it than you are after learning just how well-thought out most of these systems are.

As of Sunday, Saltwater State Park was the busiest I have ever seen it. I mean, the parking lot is overflowing. The Marina Beach Park and Redondo Beach are also going gangbusters. I see whole gaggles of children and parents congregating at every school. Frankly, people are simply not taking the situation seriously enough. I’m sure I’ll come off as a total jerk to some, but I spent a good deal of time during the week asking, begging our City Manager to shut these down. I’ll stand by that because, as one of my neighbours told me, “If we’re going to go through all this pain, we shouldn’t do it half-assed.” Right.

Newsflash: People have already tested positive here. In Des Moines. When you’re passing dozens and dozens of people, we think we’re ‘social distancing’. But we’re not. Please stay home. I know it’s boring as hell and I know there are only so many shows you can binge or games you can play. But stay home.

One last thing: If you aren’t at home and you see people congregating like ignorant jerks? SAY SOMETHING! Don’t place politeness over your community.

The Incoming Wave

There is a whole timeline of how this disease is supposed to spread. And I think one reason people have so much trouble taking it seriously is that they think that what we’re doing now is ‘it’. This is not ‘it’. This is like a 7-10 days before it.

The way to think about the situation is that we’re like in a boat and there’s a slow motion Tsunami coming. We know it’s coming so we batten down the hatches (note to non-sailors, that really is a thing). The tighter you make the boat, the less chance you have of being swamped. Sure, you may get some water inside, but if you’re good, not enough to be a total disaster.

When we behave in cavalier way because people aren’t dropping like flies now, we’re like the guy who waited until the wave was upon him to batten down the hatches.

Again, resources to help people to cope are starting to emerge, including food, transportation, unemployment benefits and small business loans. I’ll be posting specifics on my Facebook Page as they come in.

Emergency Government

Since this whole thing started, there has been an almost complete shutdown on information from City Hall to City Council (well to me at least) with the exception of occasional Coronavirus updates. It’s disconcerting to get questions from Councilmembers in other cities about Des Moines’ business. It tells me that they’re getting more info than we are (or at least I am).

When I entered office I complained that in a Council/Manager form of government, you can really have a tough time getting information if you’re in the minority. And when you couple that with the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), one can feel pretty blind as to what is going on at City Hall.

To review: in our form of government, the City Council has no real authority outside of official meetings. It’s almost completely up to the discretion of the City Manager as to what information to share. And it’s illegal for a quorum of Councilmembers to meet outside of a public meeting–and that includes emails and phone calls. And there is a limit on the number of meetings during a calendar year. And only the Mayor or City Manager can call a special meeting. And as a practical matter, the Mayor or City Manager have total control over the items on a meeting Agenda.

So during a declared emergency, where there are either no or severely truncated meetings, business either doesn’t get done, gets done on auto-pilot or is left to the City Manager or Mayor’s discretion. Which is OK for yer basic short-term emergency (nuclear explosion, volcanic eruption, etc. 😀 ) This makes total sense when one needs to focus 100% of the corporation’s attention on instaneous considerations of public safety.

However, we’re definitely not well-suited to a crisis with a months-long trajectory which doesn’t feel quite as dramatic as the above examples. One where it’s difficult to physically meet and we don’t have a fancy schmancy video-conferencing system. One that not only allows for Councilmembers to interact seamlessly with each other and the public at large (remember, these are public meetings). When you add all that up then you have a recipe for… um… well I dunno exactly what it’s a recipe for, but it’s not something I want a steady diet of, that’s for sure.

(As I write this, I just got a reply from the Mayor saying that video-conferencing is in the works, so stop worrying. Good!) My only reply is that it would be nice if the entire Council were getting updates that work like that is getting done. Also, with such a truncated meeting Agenda, how does one even find out what is going on, right?

Speaking of City Hall, we’re running a skeleton crew at City Hall, which is largely unavoidable. That too will need to be examined: how can we keep more of the corporation running so we can keep helping the public as much as possible.

Anyhoo, not trying to get all ‘negative’. I’m an engineer and process improvement is how I think. The staff I’ve spoken with have been doing an admiral job–special shout out to our City Clerk Bonnie Wilkins who has  had one of the toughest jobs in King County these past few weeks answering a gazillion questions at all hours, seven days a week, with amazing patience and good humour.