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…
(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.
- The Des Moines Waterfront Farmer’s Market is now officially open every Saturday. And parking on Saturdays is free, Free, FREE!
- Sign up for the UW Airport Communities Solutions Summit Friday, June 18th and learn what we can do to reduce the noise and pollution
- Downtown City Cleanup, sponsored by Destination Des Moines is Saturday June 19th, 10:00AM at Big Catch Plaza! Email Michelle to sign up: firstname.lastname@example.org
- You like running, right? Biking? So sign up for the Running Of The Flags and support the Legacy Foundation, Destination Des Moines and Rotary!
- 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 email@example.com.
- I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
- 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.
- 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.
- And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!
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.
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.
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:
- Whether Councilmembers speak twice or a hundred times, the majority still wins all the votes. These rules offer no political advantage.
- 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.
- 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.
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.