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. 😀

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