Weekly Update: 08/09/2020

Sorry I’m late. A bit under the weather this weekend. But I’ve got not just this update, but a bonus article (see below.) Woo hoo!

This Week

Monday: I’ll be sitting in on the Arts Commission Meeting.

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting. The discussion will center around improving the noise monitor program.

Wednesday: come have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

That’s it. Nothing else! (Well, nothing else I can talk about here.) So call me! Ask a question. Complain about something. Share some some gossip. That’s kinda what I’m here for: (206) 878-0578. 😀

Last Week

Wednesday: come have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

PSA: Wednesday is also the day that the Des Moines Library opens for curbside pickup!

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda, Video) the annual Budget Retreat. Discussion below.

Friday: South King County Area Transportation Board (SCATbd) meeting. The highlight was a bit of a shocker, King County Metro General Manager Rob Gannon is leaving to take a job as CFO in Missoula Montana and is being replaced by long-time Deputy Terry White. Why should you care? The bus service is enduring serious problems right now and this is not a great sign for our residents (all those ‘essential workers’), many who have already been seriously impacted by reductions on local routes like the 122 and 156.

Budget Recap: The Cliff Notes

The meeting (Agenda, Video) lasted almost four hours and consisted almost entirely of presentations by all the department heads. If you did not watch the meeting I would strongly suggest that you review the slide deck at the end of the Agenda PDF. In fact, if you read the slides you can basically skip watching the meeting–unless you care about politics, or just really find these kinds of presentations riveting. No judgment. 😀

Just give it to me in 25 words or less, OK?

No, can do. 😀 But long-winded or not, the part you’ve all been waiting for (OK, I was waiting for) was Finance Director Beth Anne Wroe’s bit on the state of the balance sheet, which came around the three hour mark.

Five years? Try five months, pal.

Every budget I’ve seen until this year always has a five year projection. The City Manager and Finance Director both repeatedly indicated how different 2020 is from past years. So not only was there no five year projection, there really was no 2021 projection either. In fact, the presented forecast seemed to lump 2020 and 2021 together. I guess the assumption is that, one way or another, 2021 will be the end of the pandemic and we won’t get back to normal projections until then. So that’s the basic assumption: we’re in a holding pattern for not just the rest of 2020, but also for 2021.

Some highlights

And the news seems to be (and I’m sure someone will correct me for over-simplifying 😀 ) but here’s where we are and what the City Manager will likely propose. The

  1. We are currently looking at a 13.5% reduction in the General Fund. But we have not yet received a report from the State or County on several key indicators from the 2nd Quarter (eg. property taxes) so this could change dramatically. Plus, of course, there is no good way to forecast the rest of 2020 since COVID-19 doesn’t seem to be abating.)
  2. There will be no draconian cuts–at least not now.
  3. We’re getting prox. $950k from the CARES Act and $200k will likely be applied to the kind of business relief I mentioned last time.
  4. The major street projects (eg. 24th Ave. around the schools) will continue since they are mostly funded by State grants. But nothing new (including pothole programs) will proceed.
  5. There will be no cuts to public safety, but people retiring will not be replaced with the hire-ahead program.
  6. We’re still on hold with the North Bulkhead repairs at the Marina. That is not a result of COVID-19, but rather a failure to get permitting approval from the Federal government. And we’re now getting so far into the year that we may not be able to get started on any of that work until next year.re
  7. We may or may not get more CARES money in the next stimulus plan.
  8. We may or may not get more State money in the next 105 day session.

So… as they say, I have questions.

Some parliamentary details

At the top of the meeting, the Mayor asked  Councilmembers to hold questions until the very end of all presentations. We were also warned not to ask any questions regarding ‘pet projects’–that we should confine all questions to the facts of the presentations. The City Manager also warned that the presentations would be lengthier than normal.

At the 2:55 mark (five minutes before the scheduled three hour limit) we were informed that we were nowhere near finished with the presentation slide deck. So we had the first of three votes to extend the meeting in fifteen minute increments ending right before 9pm. So the meeting ended with no questions being asked by any Councilmember. Instead, we were told that we would have opportunities to meet with various department heads in groups of three (to avoid an OPMA violation) and ask our questions.

After the meeting I (and apparently some of my other colleagues) wrote the Mayor encouraging him to schedule a follow-up meeting asap. We received a follow-up from the City indicating that such a special meeting will occur on August 20th at the even specialer time of 5:15pm. As I write this I have two concerns:

  • There is no guarantee that all the department heads will be available.
  • We were told by the City to not send in any written questions for Staff ahead of the meeting. That is also pretty unprecedented as Councilmembers are always given at least some opportunity to email questions ahead of a meeting.

We’ll see.

Backseat Driver

I’m just gonna be straight: The meeting was problematic for me on many levels. (First off, anyone who has ever sits down for a long meeting and is sold right from the jump, “please hold all your questions until the end” knows they’re in for trouble, right?)

This wasn’t a scheduling issue or an accident caused by COVID-19. Rather, it’s part of ongoing structural problems that were part of the reason I ran for office in the first place.

To address these, I’ve started work on a series of posts on Better City Council Meetings. The first one is called Eliminate the presentations!  I very much hope you will read them and let me know what you think.

Dude, why are you being such a doormat!

I get multiple messages either during or after every meeting “Dude. Why aren’t you objecting more? Make a motion! Do something!” Which is actually good in a way. It means that people are watching and they notice some of the problems at our meetings. I typically reply with something hopefully not too defensive like, “You don’t know that half of it, pal!” 😀

When you are in a minority such as exists on our current Council, and the majority always votes together, you can’t change any votes. It’s as polarised as the United States Congress. So if you’re me you have a decision to make before every meeting:

A. Stop every meeting at literally multiple points where there are problems in order to educate the public as to what’s goin’ on. Which then makes my colleagues look like absolute fools–and unfortunately makes Staff super-uncomfortable. All that kerfuffle and still I won’t win a single vote.

B. Try to maintain a zen flow of calm, turn the other cheek, center my chi, blah, blah, blah… so everyone can get home in time to watch Star Trek TNG. 🙂

If you know me a little bit, you know I have no problem with choosing from Column A on the menu. Many of you voted for me specifically to push back on the status quo and I get why. But up until now at least, I have always chosen Column B. (known as either ‘the high road’ or ‘getting punked’ depending on your point of view.)

My thinking thus far has been like this (and yes this will sound completely naive to you), I saw my first year on the Council as an experiment: I didn’t know many of my colleagues personally and I really hoped to try to get to know them and work across the aisle as they say. I figured that if I just remained calm and tried to be pleasant, at least one of my colleagues would at least occasionally step in and object when their were problems.

Well,: I think we can all agree how that little experiment turned out. 😀 After the dozens of parliamentary problems we have all noticed and complained about, I don’t think there is anything further to be gained by remaining silent.

In short: I hear you.

Paid Parking

On a totally unrelated note, the City Manager hinted in his opening remarks that whatever changes will be made to Paid Parking, they will not compromise security at the Marina. This appears to be in response to an organised  letter-writing campaign by the condo-dwellers. We’ll circle back to that when it comes to the Committee discussion.

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