Local politics, in all its drama and glory, alive and well at North Hill Forum
Story & Photos by Justin Bennett
“That’s not true, it wasn’t…”
“I believe I have seven minutes – is there a problem with that?”
“There is not a problem but you are stating something that is cynicism.”
“He can lie any way he wants.”
“Okay, well if that’s the case let me please continue.”
Local politics in all its drama and glory is alive and well in Des Moines. On Tuesday night (Oct. 8), the North Hill Community Club once again hosted a coming out of sorts for local residents running for city council and other government positions, to an audience of around 70 people. Held every two years, club moderator Don Riecks claims this year is the twentieth time he has hosted such an event.
Up for election are city council positions 1,3,4,5, and 7, along with the Des Moines fire district commissioner, two positions on the Port Of Seattle, as well as the position of Des Moines District Court Judge.
Prior to the starting Mr. Riecks distributed a program to the audience with details of the events to come. Near the top there was one particular section Don made sure to point out to everyone, “Ground Rules: 1. Who are you? 2. Why are you running? 3. What do you plan to do if elected? 4. No comments about your opponent.” Mr. Riecks was quite adamant about the fourth rule, “you will not bad mouth or compare yourself to your opponent in a derogatory way.”
Current council members Matt Pina (pos. #1), Melissa Musser (pos. #5), and Mayor Dave Kaplan (pos. #7) along with Victor Pennington II (running for pos. #3) were the first to speak. They are all running unopposed and spoke briefly about their reasons for wanting to continue to hold their positions along with their plans for the future. They were each given three minutes to speak.
The following round of speakers consisted of people in competition for positions. This round began with Jeremy Nutting and James Payne running for city council position #4.
Jeremy Nutting, the incumbent who was appointed to the position last May (read our previous coverage here), spoke first. A local business owner, Nutting focused on: “grow(ing) business base in Des Moines so that our city is economically sustainable into the future. To continue maintain a safe and secure and livable community for people of all ages to enjoy. And to work hard to ensure that our tax dollars are being spent wisely in the provisions of city services.”
James Payne followed and he spoke of Des Moines as “a work in progress,” calling himself the “security and prosperity candidate.” A former Seattle Police officer, Mr. Payne focused most of his speech on wanting the Des Moines City Council to increase its funding of the Des Moines Police Department.
It was following Mr. Payne’s speech that the first bit of unrest occurred. Moderator Riecks had not made it clear that the competing candidates were now allowed to speak for seven minutes. Mr. Nutting speech was significantly shorter than Mr. Payne’s. Several audience members also had questions for the candidates and had not yet been permitted to ask any. The moderator allowed two questions to Mr. Nutting and one to Mr. Payne before cutting the audience off with “we’re not going to get into this again, I’m going to announce the next candidates and they are going to have seven minutes to speak; and I’m only going to allow one minute extra if there are burning questions but I would prefer to have yes, no, or something like that, I don’t want to get into a whole discussion.”
The incumbent Des Moines Fire District Commissioner William “Bill” Gates was next to speak. Having held the position for the last 12 years, Mr. Gates focused on his accomplishments as commissioner thus far. These accomplishments include: the 2006 merger of the Des Moines and Federal Way fire districts, the class two insurance rating (the highest in Washington State) achieved by the fire district, an A++ bond rating the “best bond rating of any fire district in the state” according to Mr. Gates, “saving the citizens here about $318,000.” He listed these amongst other accomplishments, before completing his speech by praising the work of local firefighters many of whom were seated in the back of the room.
Jerry Galland, the challenging Candidate for Fire District Commissioner followed. Mr. Galland focused on “expenses.” He spoke of a firefighter who last year “had a problem, he was disciplined by the department and then he was found guilty of unprofessional conduct. Fortunately this was an isolated incident,” Mr. Galland said. “The problem occurred when he went to renew his license, you write down there have you ever been found guilty of unprofessional conduct and he put down ‘no.’
“On August 5th your firefighters, your commissioners voted by a vote of four-to-one to pay for his attorney to fight a case with the department of health. Is that proper use of your money should your taxes go to that?”
“Mr. Galland that’s not true,” interjected Fire Commissioner Jim Fossos, from the back of the room. “It wasn’t…”
“I believe I have seven minutes is there a problem with that?” Mr. Galland responded, look at Moderator Riecks.
“There is not a problem but you are stating something that is cynicism, it isn’t true,” Commissioner Fossos said.
“He can lie anyway he wants,” Mr. Riecks said.
“Thank you,” responded Galland. “Okay, well if that’s the case let me please continue.”
Mr. Galland continued with several other statements and claims of misused funds, involving the fire chief’s contract, misused levy and grant money, among other things. To which several members of the audience whispered; one even shouted: “that’s a lie.”
Following Mr. Galland’s speech, to which many audience members raised their hand with questions Moderator Riecks said: “I get the feeling that we are moving toward a debate situation; and I will just remind you that if you believe everything a candidate says is true, you’re very naïve. Tonight’s an example of a lot of things that were said that I would have concerns with myself. But it’s not my job to judge what happens it’s to give people a chance to speak.”
“You just did – you’re the moderator; you’re supposed to be impartial, you weren’t there,” said an audience member.
“He’s doing a good job,” Fire Commissioner Fossos said.
“I’m simply trying to get it down to a point that if you want to make a response briefly,” Mr. Riecks said. “I’m not going to open this up to debate.”
Apparently two years ago, at the last event hosted by the North Hill Community Club, there was some controversy between opposing candidates that resulted in some sort of physical altercation. Words like “fist fight” were mentioned several times by people in attendance. Further details of past events were not provided to this reporter.
Bob Sheckler, current city council member (and former Mayor) in position #6, alleged that the Des Moines Police Department was asked to prevent his attendance (possibly due to the events that occurred two years before).
EDITOR’S NOTE: We spoke with Mr. Sheckler and he corrected our original story – he said that it was Mr. Riecks, not Mr. Payne, who made the request to the Des Moines Police to keep him from attending.
“Three people – Tony Piasecki, Police Chief Delgado as well as Commander Bob Bohl can verify this,” Sheckler told The Waterland Blog Friday, Oct. 11.
No measures were taken by the department to prevent Mr. Sheckler from attending.
Club moderator Mr. Riecks had requested a police presence at the event, which he was denied. To which Chief Delgado responded: “based on the information provided to me and the nature of the event, as a private event on private property, unless their is an immediate threat to the public we at the department do not provide security. Such things can be handled through the policeman’s guild.”
When asked if he had requested the police prevent Sheckler from attending the forum Mr. Riecks said, “No.”
It occurred to this Reproter, as I observed the frustration from the audience at their lack of ability to question the candidates beyond the minute allotted by Moderator Riecks and the North Hill Community Club, that Des Moines might benefit from a forum that would allow candidates to debate. I questioned some candidates following the event as to whether or not there would be such a platform prior to the election, most said no or that they were unsure. When asked if this would be a benefit to Des Moines voters incumbent District Court Judge Veronica Galvin had this to say:
“I would like a forum where there is more questions, I think it behooves people to know what the people (candidates) do, think, and have done. So it would be nice to have a forum where we’re actually interviewed for our jobs.”
Is there a forum within Des Moines for a candidate to debate? “There is not,” she said. “I had hoped that The Waterland blog would put one on.”
The Des Moines Police Department has no record of any fist fight ever occurring at the North Hill Community Club, according to Chief Delgado.