Citizens object as Council considers cutting Parks Director, Harbormaster

by Jack Mayne

Twenty-five people took more than an hour last Thursday night (Sept. 17) to tell the Des Moines City Council not to cut the jobs of the city’s Parks Director and Harbormaster, and to find money to keep these important, well respected department heads in their jobs.

The changes were only proposed and none of them have been approved by the City Council and will not take affect until decided upon at a future council meeting.

The matter came up because of two successive state audits that say the city must cut its budget because it was heading to insolvency.

The Council told City Manager Tony Piasecki to cut expenditures to raise approximately $600,000 for the 2016 budget.

Structural Deficit
Mayor Dave Kaplan said the city has a “structural deficit of about $1.7 million.” One of the problems of the current method is relying on money coming in, but if it doesn’t come because, for example, a construction project is delayed, the city suddenly has a deficit situation.

Piasecki and the city staff came up with the solution that citizens at the Thursday night session universally opposed.

Again, none of the changes have been approved, so no changes will happen until and if the Council makes decisions.

Cuts of respected leaders
The big budget change proposal is to eliminate the Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Director and the Harbormaster jobs, then add a combined director to save $89,500 from both the city general fund and the marina fund.

The proposal to the Council would expand duties of the senior services manager to include recreation coordinator and functions, and would expand duties of marina manager to include events and rental coordinator and functions.

Another part of the city management plan would mean eliminating city-run programs to save $619,000.

This would create a passive park system “where folks play at parks on their own but with no programs.” Park services would then be provided through a parks district which would “allow voters to vote for additional property tax support for these programs to maintain or reduce current level of fees/tax subsidy.”

Other parts of the proposed money saving plan would over city code enforcement to the police department, as well as consider getting some services from the King County Sheriff’s Office which would “will result in lower level of police service.”

Piasecki also proposes several other administrative changes for Council consideration.

Citizens loudly object
Jim Langston, vice president of the Des Moines Historical Society, said he hoped the city would not cut the amount it pays for rent of its museum building, “that is all it pays for the museum and we hope that can remain in the budget.”

Rick Johnson, Des Moines Historical Society Museum treasurer, said they have no paid help, all activities are run by volunteers, and that cutting city support would likely mean the end for the museum.

“It is up to you Council members that we, you, continue to support our museum.”

Thelma Vannoy said she wanted to see the city continue to support the historical society and its museum. She told of a man who came in and wondered if they had old phone books. Two were brought out and the man found his parents and grandparents listed, “and he was so happy he put a donation in the box and we have never seen him again.”

“I, also, ask you to consider not cutting our funding.”

Tanya Engeset of Burien said her roots are in Des Moines and she is a member of the museum board. “Please continue funding the historical society,” she said.

Kaylene Moon said she knew the city budget was “in arrears” but said she is asking for is “a reasonably balanced approach for those of us who live here and love Des Moines – a balance between safety and quality of life.” She said she understands that crime is down and paying for new officers and cars is not justified.

“I’m requesting continued quality of life for all ages. That can’t be done by eliminating a major position in the parks department and shifting responsibility to the Senior Center director …”

“It is more than safety for people to want to live and work and play in Des Moines,” Moon said.

Jeanne Serrill said there is a lot of misinformation in Des Moines.

“We need transparency in Des Moines. Rumors are floating around left and right and nobody knows the answers. I think an easy way to do it is put it on The Waterland Blog. We’ve got to get this methadone thing straightened out, is Joe Dusenbury going to be let go, what’s happening at the marina, what’s happening with our senior center? We’re getting a Dollar Store? Why aren’t we getting a grocery store?

“People don’t know how hard the city and the Council are working on problems,” she added.

She added that the senior center is more than just a lunch, “they linger, socializing, talking” together with others.

Michael Spear, vice president of the Highline School Board, spoke on behalf of the Highline Schools Foundation, telling the Council how helpful city Parks Director Patrice Thorell has been “a monumental aid for us” finding space for functions in Des Moines. He said there can be “creative solutions” for the city’s financial difficulties.

“I think you can come up with options that won’t lead to people’s loss of positions … that will still allow for the cost savings that I know the Council needs,” Spear said.

Merge with another city?
Former Councilmember Susan White said it might be the time to merge Des Moines into other surrounding cities. “This has almost become not sustainable. There is a tough process between Woodmont and Redondo, should we just go to Federal Way, and the rest of the city can move north.”

“I am really upset as many others are, cutting … a wonderful person that has been part of our community and done so much for the Parks and Recreations Department,” referring to Patrice Thorell. “I don’t see any of you really supporting cutting her position, but it’s out there.”

“Maybe it is not sustainable to maintain these little cities,” White said. “I’m kind of at that point – maybe that’s an option.

“We see this dwindling, and that dwindling and people are not happy, so I hope you keep making the right decisions.”

Sue Anderson, a former city employee, came to support the retention of Parks Director Thorell, who has an “outstanding reputation in the city, the state and beyond” and noted her many awards and citations. “The health and well-being of Des Moines citizens are depending on you.”

Danielle Jones was another supporter of the retention of Thorell. The suggestion that the Parks Department can be run by the Senior Services director would not work because that person hasn’t the experience of Thorell to schedule after-school activities and pre-school programs so important for children. Jones also said raising prices would exclude too many families, especially those with more than one child.

Celeste Casello said she was actually born in Des Moines, with a first grader and her 83-year old father. She noted a huge change with refugees and immigrants moving into the city.

“That is actually one thing where religion, politics, cultural things are separate and we come together under the guide of activities and sports and actually feel that we are truly united.” Her 16-year-old son “knows so many people and he feels this is his home town and that is largely, in part, to the activities that we have been able to participate in and that were sponsored through the City of Des Moines.”

I Love Des Moines
Casello said she has considered leaving because of decay “and other things” but she wants to stay but wants the recreation programs protected.

“This is where I was born and I love it,” she said.

Ben Stewart said he had come to defend the job of the Harbormaster, but said that all of the comments about Parks Director Thorell, it is that she the “best fundraiser. The grants she has probably nurtured over the last few years … okay, we don’t even have a tax base that can raise money like she can.”

The Harbormaster, Joe Dusenbury, does a great job – “the detail and lifetime knowledge that it takes to be a Harbormaster … when you get a fine it would be a lot more than his salary,” said Stewart.

“Both these jobs are incredibly important,” Stewart said. “You don’t cut the people out who actually know the business.”

‘Be Patient’
Councilmembers then commented on what they heard from the citizens.

Councilmember Vic Pennington asked residents “to be patient with us as we go through this and it is not an easy task.”

“I am going to try to make the best decisions … we only have so much money in that pot of money.”

Councilmember Bob Sheckler said, “Please don’t think for even a second that anyone has already said we are getting rid of Patrice Thorell.” Her name on the list is just one of a series of options, said the veteran Councilmember whose term expires at the end of this year.

Mayor Pro Tem Matt Pina said he particularly values when people come to talk to the Council about the values of Des Moines.

Councilmember Melissa Musser said the heart and soul of the community is in the Parks Department and that Thorell is at every event, often setting up or taking down equipment. She told the meeting “we get it” and this budgeting “isn’t fun anymore.”

Councilmember Jeremy Nutting said he would support any activities to get the proposed Woodmont drug and alcohol treatment facility moved.

Mayor Kaplan said he would do everything possible to see that the money for the historical association is found.


14 Responses to “Citizens object as Council considers cutting Parks Director, Harbormaster”
  1. RedondoRick says:

    DON’T KILL THE MESSENGER: City staff are very well paid. Unfortunately the city can no longer pay these wages in the state their in. Cuts need to be made to ensure insolvency. Nobody likes to lose his/her jobs, or wages. But Des Moines has let some wages get way out of control. Animal Control for one example, $102,932. The city needs to restructure its pay base. The city will continue to be in the red, and insolvency is on the horizon…Rr

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 16 Thumb down 10

    • DM Resident says:

      You are so full of crap. You get on here and spew incorrect information all the time. The animal control officer doesn’t make anywhere close to $100,000!!! Get your facts straight before you post information!!!

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 15 Thumb down 11

  2. AB in DM says:

    With all due respect to Kaylene Moon, who erroneously thinks crime is going down in DM, Violent Crime is UP, 43% since 2011 (FBI statistics).

    These crime numbers are not some politically-motivated BS invented by City Manager Piasecki either.

    I think MS. Moon’s “balanced approach to safety and quality of life” in DM needs to recognize that the city is already suffering from vertigo regarding both, and unfortunately, the parks department will solve neither. Sorry Parks Director Thorell, Public Safety before Public Parks.

    The Council has a tough budget decision to make here, on which arm to cut off to survive and unfortunately, it has to be the NON-dominant arm. But unlike a real arm, the department can regenerate again someday.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 7

    • patrice thorell says:

      not true

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 5 Thumb down 12

      • AB in DM says:

        Sure it is. A parks department can reconstitute in any number of ways. How else would a new municipality (like Seatac or Federal Way did when they incorporated), create its own P&R Department from almost nothing? The same can happen in DM when it financially heals.

        I do note that all of the lobbying and empire-building done in the past few years by the P&R Dept. for the refurbishment of those silly Beach-park buildings is now coming back to bite those very same lobbyists. Indeed, all of those many hundreds-of-thousands of dollars used in that useless endeavor would really come in handy about now for the city, huh?

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 10 Thumb down 6

  3. Todd says:

    This is a total miss management and for Tony Piasecki suggest that Harbormaster Joe Dusenbury and Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Director Patrice Thorell to be let go is so narcissistic loathing on Tony Piasecki part it reeks of job protection for Tony incompetence. Joe Dusenbury runs the largest profit center for the city “The Marina” he is a money maker. Really Tony! Let’s get rid of Joe Dusenbury the one person creating dollars for the city and could have created much more if you had not been siphoning profit from Marina to prop up the city coffers. Joe Dusenbury could have reinvest the dollars the Marina creates back into Marina and provide even a larger returns to city, if it was not for having to provide Marina profits to your miss management. I’m so appalled with Tony Piasecki and his staff in light of the Valley clinic fiasco and now this! Of course Tony wants to layoff two productive people. He certainly does not want to take any steps that may affect his job, staff and office.
    My suggestion are:
    1. FIRE Tony Piasecki
    2. Any and ALL city employee pension funds be frozen and eliminate COLA from pensions
    3. No merit or COLA increases for city employees
    4. All city departments take a 10% budget reduction
    5. Eliminate all city employee overtime
    6. Eliminate redundant departments in city
    7. Suspend all non-essential services
    8. Outsource and contract to private firms all non-essential jobs (such as janitorial)
    9. Enter into joint powers with surrounding cites for services including police
    10. Consider consolidation with surrounding cities
    11. Enforce city laws and generate revenue (such as Pet licenses)
    12. Incentivize NEW small business to Des Moines (such as eliminate taxes for period of time and eliminate roadblocks and red tape)

    Ten out of the twelve suggestions directly effect’s Tony Piasecki and that is why none of these are being suggested by Tony. Tony is the one that has ran the city into the ground and if you want get rid of a high paying salary – FIRE TONY and unleash Harbormaster Joe Dusenbury to generate more dollars for the marina and City.

    Well-liked. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 29 Thumb down 13

    • John Castronover says:

      Todd, thank you for your comments we all appreciate your suggestions many feel you are spot on.
      We have all been told by Dave Kaplan himself that the mayor and the city council are nothing more then just part time city employees that it is our city manager who is responsible for the day to day operations of our city, thank you mayor Kaplan we appreciate your comments as well.
      With all that said it is more then obvious to everyone that lives in our city that City Manager Tony Piaseski has been managing our city into an out of control tailspin when do we stop it, do we continue to stay the course? or do we do what is right and tell Tony Piaseski that enough is enough it’s time for you to go.

      Well-liked. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 5

    • Redondo Richie says:

      You really don’t understand how the city of DM works, do you?

      Rate: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 6

  4. Susan White says:

    Thank you Waterland Blog for posting this article about last Thursday’s council meeting. Unfortunately until really BAD things start happening in a city do their citizens become unglued which many of us have under current bad news events (cutting some of the best employees that have spent years and years making our City better . . and involuntary lockdown drug/rehab/methodone clinic next to Woodmont Elementary school). It is nothing new that I have said even said when I was on the City Council for eight years that combining cities is not necessarily a bad idea especially if Cities become unsustainable and we see a lack of quality of life which is why we want to love where we live. In the current situation the City is giving us a lot of reasons to think our quality of life is in peril and for the most vulnerable . . our children and grandchildren. THIS is just not okay. I’m not entirely clear if the property that VC has purchased and if it can or will move that we couldn’t put affordable housing there which would enhance perhaps new stores and fill the empty spaces in the Redondo Safeway complex . .just thinking. I have not verified the exact zoning there but maybe if could change if it is only commercial. If anyone remembers the storefront studio project . . . . retail below with condo’s/apartments above? I think many people could visualize that vs. current plan.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 14 Thumb down 9

    • DM Resident says:

      Why would we want more housing there? This City needs viable, sustainable businesses that support a good tax base. Susan, I hate to say it but you were part of the problem for the City. You wanted to maintain that small town, waterfront community feel that generates virtually no tax base. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t just you but a couple of decades of council members prior to you. That attitude is what’s killing this City now.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 14 Thumb down 4

  5. Redondo Richie says:

    Also, the CC signs off on everything the City Manager does. They take blame as well. Don’t let them hide behind their “part time” status.

    Rate: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 4

    • todd says:

      In theory you are correct; however there is such things as “Forthcoming” and “Full Disclosure” and Tony Piasecki and his staff did not practice open and honest communication with the Council and the Mayor. These principals are paramount in a democracy and judicial society. I believe that Council and Mayor are on board to resolve these issues; a) Insolvency, b) Woodmount clinic relocation and then the Council will address second issue of disciplinary actions for Tony Piasecki and his staff. It will be our task as citizens to hold Mayor and council to these tasks. I have made it very clear that my vote is Tony has to go. The sooner the better.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 14 Thumb down 3

  6. DT says:

    The City of DM has a woefully inadequate tax base. Sure, you can consolidate positions and save a little bit of money this year, but it doesn’t solve the problem. Look around you… schools, retirement communities, colleges, churches, essential facilities–for the most part exempt from property taxes. Plenty of small town residential areas–not much of a tax base. Face it! The City of DM needs to go away and be absorbed into Federal Way, Burien and Sea Tac.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 7

    • AB in DM says:

      Misery loves company, so I vote for DM consolidating with Normandy Park. It could be the “Normandy Park neighborhood of Des Moines.”

      DM could add to our tax base a little, and NP could enjoy our marina and high crime rates. Create synergy by combining police forces, remove redundant city admin. positions, sell off surplus city property, etc. What a deal !

      Well-liked. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 3

Share Your Opinion

By participating in our online comment system, you are agreeing to abide by the terms of our comment policy.

...and oh, if you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!