Quiet Skies critical of Des Moines for passing on meeting slated for next week
By Jack Mayne
The fledgling Quiet Skies Puget Sound group in Des Moines has severely criticized the city administration and its City Council over its refusal to participate in an April 26 public meeting to explore how to fight increased noise flights to and from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
City Manager Michael Matthias said in a letter that city officials and councilmembers “will be unable to attend, as we are putting our time and resources into other actions to address noise and health impacts,” and the wellbeing of Des Moines citizens “is always of paramount concern to city staff and the City Council.”
While Mayor Matt Pina and most councilmember have not spoken about the proposed meeting, former Mayor Dave Kaplan said he “can’t speak for my fellow Councilmembers, or the Council as a whole, but I’ll speak for myself” and that he considered attending, then decided not to because “it is unclear what this group is looking for … what the specific complaints are.”
If the Quiet Skies Puget Sound meeting was to be a “general session to complain about the airport” then Kaplan said “then I believe there are alternative and more constructive ways to get the issues addressed.”
As of late Thursday (April 20) it appeared only City Manager Matthias might attend, even with Quiet Skies’ apparent intention to leave seven vacant chairs on view to illustrate the lack of City Council attendance.
The Quiet Skies challenge
To begin with, this Quiet Skies is not the same group as the one that encouraged Burien to seek legal action against the Federal Aviation Administration over its order to send propjet planes over Burien on takeoff, an order since rescinded.
This allied group is called Quiet Skies Puget Sound and is headed by Des Moines attorney Steve Edmiston, along with activist Sheila Brush, who wrote a long letter to the city on April 17.
“We are deeply concerned that no member of the Council deems that engaging the citizens of Des Moines in an open dialogue about new Sea-Tac flight paths, NextGen implementation, aircraft noise, declining property values, or human health and environmental issues arising from airport operations is sufficiently important such that they would attend the community forum,” Edmiston wrote to the city.
He added, “No member of the Council has cited a single scheduling conflict. Worse yet, the ultimate reason cited for not attending (apparently signed-off upon by all seven Council members) is cringe-worthy” and cited Matthias’ comments about using “our time and resources into other actions to address noise and health impacts on behalf of our residents.”
But Edmiston said the “rationale is even stranger when considering no evidence is offered to establish exactly what ‘other actions’ that each member of the Council is going to be undertaking on the evening of the forum.”
“We profoundly disagree with your position that listening to and answering questions from your own citizens is not worth City time and resources. We respectfully request that each member of the Council reconsider his or her decision,” Edmiston wrote of the city. “We will hold the invitation to participate open indefinitely, for one or all.”
As of Thursday, no councilmember indicated publicly their intent to be at the meeting next week.
Bad report card
The city also complained that after the first invitation from Quiet Skies to attend the meeting, it released “a similar” invitation on The Waterland Blog also “contained a number of different aspects of the event that were omitted from the City Council invitation. These omitted details included a presentation from Quiet Skies on “who the heroes and villains are shaping up to be.”
But what really piqued the displeasure of the city was the possibility of “a presentation of the ‘City of Des Moines 2017 Report Card,’” and that the “forum is being recorded for a documentary film.”
Edmiston said it was true that Quiet Skies Puget Sound was “issuing the city a report card” for the first quarter of 2017.
“Candidly, it is not a good report card for the city,” Edmiston said. “We hope the council will learn from the report, and take the feedback constructively. It will be published to the community before the community forum – in the interests of transparency and so that there are no surprises.”
Then the documentary being made without “informing the City Council flies in the face of transparency,” Matthias said.
The city manager added, “Without assurances of integrity in the editing of the film any perspective chosen by the documentary maker can be presented. These omissions, intentional or not, are troubling and unfortunate in that they suggest an adversarial tone between Quiet Skies and the City, which clearly would not be productive to addressing extremely important issues for our community.
‘Heroes and villains’
Edmiston writes about city concerns about an alleged ‘adversarial tone” and lack of transparency of the Quiet Skies efforts.
The assertions are “disturbingly unfounded and easy to rebut.”
“The flawed ‘lack of transparency’ logic becomes clear when considering that all information about the event has been shared publicly through traditional and social media outlets – even the original invite to the Council.”
“It is absurd to argue that the order of these events was somehow designed to trick the Council,” Edmiston wrote. “If we did not want the Council to know what we intended, we would not be continually sharing all program updates with the entire community.”
The Quiet Skies Puget Sound leader also suggested “complaints about a documentary are similarly unfounded.”
Edmiston said that he has been a filmmaker “for nearly 30 years … I suggest that you misunderstand the journalistic ethics of documentary filmmaking. You would not be granted editorial control of a documentary – if you were in control, it would cease being a documentary and would instead be a commercial. We are not seeking footage for a commercial, nor are we in any way even certain at this time about the story that might be told in a documentary. We are capturing footage.”
He added that concerns about “unfair editing” are unfounded.
Kaplan in his response to Edmiston’s charges, said he is “less than inclined to attend a meeting that implies or characterizes typical conspiracy theory nut concepts (i.e. – ‘why no one told you about it.’ and “who the heroes and villains are shaping up to be”), or presumes to give a “report card” on the City Council, simply because we haven’t done things on the group’s timeline or in manner the group wishes to have issues addressed.
“It doesn’t make me feel ‘special’ to be invited to what amounts to an attempt at public shaming,” Kaplan said. “And, given my personal experience with many of the people involved (in regard to other issues), I’m wondering why I would invest my time addressing what likely are real issues of concern, with people who have attacked my personal character, shown me nothing but contempt, made rash and unfounded accusations against me and many of my fellow Councilmembers, and who seem to have jumped from issue to issue to issue … most of which don’t directly impact the residents of Des Moines,” Kaplan wrote.
Kaplan was apparently referring to a run-in with Ms. Brush at a 2015 hearing on the Valley Cities drug rehabilitation site.
Edmiston said the city is troubled by lack of transparency about forum contents.
“This argument fails when considering you did not contact us about the forum at all until well after all information about the forum had been published and you requested a phone call to discuss the forum on March 30,” Edmiston said. “We discussed and answered all your questions about the forum on the call with you and the city attorney on the 30th, and ultimately even agreed to your request for a change in the structure of the program, granting a period of time for the City to make a full five minute presentation in addition to the Q&A. This was confirmed to you in writing on March 31st.
“It is impossible to see how, now another two weeks later, the Council has a basis for complaining about ‘transparency,’ except as a way to seek deflection from the fallout that might arise from the Council’s non-attendance.”
Edmiston said the “lack of transparency” logic becomes clearly flawed “when considering that all information about the event has been shared publicly through traditional and social media outlets – even the original invite to the Council. We published the Council’s invite to the community; we published the poster to the community; we published the 20 questions to the community.”
Finally, Edmiston said a dialogue has been sought with the full Council and between the council and the residents since November of 2016.
“By way of example, you can revisit our presentation slides from the January meeting, titled “The Ask for Des Moines – Help us Help You” and “The Five Most Discouraging Things Des Moines Can Do”:
No public discussions
When it became clear to us that the City did not intend to engage its citizens on Airport issues in the normal course of business, we determined we had no choice but to act independently. Hence, the community forum. Quite honestly, it’s astounding that after rebuffing QSPS for four months, the City now contends it should have had some say or control or approval over the event, its structure, and how it is promoted. We believe the magnitude of the proposed growth of SeaTac Airport operations is largely unknown to your citizens, and presents the greatest risk to health, property values, the environment, and the quality of life in Des Moines. These are, in essence, life and death issues from a human perspective, and life and death issues from the standpoint of a city’s survival. We will advocate wholeheartedly for the City and City’s Airport initiatives when the City demonstrates publicly what the details of the initiatives are (hence, the 20 questions we’ve asked). We look forward to that time! If you are authentically desiring a greater degree of trust and support, if you want a relationship that is “mutually advocative,” then rest assured the absolute worst thing you can do is to attack the volunteer citizen activists, fail to show up and listen to and talk to the citizens, and inflate a historical track record of “action.”
Edmiston said the city “seems overly concerned that QSPS is being ‘adversarial.’
“We respectfully contend that this concern is misplaced,” he wrote. “We believe the city is confusing the concept of ‘being adversarial’ with the notion of ‘being held to account.’
That is a marker of “effective government that citizens ask questions, and continue to compel answers and actions, when the responses are incomplete or unsatisfactory.”
Quiet Skies Puget Sound suggests Des Moines “should embrace and provide leadership for this citizen activism, as opposed to attacking it.
“We believe the City is confusing the concept of ‘being adversarial’ with efforts required by citizens to propel action by a Council that has taken little or none, to date, on the issues,” Edmiston wrote to the city. “We understand you would prefer a partnership rather than a relationship that appears accusatory rather than mutually advocate.
“Unfortunately, with no dialogue between city and citizens, the city forces us first to seek information and accountability as a foundation for future collaboration.
“The predicate to accountability is actual knowledge of what the City is doing,” Edmiston wrote. “We also have limited ‘time and resources’ that might be better spent. However, unlike the council, we are not quitting on the need for dialogue between the city and our citizens. We are showing up for the forum.”