LETTER: Traci Buxton shares thoughts on city council’s 7-0 voting record

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by Des Moines Councilmember Traci Buxton. It reflects her personal opinion only:]

On several occasions now, I have heard some concern over our current City Council’s 7-0 voting record. Below are some of my personal thoughts on the matter:

The Value of the 7-0 Vote

In our City, I believe the 7-0 vote indicates a business-minded and dedicated council and staff who work hard to communicate well, and expediently move our City toward health and vibrancy.

After knocking on thousands of doors and speaking to countless residents, I believe that currently, the two most important issues in our City are; Safety (personal and environmental), and economic development/revitalization. Because safety is relatively universal as a first concern, I am only going to address economic development below, and refer to it as our #1, unique task.

Many of our decisions at the dais have a domino affect on our community’s ability to draw partners who desire to – and will – invest in our City. If we are to create a vibrant, regional destination with a year-round Farmers Market, a charming Marina, and a walkable downtown replete with recreation, entertainment, shops, and bistros; We. Need. Partners! When deciding to put millions of dollars at risk, these partners will be looking for a consolidated council they can work with.

Though many other cities have this same desire, it is not their #1 task. With this in mind, our current job becomes almost entirely an exercise of math and economics. Should we enact policies and plans that enhance our Bond rating? Yes. Should we refinance and save money? Yes. If we can afford it, should we fix buildings, pave streets, decorate our City, plan for walkability and transit, get new playground equipment, and partner with other cities and agencies in order to serve our citizens better? Yes, yes, YES! This is a council that can recognize capable accounting, has good business sense, and is advocating for its citizens – unanimously!

From this perspective, a 7-0 vote from the council means that the community has elected well in order to expedite their most important desires! It means that there is a consensus in the community about what is important and all of the current councilmembers have embraced that. Yes, it is unusual and this is something to be thankful for. It is something that most cities would applaud and hope for; that their City might move forward quickly and with purpose.

A council that is continually in debate at the dais can indicate many things including deep philosophical differences that are coming into play in policy-making. However, all city councils in this State – including Des Moines – are non-partisan positions, and for good reason. At the municipal level, there should be very few deeply-partisan policy decisions at the table.

Council consensus means that a City Staff can now take action with every item on that agenda and that they will not have to wait for another day. It means that our streets, parks, codes, Marina, Market, events (and a myriad of other items) move forward with priority. And, it sends a message to current and future economic partners that their investment will be at less risk.

We are working very hard for our community because it is what you elected us to do, but also because we live here, too!

A 7-0 vote means we are all in.

– Traci Buxton

[Have an opinion or concern you’d like to share with our engaged monthly Readers? Please send us your Letter to the Editor via email. Include your full name, please cite your sources, remain civil and – pending our careful review – we’ll consider publishing it.]


18 Responses to “LETTER: Traci Buxton shares thoughts on city council’s 7-0 voting record”
  1. Heather says:

    Traci says ‘In our City, I believe the 7-0 vote indicates a business-minded and dedicated council and staff who work hard to communicate well, and expediently move our City toward health and vibrancy.”

    if this was the truth Des moines should be so much better off than it is! our crime sucks. roads are terrible. many neighborhoods are ignored. i’ve tried e-mail our cm and council people and got no no response.

    a 7 to 0 vote on almost everything is indicativve of a clan mentality. no descent allows corruption with our city has been filled with for years including having two mayors have to design in disgrace THIS CENTURY ALONE!!!

    • Traci Buxton says:

      Hi Heather!

      I hear your disappointment, but I really do believe that things are changing. We are working very hard and if you can take the time, I have prepared some very detailed responses below that should answer some of your frustration.

      Things are getting better – really!

      Thanks for caring and hang in there!

  2. John says:

    If this city council only votes on the things that will have a 7 to 0 vote it is not a wonder any longer why the city is so stagnant.

  3. Jack says:

    That’s why half the city was upset the the 7-0 vote to give the City Manager another huge raise. Always representative of us? I think not.

    • Traci Buxton says:

      Hi Jack!

      There was quite a lot of misunderstanding about the CM’s raise and it was discussed at length on the Facebook Des Moines Community Page. In the end, I believe many people came to understand not only the reasons that we made this decision, but agreed with us (of course, not all).

      As a summary, we believe he is worth it ,and he has an market value not just in the municipal arena, but the corporate world. He is still paid less that our City Manager of two decades ago and is also not the highest paid of comparable cities.

      He is brilliant, creative, collaborative, has an incredible business network, and through his strategy Des Moines has not only been saved from disappearing into bankruptcy, but has entered into a season of security that is drawing partners and becoming a destination community.

      On April 11, Matt Mahoney did a fabulous job of explaining our position from the dais. I encourage you to go the the link below and begin the video at about 90 minutes.

      Thank you for caring enough to write!


  4. JC Harris says:

    There are lots of cities (actually -most- cities) that have healthy, open debates and guess what? No lives are lost. Legislation passes. The City Manager acts on the results of each council vote and things successfully move forward. Developers still show up because developers go where there are good opportunities.

    But here’s the thing about the 7-0 strategy: it removes transparency from government. See the reason governments are organised like they are at every level… with representatives having debates and -then- voting, is so the PUBLIC can get to see and hear what the electeds REALLY THINK. The 7-0 strategy takes all that away. It leaves the voter having no idea how the sausage was made because the sausage is all made behind closed doors.

    More than that, it leaves the voter having no idea WHO IS RESPONSIBLE. When it comes time to vote I have no idea who to reward or who to blame. It’s ALL OR NOTHING.

    And ‘all or nothing’ is… wait for it: UNDEMOCRATIC. Which actually matters to me. Because even if a 7-0 voting strategy -did- make the city somewhat more attractive to some ‘developers’ (see above) does that -really- trump open government? In other words, do I want my government making a ‘good look’ for developers more important than a transparent city council? Not me.

    But here’s the thing: Most of the time? There probably -should- be 7-0 votes. Most issues are not controversial at all in government of -any- size. (For a good example of this, go look at the Supreme Court voting record. As divided as they have been, every year the vast majority of votes are 9-0.)

    What matters is not the vote tally, what should matter is to be able to see the actual process and -not- have it hidden behind closed doors.

    • Traci Buxton says:

      JC, as always, thank you for weighing in! Below, I will re-post my reply from Facebook, but in addition, I wanted to add a response to, “Developers still show up because developers go where there are good opportunities.”

      This is not necessarily true. Last summer I had a personal conversation with a developer who purposely withdrew support and activity in a local city (not Des Moines), because of unprofessional conduct and lack of vision in the staff/leadership/council.

      That said, I agree with several of your observations and I would like to add a few more thoughts about 1) Strategy, 2) Transparency, and 3) How to stay informed.

      I do not consider 7-0 votes a strategy, but a consequence; of good business-minded decision-making, combined with an embracing of our constituent wishes and values. My short essay addressed some benefits of that consequence. A string of 7-0 votes on Council may be unusual in some circumstances, but, as you mentioned, not in others. An SAT score of 1600 may be highly unusual, but it is not evidence of cheating. Similarly, unanimous voting of a Council is not evidence of lack of transparency.

      As I have mentioned in another thread, it would be irresponsible for the Council to come to their business (Council) meeting unread, unprepared, and without at least a semblance of an opinion. Rarely do our citizens come to offer public comment on an agenda item, therefore, if we waited for public input, we would not get our business done. So where does a person see the bulk of the discussion portion of our decisions? In committee is the best place.

      In addition, if a citizen reads ahead like the Councilmembers, they have the opportunity to write or call with questions or comments ahead of time. We love to meet and talk with constituents and we can generally make an appointment for coffee or a call within a week’s notice.

      How to Stay Informed:
      Our Council and Committee agendas are always published on the City website one week before meetings. So, the public has access to this information at the exact same time Councilmembers do – – and the website is where we go to get our agendas as well! If you would like to stay more informed about what is going on in our City and what issues are coming up at the dais, you can do exactly what I do:

      Schedule a few hours each week (usually on the weekend) to go to the City website and look for all agendas that are coming up in the next week. Almost all our meetings happen on Thursdays, so most information is available by 4pm on the Fridays beforehand.

      To find agendas, Google: City of Des Moines, WA – Click: Official Website – Click: Your Government – Click: Transparency – Click: Council Agenda/Packets/Minutes. This takes you to a page where you can find downloadable agendas and packets.

      Here is the link: https://www.desmoineswa.gov/323/AgendasPacketsMinutes . Agendas are basic, like tables of contents. If you want all the reading materials and background information for a meeting, you will need the packet.

      Then; read, read, read 🙂 If you have any questions, feel free to call or write! All Council and committee meetings are open to the public, but are governed by our Council Rules of Procedure and there are limited forms of communication – even for us! You can find these Rules here: https://www.desmoineswa.gov/Search

      I hope to see many of you along with JC at a meeting!

  5. Chris Clevish says:

    I appreciate you commenting on this and being the most transparent and communicative member of the council (in my opinion) but I couldn’t disagree more with your assessment. No one on the council has a dissenting opinion more than about 5% of the time? No one on the council ever thinks “this doesn’t seem like a good idea or the right thing to do”? This doesn’t seem like a normal representation of the community at large and I would hope that the council would be a better mirror of the community. The constant 7-0 votes really bothers me as a community member. If it’s to show potential partners that the council can rubber stamp anything then it seems ripe for corruption. I’m not suggesting that bogging the city down in bureaucratic debate serves us well but sometimes council votes in this town just don’t pass the sniff test. Just because everyone on the council agrees and is moving in the same direction that doesn’t mean it’s the right direction.

    • Dylan says:

      Traci, if economic development is truly your top priority, I’d like to see you judged on results not your words. On your other priority, safety, I appreciated the recent letter from the Chief of Police outlining the recent work his team has achieved. I see no one on the ‘united’ city council or on city staff taking an aggressive position to advocate and explain the plans for economic development. Tell us specifically what this unanimous voice is bringing to this community. I don’t see the results. I see vague statements about making the city more attractive, but let’s be honest, the downtown core is struggling and stagnant, while nearby but similar cores like Burien are thriving. What concerns me the most is we’re likely months from a recession and we’ll have missed benefiting from the largest regional economic boom in history. That’s a shame. But at least we now know seven people who we can partly blame for this missed opportunity.

      • Traci Buxton says:

        Good Evening, Dylan and thank you for caring enough about our City to write to us with your questions! I understand your concerns – it is what we hear all the time – but, Things. Are. Changing!

        It would take waaaay too long to offer up all the details on each item below. However, if you would like more information after reading, I would highly encourage you to attend one of the many State of the City addresses that the Mayor and Councilmembers offer around the community each year. It’s kind of like, Coffee with the Mayor and you can ask questions and interact with us during our presentation.

        On to my answer, here we go:

        One of the most exciting things we have going is redevelopment of our Marina. So far, we have improved the Park, added a coffee/wine/beer shop, expanded the Market to Wednesdays on music nights (yes, Music in the Park!), and are enhancing our Waterland Festival experience a little each year.

        Coming up in the next few years we are working to build a Marina Steps plaza/park that connects our Marina to our downtown. This will be bordered by retail and business and include a water feature. In addition, we are rebuilding the sea wall and adding new restrooms and fountain/water feature in the park (Think a small Point Ruston-ish idea).

        In addition, our vision includes glassed-in all-weather building to host events as well as a year-round Farmer’s Market.

        As we speak, the theater is beginning their work on the outside – they have been working on the inside for months. In conjunction, we are currently undergrounding power in the back alley in order to make way for a walkable “Post Alley” type of retail corridor – about 4 blocks long. In addition, we have added flowers on several corners and expect that our mainstreet decor will increase each year.

        As you might have noticed, 223rd is now complete and 216th is in full swing. In addition, there are streets on North Hill, Upper Redondo area and in the middle of town all on the near term schedule.

        In the last year, we have added two major parks and increased the size of two other parks and several of our parks are on the schedule for new playgrounds.

        With the goal of creating a destination community (tourism that draws economic development), our City is privileged to partner with an incredible non-profit: Destination Des Moines. DDM hosts several community events such as; Art and Wine Walk, Waterland Parade, Fireworks, Beach Park BBQ (Smoke on the Water), Community Car Show and more (and they could ALWAYS use more volunteers!)

        In addition, we have worked very hard to accommodate and partner with those who want to invest in our City, and sometimes it takes a handful of years to see the results of that partnership! For example, the City’s work with the owners of the theater began a few years ago and we are just now beginning to see the results.

        I hope this little list (yes, little, because there is more 🙂 ) was helpful, and like I said, if you would like to hear more, please come to a State of the City address! If you would like dates and times, feel free to call the City at 206-870-6519.

    • Traci Buxton says:

      Good Evening, Chris!

      Thank you for taking the time to respond to the post above and also for your concern for the integrity of the leadership in our City. I have many of your same concerns about governmental leadership and I can see why you may feel uncomfortable with some of the statements I made.

      One of our very articulate and thoughtful residents; Harry Steinmetz, posted some similar thoughts on Facebook and I would like to re-post my responses below (heads up; it’s long).

      Discussion and Disagreement in Committee:

      First, (Harry) said: “I have seen in committee meeting hard questions being asked, objections being raised and good discussions . . .”

      Absolutely! Committee is the place to see these pre-council discussions in living color. All our committees are open public meetings and the meeting times and locations are listed on the City website under Your Government, Agendas/Packets/Minutes. This is also the place where you can read about what is going to be discussed in a committee meeting, along with all the reference materials that all committee members will receive.

      Though the public is welcome to attend committee meetings, rarely is public interaction allowed (but sometimes it is). Even other councilmembers who attend (who are not on the particular committee) are usually not allowed to participate. However, if there is a concern, question, or comment, councilmembers appreciate communication via email or phone. In addition, we all welcome the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with our constituents!

      Please call or write with questions or concerns! Yes! We want to meet with you!

      Private, Backroom Discussion:

      Harry, also said: “But I am also pretty sure that there are a number of one-on-one discussions that do not violate the public meetings law, but are a way to overcome objections or to build consensus.”

      This seems to be an assumption that many people in the community believe. But honestly, we don’t really have a whole lot of extra time for this. In addition, committee meetings provide us with all the resource people in one place: public works, facilities, accounting, legal, etc. If we need clarity, we can get it immediately in committee – but not in a one-on-one.

      In my year-and-a-half as a councilmember, I can count on one hand (truly) the times I have consulted another councilmember with regard to a votable agenda item. And, this was over the phone along the lines of, “Can you think of any other pros or cons that I have not thought of? – or – “Are there any other implications that I have not considered?”

      All other non-committee conversations have been with Staff over things such as grammar/typos, legal specifics of a contract, clarification of procedure, implications of our decisions, who/what/where history of a subject, etc.

      I think these one-on-one discussions are more rare than people believe – at least right now, in Des Moines.

      Public Hearings:

      Harry asked, “On the night of a public hearing the public is invited to make their comments and then the vote occurs. What’s the point of public comment if everyone’s mind is already made up?”

      In the case of Legislative Public Hearings: Part of the difficulty here is that a responsible and accountable Councilmember would always come to the dais prepared. By necessity, we will have read materials and, hopefully, have done a healthy amount of research. If the public hearing is legislative (and not quasi-judicial), we would have had opportunity to discuss the matter in committee and with anyone in the public who was concerned.

      Thus, we come to the meeting with an opinion – as we should; it’s a business meeting. In this case, if we have a significant amount of public testimony that offers information or opinion differing from our information, we have the option of remanding the subject to a second hearing at another time. This has happened.

      In the case of a Quasi-judicial Public Hearing (one that concerns a specific person, organization, issue, or small portion of the community): By law, we are not allowed to interact with proponents or opponents ahead of time. There have only been a few of these situations during my tenure.

      On one occasion, no one attended to offer comment. Transparent and listening.

      On another, there were so many comments that we remanded the discussion to a second hearing and, moved by testimony, I believe that our majority shifted to a different decision. I say, “I believe,” because I did not speak with the other councilmembers about it. I did however, question staff about the viability of a few mitigation options and also the ramifications of each decision. Incredibly transparent and listening.

      On a third, similar situation, all public testimony offered was unanimous, hence a unanimous council decision. Transparent and listening.

      On one more occasion, responding to opposing comment would have placed us in a position of opposing federal law, thus opening us to litigation. In addition, the council engaged in lengthy, open discussion from the dais with regard to the pros and cons of their decision and the reasons for their vote. Very transparent, listening, and educating.

      In summary, though there is always room (in every industry or arena) for improvement, I believe we are endeavoring more than ever before to engage, educate, and hear our community.

      Look up the Committees and agendas and attend meetings – we love to see our community there! Call or write us with questions – we so much appreciate talking with our neighbors!

  6. Bob Sheckler says:

    A consistent 7-0 vote means that the issue was decided upon in advance of the city council meeting. Pina and the all of the council members know this but good luck in getting them to admit it.

    • Traci Buxton says:

      Good Evening, Bob!

      Thank you for taking time to read my thoughts. I must appreciate your perspective as a previous Councilmember – you have personal and real experience in Des Moines. Maybe it used to be the way you describe. I do not know.

      However, as a current Councilmember, my experience is different. I mentioned in a response above that in a year-and-a-half on council, I can count on less than one hand the number of times I have consulted another member about an agenda item. I read, I ask questions of staff, and on very rare occasion (about 2 times) I have called another Councilmember for clarity issues.

      After an agenda has been published, I have never called to ask another member how they would vote, and I have never attempted to convince another member to change their opinion. The only time I have engaged in a semblance of a debate over a vote was from the dais.

      Yes, I have engaged in back and forth discussion, but that was in committee before an issue was even considered as an agenda item.

      I wish it would have been this way for you. I can honestly say that my experience thus far has been transparent, enriching, respectful and honest.

  7. Patrick Nardo says:

    So sad to read disparaging comments on how our city is operating. One particularly, “crime sucks” is completely devoid of substance. Many criticisms expose a total lack of knowledge on how a well-organized team, not “gang”, functions. A football team has the mutually shared goal of getting the ball over the line. This is predetermination at its best. What is true, here, is that Des Moines is experiencing a rebirth of security, prosperity, and incentives for business perpetuation. Far from being “stagnant” our city now has a fully manned police force, no threat of bankruptcy, and even older buildings being brought back to life. The citizen, claiming that our city is “stagnant”, should walk around and see all that is happening, now, because it is suddenly affordable and attractive to new residents and business. Our city manager is more like a coach, evaluating every prospect, before presenting it to council members for further study, debate and decision making, hence only the good potentials are voted on. No secrets here if you watch the council meeting at home or attend in person. Council members do not arbitrarily agree 7-0, though it may seem that way to those who know not how this works. An issue is presented, evaluated, and either accepted for further study or is discounted, based on merit. What are left, are only the items that may be beneficial to Des Moines. This is “negotiation”, as remembered in my own experiences. This voter does “know who is responsible”, because each member on council has my vote, and the accompanying confidence. In closing, if you do not live in Des Moines, you have no voice. We are in recovery from some historic, bad leadership; which is why the road of return is so bumpy now. Try attending, at least, one Des Moines Council meeting and you may change your mind toward support instead of dissent.

  8. Birch Creek says:

    How about if the above commenters consider a shift in their thinking.
    Maybe things pass 7-0 because they are good ideas that are well thoughtout before hand? Why is it evil to have decided on issues prior to votes? (And if you dont agree, run for office.)
    Maybe intelligent people can have civil discussions and come to unanimous agreement?
    Maybe our economy sucked due to the great reccession and we are making a strong comeback under our current leadership?
    Maybe nay-sayers should do something positive for our community instead of belly aching?

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!