Mayor Matt Pina

By Jack Mayne

City Manager Michael Matthias’s pay raise got unanimous Des Moines City Council approval Thursday night (April 11) as Mayor Matt Pina defended the action after a minor storm on Facebook criticized the actions of a week earlier.

A week earlier Matthias’ salary was approved to increase to $199,000 at a meeting that had been claimed was unannounced ahead to time, spurring a citizen outburst and recriminations.

Mayor Matt Pina said the meeting was announced publicly, the same as every other official Council session.

The pay raise problem
Pina said Thursday night that the problem began when, on April 4, the Council unanimously approved a new contract for City Manager. The pay increase was approved “after a comprehensive review.”

The previous city manager, Tony Piasecki, retired in October 2016 and then-acting City Manager Michael Matthias shortly thereafter was voted the permanent city manager.

His starting pay in 2016 was $153,900, the same that Piasecki earned. At the time he also was provided 80 hours annually of both sick leave and vacation. At the time, Mayor pro-tem Victor Pennington said Matthias is being paid about $20,000 less than some other cities are expecting to pay for a city manager.

Pay comparison
Now some say Matthias’ $199,000 will make him the highest paid city manager around. A Washington Citizen’s Commission salary comparison showed that Burien City Manager makes $169,956, Highline School Superintendent Susan Enfield gets more with a three-year contract with an annual salary of $220,000. The Legislature pays the governor $177,107, but he gets a house and staff including drivers. Other perks for the governor include pay and security while running for president.

Success or failure
Pina said hiring the city manager, who is the chief executive of the city, is the responsibility of the City Council and the “city manager’s role is intertwined with the success or failure of our city.”

“Evaluating Mr. Matthias’s performance is inevitably linked to evaluating the city’s performance as a whole,” said Pina, adding the evaluation by the Council of the city manager “is also a key component of the council’s oversight of the government’s responsibilities.”

Scheduled public meeting
The Council made its annual performance review of the city Manager on March 28, said the mayor, and then met the next week “at a scheduled meeting at the beach park dining hall, and we did vote to approve the contract based on the exemplary results of the performance evaluation.”

“This meeting was open to the public and there were members of the community present,” Pina said. “Additionally, the agenda was prepared and available to the public on the prior Friday. This is the process for every Council meeting. We also recorded the meeting’s audio and it was available on the city’s website the following day. At the meeting, the Council approved the city manager’s contract by a 7 – 0 vote.”

The action was not intended “to exclude any visibility into any issue,” Pina said.

He said with the initial hiring of Matthias in 2016, the city could not pay the prevailing wage for a city manager – around $200,000 – because the city was on the verge of bankruptcy, but his “unique dedication and career make him an ideal fit for the city of Des Moines.”

Now the city is on firm financial footing, and can afford the increase, Pina said, adding that many people took pay cuts to come to work in Des Moines “because they want to be part of what we are doing here in our government.”

The mayor said the city manager could be making more elsewhere “but he has chosen us.”

Councilmember Luisa Bangs

Bangs says manager runs city
Councilmember Luisa Bangs endorsed the mayor and said “until you get behind the scenes, you have absolutely no idea how difficult it can be to make sure that things run well. We are not day-to-day people, we don’t run the city. The city manager runs the city.

“Looking across at other cities in King County, we are doing a dad-gum good job because some of these other cities, all have gone ‘how in the world can they possibly keep their citizens and their economic development going. We don’t have that issue here.”

But the job is not easy, said Bangs, and Councilmembers “are not doing this for the money, we are doing this for the city, we are doing this because we live in this city.”

By Jack Mayne

Lots of citizen complaints filled social media on Friday (April 5), following the Des Moines City Council increasing City Manager Michale Matthias’ annual salary to $199,000 a year, plus the ability to cash in extra sick leave and vacation.

Just before 5 p.m. on Friday, Mayor Matt Pina posted a three page news release (PDF file) supporting the pay increase and other changes in remuneration.

Resident (and 2019 council candidate) Anthony Martinelli was one of several who wrote on the Des Moines Community Group on Facebook that:

“The (Des Moines city) council voted unanimously (7 to 0) last night (Thursday, April 4) to raise the city manager’s salary from $182,000 to $199,000 (over triple the average household income). With this vote the city manager has seen a $45,000 a year raise in a little over 2.5 years.”

That increase in salary of 8 percent, said Martinelli, was in addition to allowing “for an increase of 180 hours available to be cashed out annually from the City Manager’s existing sick leave bank and vacation bank.” He said Matthias has 300 hours of sick leave and vacation leave.

For and against
Others questioned the increase, but at least one person defended the pay and allowances for Matthias as part of doing business in the current economy.

Amber Kahmylie wrote:

“Anyone who pays attention to this (Facebook) group knows things have been very active this morning and many people have questions about the councils recent choices. But instead of addressing their constituents head-on and answering our questions they are dormant and quiet the only person who seems to be trying to bring Clarity to this very unsettling situation is Bonnie Gidlund Wilkins, who is doing amazing trying to help us and thank you addressing this especially when those who made this choices choose to stay silent?”

Doreen Harper said this about the raise:

“Since last night’s CC meeting was not in council chambers, unfortunately there wasn’t a way to watch it on Channel 21. Perhaps the next time this situation occurs, broadcasting via Facebook Live will result in more transparency and inclusivity with the community.”

Supporting the increase for Matthias was Debby Strayer, who wrote:

“Sure is a lot of complaining with people who have little understanding of our political structure. In order to keep and retain quality management you need to pay competitive wages. You do a comparison of similar organizations or communities. I am on several boards and that is what we do when we at looking at pay rates for our management. Just looking at the pay compared with what we think is fair isn’t looking at what it is in a competitive job market.”

City defends increase
“These findings were published prior to Council’s action to increase the City Manager salary,” said the city news release. “The contract amendment with supporting information, was published as an agenda item, posted on the city’s webpage and added to the city’s local notice boards.

The city said it has information “to give you an idea of what Michael and his team have accomplished over the last year.”:

  • Managed a sustainable, solvent budget with appropriate contingency.
  • Raised our legal contingency requirement to the national standard per City Council action.

The Des Moines’ release also noted that the city has “received a significant bond rating upgrade as a result of establishing and managing sustainable finances. Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s both reviewed our financial practices and awarded the City these upgrades.

“We also received the Government Finance Officers Association award for our Comprehensive Annual Financial Reporting.

The city news release said that Des Moines “realized savings of over $500,000 as a result of the upgrades and refinancing of outstanding 2008 bonds and new bonds for the North Marina Bulkhead.

Here’s more from the city’s release:

Human Services increase
The Des Moines City Council “was able to increase our human services allocations to community organizations providing additional resources for our residents in need.

A Utility Tax Audit was initiated to ensure the City is receiving the appropriate revenues generated by the Des Moines Creek Business Park.”

The Waterland City
The city said the “administration leadership transition and succession planning has established excellent Executive Team.”

“Hired and promoted a number of critical staff and developed an appropriate salary structure to attract and retain these talented professionals.

“Established a Building Official in Training Program to hire ahead based on succession planning for the building department.

“Partnered with Wesley for management of the Senior Services Center. Authorized Professional Development for a number of managers, supervisors, planners and police to work positively on communication strategies.

“Implemented a program to address succession planning since approximately 30 percent of the staff are qualified to retire.”Created a new Public Records Analyst position to comply with City legal requirements and response to public requests.

Staff Engagement
Des Moines, said the city news release, “concluded labor agreements with Teamsters, non-represented and exempt employees.” Staff convenes “regular meetings of executive team and senior staff for cross department collaborations and efficiencies.

Developed a team approach improving employee morale and engagement which resulted in an increase in overall staff productivity.”

“Implemented best practice procedures for cash handling, employee time reporting, and use of staff time.”

At the Senior Activity Center, “in partnership with Wesley, made capital improvements based on input from the Senior Services Advisory Committee.

Made structural and safety improvements at the Field House.

Council meetings
Expanded use of Administration Report for providing information, education and more in-depth awareness of City functions and actions to City Council. Implemented enhanced presentations to better communicate the depth of City issues with visual support.”

The Waterland City
“Public Safety and Emergency Management

“Fully funded and staffed our Accredited Police Department with an Officer in Training

“Program to eliminate gaps in service and address attrition and transition.

“Developed a Redondo vertically integrated substation for multiple levels of law enforcement (FBI, DEA, US Marshals and other Jurisdictions) to enhance cooperation and coordination in addressing violent crimes and gang activity. Authorized additional resources for that purpose. This substation serves as a national model to include agencies from Federal down to Local Government.

“Increased participation in the Regional Violent Crimes Task Force. Established a Des Moines Street Crimes Unit.

“Worked with the Police Chief to secure access to the MaST building for an additional substation and Redondo presence.

“Established mandatory “active shooter training” for all city employees. Established Emergency Management Director Position to emphasize local and regional emergency preparedness.

“Partnered with Des Moines Police Foundation and other jurisdictions to acquire a K9 Unit for our Police Department.

Community Engagement
“Increased communication and social media expansion of information from City and Police.

“(City Manager) Tours with residents, developers and other public agencies, including Highline College leadership, Board of Trustee members and others with interest in the City.

“Frequently attends, with Council and staff, Community Events.

“(City Manager) Provides leadership on this topic, within Des Moines and the surrounding community, by advocating for our residents who are experiencing impacts from Sea-Tac Airport.

“Active leadership representation on StART (Sea-Tac Airport Stakeholders Roundtable), Des Moines Aviation Advisory Committee, UW Ultra-fine Particle Technical Advisory Committee, Budget Proviso Baseline Airport Impact Advisory Committee, with notable involvement and progress addressing the Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP).

“Recruited national consultants, hired through an inter-local agreement and with cooperation from neighboring cities to address SAMP scoping and comments representing the City from our SEPA officials.”

By Jack Mayne

The Des Moines City Council has unanimously approved changes in the city’s ordinance that would allow them to control any potential “enhanced service facilities” (ESF) or mental health care homes, if such a request is made in the future.

Des Moines City Attorney Tim George on Friday told The Waterland Blog that the Council “approved an interim zoning Ordinance that amended the City Zoning Code to account for Enhanced Services Facilities. ESF’s are a new type of residential facility that provide mental health services to individuals with complex behavioral, medical, chemical dependency and/or mental health needs that make them not suitable for more conventional residential facilities.”

The previous Des Moines zoning code did not “expressly account” for these types of facilities.

Restricts facility siting
The new interim zoning ordinance “restricts the siting of enhanced service facilities (ESFs) and requires that applications for them be processed through the city procedure.”

That process provides for increased notice requirements, public engagement, public input, and enhanced mitigation, said George.

“This change was necessary to ensure that ESF’s are not sited in zones incompatible with their use and to clarify that they are of a different character from less intensive medical and residential services permitted in the city,” he said. “Interim zoning ordinances can be approved on an emergency basis without public notice, however, they require a subsequent public hearing in order for the zoning regulations to become permanent.”

George said that a public hearing by the Des Moines City Council is scheduled for May 9.

Potential alarm bell
Although not a direct response, but in January, our sister site The B-Town Blog reported that a purchase and sale agreement with Noble Healthcare was terminated by the company and which was confirmed by the state. Noble was proposing to purchase a building in Burien and turn it into a mental healthcare facility which caused a bit of an uproar. The proposed facility – owned and managed by Idaho-based brothers Josh, Cale and Zach Wester – would have provided 24/7 licensed nursing care to 16 residents. No such request has been made for a Des Moines location and the changes were simple upgrades to city statutes.

Interim zoning regulations under state law allows a city to adopt rules for immediate action and take affect for six months and provides a city time for further review of potential permanent regulations. Later the city must hold a hearing if it wants to continue the regulations or make them permanent.

Licensed residential care facilities are “for individuals whose complicated personal care and behavioral challenges particularly complex on a daily basis,” Community Development Officer Susan Cezar told the Council Thursday (March 14). Such a person must have a mental disorder, and/or a chemical dependency disorder, a brain injury or an impairment “that requires daily care by or under the supervision” of mental health or chemical dependency professionals.

‘Self-endangering’ behaviors
Cezar said residents of such facilities have issues that “are essentially self-endangering behaviors that are frequent, aggressive, threatening or assaultive behaviors, intrusive behaviors that put (facility) residents or staff at risk” and complex medication needs. Patients of such facilities also have “a history of or likelihood of unsuccessful placements” in care facilities or have been rejected for admission to other care facilities “based on the person’s behaviors, history or security needs.”

Residents of such facilities – according to admission criteria shown the Council by Cezar – also have “a history of frequent or protracted mental health hospitalization, a history of offenses against a person or felon offenses that created substantial damage to property.”

“That’s the clientele that would be served by these facilities,” Cezar told the Council.

The proposed interim zoning regulation zone change ordinance includes such a potential “Enhanced Services Facility” and revises an old definition of nursing homes, said Cezar.

After approving the changes that will allow Des Moines to deal with any such facility requests were lauded by the Councilmembers who thanked the city staff for vigilance in updating ordinance to avoid potential future problems.

By Jack Mayne

The Des Moines City Council held its first budget session on Thursday (Aug. 2) for the upcoming 2019 fiscal year, the first of many meetings ahead leading to a potential final decision by the Council in November.

City Manager Michael Matthias told the Council study session that state law requires him to presents a preliminary recommended budget to the Council on Oct. 11, and “at that point you can go ahead and make changes” and that in the past the development of the budget has been “a very collaborative, cooperative process.”

Standard and Poors, the Wall Street rating agency, says “we are solvent, strong and sustainable,” said Matthias, and a better bond rating “reduces the cost of borrowing money and stretches out the value that our city taxpayers receive.”

He also said the city has now achieved a “very strong debt and contingent liability position,” but in 2014 the city was told by the state auditor “that we had no longterm forecast to get out of trouble — we had a situation where our structural expenditures were exceeding structural revenues and, at one point, we were looking at $700,000 in fund balance in 2016 looking forward.

“We could not cover two payrolls and we were looking at bankruptcy in 2017. We need to remember that is the backdrop of what we’ve been doing.” Now, he said, the city was “strong on our opinion,” said Standard and Poors and the city “budgetary flexibility is very strong.”

Similarly, increases in the city’s rating came from two other bond rating agencies, –Moody’s and Filch ratings.

Staff retirings addressed
The city manager also noted the problems the city faced last year and their remediation. Challenges of the past included a number of retirings and the departure to another city of the city finance director.

Retirings included the harbormaster, the parks and recreation manager, the senior service manager along with “significant attrition” in the city police department. Matthias said the city made Scott Wilkins the acting harbormaster with the intention of making him permanent soon. The city also hired Beth Anne Wroe as the finance director, and Adrienne Johnson as human resources director. Also hired was Steve Marcotte as a strategic financial advisor, who Matthias said “has been instrumental in moving our bond issuance, bond refinance and bond rathing process forward.”

Matthias also appointed Susan Cezar as interim parks director, contracted Wesley Homes to provide senior services and “addressed and resolved most aspects of the Police Department attrition” which included moving former Police Chief George Delgado to the new position of emergency management director and replaced him with former Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas. Delgado was chief for six years.

Chief Thomas told the Council that the department is fully staffed now but noted that 13 commissioned officers are currently eligible to retire. There are new officers in the offing, he said. In September he will fill a position the Council approved to work with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on violent crime along Pacific Highway. He added that two officers will be deployed to focus on street crimes “so when we get those complaints from our residents” about suspicious activities “we are going to have a team that is going to go out actively and aggressively address those problem areas.”

Chief Operations Officer Dan Brewer said there is a plan to aggressively market and expand services of the marina under the harbor master. Matthias said the Marina is a destination location and the city wants to expand the awareness of the facility.

Mayor Matt Pina said the city’s financial resurgence is “amazing” and he never expected to see a solid financial position for the city again after the years of near bankruptcy. “This is, by the true definition of the word, amazing.”

Deputy Mayor Vic Pennington said “the sacrifices the staff made, that our citizens have made, the work that the Council has done” and the leadership shown by Matthias and the negativism shown by some citizens, “it was a tough time for everybody.” Citizens did not want the city to be taken over by another city.

Pennington said it was incumbent on the Council to save the city or it was going “to go away,” but the citizens, the city staff and the Council all worked together to save the city.

“You can do and look in the mirror and be proud of your role and the roles you stepped into … and be proud of where the city is going and will literally be handing off to the next stewards of your position. I am very proud of everybody,” Pennington added.

By Jack Mayne

Des Moines Police Chief Ken Thomas said it had been a “tough week for the officers” in light of the early Sunday morning (July 22) tragedy when a Kent Police Officer was killed when another deputy’s car struck him during a pursuit near Reith Rd and Kent Des Moines Road.

Waterland Blog readers know that until recently Thomas was chief of the Kent Police. He was until he was fired by Kent Mayor Dana Ralph and almost immediately hired in Des Moines by City Manager Michael Matthias.

Des Moines officers were called to assist when Kent Officer Officer Diego Moreno was struck during a pursuit that involved a collision, and subsequently died of his injuries. Another pursuing officer was injured in the same incident and is undergoing treatment for serious injuries at Harborview Medical Center.

One dead, another injured
The suspect vehicle continued east on Kent Des Moines Road where it crashed near Washington Ave. Lifesaving efforts were immediately given to the injured officer; but he was pronounced dead at the scene. The other Kent officer “is struggling but he is going to get through it.” Thomas said the dead officer’s wife and his mother spent time in the hospital with the injured officer despite their tragedy.

A service for the deceased officer is slated for Tuesday, July 31 at the Kent Showare Center

Chief Thomas said the incident started in a Kent parking lot, where more than 39 empty shell casings were recovered.

Youth gun crime at issue
“Youth (gun) violence is really a significant issue in South King County,” the chief told the Des Moines Council.

“Our detectives in Des Moines are part of the Valley investigative team. They were all called out for that incident and it was the Des Moines detectives that were assigned to go out and track down and arrest and interview the suspects — the other suspects that go away the other night and I just can’t tell you how proud I am of our staff. It was our detectives that were given that critical, critical assignment and that very same day they were able to locate and take incriminating statements from the suspects which already has resulted in the driver being charged with murder for his part in that incident.”

Thomas said there is “no consequences for juveniles involved in gun violence. If you are caught in possesion of a firearm as a juvenile, you have to be convicted five times before you will even go to juvenile detention for more than just a few days.”

But a youth between the ages of 15 and 18 “to get caught and convicted five times is nearly impossible,” Thomas said.

Thomas was recently named the president of the board of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs which is working with state legislators to solve the issue and procure financing for “a really credible evaluation system” so juveniles with guns who get caught can be helped.