By Jack Mayne

The Des Moines City Council on Thursday night (Feb. 6) revealed a threat over filling a vacancy on the Council, then listened to a slew of candidates who want the job.

Prior to discussing and hearing from applicants for the vacant Council position, Mayor Matt Pina said the selection of a candidate is an appointment, “…not an election.” The candidate selected will serve until the 2021 election and will then have to submit to the election process or retire from the Council.

Three minutes ‘shameful’
Councilmember Anthony Martinelli said that allowing three minutes for candidates to comment was insufficient and a “shameful” process.

“We are here to represent the public,” Martinelli said, adding the individuals were fully vetted, but “a three minute presentation, I think, is shameful. I think they deserve a lot more to be able to give their case for why they deserve to be on this Council” before an election. In an election, the people decide – but in this situation, “we are supposed to represent the people.” That means the Council should spend more time before reaching a decision.

The Council decided the selection process would continue, followed by a public comment period and a time for Councilmembers to ask questions of the candidates. Pina said the appointment of a Councilmember is a “temporary appointment” prior to the next election in 2021, at which time the person must submit to city voters.

‘You have been warned’
Pina said the Council would not respond to pressures from email or social media, and displayed an “email warning that said ‘Every member who votes in favor of appointing to the vacant council position a person who just lost an election will see thousands of dollars go to their opponent in the next election,’” and concluded ‘You have been warned’ and was signed “Concerned Citizens for a Better Des Moines.”

Pina said all the Councilmembers received this warning. ”I don’t believe this is how the citizens of Des Moines wants us to make decisions.”

Councilmember Jeremy Nutting quoted from state law about “intimidating a public servant” by threats, and it is a felony under state law –“jail time.”

Pina noted “the way this is written, every member who votes in favor of appointing a person to the vacant position a person “who just lost an election … that’s an interesting phrase there, since the call out is both a woman and a woman of color.

“This is unacceptable and this will not affect my position on this,” said Pina.

The only person who fits the description is former Councilmember Luisa Bangs, who lost the last election by a small margin to Councilmember J C Harris. She acknowledged to The Waterland Blog she was the obvious person referred to in the communication.

The Council did not make a selection dunng the meeting.

“Given the number of applicants, and the necessity to provide sufficient time for vetting, the Council has scheduled the Feb. 13, 2020 meeting for additional discussion and consideration,” the city said in a statement released Friday, Feb. 7. “Pursuant to Council Rule 33, the Council is tasked with appointing the most qualified person available to temporarily fill the vacant seat until an election is held, at which point the citizens will elect a candidate to permanently fill the seat.”

The candidates
There were eight candidates fill the position vacated by the resignation of new South King Fire & Rescue Chief Victor Pennington, but one did not appear at the Council session. The candidates were David Lee Black, Luisa Bangs, Meiling Sproger, Semere Melake, Harry Steinmetz, Tad Doviak and Dan Harrington. The no-show candidate was Penny Bohm.

In order of appearance:

    • David Black said he was concerned “where we are headed demographically. The baby boomers are retiring en mass and … is leaving a lot of responsibility to care for an aging population ….”
    • Luisa Bangs told the Council of her list of past professional accomplishments but it “does not speak to the passion that I have for the city, a passion and excitement to contribute to the future. Des Moines, like all cities, is faced with new challenges,” she said, but important is “to keep our budget healthy ….” and “I also respect and appreciate the relationship or Council has developed with our city manager and city staff because they implement the city policies, directives. This type of relationship supports the achievement of our goals.”
    • Meiling Sproger said she almost didn’t get the opportunity to try to be on the city council because “I was born in China at the time of when only one child was the government policy.” That law caused her to be in foster care for her first year and then she was adopted by parents who live in Des Moines. She was first in the Police Explorer Program and various other programs and said these programs prepared her to “bring a unique voice to inspire the next generation and engage the public that coming in very diverse.”
    • Semeré Melake said because of his knowledge and experience in public activities in Seattle, he said “I’ve become extremely versatile and these same skills will be an asset in serving this Council.” He said he believes he can build relations with groups across Des Moines. He said he would work hard to revive the business community. “Building a community is paramount to make a city thrive. As a person of color I feel it is important to have a voice in the vulnerable community.”
    • Harry Steinmetz said he and his wife moved to Des Moines 25 year ago because it was “a great little place with a lot of potential.” He thinks the residents of the city are looking for new ideas on the council, they are looking for some kind of change. They are not looking for conflict but Steinmetz says he is a person “who can bridge that gap.” It is important, he said, to let the people know there are some changes being made. He said he can make a difference and “that is why I want to be on the Council.”
    • Tad Doviak said he was “here because I like to help people.” He noted that public safety and aircraft traffic are two areas that people in this community “really feel powerless” about. He said people are really upset at “mail theft, car prowls and those darned airplanes going overhead at 2 in the morning.” Doviak said people need to work with police on public safety and keep working with the Port and there agencies about airplane noise.
    • Dan Harrington told Council he wanted to join them for his “three P’s, parks, police and people.” He said he has lived in the community for 21 years and is pleased with the city police force. He said there needs to be reach-out to volunteer groups, encouraging of volunteer groups and anchorage a neighborhood watch project by using enhanced communications. He also wants programs to transfer people from financial hardships to skill sets.