[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a verified resident. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Waterland Blog, nor its staff:]

While I appreciate your frustration of the events relating to the most recent council meeting of April 9, 2020, I support Mayor Pina and his comments concerning Councilmember Harris.

What many citizens in our community are not aware of is the continual and blatant disregard Councilmember Harris has shown in his conduct and adherence toward his role as a Councilmember.  Councilmember Harris has continued to improperly represent our city without designation from council.  This has resulted in misinformation to our community and legislative partners and created potential negative impacts toward our city.

I assure you that attempts by the city manager, mayor, city attorney and other councilmembers to reason, explain and educate Councilmember Harris on what his role is have been made. He simply has refused to listen or comply and because of this behavior, Mayor Pina had no recourse but to call him out from the dais this past Thursday.

It is in my opinion; Councilmember Harris did in fact make those statements identified at our most recent council meeting as Mayor Pina stated.  For those who did not hear about the content of the meeting, Mayor Pina called out Councilmember Harris’ comments on the most recent 30th Legislative District Conference Call.  Councilmember Harris made derogatory statements concerning our local businesses and the potential effects from COVID-19.  According to those I spoke with attending the call, Councilmember Harris did state that he saw advantages from the COVID-19 epidemic. He stated that the failure of our “3rd Rate and Mediocre” businesses as a result of COVID-19 provided a once in a lifetime opportunity to find federal monies and rebuild portions of downtown, as a good thing. I independently verified this information with 3 different reputable sources amongst the audience of key leaders and individuals on the call. For the most part, these individuals were shocked by his statements.  Further and more importantly, Councilmember Harris was not designated to be on the call or speak on behalf of the city. 

This is not the only example of his disregard for protocol either. Recently Councilmember Harris incorrectly commented on a situation regarding COVID-19, where I personally had to address Councilmember Harris on Facebook to correct the record.  Councilmember Harris falsely claimed that our city withheld information from the public concerning the numbers of infections in our city.  In fact, King County Health Department had not published any numbers to this effect, nor notified the community, public safety entities or any city prior to a Federal Way Mirror article making this information known. Yet, Councilmember Harris claimed our city had access to this information and were withholding it from our residents despite his opposition.  This was an untrue statement and should never have been shared with readers on Facebook nor in any other public format.  I verified this information by calling several other sources in various capacities and they confirmed they also had no knowledge of information that Mr. Harris had erroneously claimed.   To mislead the public in such a sensitive manner at a time such as now is another example of poor judgment that the council and staff leadership have been observing during his short tenure in office.  This further validates why we must insist that Councilmembers must only speak on behalf of Council and our city when designated.

In addition, Mr. Harris continues to plague our city staff and some we contract with personal demands for information absent of approval and disregard for spending public dollars without approval from our City Manager in accordance with Council Rule and RCW’s (laws of the state).  The email communications I have been in the loop on, are in my opinion, rude and disrespectful toward our staff.  Despite this offense, City Manager Matthias and our Mayor have continually reminded him that in accordance with Council Rule he is required to follow the process and gain approval through our City Manager first.  This is something all councilmembers agree to because it avoids and reduces confusing, unnecessary work, and negative impacts to staff’s delivery of their normal tasks and duties.  These rules are designed to ensure that we abide by state law and ensure our staff have clear direction.  Additionally, it assures that staff not be placed in situations that confuse or compromise the overall mission and objectives of our city. I for one believe that upmost respect to staff is a must.  Mayor Pina’s reference on Thursday’s meeting toward Councilmember Harris’ recent visit to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) are true.  It was noted from key leaders present along with those from other agencies who were surprised by his disrespect, ignorance and disregard toward the EOC and first responders. His comments prior to his visit also belittled what this operation means to the city, its residents health and safety during this time.

Mr. Harris continues to reference issues on his blog and social media with comments that potentially could violate both the Open Public Meetings Act and the Public Disclosure Act.   In addition, such careless activities by Mr. Harris create the possibility of potential litigation toward our city.  That means it could cost us all money to defend such irresponsible actions.

To make matters worse, Mr. Harris continues to insult other councilmembers on these same pages.  Mr. Harris has alleged that other councilmembers glaze over packets, are not engaged and fail to represent the best interest of our city especially when it is in opposition to his position.  These statements are again untrue and disrespectful.

Councilmember Harris will repeatedly cite Rule 5 of our Council Rules regarding the role of our mayor and comment that the mayor has no authority other than in a ceremonial capacity with our city and had no grounds to call him out.  I disagree (see bullet points b. and c. below from our City Council Rules) . I think it is the mayor’s duty to call out repeated violations when efforts to handle the issue by other means have fallen short. 

From our council rules:


but excerpt of Rule 5 is below:

PRESIDING OFFICER RULE 5. The Mayor shall preside at meetings of the Council and be recognized as the head of the City for all ceremonial purposes. The Mayor shall have no regular administrative or executive duties. In case of the Mayor’s absence or temporary disability the Deputy Mayor shall act as Mayor during the continuance of the absence. When the Deputy Mayor acts as Mayor by participating in preparation of a Council meeting agenda or study session worksheet, or by presiding at a meeting of the Council, the Deputy Mayor shall have authority only to approve the Council meeting agenda or study session worksheet as to form without introducing or deleting items of business, and to preside at the meeting by following the approved agenda or study session worksheet as written. In case of the absence or temporary disability of the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor, a Deputy Mayor selected by members of the Council shall act as Mayor during the continuance of the absences or disabilities. The Mayor, or Deputy Mayor, is referred to as “Presiding Officer” from time to time in these Rules of Procedure.

(a) The Mayor and the Council have authority to introduce proclamations for a variety of purposes, as approved by the Council. No proclamation shall constitute official City actions unless approved or authorized by a majority of the City Council.

(b) To promote a favorable image of the City and pursue resources that will benefit the community, the Mayor, or another Councilmember designated by the City Council, may take the lead in representing the Des Moines City Council to those from outside the community who are interested in joint ventures and efforts to bring economic development and investments to the City, including other local governments, regional organizations, and federal, state, and international government representatives. Neither the Mayor, nor a Councilmember, can commit the City without authorization of a majority of the City Council. (c) The Mayor, or another Councilmember designated by the City Council, is the spokesperson on actions taken by the Council. On behalf of the City Council, the Mayor or designated Councilmember may inform the public, media, and staff about issues affecting the community. (Res. 525 §1, 1988, amended by Res. 961 §1, 2003, Res. 1140, 2011, amended by Res. 1356, 2017)

I assert that Council Rule 5 of our Council Rules specifically outlines not only the Mayors role, but it also clarifies that the mayor does have the right and responsibility to confront Councilmember Harris in this regard.  It also clearly outlines that only councilmembers designated by council can speak on behalf of the city, yet Councilmember Harris continues to operate outside those rules.  This isn’t the first time Councilmember Harris has committed this trespass.  I assure you that concerns, and warnings have been repeatedly made to Councilmember Harris in this regard.  Let me be clear, Councilmember Harris’ actions are the reason for my correspondence as would be with anyone who conducted themselves as he has.  He is no victim here other than to his own conduct.

While Councilmember Harris may think otherwise it is in my opinion that he continues to refuse to work within his council role nor is he willing to listen to guidance pertaining to such and I join our Mayor in my frustration concerning his behavior.  While you may be upset with Mayor Pina for calling him out publicly from the dais during our past meeting, I believe he had given our Mayor no recourse and per his responsibility the public needed to be made aware of Councilmember Harris’ conduct per Council Rule 5(c). 

I must reiterate that our Mayor had been left with no other recourse and for some, your anger and frustration is directed at the wrong individual. Unfortunately, and in this case, when an individual refuses to see the error of their ways, the results are never pretty.

In my opinion, Councilmember Harris is wrong and statements by our Mayor concerning his inappropriate conduct are valid.  There has been quite a bit of misrepresented information concerning this situation in social media. Our Mayor has been incorrectly judged by the absence of this factual and detailed information I have provided here. I am sure we all can agree that we can’t condone Councilmember Harris’ actions that mislead the public during this pandemic or otherwise. And we definitely cannot tolerate such statements of ill will in regard toward fellow councilmembers, our businesses and our community. I consider myself fair and I look hard at any situation objectively, before making a statement such as this. The conduct Mr. Harris has portrayed is outside the boundaries as a Councilmember, even more so during these uncertain times. In fact, they are egregious. The solution is simple; Councilmember Harris must adhere to the rules as we all do and cannot continue independent of the council body. If Councilmember Harris’ conduct continues, he must be called out for correction by your leadership and you as citizens as well.  

In closing, anyone who knows our Mayor, he is an honored individual in our community belonging to a family who has served the community with years of selfless service.  They also know he is extremely protective and passionate for our city. He guards the reputation of Des Moines along with its future with great care, as you would want him to. The Mayor would never, I repeat never, assert such statements without validity or cause. I commend Mayor Pina for his leadership in protecting this community and you should be glad that you have a leader willing to put himself out there. I also want you to know that it was with great reluctance and a heavy heart he was forced to take such actions.

I stand by Mayor Pina and you should too!!!

Matt Mahoney
Deputy Mayor – Des Moines City Council

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