By Scott Schaefer
Ballots have been mailed, forums have been held, campaign signs are out and voters are deciding on seven local candidates on the ballot for four positions on the Des Moines City Council for the Nov. 2, 2021 General Election.
The Waterland Blog sent out seven questions to the seven candidates, and today we’re presenting their answers to our seventh and final one, in order of position numbers and names (and photos) as listed on the King County Elections website. Each candidate’s name also links to their statements on the Elections website.
Here’s our seventh and final question:
How do you plan to involve Des Moines residents in the decision-making process in our town?
Positon No. 1
First, I would like to see a one week delay between the hearing on bigger, more controversial legislation and the vote. When citizens show up for a meeting and comment on the legislation, only to see the council vote on it that same evening, it makes people feel their time was wasted.
Secondly, I would like to see regular community meetings throughout the City. And the format should always include an question and answer session.
Thirdly, the City needs to do a better job of making information available and accessible to citizens who are trying to find that information.
Lastly, public safety and the marina renovations seem to be the topics that are most on the minds of the voters. I think the city should publish regular updates on those topics in the local media, as well as on the website.
Position No. 3
At the VERY least, we should reactivate the Citizens Advisory Committee. Again, an active vs. passive approach.
Rather than simply posting notice of meetings on important issues, we should be actively seeking citizen input. I want to employ community organizing techniques to empower geographic and non-geographic communities (Black, Latinx, LGBTQIA+) to speak up for themselves. This can be handled through a Department of Neighborhoods or staffing through Parks, Recreation, and Senior Services.
The goal is engagement, and it will encourage citizen participation and investment in our municipal government.
And we should commit to listening to our advisory groups, not just using them as window-dressing to pretend we are inclusive.
The decision to outsource Senior Services without consulting the Senior Services Advisory Committee was atrocious. As was ignoring the Police Diversity Task Force.
Worse than not having advisory committees is disrespecting them. This must stop.
I would start by utilizing town hall meetings. I would also augment resident input through social media and virtual events to give the community the opportunity to provide input in the decision-making process. Finally, I would participate extensively in public facing community events to provide access and interaction with my constituents. By seeking input on their concerns, I hope to engender trust and confidence by my constituents that they have influenced the decision-making process. I believe that citizen participation is the backbone of our democracy, and I will do everything in my power to seek out and consider their input.
Position No. 5
I so much appreciate the governmental process in America, that filters down from Washington DC to every municipality in the country; free elections of citizen representatives. This is the most important way a resident can be involved in the decision-making process.
This system allows government to move forward (and not continually be stalled) through the accountable decisions of people who (hopefully) represent the sentiments of the public they serve. At times, the policies they create have built-in requirements of additional community engagement before action can take place. Sometimes, a municipality will engage the public when not required, but for good measure; like what Des Moines just did with their Parks Plan.
And, there are many types of community engagement.
When people run campaigns, one of the most effective ways they receive public input is through face-to-face encounters on their residents’ front porches. I have had fantastic experiences with my neighbors this way, and I hope that candidates are always welcome at a person’s door. This the greatest investment a candidate (or future representative) can make, and the public will also gain the most from it.
Another effective approach that draws a more narrow opinion base is social media conversation. A community representative does not necessarily need to ask a question in order to gain public opinion, if they regularly review comments on community pages.
Our State laws (and most State laws) require public notice for every public meeting that takes place involving our local representatives; our Council. This public notice is an invitation for the public to be involved. In Des Moines, we release these notices with links to our agendas, so that the interested public can become educated and ask questions.
Whenever people have had questions, I have always made myself available. Whether via a phone call, email, community events, or a personal, face-to-face conversation, I have striven to make myself available to listen, brainstorm, problem-solve, and/or take action when needed.
I have used and appreciated all of the above approaches in involving the residents in the decision-making processes in our town – and I am open to suggestions about how to do it better.
Position No. 7
In a world with so many ways to communicate via modern forms of media, I was surprised how difficult it is to reach our residents with accurate information. The pandemic has made this process even harder. I do and would continue to do the following:
- Continue to look for opportunities within the community to seek input through public forums or Zoom meeting, etc.
- Continue to be out in public and accessible, hearing peoples’ thoughts.
- Find out what a resident’s passion is and find ways to connect them to organizations and people.
- Educate and inform residents on city affairs and listen to their feedback
- Revitalizing the Citizen Advisory Council as it was originally intended.
Have a more equitable decision making in committee appointments in Des Moines. Ensure all neighborhoods are represented on the volunteer committees. The volunteer committees reflect individuals from working class and middle class backgrounds who are younger residing in Des Moines.
Creating committees that are solely focused on the concerns of our BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ community.
Have town-hall communities in other areas of Des Moines not just in downtown City Des Moines.
Provide free local government classes to teach our community on “how local government works?”
Make proposal recommendations to hire translators to help our community members who speak English as a Second language.
Ensuring that our council and committee meetings are translated into other languages.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Don’t forget to get your ballot in by 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. Find your nearest ballot box here: https://kingcounty.gov/depts/elections/how-to-vote/ballots/returning-my-ballot/ballot-drop-boxes.aspx