By Mellow DeTray

Here’s our recap of the Des Moines City Council Study Session held on Thursday night, Mar. 2, 2023:

Public Comments

One commenter spoke at this meeting, letting Council know that the recent informational meetings to bring greater communication between the public and government have been great, and to keep it up. He felt they were a great way to increase public engagement and awareness. He said he was also glad to hear that the City would be restarting the Citizens Advisory Committee.

Citywide Goals & Obstacles

The purpose of this Study Session was to allow each City department to present to Council, and to each other, their duties and responsibilities within the city, what their goals are, and what kinds of challenges they are facing. City Manager Michael Matthias began the session by stating that as a city, we can’t keep asking staff to “do more with less”, stating that nearly everyone is chronically overworked trying to keep the city running smoothly with too little staff and too few resources. He did add that Des Moines does now have its finances in order, no longer overspending or using one-time funds for ongoing costs.

Staffing Shortages

The main takeaway from the evening is that, indeed, every department is short staffed. They are pretty universally having difficulty hiring experienced people, and in some departments that has led to them hiring younger, untrained people who then need a lot of mentoring on the job. Many departments also felt they could benefit from a larger budget for more permanent or seasonal staff positions. 

There is a backlog of code enforcement cases and too small of a staff to get to them. Getting projects quickly into compliance is the goal and saves an overworked code enforcement team. The Finance Department needs more resources in order to improve the business license process. Parks & Rec and Events are having trouble hiring the seasonal, weekend, and evening positions needed for all the required maintenance as well as great events they could do.

The Police Department has had success in becoming fully staffed, with the City Manager’s help making the positions more attractive and competitive.

Legal Department

King County felony filing standards are different from local standards, and many criminal cases are getting declined or referred for misdemeanor, making conviction extremely difficult. Things like theft of motor vehicles cannot be charged as a misdemeanor, so if a felony won’t stick, there is often no way to hold criminals accountable.

Unfortunately, people engaged in criminal activity know about this loophole, and their behavior is becoming emboldened because of it.

Now that courts are open in person, staff are receiving customer service training and diversity training. They also don’t have adequate space for their ten full-time employees now that people are back to working in-person, and employees are having to rotate for office space.

Other Takeaways:

  • With King County’s closure of a major jail, SCORE will likely be able to fill more beds and thus reduce the facility cost to the city.
  • Community Development have their hands full keeping up with changes directed by State legislation, which they then have to educate themselves on before educating and enforcing the new codes within the community.
  • Some business owners have had difficulty getting their trash picked up, as Recology’s requirements seem to be at odds with the latest codes for reducing illicit activity and increasing safety around dumpsters. Staff is confident that sitting down with Recology will get them on board and solve the issue.

Solutions and ideas will be discussed at the April 6, 2023 City Council meeting.

Mellow DeTray is a Seattle native who has spent the last 16 years raising her family in Burien. She has volunteered at many local establishments over the years, including the Burien Library, Burien Actors Theatre, and Hot Feet Fitness. After working for ten years at Burien Community Center, she moved on to teaching fitness classes and to work the front desk of a Burien yoga studio. For many years Mellow kept a moderately popular cooking & lifestyle blog, and she had a brief stint in political journalism during a local election. Clear and informative writing has always been a side hobby of Mellow’s and she looks forward to bringing you unbiased coverage of City Council meetings.