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 the fourth 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 question #4:

What is your opinion of the City Manager and the job he is doing?

Positon No. 1

Harry Steinmetz

Being a City Manager is a difficult job. You have seven bosses, some of who cannot agree on the the scope of the job, you have to manage the staff and city finances and relationships with surrounding cities and other governments. I think Mr. Matthias has done a good job of managing all the parts of the job. I think he deserves credit for helping return the city from financial mismanagement and has restored our bond rating. This, in my mind, is the most important part of the job. The City’s bond rating is directly related to the City’s ability to start projects and plan for the future. The bond rating companies have seen every trick in the book and there is, simply, no way to fake it.

Secondly, Mr. Matthias has been able to hire very competent staff and has a good track record for retention.

Where I think he could improve is in managing the personal relationships with some members of the community. Part of the City Manager’s job involves making difficult decisions and enforcements. There is no doubt that Mr. Matthias has stepped on a few toes.

Position No. 3

Gene Achziger

We have the City Manager we have because the Council doesn’t do its job. The Council has surrendered its responsibility to provide oversight and allowed this City Manager to skillfully play the various stakeholders on any subject against each other.

Rather than try to build consensus, he concentrates all power in himself. He cripples the Council’s ability to perform its mandated oversight duties when he orders that all questions to staff must come through him. His habit of choosing whether or not he will respond to particular Council members depending upon their allegiance to him is wholly unacceptable.

I believe he has contempt for volunteers and places an undue burden on those who seek to help their community. He treats advisory committees poorly.

For example, he did not consult with the Senior Services Advisory Committee about his plans to outsource Senior Services. The backlash that erupted once the decision was exposed was predictable and gnawed at the sense of inclusion in governing the City.

He chose to demote the previous police chief and hire a new one without any public notification or input in the process.

He does not regularly report in writing to the Council and the public as is standard with all of our neighboring cities.

We were told that if we didn’t massively raise his salary, he would be snapped up by another city (what evidence is there that there was even an offer?). All we really did was ignite a salary war with towns across the state.

As to his alleged fiscal prowess, the previous City Manager’s decision to recommend a utility tax is the primary reason the City’s finances have improved.

Bankers and bondsmen adjust fees upward or downward depending upon the stability of your revenue. They like utility taxes (it doesn’t matter if the economy is up or down, people will still drink and eliminate water at the same rate). Thus, you save on banking fees. That’s not magic; it’s business.

He also benefitted from coincidence. Wesley’s multi-hundred million dollar building spree was decades in the making and finally came to fruition because the economy improved. Those are some hefty building fees coming in.

Priscilla Vargas

I have been impressed with the City Manager’s performance. He has demonstrated a high level of competence, professionalism and leadership in carrying out the council’s policies and direction.

The City Manager has recruited an excellent management team that has been stable over several years. We need to remember that the City Manager in 2019 was awarded

City Manager of the Year in the State of Washington for his efforts on behalf of the City of Des Moines.  Selection was made by the Washington City Management Association Award for Excellence.

The City Manager has also been instrumental in leading the efforts to develop the Marina and has made significant progress in the planning and implementation phases of the project. In addition, the City Manager has enhanced public safety in Des Moines by augmenting the city budget to include funding for 2 additional police officers and safety equipment.

Position No. 5

Traci Buxton

The City Manager (CM)  serves as the CEO of an enterprise with more lines of business than most corporations.  CMs of larger cities are responsible for more employees, but CMs of smaller cities must wear more hats and be experts, or at least adept in a variety of fields and business acumen.

Our CM, Michael Matthias, has a pretty impressive pedigree.  In the late 1970s, he was honored to be selected as a Robert F. Kennedy Fellow for his work in low income communities in Oakland, California.  He holds a Master of Science in Sustainable Urban Development from the University of Oxford, England; a

Master of Science in Applied Economics from the University of California, Santa

Cruz; a Master of International Relations from the University of Cambridge, England; and Bachelor of Arts in Political Science Honors from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Michael’s work ethic is commensurate with his credentials.  In addition to working nights and weekends, he regularly connects with regional leaders in both the political and business communities.  He participates in regional roundtables, meets with investors and partners, advocates for our city at the County, State and National levels, and works hard to nurture his connections and relationships in all these arenas in order to move our city forward.  And, our city desperately needed to move forward.

When the regional economy was in a recovery boom after the recession, the City of Des Moines was still headed in a downward spiral.  Through a series of difficult decisions, and working with the CIty Council, Michael’s leadership not only pulled the City out of pending bankruptcy, but set it on course to do well, even through economic distress.

As a result of his leadership, we will not only realize millions in savings over the coming years, but we are set to obtain the highest bond rating available as we come through Covid recovery.

In the next handful of years, I believe we will see some of the most encouraging developments our city has experienced almost since our inception.  I also believe that Michael, and the team he has built – working with the Council – will be chiefly responsible for that.

Tad Doviak

Our City Manager is keeping Des Moines running efficiently. He is technically doing his job well. I think he’s doing it in a way that does not serve the people who live here as much as it serves the city government. What I mean by that is that everything is running smoothly for the people who are running things. For those of us who live, work and play here, well, it’s been a little rough. Everyone is stressed out about crime. Mail theft, car prowls, shoplifting and vandalism are happening every day. Families can’t go to parks without worrying about running into a homeless camp or drug paraphernalia. The City Manager takes his direction from the Council and absent any specific direction, he does his job. I feel like that’s how he’s doing.

If you appreciate our independent local journalism serving Des Moines since 2008, please…

Position No. 7

Matt Mahoney

City Manager Mathias has done an excellent job.

    • He signed on to get us out of dire financial straits, develop our business park, develop our waterfront, and bring investment into our community; to push us past looking like we did in 1962
    • Built a high-level staff to oversee the various departments.
    • He brought us to solvency and instituted sound fiscal practices along with improving our credit rating from what I will call abysmal to stellar.
    • Waterside development is underway; something this city has talked about for the past 25 years but never seemed to be able to get started prior to Michael.
    • Our neighborhoods throughout the community are being addressed based on their unique needs, by paving roads, adding to, or improving parks and addressing safety concerns.
    • Funding has been secured from outside sources at the County, State and Federal level for projects over the next several years, including road improvements that provide safe-route-to-schools, Redondo and its Fishing Pier, and the Marina.
    • The City Manager has ensured that our Police remain under the direction of the city and hiring Chief Thomas has brought us to the forefront of modern-day law enforcement.

Soleil Lewis

I don’t have an opinion on him. Yet I do have an opinion on his failure to fulfill his job duties as City Manager.

I do have an opinion on the handling of our city as stated in the Association of Washington City, Mayor and Councilmember Handbook: “The council employs a professionally-trained public administrator, the city manager, to carry out the policies it develops. The city manager is the head of the administrative branch of city government. By statute, the mayor is selected by the city council from among its members, although this may also be done by election (Pg.5)” In relation to the list of failures listed above reflective of policies failed to be considered in our city. In turn the symbiotic relationship of the City Manager’s willingness or desire to carry out the city council’s policies is reflective of the victories of: a redeveloped Marina, grant allocation for small businesses in the 30% area of Des Moines. Strides were made in accomplishing the policies set by the council. Yet, as noted with the list of failures above, the policies were never written to address the concerns of the community. Thus, in turn or vice-versa the city manager did not move in solving all areas of concern in Des Moines.

This is all I have to say in these regards.

TOMORROW: We’ll get answers from candidates on how they would distribute the city’s $9 million in ARPA funding.