The Des Moines City Council meeting on Thursday night, April 11, 2024 buzzed with activity as residents and the council addressed a range of pressing issues.

Public comments kicked off the night, with a strong focus on safety in Redondo, urging the council to enforce existing ordinances and restore peace to their neighborhood.  Concerns extended beyond public safety, with another resident highlighting the importance of the city’s tree canopy. They argued for proactive measures to protect and expand this vital resource, citing its role in combatting air pollution and fostering a higher quality of life for all.

The meeting progressed with updates on the long-awaited reopening of the Senior Activity Center. The council also received a legislative update, reflecting on a short session marked by a coming high turnover and Gov. Jay Inslee’s retirement. Technical difficulties delayed the council’s discussion with the city manager recruitment firm.  Strategic Government Resources (SGR), a prominent national firm, outlined their plan for finding a qualified candidate, and Council approved a salary range. The levy lid lift, a proposed one-time property tax increase to bolster public safety, received its second approval. 

Public Comments

There was a large turnout of nine people who signed up to speak during the public comments period. Several addressed safety concerns along the Redondo waterfront. One neighbor described the area as being under track by a street racing gang who have been disturbing the peace, burning rubber as they race the streets, and creating general mayhem. He said that during one incident on March 28, after he had called 911 multiple times regarding a group of eight racing vehicles, police were able to apprehend five of those vehicles. He was thoroughly disappointed that after all this, only one citation was written; he said it seemed like the officer was ignoring the street racing ordinance passed by council in 2021. Another neighbor in Redondo lauded the city’s quick response in cleaning up graffiti at the Redondo boardwalk.

One person spoke on the importance of the tree canopy. She said that the coverage in Des Moines was found to be only 29% in a study done seven years ago, and that development pressure has only worsened the situation. She said trees provide a natural antidote to conditions the city is facing like air pollution and global warming, and the coverage we should have in Des Moines is between 40 – 60%. She argued that money from any levy lid lift would be better spent in proactively protecting and increasing the tree canopy, which increases quality of life for everyone, rather than reactively spending it on public safety.

City Manager Report

Interim City Manager Tim George said city staff will be doing a walk-through at the Senior Activity Center now that repairs to the building are finished. The building was damaged last winter when a frozen water pipe burst. George said the only thing the building should need now is a deep cleaning. He is hopeful that it will be ready to reopen on April 22. 

Legislative Update

According to the presentation, this was a short (60 day) legislative session, with around 25 legislators not expected to return next session. In addition, it was the last session for Governor Jay Inslee, who is retiring after serving in public office since 2013. Both these conditions make it hard to get bills passed. Sen. Karen Keiser is one of the legislators who won’t be returning, as she is retiring after 30 years in legislation. Keiser will be present at the May 2 council meeting to give her own legislative update.

The session wasn’t a total bust, however. Des Moines did receive $100,000 for marina electrification. This is in addition to separate grants that will be forthcoming for that project. In addition, a new police academy will be established in Washington state, and the state will pay for training new officers. This will help solve a police officer shortage faced by cities throughout the region. Washington currently has the lowest number of officers per capita in the country. 

The state’s catalytic converter law was strengthened as well, which will make it a felony to be in possession of a large number of the high-theft item, unless they’ve been legally obtained.

Traffic Cam Updates

New state law regarding traffic cameras changed, forcing the city to alter its code to match. There is a new cap for camera tickets at $145, unless they’re in a school zone where the cap will be $290. The law also restricts the use of the camera revenue. It must be used for traffic calming and pedestrian safety measures. In addition, 25% of proceeds will go to the state.

Discussion With City Manager Recruitment Firm

After major technical issues that delayed proceedings for quite a while, Council met for the first time with the recruitment firm hired by the city to find the next city manager. According to the presentation, Strategic Government Resources (SGR) was founded 20 years ago by a city manager, and is one of the largest government recruitment firms in the country. They have a large pool of candidates, and will hone down applicants based on criteria set forth by Council. Once the city’s needs in a candidate are firmed up, the job will be posted for a minimum of 30 days. It was confirmed that the timeline will allow a chosen candidate to complete the hiring process by July 1st.

The current salary for a city manager in Des Moines is in the range of $227,694 to $276,759. Council discussed whether to keep the range as is, increase, or decrease it. They heard from SGR that this range is “healthy, competitive, and attractive to experienced candidates.” They also said it is “higher than we typically see.” They recommended that if the council wants to consider hiring someone less experienced, an offer in the range of $200,000 to $225,000 would be adequate.

Council decided to go with a salary range that starts a little lower, at $218,577, and goes up to the current max of $276,759. The initial hiring salary would be capped at $253,024, saving a margin for salary growth over time. This will give them the most options as far as attracting qualified candidates, and choosing within that range the salary that fits the candidate’s experience level. This salary level passed with a vote of 6–0, with Councilmember Harris abstaining.

Levy Lid Lift Gets Second Approval

If approved, the levy lid lift will be on the August 6th primary ballot, and require a simple majority vote of the people to pass. The levy lid lift would involve a one-time, permanent property tax increase. The money would be spent on increasing and maintaining public safety. Council voted unanimously to move this forward to a third and final vote at the April 25 council meeting. For the details on what this could mean for Des Moines residents, click here. In addition, information on getting a senior tax exemption can be found here.

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 10 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.