By Mellow DeTray
Here’s our recap of the Des Moines City Council Study Session held on Thursday night, Feb. 1, 2024:
As this was a Study Session for the Council, no formal action was taken. However, a big decision was made regarding the Hearts & Minds Fund that Council created several decades ago to support causes they believe are significant to Des Moines.
Council showed interest earlier this year in establishing clear parameters on the utilization of this fund in order to formalize the process. Staff searched through historical documents and have been unable to locate any parameters for the operation of the fund. This meeting was meant to facilitate a discussion that would help create those parameters.
The Hearts & Minds Fund was originally established in the 1960s, with council members setting aside a portion of their wages each month. Currently, $25 per person goes to the fund monthly. This money is kept in an account managed by the city, and Council votes during meetings on causes it would like to support.
Each councilmember can choose to opt out of contributing to the fund from their wages, and they can also choose to abstain or vote no on any cause they don’t support. However, the money is allotted by majority decision, and that decision always or nearly always goes in support of the charity or cause in question.
Historically, the money has gone to buy flowers for a death or illness of a staff or community member, support of nonprofits working within the city, and funding a scholarship program. There are currently several thousand dollars in the fund.
Hearts & Minds Fund Disbanded
Councilmembers were torn about this historic decision. Councilmember Matt Mahoney repeated that nothing was wrong with the way the fund has been utilized over generations, and it should continue to operate without restriction as it has been doing. Mahoney said he would not be in support of any parameters that limit how Council can utilize this fund.
Councilmember JC Harris argued that it is not Council’s job to judge whether charities are worthy, and it is overstepping their position as elected officials. He felt the money was better used for small, one-time contributions such as flowers for deaths and illnesses. If it was utilized solely for infrequent events and emergencies, he would support it.
Councilmember Yoshiko Grace Matsui made the point that there is an access issue if organizations in the community do not know the money is available, when those who do know come speak at a meeting and are given $500 for their cause.
Deputy Mayor Harry Steinmetz, who did not want to limit the use of the funds, recognized that there could be a community backlash against someone who voted no on a charity. He didn’t want anyone to feel compelled to vote a certain way just because of this possibility.
Councilmember Harris said that at times when he has voted against using the funds, he has later made a private contribution to the charity outside the council session. He believes this is the proper way for charities to be supported.
Mayor Traci Buxton sought to reach consensus. A majority of the Council did not want to use the funds to contribute to charities in general any longer. However, all unanimously agreed they would like to use the funds for condolence of death or accident, as well as supporting the scholarship program. However, some were not interested in continuing the Hearts & Minds Fund at all, if it had limitations on use.
They could not come to agreement about setting parameters in utilizing the money. In the end, Council voted 4–3 to disband the Hearts & Minds Fund. Current money in the account will be dispersed to charities and that will be the end of it.
Watch full video of the council meeting 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.