During daylong retreat, Edmonds council prioritizes 2023 plans
Edmonds City Council members on Friday took time out from routine council business to dive into a day-long retreat focused on strategic planning and goal setting.
“I hope you brought your thinking caps as well as your running shoes,” said Council President Neil Tibbott as he opened the day’s events in City Hall’s Brackett Room.
The Council spent the first hour of the day with Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson and City Council Directors. First came an ice-breaker exercise in which council members and staff were asked to speak one-to-one with at least three people in the room and ask about their skills, knowledge, and passion. The participants then shared some surprising things they had learned from each other. Among them: Susan McLaughlin, Director of Planning and Development, teaches fitness classes, Councilor Will Chen is an avid golfer, and the Director of Parks, Recreation, and Human Services paints watercolors and runs marathons.
From there, Tibbott asked McLaughlin to read the city’s vision statement, which was developed in a public process last year and describes how residents would like to see the community take shape and grow over the next 20 years.
The Mission Statement of the City of Edmonds:
Edmonds is a welcoming city that offers an excellent quality of life for all. We value environmental protection, vibrant and diverse neighborhoods, safe and healthy streets, and a thriving arts community. We are committed residents who take pride in building our resilient future.
Tibbott then shared a list of city goals he developed that “are directly related to what we spend the most money on in the city.” These included public safety, community services, administrative support, infrastructure needs, and economic development. He also invited participants to talk about other goals that should be included. One area that has generated much debate has been ensuring that the city is positioned to fund grants and that the infrastructure is in place to implement those grants once they are received — and to ensure they are distributed fairly geographically. Several people suggested that having a grants manager position in the city for this purpose would be helpful.
After this exercise, Council members gathered to one side of the room to create a list of possible priorities, which, after further discussion throughout the day, was refined as follows:
— Explore city service plans that include developing a police substation or moving the police station to Highway 99 and developing/relocating other city services including a new community center, Edmonds Library and Edmonds City Hall.
— Establishment of a public-private partnership for city-wide clean-up efforts.
— Continue work on a code of conduct and rules of procedure for the Council.
— Supervision of the implementation of the city’s financial software.
— Encouraging discussion with the public about zoning.
— Check the recommendations of the Edmonds Housing Commission.
— Plan and schedule a household retreat that will be attended by both the council and staff.
— Development of a budget timeline by the Council Finance Committee.
— Create an “interaction zone” for council members, possibly by geographic area.
— Develop a payroll commission plan.
— Promote arts and activities throughout Edmonds.
— Review staffing in relation to budgeting.
— Assessing the city’s revenue with a focus on long-term financial planning.
— Investigate annexation ideas with Snohomish County related to Southwest County Park, Perrinville, and Esperance. This includes assessing the cost to the city and the tax implications of the annexation for residents of those areas.
— Improved council representation by considering council districts, ranked voting.
— Prioritizing the updating/rewriting of the city code with the involvement of the council committees.
— Focus on hiring/contract options for city attorneys and city prosecutors.
— Focus on public transparency regarding next steps for county-purchased Highway 99 Transitional Housing Hotel.
— Explore environmental funding to address watershed/erosion issues.
— Discover the future of the fire station.
— Work on clarity, direction and communication with councilors and commissions.
— Find out about downtown parking needs and options.
— Tackle aging infrastructure.
After lunch, the council heard guest speaker Deanna Dawson, a former Edmonds City Council member who was named CEO of the Association of Washington Cities of which Edmonds is a member last year.
Dawson spoke on a range of topics including what it takes to be an effective Council member and how to handle meeting agendas that consistently take too long. She also discussed how Council members can best interact with one another.
She said that AWC recently polled the public and included a question about “polarization in government and a lack of civility among elected officials.” Respondents were asked what they would prefer: A) elected leaders “treat one another with respect and courtesy” and work together for the city even when they have political differences, or B) have leaders “fight for what they stand for.” believe and rise up against those with whom they disagree.” The result: “85% of the people chose Option A,” Dawson said. “They want you to work together to get things done.”
During a question-and-answer session with council members, Dawson also focused on an area of interest to many — bills in the Washington state legislature that would allow multi-family housing in areas where cities have designated single-family homes.
Dawson noted that state legislatures had been considering similar bills for the past year, which AWC strongly opposed, arguing that cities must retain local control over zoning decisions. As a result, she said, “We got a lot of criticism from a lot of people in Olympia,” who claimed that cities were burying their heads in the sand over the need for affordable housing. In reality, she said, cities felt lawmakers weren’t engaging with them on the issue, so this year AWC decided to proactively engage with lawmakers on the issue.
“We had a very robust process over the summer and fall with elected officials from across the state who all agreed that there is a tremendous need in the state for affordable housing, but that local government has a role to play in how that plays out all by itself,” said Dawson. AWC then created a list of recommendations based on this issue, to which some cities have responded negatively, believing they are escaping local control.
“The feeling was, if you don’t come to the table with some meaningful proposals to move some of these things forward, we’re really going to be overrun this year,” Dawson said. “It’s going to be an uphill battle and I think it’s important to speak to our lawmakers both about why it’s important to have local decision-making power, and to acknowledge that this is a crisis and show what you’re doing do in your community to address this challenge. Because the feeling is that there are some cities that are not doing enough.”
Dawson pointed to the notion that many have “that if you build enough homes, it will become more affordable. But I think the challenge with that argument is that the construction industry doesn’t have the capacity to build housing of a sufficient standard to really make a difference in that regard.”
Many cities reject density because they lack the infrastructure to support it, she added. One solution, she said, is for cities to lobby for more infrastructure dollars at the state level.
Following Dawson’s presentation, the council returned to its list of priorities, identifying the key issues to be addressed in 2023 and placing them on the calendar. These included: managing the next steps in hiring a city attorney, developing a schedule for and planning a budget retreat for the council/staff, and proactively working with residents on the logistics for a temporary accommodation that Snohomish County planned for the former America’s Best Value Inn highway 99
Councilor Jenna Nand said she believes the transitional housing issue is particularly critical given the recent community outcry over the construction of an opioid treatment facility in Lynnwood. Council members agreed that this should be prioritized for the first quarter of 2023.
— By Teresa Wippel