By Harry Gatjens
Chanterelle restaurant hosted a Coffee with Harry last week featuring the two candidates for Edmonds City Council Position 5 — incumbent DJ Wilson and challenger Joan Bloom. A good crowd showed up and both candidates were open in discussing the various issues, including the upcoming levies for the general fund, streets and parks and building maintenance that will appear on the November ballot.
Bloom was asked why she chose to run against Wilson rather than one of the other councilmembers. She responded that while she and Wilson both oppose the levies, they do so for entirely different. Bloom said that the city needs to closely examine spending and reduce costs while Wilson favors raising revenue.
Wilson responded that he has worked hard to reduce expenses, citing specifically his efforts to lower health care costs and his opposition to increases in the latest union contracts. He did say, however, that you cannot afford to wait until every last nickel has been pared from the budget before you accept the reality that the City needs more revenue to continue providing the service that citizens need and expect.
As an example of where cuts should be made, Bloom brought up that the City’s planning department, despite a downturn in applications, has retained staff at the same levels as several years ago. She mentioned money being spent on mismanaged projects and
A citizen attending the forum said that the City of Edmonds needs to be cautious in eliminating personnel during a slow period because those employees may be hard to replace when things turn around. He suggested that there should be better thought given to redeploying these people rather than eliminating them. It was his opinion that this process needed to be more transparent to the citizens.
There was extended discussion about transparency of City business. Wilson said that there has been a great deal of difficulty between City staff and council in regard to sharing of information. He felt that changes have occurred to improve this but that there is much room for improvement.
Bloom said that more information should be available for citizens on the City’s website so that public records requests would not be needed, keeping both City staff and the citizens’ efforts much easier.
The discussion then drifted into the issues of the Haines Wharf project. Most of the group attending had a pretty thorough understanding of the issue but had questions about the details of the whole project. Between all the participants, we pieced together much of the history. Some questioned whether the whole project should have been considered in the first place. While everyone had an opinion, this really seemed to defeat the purpose of the coffee, so we changed subjects.
A question was raised about why the Council can’t just allocate part of the budget to fix the issues that have been identified in the City’s financial reporting, specifically if the levies pass. Wilson brought up that the council can only allocate dollars to the budget. It is up to the Mayor and the administration to use the dollars to fund the departments as they see necessary. Bloom still felt that there was overstaffing in some departments and that the resources should be redeployed to fulfill the financial reporting needs of the city.
One attendee asked about the wage rates for city employees vs. subcontracting some services to outside contractors. Wilson didn’t disagree but did point out that this kind of idea requires negotiation with city employees and their unions. However, it was pointed out that this was done with the Fire Department.
A discussion then ensued regarding whether the Council should micro-manage the operations of the City. Bloom said that the Administration should be responsible for accomplishing things without micromanagement, but with what has been happening in the recent past, micromanagement is necessary. Wilson agreed that it shouldn’t be necessary but that the trust level between Council and Administration had deteriorated to the extent that the Council needs to micromanage until a new trust level can be established. Once trust is regained, Wilson said he thinks the Council should rely on the Mayor and the City’s managers to manage things with the Council just providing oversight. Bloom said a critical point in whether micromanaging was necessary is whether or not laws and or policies are being followed. If they are not, then the City Council needs to step in.
The next item to be discussed was the Edmonds Center for the Arts. A citizen pointed out that the ECA has a gymnasium that isn’t be properly utilized. He felt that in these days of economic distress, there was an opportunity to make as much as an additional $250,000 in revenue if the facility was better used. Given that the City is now having to subsidize bond payments on the facility, shouldn’t every effort be made to maximize the return on this City asset, he asked? Bloom agreed that the ECA and all parts of city government should be more creative in maximizing revenue. Wilson pointed out that he had been working on this project behind the scenes. He also noted that he had pushed for more ECA accountability to the Council.
This led to another issue: What is the responsibility of the Councilmembers? Do they do things underground and behind the scenes or must all of their activities be held in a public forum such as a Council meeting.
Wilson said that it is important to try to help citizens on an individual basis without making a grandstanding issue out of each item. However, any policy issues have to be discussed in the open forum of Council meetings.
Asked about how to get more consensus on the Council, we found an area where the two candidates disagreed fairly strongly. Wilson thought the Council needed have a “retreat” where they could bond on a more personal level and develop trust with each other. Bloom strongly felt that there shouldn’t be any sort of meeting where the public wasn’t involved. The discussion revolved around making decisions in a public forum versus a “bonding” session. Both the candidates, plus the audience, seemed to be evenly divided on the idea of a retreat.
We finished up with enhanced respect for both candidates. Wilson said, if you vote for Bloom, she would be a good representative for the public on the council. He thought that he would be a better choice, but said that both candidates would do a good — but slightly different– job for the city. I think most of the crowd felt that both candidates had excellent qualities and while they may prefer one over the other, they were quite a good match-up and could both be effective.
We need to thank the two candidates for taking the time to sit with normal citizens and share their opinions. There aren’t many other cities where something like this would occur. The coffee was a non-scripted opportunity for citizens to ask whatever was on their minds. Both Bloom and Wilson displayed immense trust in the citizens.
Also, as always our greatest appreciation to Chanterelle for hosting the event. Our server, Diana, took great care of us and as always the food was excellent. This is a great public service they are providing and if you get the chance, thank them by stopping for a meal sometime.
Edmonds resident “Citizen Harry” Gatjens provides regular reports to My Edmonds News on the workings of the Edmonds city government.