Coffee with Harry: Mayoral candidates Mike Cooper and Dave Earling

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By Harry Gatjens

Chanterelle Restaurant hosted a Coffee with Harry with the two candidates for mayor last week. It was a cold and rainy day and we had a small crowd to visit with the candidates. Both candidates were ready to answer any question a citizen chose to ask.

The first question was why each was interested in being mayor of Edmonds. Mayor Cooper started and explained that he had been interested in running in 2008. He saw that ex-mayor Haakensen was going for his third term and decided to wait for 2012. When Haakensen left the position early, in June of 2010, Cooper decided that it was a good opportunity to get a head start by applying for the appointed position. He mentioned several advantages of the mayor’s position over his position with the County Council; for one, the commute, but also the ability to take a call from a citizen with a problem, say with their water line. and be able to call the affected department head and get it fixed. It is a rewarding experience to solve a citizen’s problem or concern.  As mayor, you can affect more immediate action to resolve things. Also, as a near lifetime member of the City, Cooper sees working as the City’s Mayor a great opportunity to pay back and improve his home town.

Earling has been on the City Council for three terms in the past. He had been approached about running when Haakensen’s next term was scheduled to be up, much like Cooper. He decided not to try for the appointment when the vacancy opened up as ”just to apply would have meant needing to resign from his job on the Growth Management Board.  The board position is one where you can make decisions that have a meaningful effect on people’s lives and was a good job, so it didn’t make sense to apply for the Mayor’s job, especially when he couldn’t count on the votes from the council to get the Mayor’s job. He decided to wait until the election came up giving him time to thoroughly review his options.

The candidates were asked if they would support a “code of ethics” and establishment of an Ethics Board to watch over official’s actions. Both strongly supported the  establishment of a “Code of Ethics.” Cooper said you need to be careful in how you establish an Ethics Board as it shouldn’t be established by the Executive Branch to oversee the Legislative Branch or vice-versa. He thought a standard of decorum would be very useful for smoother-running council meetings.

Earling mentioned that the former City Attorney used to hold a day-long seminar for the Council and mayor to go over ethics and procedures so that each term, everyone came in with a good understanding or ethical behavior.

Cooper noted that Scott Snyder had indeed presented this for the entire council right after Cooper was appointed. There is some concern about council members either not excusing themselves from votes where they may have some personal interest in the topic or not divulging such interests.

Both were asked about how to improve the relations between the administration and the Council and how to make council meetings more efficient.

Earling said that both in the past and currently, some council members take great pride in not reviewing the council packet and come to meetings unprepared. Time is wasted when a simple question to the appropriate person in the administration could resolve the questions before the meeting itself.

Cooper said that while the relations between the Mayor and the council have improved, relations between individual council members are still more contentious than they should be. While things can be improved, Cooper also pointed out  better that Edmonds is better than in some cities where there are fistfights between council members.

Earling questioned whether the new methods of communication are growing faster than our elected leaders are prepared for. Emails and Facebook posts are far less personal than face-to-face communication. They can lead to either miscommunication of the intention of the message or people tweeting out things without engaging their brain first. Cooper also thought that while email and other forms of instant communication are in some ways more efficient, they can also lead to miscommunication, albeit more instant.

A citizen asked if the candidates would be open to the idea of having “office hours” for citizens to come and ask abut what is on their mind. Earling said his experience of having office hours when teaching at college made him confident that such a system would be worthwhile. Cooper agreed but also mentioned that he already has an open door policy;  if citizens comes by City Hall and asks to see the Mayor, subject to his schedule at the moment, they get to see him.

A question was asked about whether projects — for example, the recent solar energy project — should be put out for competitive bid, rather than given to whomever brought the idea to the city. Cooper agreed, but said that the specific project mentioned was a different sort of project — one brought by citizens to the city as a way to demonstrate the value of solar power, not as an investment by the city but rather something driven by citizens. Earling just issued a flat, “yes, those things should go out for competitive bid.”

Both candidates were then asked if they would support a moratorium on buying new parks until there were at least adequate funds for maintaining the parks we already have. Cooper said he wouldn’t support a formal moratorium but felt there was self-imposed moratorium based upon the city’s finances. Earling also felt that were adequate parks, right now, and the only way the City should acquire additional parks for the time being is if property were “gifted” to the city.

Both candidates were very open with those of us in attendance and showed real commitment in their desire to keep Edmonds on a path to benefit all citizens. While the small crowd was a bit disappointing, those who did attend and hopefully those reading this recap got a better feel of what each candidate was about.

As always, we need to thanks our friends at Chanterelle and particularly our server, Dianna, for giving us a great location, great atmosphere and good eats while we learned about the mayoral candidates.

Join us this coming Thursday evening to visit with Lora Petso and Darlene Stern, candidates for Council Position 5. We are having an evening coffee so that a new segment of our readers can attend. As always, Chanterelle will be the place to be — 7 p.m. at 316 Main St.

Edmonds resident “Citizen Harry” Gatjens provides regular reports to My Edmonds News on the workings of the Edmonds city government.

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