By Harry Gatjens
Chanterelle restaurant hosted a Coffee with Harry, focused on Council Position 6 last Friday morning. Candidate Frank Yamamoto attended but unfortunately his opponent, Al Rutledge, had scheduling difficulties and was unable to join us. (You can find interviews with Rutledge and other resources about him on our Election Watch 2011 page.)
Questioning started with Yamamoto being asked if there was anything he could do to reduce the friction shown between council members during council meetings. He acknowledged that council disagreements led to long-winded discussions that were not necessarily productive and not conducive to moving the city forward. He cited his work on the Economic Development Commission, where there are 17 members with widely diverse interests. As chairman, he was able to shepherd the group into sub-groups where issues could be addressed and then brought forward to the entire group with a decision ready to be approved. He said that everyone has their own agenda but that the key was to be able to convince individuals to make compromises for the good of the entire group — just as the City Council needs to make decisions based upon what is best for the entire city.
Someone brought up that councilmembers, who serve as liaisons to certain citizen groups, could improve the efficiency is they come to the council meetings with recommendations already prepared based upon what had been discussed at the group meeting. Often the council liaisons serve as note takers and not advocates for the group they were working with, meaning the entire council has to refer to the committee notes and then ask all sorts of questions in the council meeting setting. Had the liaison presented a recap, along with a proposed action, much time could be saved, the commenter noted. Frank agreed that this was appropriate and said he would push for it to happen.
Yamamoto was then asked if he could be representative of the entire city as opposed to just the downtown Bowl area. He again referred to his work with the Economic Development Commission and that group’s need to work for the best interests of all, including the downtown core, the Highway 99 community, Firdale Village, Five Corners and Westgate. His leadership with the EDC shows that he can put everyone’s best interests in mind, not just one group.
He also was asked about the council’s interactions with City of Edmonds staff. He said it was important to respect the chain of command when dealing with city staff. It is appropriate to directly ask staff a question, although many of the questions should probably be asked before the council meetings, he said. However, staff shouldn’t be interrogated or chastised during presentations. If a council member has an issue with staff performance, then chain of command requires dealing with the Mayor or the staff member’s superior, not the staff member directly. The staff does not work for the council and that needs to be recognized, he said
Yamamoto was asked if he would support releasing Council Executive Session notes to the public. He said that there is a certain amount of minutia and detail involved in topics that are covered in executive session. Some of that is privileged and he wasn’t sure whether detailed transcripts would be appropriate. He did feel that summaries should be released as to what the topics are that were discussed and what the resolution was on those subjects.
A citizen brought up that the current levy for street improvements and the one for parks and maintenance were items that should be paid for out of the general fund and the fact that they are now considered outside of that is a result of poor prioritization by prior city councils. Citizens expect those items to be part of how a city functions. Yamamoto responded that he was putting a lot of faith in the results of the Strategic Plan now being developed by the city, which should give direction to Edmonds leaders on what is most important to them. Then the council will need to make hard budget decisions with whatever revenue resources they have. The plan should identify whether it is more important to keep up streets, buy parks, increase police staffing, continue the flower program or whatever else. But the council will need to make those hard decisions and not postpone certain spending to make finances a problem for future councils. And he said that he is prepared to make those hard decisions.
The final discussion was about the City’s utilization of the fiber optic asset. While reports show that the city is continuing to enjoy savings and some small revenues from this resource, there should be more proactive use of it. The availability of the bandwidth should attract new businesses to the city, bringing both new tax revenues and a more vibrant job community. Yamamoto said he has been following the development of this resource as a member of the Economic Development Commission, but added he would push for more and faster implementation of a program to sell some of the capacity to outside businesses.
Once again, thanks to Brooke and her people at Chanterelle for hosting the group. Dianna, our server, took tremendous care of us as has been her pattern at recent Coffees with Harry. Thanks to Frank Yamamoto for being willing to meet and take questions from any and all interested citizens. Finally, thanks to the local citizens who make time and expend the effort to learn about the candidates for our local offices.
Edmonds resident “Citizen Harry” Gatjens provides regular reports to My Edmonds News on the workings of the Edmonds city government.