City of Edmonds animal control officer Debbie Dawson waited for just the right moment, then sprung out of the Edmonds Library Plaza Room closet where she was hiding, put her trumpet to her lips and started to blow a ceremonial greeting. The occasion was the swearing in of new Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling, and Dawson’s notes on the trumpet were greeted with laughter — both by the crowd and Earling, a former Shoreline Community College music instructor.
Dawson then continued with a brief rendition of “Hail to the Chief,” generating more laughter, after which Earling was sworn in by The Honorable Judge Joseph A. Thibodeau, who came out of retirement for the event.
Earling, who defeated appointed Edmonds Mayor Mike Cooper by a 65-to-35 percent margin during the Nov. 8 general election, said that no one was more pleased by the election results than his family. “I can now report to them that I am no longer unemployed,” said Earling, who gave up the last 15 months of a six-year appointment to the Growth Management Hearings Board, to run for mayor.
The former Edmonds City Council president and past owner of Edmonds Realty said that despite the strong showing over his opponent, he won’t describe the victory as a mandate. “I’ve never liked that word,” Earling said. “I think it assumes too much. I do not view me being elected as a mandate for anything. It’s an opportunity to serve.”
Instead, Earling said it was a “humbling” experience to have received more than 10,000 of the city’s 16,000 votes cast for mayor. And he noted he was “inspired” that those 16,000 votes represented at 63 percent-plus voter turnout (Edmonds has 26,000 registered voters), the second-highest turnout in the state.
“We all know in this room that the people in this town truly care about what happens to their city and their city government,” Earling said. Stating he is looking forward to working with “a fabulous staff” and “a wonderful city council who I know is convinced that they will work together with me,” Earling then introduced another word — “blunt.”
The community needs to have “a blunt discussion over the next year about the financial situation that we find ourselves in,” Earling said. “We all know that by some time in year 2013, our expenses will exceed our revenues. And it’s not just me making it up. It’s our former finance director, Lorenzo Hines, telling us that; it’s our interim finance director, Jim Tarte, that told us that and it’s also Shawn (Hunstock), our new finance director, that has told us that. So we need to undertake a very thorough process of how we’re going to solve that problem.”
The new mayor ticked off four ways to address the city’s budget imbalance:
– “Hope for a miracle and have an economic turnaround. That’s probably not going to happen in the next year, although it (the economy) could improve and that would be helpful,” Earling said.
– Ask voters to approve additional taxes, an approach the city already tried by placing three property tax levies on the most recent ballot, all of which failed. “So we have a lot of thinking to do if we want to move forward as a city and ask for another tax increase,” Earling said.
– Cut deeper into the city budget. For example, the city could decide to leave vacant jobs unfilled, but Earling noted that Edmonds already has one of the lowest city staff-to-population ratios in the state of Washington. “Many cuts have already been made,” he said.
– The fourth option is “to put together a really important, enthusiastic, hard-driving economic development plan,” Earling said. While current efforts to develop a citywide strategic plan will help, that process won’t be completed until mid-year, he noted.
“We need to start thinking about how we can drive economic development now. How we can fill up some of the stores downtown. How we can do the same with Westgate, Firdale Village, Five Corners and so on,” he said. The Harbor Square business complex redevelopment being considered by the Port of Edmonds could generate another $30o,000 to $400,000 in additional tax revenue to the city alone, he added.
The next step is to examine those options and either combine some of them or focus on one to move the city forward, Earling said. “The great thing about that for me is, we have a community that historically works together, thinks together, is willing to make hard decisions, and we are going to have to use them, so that we can all walk away from the table being inspired.”
Prior to Earling being sworn in, Judge Thibodeau issued the oath of office to Councilmembers Diane Buckshnis and Lora Petso, who each narrowly defeated their respective opponents in the general election. Earling, Buckshnis and Petso were sworn in now — a day after the election results were certified — because each of their positions had been filled with people who had been appointed rather than elected. The other two new City Councilmembers — Frank Yamamoto and Joan Bloom — will take office in January.