Guest column: Thoughts about City Officers and the Edmonds City Code

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By Ken Reidy

The City of Edmonds is a non-charter Code City retaining the Mayor-Council plan of government under Washington State Law.

Edmonds City Code Chapter 2.10 is titled:

CONFIRMATION AND DUTIES OF CITY OFFICERS

Edmonds City Code Chapter 2.10 does not provide a definition of “City Officers.” “City Officers” are also not defined in City Code Chapter 21 – DEFINITIONS.

The body of Edmonds City Code Chapter 2.10 includes references to the positions of Judge, Hearing Examiner, eight Department Directors, an Executive Council Assistant and the Mayor’s Executive Assistant. The body of the Chapter does not make one reference to the term “City Officers.” I do not know if the Executive Council Assistant and the Mayor’s Executive Assistant are considered to be “City Officers.” For purposes of this article, I am just going to discuss the positions of Judge, Hearing Examiner and the eight Department Directors, as these positions are currently represented in the City Code as being subject to Mayoral appointment and City Council confirmation. These positions MAY be what the title of Edmonds City Code Chapter 2.10 refers to as “City Officers.”

It is possible that the following represents a complete list of “City Officers,” or at least a complete list at the date(s) this Chapter of the City Code was established:

Judge
Hearing Examiner
Police Chief
Fire Chief
Community Services Director
Administrative Services Director
Development Services Director (Director of Community Development)
Parks and Recreation Director
Public Works Director
Human Resources Director

I am uncertain if the list above should include Finance Director, City Attorney, Building Official, Permit Coordinator, Chief Information Officer or any other positions not included in the list above.

Following is a status report of the positions I have listed above:

– The City Council voted unanimously to make the Municipal Court Judge an elected position on Oct. 25, 2005. Hence, Chapter 2.10 of the Edmonds City Code needs to be updated to clarify that the Mayor no longer appoints, subject to City Council confirmation, the position of Judge.

– Former Mayor Mike Cooper appointed Hearing Examiner Olbrechts & Associates PLLC and the City Council confirmed that appointment on Feb. 15, 2011.

– Former Mayor Gary Haakenson appointed Police Chief Al Compaan and the City Council confirmed that appointment on Oct. 2, 2007.

Effective Jan. 1, 2010, the City of Edmonds entered into a 20-year interlocal agreement with Snohomish County Fire District No. 1 (SCFD #1) to provide fire, emergency medical, and fire prevention services to Edmonds. Hence, Chapter 2.10 of the Edmonds City Code needs to be updated to clarify that the Mayor no longer appoints, subject to City Council confirmation, the position of Fire Chief.

– Stephen Clifton is the current Community Services Director. I have been unable to determine when he was appointed and confirmed, but the June 4, 2002 City Council Meeting Minutes, indicate that he has held this position since at least 2002.

– To the best of my knowledge, the last person to hold the position of Administrative Services Director was Dan Clements. I have been unable to determine when he was appointed and confirmed. I believe Mr. Clements retired in 2008 and the position appears to have been vacant ever since. It is possible that the position of Finance Director is also known as the Administrative Services Director. If so, the Code should be updated to clarify this. Former Mayor Mike Cooper appointed current Finance Director Shawn Hunstock and the City Council confirmed that appointment on Sept. 20, 2011.

– To the best of my knowledge, the last person to hold the position of Development Services Director was Duane Bowman. I have been unable to determine when he was appointed and confirmed, but the February 1, 2002 City Council Meeting Minutes, indicate that he held this position since at least 2002.  Mr. Bowman retired in March of 2009 and the position appears to have been vacant ever since.

– Former Mayor Mike Cooper appointed Parks and Recreation Director Carrie Hite and the City Council confirmed that appointment on Dec. 7, 2010.

– Former Mayor Gary Haakenson appointed Public Works Director Phil Williams and the City Council confirmed that appointment on June 22, 2010.

– The last person to hold the position of Human Resources Director was Debi Humann. I have been unable to determine when she was appointed and confirmed. The Aug. 18, 2008 City Council Meeting Minutes indicate that Ms. Humann was Human Resources Manager as of that date. The Sept. 2, 2008 City Council Meeting Minutes indicate that Ms. Humann was Human Resources Director as of that date. It is possible that she was appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by City Council sometime during that time period. The Nov. 22, 2011 City Council approved minutes indicate the City Council eliminated funding for the Human Resources Director position in the City’s 2012 budget.

In summary, a review of Edmonds City Code Chapter 2.10 confirms that this is a chapter of the City’s Code that contains errors and REQUIRES UPDATING.

A reading of Edmonds City Code Chapter 2.10 leads me to conclude that “City Officers” are a critical component of our City Government. The following three reasons support this belief:

1.  The positions discussed in Chapter 2.10 require persons with the highest qualifications.

2.  The City Council is required to interview the top three candidates for each position prior to the Mayor’s appointment.

3.  The Mayoral appointment is subject to formal City Council confirmation.

A review of the status of the positions discussed above provides an opportunity to consider whether or not the City of Edmonds is adequately staffed with the appropriate level of “City Officers.” It is very difficult to balance out the service level requirements of the City’s Code with today’s fiscal challenges. If the City has to operate with fewer “City Officers,” I think it would be wise to update the Code so that all cost savings attempts are consistent with the City’s Code.

The significance of the duties and responsibilities of “City Officers” should not be underappreciated. In my opinion, allowing “City Officer” positions to remain vacant should not result in City employees performing “City Officer” duties who have not been subject to the competitive interview and appointment process nor been confirmed by the City Council to perform such duties.

One specific area I am concerned about is the Development Services Director position that has been vacant since early 2009. This critical position administers the majority of the City’s Community Development Code (ECDC). In my opinion, the Code requires that the person(s) currently performing these very broad duties has been interviewed and confirmed by the City Council. The City must be able to represent to its citizens that these duties are being performed by a person with the highest qualifications.

Department Directors are responsible for carrying out all directives as assigned by the Mayor, including, but not limited to, planning and directing the activities and staff in their assigned department, supervising and evaluating the work processes and assigned staff, controlling the financial integrity of the assigned budget, and insuring the delivery of quality public services. This is required per Ordinance 3279.

I believe a Development Services Director needs to be interviewed, appointed and confirmed by the City Council. If not, the City’s Code should be updated to allow another “City Officer” to administer and enforce the provisions of the ECDC that the Development Services Director is responsible for. This may not be a practical alternative, however, as the position of Development Services Director is a full time position requiring the highest qualifications. I believe the City also needs to address the other vacant City Officer positions, including those of Administrative Services Director and Human Resources Director, as well as any other vacancies that may exist.

8 COMMENTS

  1. On the 2nd Tuesday of the month, the Edmonds City Council meets in 3 committees – Planning, Parks and Public Works Committee, Finance Committee and Public Safety and Personnel Committee. The City’s website states that the Finance Committee allows for public comment, but I believe public comment is allowed during all three Committee meetings; at least that is what the City Council Meeting Agenda for Tuesday evening March 13, 2012 indicates. These meetings typically start at 6:00 p.m. in three different locations in the Public Safety Complex – City Council Chambers, Jury Room, and Police Training Room. They will start later than this on March 13, 2012 due mainly to Snohomish County Fire District 1’s Annual Report.

    During the City Council Committee meetings, 2 Councilmembers meet with City staff who present detailed briefings on issues that will be coming to the full City Council. It is during those meetings that the Committee Councilmembers discuss and ask questions on the issues and may give staff and (later) the complete City Council direction on how to proceed.

    The City Council Meeting Agenda for Tuesday evening March 13, 2012 includes a discussion of draft City Code language regarding Edmonds City Code Chapter 2.10 during the Planning, Parks and Public Works Committee session. Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and Lora Petso have been appointed to the Planning, Parks and Public Works Committee for 2012.

    Following are some of my thoughts related to this topic and the proposed updates to the City Code Chapter 2.10:

    1. Edmonds City Code Chapter 2.10 does not provide a definition of “City Officers.” “City Officers” are also not defined in City Code Chapter 21 – DEFINITIONS. The body of Edmonds City Code Chapter 2.10 does not make one reference to the term “City Officers.” I think it would be wise to clearly define the term “City Officer” and clarify if the terms “City Officer” and “Department Director” are interchangeable. Furthermore, it would be wise to clarify whether or not a job title containing the word “Officer” is a “City Officer”. For example, is the City’s Chief Information Officer a “City Officer”?

    2. Regarding proposed ECC 2.10.010.A, I do not support the recommended changes to ECC Chapter 2.10.010.A. I believe the review of specifications of City Officer positions by the City Council must be mandatory. Changing it from “will review” to “may review’ creates an ambiguity and loophole. I would simply change ECC 2.10.010.A to state the following:

    Whenever a vacancy occurs in a City Officer position, the city council will review the specifications of that position and revise it as needed before the process to permanently fill the vacancy commences.

    3. Regarding proposed ECC 2.10.010.C, I have a few issues. First, is the Hearing Examiner a “City Officer”? I suspect the Hearing Examiner is not a City Officer and the Hearing Examiner position should be addressed in ECC Chapter 10.35 only. Next, I’d verify that the statement: “The hearing examiner may be removed from his/her position for cause, as determined by the mayor” is consistent with the actual Hearing Examiner Contract. I hope it is consistent but I fear it may not be. Finally, ECC 2.10.010.C also is at least slightly inconsistent with ECC Chapter 10.35.010.A, which includes the following:
    “The first year of the term will be probationary during which year he or she will serve subject to the approval of the mayor. During the balance of the four-year term the hearing examiner may be removed only for good cause.” Again, maybe the Hearing Examiner position should only be addressed in ECC Chapter 10.35.

    4. Regarding proposed ECC 2.10.010.D, it appears it has been determined that the following represents a complete list of “Department Directors” and possibly a complete list of “City Officers” if the two terms are interchangeable:

    Police Chief
    Community Services Director
    Finance Director
    Development Services Director (Director of Community Development)
    Parks and Recreation Director
    Public Works Director

    It appears it has been determined that the following positions are not “Department Directors” and /or “City Officers” if the two terms are interchangeable:

    Human Resources Director
    City Attorney
    Hearing Examiner
    Building Official
    Permit Coordinator
    Chief Information Officer

    If the City Council decides that it can waive the three-interview requirement, I think it critical to identify at what stage in the process they have to do so. As a citizen, I think the three- interview requirement should never be waived. These positions are critical and I support a permanent three-interview requirement.

    5. Regarding the new ECC 2.10.010.E, the Council’s determination of the maximum number of days an acting director can be in place is very important. I support a short, but reasonable time period.

    6. Regarding proposed ECC 2.10.020, the concluding comment that “All department directors shall serve at the pleasure of the mayor”, is a weak, unnecessary and somewhat vague phrase. As all “Department Directors” appear to be employees, employment at will laws apply and this extra statement in the code is likely unnecessary.

    7. Regarding proposed ECC 2.10.030, the second sentence is duplicative and unnecessary as the appointment and confirmation is already discussed in ECC 2.10.010.D.

    8. Regarding proposed ECC 2.10.050, the recommended change to the heading of this Code section needs to be reflected at the top of the page under “Sections” for consistency. Also, please change “development services department director” to “development services director” near the end of the first sentence.

    9. Regarding ECC 2.10.060, I think it would be wise to clarify whether or not the Executive Council Assistant is a “City Officer.” If not, I would move the contents of ECC 2.10.060 to another section of the Code. Upon quick glance, it might be better located as a new section between ECC 1.02.031 and ECC 1.02.035. Furthermore, there are problems within ECC. 2.10.060 itself, which reads as follows:

    The executive council assistant shall be a contract employee hired on an annual basis by the city council. The terms and conditions of employment for the executive council assistant as well as all benefits shall be governed by the provisions of the contract. The contract shall provide for the delegation by the mayor of the direction of this individual to the city council president. In the event that the mayor elects in his or her discretion not to delegate that function, the council reserves the right to immediately eliminate the position.

    My question is how can the City Council legally immediately eliminate the position with an annual employment contract that establishes the terms of employment? This inconsistency needs to be cleaned up.

    10. Regarding proposed ECC 2.10.070, I think it would be wise to clarify whether or not the Mayor’s Executive Assistant is a “City Officer.” If not, I would move the contents of ECC 2.10.070 to another section of the Code. Upon quick glance, it might be better located as a new section in ECC Chapter 2.01, where a similar position of Mayor’s Administrative Assistant is discussed.

    Sadly, while looking at ECC Chapter 2.01, I noted it hasn’t been updated since 1983 and looks to require updating also. For example, ECC 2.01.010 states that the Mayor has the authority to designate assistants and department heads. This naturally raises the question of what is the difference between a “City Officer”, “Department Director”and “Department Head”. What “Department Heads” can the Mayor designate without City Council confirmation?

    In addition, as ECC 2.01.030 was repealed by Ordinance 3223, ECC 2.01.020 should not still refer to Code Section ECC 2.01.030. This just causes confusion.

    Hopefully, the 10 points made above will be of assistance as the City updates City Code Chapter 2.10. I am encouraged that my elected officials, city staff and the City Attorney are working hard to make improvements to the City’s Code.

  2. OVER a year ago, in early 2012, I provided my elected officials with much detailed information related to City Officers and the many related City Code problems and errors. I spent DOZENS of hours working on this and respectfully submitted the information in an effort to be helpful.

    One of the concepts I discussed was whether or not a City Officer position can be filled on a temporary basis. I stated that it would be wise to address temporary City Officer procedures in the Code when the Code is rewritten.

    I respectfully requested that my elected officials address ECC 2.10.010.A which states that whenever a vacancy occurs in a City Officer Position, the City Council will review the SPECIFICATIONS of that position and revise it as needed BEFORE the vacancy is filled. I asked my elected officials to please remember to clarify whether or not the review of the SPECIFICATIONS of that position needs to take place whenever vacancies are filled or only when the vacancy is to be filled by a permanent appointment, rather than acting or interim.

    I expressed to my elected officials my belief that the significance of the duties and responsibilities of “City Officers” should not be under appreciated. I stated my opinion that allowing “City Officer” positions to remain vacant should not result in City employees performing “City Officer” duties who have not been subject to the competitive interview and appointment process nor been confirmed by the City Council to perform such duties.

    I ALSO told my elected officials the following OVER a year ago:

    “One specific area I am concerned about is the Development Services Director position that has been vacant since early 2009. This critical position administers the majority of the City’s Community Development Code (ECDC). In my opinion, the Code requires that the person(s) currently performing these very broad duties has been interviewed and confirmed by the City Council. The City must be able to represent to its citizens that these duties are being performed by a person with the highest qualifications. Department Directors are responsible for carrying out all directives as assigned by the Mayor, including, but not limited to, planning and directing the activities and staff in their assigned department, supervising and evaluating the work processes and assigned staff, controlling the financial integrity of the assigned budget, and insuring the delivery of quality public services. This is required per Ordinance 3279. I believe a Development Services Director needs to be interviewed, appointed and confirmed by the City Council. If not, the City’s Code should be updated to allow another “City Officer” to administer and enforce the provisions of the ECDC that the Development Services Director is responsible for. This may not be a practical alternative, however, as the position of Development Services Director is a full time position requiring the highest qualifications.”

    Despite all of my efforts to be helpful, my elected officials failed to update the Code and failed to budget for a full time Development Services Director for 2013. My elected officials failed to clarify whether or not the review of the SPECIFICATIONS of that position needs to take place whenever vacancies are filled or only when the vacancy is to be filled by a permanent appointment. My elected officials failed to initiate the competitive interview and appointment process during the fall of 2012, when they all knew the temporary appointment was expiring December 31, 2012. My elected officials allowed the temporary solution to this problem to expire on December 31st and then apparently allowed a City Employee to perform City Officer Duties between January 1, 2013 and April 23, 2013 without the City Council confirming that any City Employee could do so. Last evening, they voted to authorize such retroactively to January 1, 2013 – and through December 31, 2013. I’m not even sure retroactive confirmation is an option available to the City.

    The failure of my elected officials to address these issues is a huge disappointment. Sadly, I am questioning more and more whether or not it is wise to be an involved citizen.

  3. Codes which are in confict are a problem. Codes which over regulate are a problem. Codes that constrain our elected leaders to be able to react to real world issues are a problem. Codes that are unenforcable or too costly to enforce are a problem.

    It looks like the codes are often twisted, ignored, or mis-applied to meet a goal not clearly articulated. It also looks like all this code stuff is just making it more costly to govern ourselves.

  4. Solid points Darrol.

    An argument can be made that even a 99% error free code might still result in a high cost of City Government. Every small detail in our Code has the potential to increase the cost of City Government.

    On the other hand, a code full of errors, ambiguities and discrepancies is a nightmare. Such a poor Code can lead to inconsistent, arbitrary City government efforts that harm developers, investors, private citizens, etc., while wasting taxpayer dollars.

    As I have often said, I believe fixing the Code should be the City of Edmonds’ number one priority. I believe we must rewrite our Code with no further delay, and do so in a way that promotes EFFICIENT City Government .

  5. Do any other My Edmonds News readers have any thoughts on whether retroactive confirmation back to January 1, 2013 of a Temporary City Officer position is an option available to the City?

    Another thought that came to mind this afternoon is the related compensation. Will the City now retroactively pay the related Special Duty Pay and/or out of class pay related to the time period January 1, 2013 through April 23, 2013?

    I’m going to email Mayor Earling and ask him this directly.

  6. The March 13, 2012 (not 2013) City Council Meeting Agenda included Item AM- 4634 as follows:

    Subject Title:
    Code language regarding Edmonds City Code Chapter 2.10.

    Recommendation from Mayor and Staff:
    Review chapter 2.10 ECC, deliberate and propose revisions to the full Council to:
    • eliminate outdated language
    • address ambiguities elsewhere in the code
    • clarify the director confirmation process and
    • propose any other revisions that should be incorporated into this chapter of the ECC.

    Previous Council Action:
    On March 6, 2012, the City Council requested that this matter be sent to committee for review and discussion.

    Narrative:
    The attached revisions to chapter 2.10 ECC are intended as a guide to discussion of possible revisions to this chapter. During the recent confirmation of Rob Chave as acting Development Services Director, it became clear that this chapter did not adequately address the confirmation of acting directors and whether the City Council sought to confirm acting appointments. Before you is one possible approach to the confirmation of acting directors, but the City Council has the authority to require confirmation even of acting directors if it chooses to do so. The City Council did not give clear direction about the amendments it wanted to see in chapter 2.10 ECC. The attached revision, therefore, isn’t so much a recommended policy as it is a starting point for discussion.

    ///////////////////////////////////////////////////

    Included as a STARTING POINT FOR DISCUSSION in that March 2012 DRAFT was a proposed new Edmonds City Code (ECC) 2.10.010.E, as follows:

    E. Notwithstanding the provisions of this chapter, the mayor shall have the authority to appoint, without city council confirmation, an acting director to any of the positions set forth in subsection D, above, PROVIDED that any such acting directorship shall expire and be deemed vacant ____ days after the date of the appointment. The city council shall be given written notice about any such acting appointments including the effective date of the appointment.

    Regarding the proposed new ECC 2.10.010.E, I stated back in March of 2012 (in post #1 above) that the Council’s determination of the maximum number of days an acting director can be in place is very important. I also stated that I supported a short, but reasonable time period.

    Sadly, the updates to E.C.C. Chapter 2.10 still have not been completed. However, the concept of the MAXIMUM number of days an “acting” director can be in place was introduced well over a year ago.

    My OPINION is that it can be argued that nine plus months through December 31, 2012 was too long a period for an “acting” directorship. I believe that adding another year (2013) to the “acting” directorship term is even more questionable.

    I hope the City will address this “acting” directorship situation as well as the City’s recent RETROACTIVE appointment. I also hope that the Rewrite of the entire Code, including ECC Chapter 2.10 will be PRIORITIZED.

  7. The April 16, 2013 Edmonds City Council Approved Minutes are INACCURATE related to Agenda Item 3. N. The minutes state that:

    MAYOR PRO TEM PETSO MOVED, SECONDED BY COUNCILMEMBER BLOOM, TO
    SCHEDULE THIS ITEM ON NEXT WEEK’S AGENDA.

    Why does it say that Ms. Petso was functioning as Mayor Pro tem at that point in time? I believe she was functioning as City Council President and Mayor Earling was chairing the City Council meeting.

    Did Mayor Earling relinquish the chair to Ms. Petso in order to become actively involved in the debate? I don’t believe so as Mayor Earling eventually called for the related vote on this item.

    Moving on, Ms. Petso did not make the motion as documented in the April 16, 2013 Edmonds City Council Approved Minutes.

    The motion was made by Council Member Bloom.

    After Ms. Bloom made her motion, Mayor Earling did not ask for a second. AWC’s Mayor Handbook states that Mayor’s must see to it that all motions are properly dealt with as they arise.

    After Ms. Bloom’s motion, Mayor Earling stated:

    “If I could address it I would appreciate that.”

    Ms. Petso responded by saying: “I’ll second the motion.”

    Ms. Petso seemed to consider what to do next . . .she started to say “but I . . . “, and than stated “Is there any objection to the Mayor addressing this topic?”

    Mayor Earling spoke for almost exactly a minute, concluding by stating:

    “We don’t have anyone in charge down there.”

    Mayor Earling’s comments were followed by nearly a 10 second silence.

    Finally, Council Member Fraley-Monillas asked:

    “Clarification, what do you mean we don’t have anyone in charge now?”

    Mayor Earling responded:

    “We don’t have an interim Director on the second floor at this time (slight pause) because he is not physically here……”

    All of the above can be viewed online and I encourage those interested do so.

    I’m not sure what physically being here and/or being on vacation has to do with being in charge as an interim Director. I also don’t understand the Mayor’s concern about a 1 week confirmation delay if physical presence was required to be an interim Director.

    I wonder if the City will correct the April 16, 2013 City Council Approved Minutes.

  8. Glad to see that tonight the City Council is going to continue its review of chapter 2.10 ECC, deliberate, and give additional direction to the City Attorney. Many, many issues here, as discussed in much more detail in the article and posts above.

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