After 27 ballots failed to produce a winner, the Edmonds City Council voted Tuesday night to wait a week and then try again to agree on a candidate to fill Council Position 6, which was vacated by Frank Yamamoto when he retired at the end of 2013.
The council had spent the past two weeks interviewing the 15 candidates who had applied for the vacant seat, initially bringing some of them back for second interviews in an effort to learn more about them. Then, when that process came under fire by some who thought it showed favoritism to those candidates asked to return, Council President Diane Buckshnis announced that second interviews would be granted to anyone who wanted one.
On Tuesday night, after the council interviewed the last two candidates to take advantage of a second appearance — Deborah Anderson and Alvin Rutledge — Buckshnis said she had been asked to make a statement about the interview process, noting that the goal was “to ensure all applicants felt that they are treated fairly and equally.” You can see her complete statement at the end of this story.
Then, the six sitting councilmembers began the official process of selecting their new colleague, with each nominating one of the 15 candidates on which the entire council would vote — one ballot at a time. The first person to receive a majority of votes — four or more — would be the new councilmember, regardless of how many ballots it took.
From the beginning, Councilmembers Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, Lora Petso and Joan Bloom supported just one candidate — former Edmonds City Councilmember Steve Bernheim. Petso said she was supporting Bernheim because during his interview he “emphasized that he would support process over outcome.” Fraley-Monillas added that the former councilmember is “a consensus builder” and that’s what the council needs.
The remaining three councilmembers — Buckshnis, Strom Peterson and Kristiana Johnson — nominated three different individuals: Stephen Schroeder, Kathleen Dewhirst and Neil Tibbot, but eventually, as the balloting continued, those three narrowed their support to Schroeder, a former federal prosecutor that drew praise from Buckshnis for his “well-informed” answers to interview questions. “You can tell he does his homework.”
After 27 ballots, the two sides were deadlocked — three votes for Bernheim and three for Schroeder — and the council decided to retire into executive session for a 20-minute discussion on next steps.
When the council returned, Buckshnis made a motion to delay the vote a week — to Tuesday, Feb. 18 — which was unanimously approved.
Here is the statement from Diane Buckshnis on the Council interview process.
From the beginning, the goal of this Council was to ensure all applicants felt that they are treated fairly and equally; and this continues to be our objective.
The recommended process initially was going to follow the previous one that included two nights of extended interviews. But concerns were expressed that some applicants would become aware of questions ahead of time and this would be advantageous to them. Other Councilmembers were concerned that considering the number of applicants that the interviews would have to be shortened. In hindsight, the concern about applicants becoming aware of questions ahead of time was not resolved with all interviews being in one night because the interviews are viewable live. Regardless, a hybrid approach was adopted that allowed for shorter interviews of all applicants in one night. A second set of interviews was to be afforded to those candidates that may have been less known to the community and Councilmembers. I have not directly heard a single complaint from a citizen or applicants that this process was unfair.
Prior to the second set of interviews, some Councilmembers were uncomfortable that some applicants were afforded additional time. So the process was modified again to allow all applicants who wanted to have a second interview that right. Two of those applicants requested a second interview, with the others declining but providing written responses to the additional questions. We will now move forward with the process and select a Councilmember to join our team.
This hybrid approach may not have been a perfect process and the appointment process has never been a perfect process. But it is hard to argue that the applicants have not been afforded an opportunity to express in both writing and verbally: 1) Why they would like to join our Council, 2) Their perspectives about our community’s values and priorities, as well as 3) What their goals may be.
Considering the number of hours spent on this process, it may be valuable to consider adopting a formal policy for the future.