By a 4-3 margin, the Edmonds City Council voted Tuesday night to disband the Citizens Commission on the Compensation of Elected Officials.
The mission of the all-volunteer commission has been to review and set compensation and benefits of City of Edmonds elected officials, which includes the Mayor, City Councilmembers and the Municipal Court Judge. (By law, councilmembers can’t set their own salaries, although they can set the salaries of the mayor and judge.) But confusion surrounded the commission’s most recent recommendations to raise the mayor’s salary but not the council’s, and included accusations that the group didn’t have enough members to constitute a quorum. As a result, Council President Diane Buckshnis asked City Attorney Jeff Taraday to prepare a list of options for the council to consider regarding the commission’s future, including eliminating it altogether.
In the end, after several rounds of debate, the council did just that — despite concerns raised by Councilmembers Strom Peterson, Thomas Mesaros and Kristina Johnson that having an independent citizen commission, in Peterson’s words, “takes the politics out” of the compensation process.
However, Councilmember Joan Bloom — who voted with the majority to disband the commission — said that the action will allow the council to review other options for establishing councilmembers’ salaries. Also voting to eliminate the commission were Buckshnis and Councilmembers Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and Lora Petso.
The next step is for the City Attorney to draft an ordinance to repeal chapter 10.80 of the Edmonds City Code, which created the commission in the first place.
The council also heard from several citizens who came to testify regarding a proposed development plan for the Westgate neighborhood, approved by the Edmonds Planning Board, which includes options for more open space, improved walkability and in some areas taller (three- or four-story) buildings.
Most of those testifying were members of the Citizens Economic Development Commission (CEDC), including CEDC Chair Bruce Witenberg, who noted that the commission approved by a vote of 11-1 (one abstention) a white paper that “endorsed and supported the Planning Board’s recommendations for the redevelopment of Westgate.”
“It is my personal opinion that Edmonds citizens living outside of the Bowl deserve to have similar amenities to those living in the Bowl,” Witenberg said. “These include a lifestyle center, in a walkable community, with easy access to restaurants, services, housing, transportation and open spaces. Westgate is a major gateway to our community. We deserve to improve upon how this gateway currently portrays Edmonds.
Witenberg also noted that former Edmonds Economic Development Director Stephen Clifton was unable to attend Tuesday’s council meeting, but “gave me permission to voice his support for the reasons set forth in the CEDC white paper.”
Witenberg’s 25-year-old son Alex also offered testimony, from the perspective of young professionals who are choosing to make decisions about where to live “based on access to public transportation and walkability. Can they get from home to school, work or social events without having to drive? Can they get by without a car at all? Are there grocery stores and dining options nearby?” he asked.
“Edmonds now has the opportunity to redevelop Westgate and entice a portion of these young people to settle down, develop roots in this community and stay for the long term,” Alex Witenberg said.
Councilmember Petso said that while she appreciated the opinions of those who are members of the CEDC, she hopes that other citizens will weigh in on the Westgate proposal before the council decides whether to approve it.
Edmonds Development Director Shane Hope said during a break that while there won’t be another formal hearing on Westgate, the city council will consider it as part of the city’s broader comprehensive plan during its Aug. 19 council meeting. In addition, citizens will have an opportunity to offer comment on the plan during the public comment portion of the Aug. 26 council meeting, Hope said.
In other action, the council also heard a report from Councilmember Mesaros on work completed so far on a proposed draft evaluation process for Edmonds’ current city attorney, The Lighthouse Law Group.
— Larry Vogel contributed to this report