One citizen’s quest for an Edmonds City Council seat, part three

By Harry Gatjens

Special to

Here’s the final installment of one citizen’s inside description of applying for a vacant Edmonds City Council seat. You can view Part One here and Part Two here.

Part Three: The Decision

The following Tuesday, one week after the interviews, the selection was made by the Council. Not having been through this before, I wasn’t sure what would happen. Would they discuss each candidate openly? Nothing would be more embarrassing than hearing “What do you think about Harry?” followed by “Oh, I didn’t like him at all,” knowing it would be broadcast on local television in front of everyone I know … and repeated in endless re-runs.

Of course, the City Council isn’t interested in embarrassing anyone; so there’s really nothing to worry about. What happens is, each council member nominates one candidate. Then they vote, but only for those nominated. They continue to vote until one candidate gets the majority (four) of the votes. If you don’t receive a nomination in the first round, you might be nominated in a subsequent round; nominations can be re-opened if the Council becomes hung without a clear majority favorite.

Harry Gatjens

Two councilmembers nominated the same candidate (two votes) and each of the others nominated someone different. They took a vote without discussion of the candidates, and kept voting until a majority picked the same person. With each vote, one more councilmember picked the eventual appointee, Lora Petso; it took three votes to win.

While most of the other 13 may have felt relieved, as I did, at the lack of public discussion about our individual traits, I’m not sure it’s good for the citizens at large not to know why the Council chose one candidate over the others. As much as I feel curious to know more, I think the procedure worked well.

This was my first application to work in an Edmonds city position, so while it may not seem surprising that I was not nominated, I was nevertheless disappointed. It may have been a strategic mistake not to have a specific issue that I wanted to champion through the city budget; and I had not campaigned with local unions or political parties for their endorsement. But in the end, my ideas were heard and some people actually liked what I had to say. One high-profile citizen told me I had been “too honest.” That’s a comment I’ll accept any day, and I took it as a compliment.

On the day of the final selection, almost all of the applicants showed up early for the meeting. It was kind of like we had developed a kinship. It was nice to greet each other, wish each other well, and share our ideas for the future. Another positive return that I got out of the experience was to see how willing our mayor and councilmembers are to take the time to meet with citizens, discuss their ideas and share advice. I think this is one of the advantages of being in a city like Edmonds. Elected officials are accessible and genuinely interested in the people they represent.

You might be surprised to learn that this story has a happy ending. I was appointed to two City committees after the City Council decision had been made — the Levy Committee, which is studying what is necessary for the City’s financial health in the long-term; and CTAC, which is looking at how the City can leverage its fiber-optic network to attract more revenue and/or more business to the City in the future. This demonstrates that whenever any of us puts ourselves forward to serve Edmonds, we can feel confident that councilmembers are generally open to our ideas and willing to accept our personal offers of contribution for issues that are critical to the City, even if they haven’t known us for very long.

It’s one thing to apply for a City Council vacancy appointment, and another to consider running for the same office. Will I run in the future? I am really not sure. There is a lot to political campaigning that is distasteful these days. But if I could figure out how to campaign in a positive way that left the city a better place for my having run, then I might. Whether or not I do, I have made a lot of new friends and acquaintances from this process, and all of them have an interest in Edmonds. I’m grateful for that, and glad I applied.

In the end, I hope this story will encourage you to think of ways you can get engaged in Edmonds, whether as part of the City government and its committees, or part of the social and church organizations that work to make our community a better place. We’re so lucky to live in this special city; I hope you’ll consider how you might become more involved.

  1. Harry – great set of articles describing your experiences. Happy to have you in there on the Levy Commission and CTAC, lending your experience and energy to building our future.
    To paraphrase my hero, John Boyd, – It’s not the position you hold, it’s what you do that matters.

  2. Harry – Thank you for taking the time to both apply for the position and the write about the experience. Good luck with the work on the committees and thank you for your efforts on behalf of the city.

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