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

By Harry Gatjens

Special to

We continue with the story of one citizen’s inside view of applying for a vacant Edmonds City Council seat. You can view Part One here.

Part Two: The Application Process

Edmonds City Council Member David Orvis vacated his seat — the one in which I was interested — for the remainder of its present term, so a replacement city councilmember would be appointed by the City Council for the balance of that time, rather than holding an expensive public election. Whoever would win the appointment would then have to stand for election at the end of the term in order to keep the seat. This is the standard procedure in most cities.

In order to get the appointment, interested citizens need to fill out an application, get it notarized, and file it with the City Clerk. The application asks several questions about qualifications and ideas for the City. I took my application to a local bank that offered notary services. The notary asked me what the City planned to do about the Mayor’s vacancy. Turns out she and her son also watch the Edmonds City Council on television and were up on all the local issues.

She is a great example of alert, informed citizenship. I found that inspiring.

Harry Gatjens

Next, I decided to visit with several current councilmembers to introduce myself, get their input. I shared my concerns, laid out some areas where I thought I might help, and asked their advice about whether to go ahead with my application. After all, if this was to be an exercise in futility, I’d rather find out in advance and not go through the trouble. So, I was quite open with them about areas where I felt the council could improve. None of them seemed to take offense at my observations or ideas. They seemed actually to listen, which I found encouraging.

A few of the current councilmembers suggested that I also could contribute to the city by joining some of its committees, which are each dedicated to exploring solutions for specific challenges. I might be useful on the Levy Committee or the Citizens Technology Advisory Committee (CTAC) if I am not successful in my bid for Position No. 7.

So, I had submitted my application and chatted with most of the councilmembers about my ideas. Now, the interview!

Fourteen applicants were scheduled to interview for the position. The interviews were to be held in an open meeting, and televised both live, and twice a day for the next week. The order for interviews was random; I was scheduled for the 11th interview. Each applicant would have five minutes to speak, followed by ten minutes of questions from councilmembers.

As I had never done this before, I decided to come early and see how the other interviews went. I wanted to get a feel for the atmosphere, check out my competition, and see what issues they brought up. (I felt a twinge of anxiety for Paul Anderson, an old classmate from high school, who had to go first.)

After watching the first several interviews and hearing the councilmembers’ questions, I began to gain some confidence. I realized that my years of staying informed about city matters and the care I had taken in studying the current issues meant that I actually knew the answers to those questions and could respond with a degree of authority over the subject matter. Others may not agree with my positions but they would at least see that I had strongly felt, considered opinions.

I have always believed that integrity is the key to situations like this, so I didn’t want to couch my answers in ways that attempt to please everyone and say not much of anything. My plan was to straightforward and discuss things as I saw them. I didn’t back down about the Council having flip-flopped on issues, or their practice of descending into petty politics during meetings. I pointed out that the citizens of Edmonds deserve better government than that. However, I also offered solutions for these problems that I would bring to the Council if selected. I had then, and still have, no doubt that they each have the best interests of the City at heart, but they needed help to overcome the infighting and grudge-carrying that had taken over recent meetings.

More importantly, I had specific ideas for what to do about the city’s budget over the next five years. The Council is also struggling with the question of whether to continue with the current Mayor-and-City-Council form of government, or whether to switch to a City Manager format. I am open to both suggestions but was unwilling to commit to either one yet as I don’t believe all the facts are in. If it does seem important to switch, it would go on a ballot; but I wasn’t willing to commit to putting it on the ballot until we had decided whether or not it was worth recommending to the citizens. This is another issue where performing due diligence on the issue beforehand will make the City Council a better governmental body for the citizens of Edmonds.

My theory is that if we do our homework and give the citizens clear options, we can trust the citizens of Edmonds to make the right choices. Of course, everyone agrees with a statement like that in public; the challenge is to put it into practice.

If you’d like to see more, you can watch the interview on YouTube at and

One of the councilmembers had asked each applicant what their pet project would be if they were appointed to the seat. Everyone seemed to have a specific issue they wanted to tackle. Everyone, except me. I have no special-interest agenda except in my role as a citizen volunteering to serve the City, and my skills in certain areas. I have great faith that the citizens of Edmonds can make their own choice about the projects they’d like to see in their city, and it would be our job to provide unbiased facts about those decisions and, where possible, engage in projects the citizens chose.

In the end, I was satisfied with the interview and felt I had done a good job. I was prepared with specifics, I didn’t duck issues, and I was true to my values and beliefs. If you should ever feel the urge to apply for the City Council, I would recommend that you do the same. Then, whether you get the job or not, you won’t have to second-guess your words or your intent down the road.

Coming Saturday: Part 3, The Decision

  1. I met Harry to discuss the executive summary summaries he provided to us at City Council and encouraged him to apply. Harry did a great interview and was one of my top three. I am very glad he will be working with me on the Citizen’s Levy Committee as his ability to work with numbers and logic will be an asset to this group.

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