Why would anyone apply for Edmonds City Council? Here’s one citizen’s story

By Harry Gatjens
Special to MyEdmondsNews.com

Two weeks ago I was interviewed for the vacant position No. 7 on the Edmonds City Council. I didn’t get the appointment, but I thought it might be interesting for others to get an inside view of the process. The story comes in three parts. (You can read part two here and part three here.)

Part One: “Why Would Anyone Do This?”

As I’m not a politician by trade, this was the question my friends asked as we met for breakfast at a local coffee shop. Also it was a question I continually asked myself.

I have been watching the Edmonds City Council meetings on television for the past several years. I find the sessions informative, occasionally amusing, and always a good look into what our city government is doing. A couple of months ago I watched an obviously annoyed Mayor Haakensen address the council concerning what he believed to be an irresponsible decision to purchase a specific piece of land (the old Skippers restaurant location). I had never seen the Mayor quite so annoyed; this prompted me to attend the next meeting in person.

I would suggest that everyone do this from time to time. The meetings are open to the public, and they are much different than on television. It really gives you a feel for how decisions are made on behalf of those of us who live and work in Edmonds.

Harry Gatjens

For many years now, I’ve volunteered my help producing a weekly community television show on Comcast’s Public Access channel. The show focuses on current issues that affect our communities, both large and small, and our host is an experienced interviewer so the half-hour is usually quite informative. The Skippers land purchase controversy seemed right for our viewers, so after the Council meeting I invited the Mayor to be a guest on the show and discuss the topic in both the broad and narrow sense. For example, what are the options for Edmonds and the Skippers property in particular, and how do other cities of less-than-metropolis size deal with the issue of potential long-term investment when they are simultaneously struggling with shrinking budgets for day-to-day operations?

He agreed to come on the show and did an excellent job of exploring the issue. (You can see a replay on YouTube.)

During the course of our discussions about the show, I told the Mayor about how I felt about that and other issues faced by the City. It was my feeling that the council was being dysfunctional, with a lot of petty politicking during the meetings, flip-flopping on decisions week to week , talking about wanting “the citizens’ input” but only getting it after committing the City to a course of action and then having to reverse course. As specific examples, I cited the Skippers Property and the Climate Solutions contract.

I didn’t expect it, so I was pleased at how open the Mayor was in talking with me about the City’s issues. Before you could say “What time is the next ferry?” I had volunteered to help in any way I could.

Soon after this, Councilmember David Orvis resigned from the City Council. I had another meeting with the Mayor, this time about Internet reception in the Council Chambers (one of the tasks for which I was volunteering) and lamented that I would like to seek Mr. Orvis’ seat but was uncertain about working with a group of people who displayed the kind of dysfunction I had seen on television and at later meetings. The Mayor encouraged me to get involved, pointing out that “the only way any city gets a great City Council is for good and interested people to apply.” He had encountered others with my doubts and felt strongly that the healthiest, strongest change grows from within. This inspired me to give the idea some serious consideration.

The Mayor also pointed out that applying for the post would give me a better idea about how the process worked, which in turn would give me a better appreciation for the possibilities inherent in local government.

I didn’t have insider connections, and some of my community service has been in Seattle rather than Edmonds (although I’ve lived here my whole life).  But I did have a sincere desire to make things better, a sound reasoning mind, and years of experience helping diverse people move toward consensus and mutual respect. In addition, my background is in financial areas and analysis, which are skills almost every city, and Edmonds in particular, needs in these challenging times when budgets are being slashed and deficits are being forecast.

In the end, I decided Edmonds could use my skills right now. Next thing I knew, I was having breakfast with my friends and reporting to them that I had applied for the open position on the Edmonds City Council.

Coming Friday: Part 2, The Application Process


  1. Great work, Harry. Some common threads there in the way the Council deliberations are perceived – certainly provided me the same motivation to try to help. Like you, I’m not ready to write them off – they are OUR Council. I hold out the hope that the divisions will heal somewhat, and they’ll pull together as a team to debate vigorously, but with civility. If not, well, there’s always next November to clean house.
    Looking forward to Part 2 of your series.

  2. Interesting, but I am hearing the same old stuff.

    Folks who say “petty politicking” typically mean they disagree with decisions the council makes.

    You’ll also noticed he only interview the Mayor. Maybe he should interviewed the council members to see what they think.

  3. No, what I meant was that the council engaged in personal attacks on each other during the public meetings. I find this distaseful and not inthe best intersts of the Citizens of Edmonds.

    As for the extent of who I interviewed, perhaps you should wait and read the rest of the article before passing judgement.

  4. Harry thanks for the article..my family has been here for over 70 years and have also avoided getting into the local political scene..but after watching the council become paralyzed on a vision for this town, the constant bickering, the for lease signs popping up all over town,the continued struggle to figure out the waterfront scene, the lack of any idea on how to generate revenue for the city during a tough economic downturn (when other “small” towns like Bothell have grabbed the bull by the horns and have come together to create a vision that will be creating over 600 local jobs and millions in needed revenue), the city manger subject, the attempted purchase of property while upside down w the budget….I have also committed to get involved..I look forward to parts 2 and 3
    Todd..Thank-you for your thoughtful and polite posts..the only part I am struggling with is the “our council”..the problem I am having and others I talk to is the fact that 2 of the council members lost in their elections, yet were appointed by this council..if they lost in an election doesn’t that mean “we” the voters did not want them on council? Not trying to be confrontational just trying to get my arms around it..thx

  5. Harry,

    By “council engaged in personal attacks”, do you mean “certain members” are engaging in personal attacks. D.J. Wilson is known for this, and the other members can’t control this. So is it fair to brand the whole council as “poliking” when only some members are actually doing this?

    Also, it’s clear you favor the Mayor’s policies, which is fair. But that just says you disagree with the council, not that the council is “politiking”.

    And why didn’t you interview council members on your show? Maybe you should ask them about all of this. I think you’ll find they are reasonable who just disagree with you.

  6. I took the bait once. I won’t do it again. Read the entire series, if after doing so you still think I am being unfair to the council or have an agenda feel free to contact me directly.

  7. – To Michael Burdett;
    Regarding “our council”, I agree with the sentiment you feel. My intention was to identify that this Council is what we have in Edmonds, and we can either stagnate further, or move forward with what we’ve got. As Colin Powell says, “Get mad… then get over it.”

  8. Thanks for the information, Harry. Well written & well thought out. I look forward to the next 2 parts.

    Todd & Mike, I appreciate your input, too. Let us all make a pact to no longer reply to Mr. Negative in his constant diatribes attacking any and all who disagree with him. That way maybe he will hold his breath, stomp his feet and go home. That way we can keep the level of discourse elevated.

  9. Harry,
    I enjoyed your presentation before the Council when you applied for the Council position. It was well thought out, and informative. I look forward to hearing what else you have to say.

  10. Harry,
    That’s a dodge not an answer. I went to the youtube site, there were no other interviews with other council members that I could see. Let me know if I am wrong.

    The interview is clearly designed to poo-poo those who oppose taller buildings.

    How can I take seriously an interview that is so one sided. And how can I take seriously a series articles that doesn’t look at the other side?

    -Dave (a.k.a Mr. Negative)

  11. I think the problem here is you aren’t commenting on what the story is about. The story is not about the Skippers property, it is about applying for the vacancy on the Council and why I chose to run.

    It doesn’t really matter whether or not the council is dysfunctional, the point was that my impression was thet they were and that’s why I turned in an application. If you disagree with my analysis, that is fine. It’s my analysis and it affected my decision to apply, not anyone else’s.

    If you wish to debate the merits of the Skipper’s property I would be happy to do that with you. However, this is not the proper forum for that. We can debate that issue any time you want anywhere you want, but that is not the point of this story and I don’t think we should cloud this story by debating a separate topic here.

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