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.
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).Â 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