The second Coffee with Harry of the 2013 election was held Thursday afternoon with guests Kristiana Johnson and Randy Hayden, who met last week with a small group of concerned citizens to answer questions about themselves and the city.
First, candidates were asked about the City’s Risk Management Reserve fund, which has a targeted balance of over $600,000. The fund has been depleted to almost nothing. If there is a budget surplus at the end of 2013, should this fund be replenished, before money is spent on any new programs? Both answered that yes, this should be one of the first uses of any surplus. to replenish this fund in its entirety.
The candidates were then asked about the upcoming budget and the fact that the Mayor has set aside $600,000 for the Council to allocate to projects of their own choosing. “It seems like a lot of money to be unallocated, what are your thoughts and what would you do with the money?”
Johnson suggested that two positions, one in the police department and one in the planning department, be filled. Johnson also thought that completing the city’s fiber optic network would be a good use of one-time funds that would allow Edmonds to capitalize on its fiber optic capacity. Further, she thought that money should be designated to transportation issues and perhaps add to the police department to begin to rebuild the street crimes unit.
Hayden said that his first priority would be public safety and getting more police on the streets. Hayden also said he would support street repairs and overlays. It is hard to attract newcomers to the city when they have to dodge potholes.
The candidates were then asked if they had considered doing street repairs with less expensive alternatives such as chip seal.
Hayden said that he would be open to exploring alternatives for accomplishing the work in a cheaper manner. He said that street paving costs more in Washington state than in any other state so we need to be open to alternatives.
Johnson said that while she is not an expert in road repair and maintenance, she didn’t know that the Public Works Director has included chip seal as one of the potential solutions to road maintenance.
City code updates
Both candidates agreed with a question related to updating the city’s code. They both said that this should be a priority for 2014.
Johnson said that the project had been pushed back on the priority list when the city decided not to fund the development director position in this last year’s budget. The city’s manager for the project can use a mapping program that while not correcting the code would at least find out where the inconsistencies were so rewriting could be focused in the appropriate areas.
Hayden said that he thought it was a priority and that in his opinion the government has just become too complicated for people to deal with. Without knowing all the other priorities, he said he couldn’t be certain as to how high the place this but he thought it was important project. Having a complicated code not only costs citizens and the city alike time and money, but inconsistencies can lead to lawsuits, he noted.
The candidates were then asked for their position on “development agreements”, “developer incentives” and exceptions made to use for projects in Edmonds.
Hayden said that as a builder himself he thinks the codes need to be simple and that all these side arrangements become ridiculous. The code should be in a code and a line drawn in the sand. As small developers are not eligible for these code variances, the only people who benefit are larger developers.There should be no gray areas for negotiation, he added.
Johnson said the city already has provisions for development agreements for projects with slight variations from the code in exchange for certain concessions from the developer. Johnson said that these are already part of the provisions for incentives, where in exchange for certain changes intended for the public benefit, higher building heights or other concessions could be made. She said the Compass Development on Edmonds Way was built using these incentives. However, the council was unhappy with how that particular development has turned out and has changed some of the incentives.
Supporting local businesses
What should local businesses expect from the city and the council to help them be more successful? was the next question.
Hayden said that the city council and the city should push for more tourism to bring additional customers to patronize local businesses.
This question was then asked: With the state eliminating its tourism department, how did the candidates propose to promote tourism in Edmonds?
Hayden felt that the city should attempt to hire someone on the city staff to promote tourism. He felt that the position could pay for itself by generating tax revenue from those coming and spending money in the city. He mentioned that there are a large number of things that could bring tourists to Edmonds: The Edmonds Center for the Arts, the waterfront, the Fourth Avenue arts corridor and others all could be attractive to tourists if properly promoted. One of the problems identified is a lack of places for visitors to stay overnight to make their visits last longer.
Johnson pointed out that the counties have taken on the responsibility for promoting tourism now that the state is stopped. The Snohomish County Tourism Board has found that the third-largest source of dollars in the county is tourism. They are working on joint programs with attractions in cities to expand this.
A question came up as to whether elected officials should make decisions based upon what citizens want versus what in their opinion is in the best interest of the citizens.
Hayden says that is a difficult question as you can’t go poll the citizens on each issue and if you make your decision just based upon citizen input, you can find this squeaky wheel getting the grease to the detriment of the overall community. He said that he is guided by what he hears from the public but knowing he can’t survey the entire community he also needs to take into account what he finds to be in the best interests of the overall populace.
Johnson said she takes a slightly different approach as the city has reached out to the community in the development of the strategic plan. The strategic plan shows what has been determined to be the priorities of the large group of people who participated in the plan.
A citizen pointed out that’s the strategic plan was approved back in February. However, there seems to be little movement on accomplishing the goals, specifically those for which the Council was designated as the “driver” of the issue. What would each candidate’s position be in moving strategic plan implementation forward?
Johnson said that budgeting by priorities is a key component of putting the councils money toward strategic planning objectives. The new finance director was hired, in part, because he has prior experience in the budgeting by priorities. Johnson said that she was disappointed that the Council failed to tackle the Harbor Square project, as that was one of those items that was given high priority in the strategic plan.
Hayden agreed that budgeting by priorities is a key tool in accomplishing the objectives of the strategic plan. He felt that if the objectives of the strategic plan are considered in developing budget priorities that would be a great step forward. He reiterated his position that public safety issues need to be at the top of the list.
Johnson was asked about her vote on changing downtown building heights from 25 feet plus 5 to a flat 30-foot limit. Was it her intention to continue to support taller buildings?
Johnson countered that her action was being incorrectly portrayed by the citizen. The reason for the vote was to bring the city into compliance with a ruling by the Washington state Supreme Court. The city had “guidelines” for building heights that had been ruled unacceptable by the court. In order to be consistent with the court’s ruling, the city changed the standards for the BD1 zone to be consistent with all BD zones.
The citizen countered that the city position for over 30 years had been a 25-foot limit with a 5-foot bonus for roof modulation. Now it has been changed to a standard 30 feet. Is it Johnson’s intention to continue to support taller buildings?
Johnson further pointed out that there is no longer a trade to get the extra 5 feet; now all buildings, regardless of height, are subject to design standards.
This led to another question, more succinct, of just “what is your position on building heights in Edmonds?”
Hayden answered that he was dead set against any increases in building heights in the downtown/waterfront area.
Johnson answered that she had just voted to decrease building heights on Edmonds Way.
Johnson was asked about her vote earlier in the week on the Harbor Square building heights.
She flatly denied that she voted for increased heights; that the vote had been on whether to continue to work on the Port’s plan and she felt that additional work would be beneficial as opposed to just rejecting the plan.
Property rights and gun rights
Hayden was then asked about his positions in reference to a “vote smart project” that pertains to property rights and gun rights.
Hayden said that he “believed that governments should not take individuals properties without fair compensation” and that he was a strong supporter of the Second Amendment.
Challenged on how this position coexisted with his position on building rights, Hayden said that he believed that property owners should work with the local codes but he was strongly opposed the government’s taking possession of property via eminent domain.
City council minutes of executive sessions
The candidates were then asked if they supported the keeping of minutes and/or audio recording of city council executive sessions.
Hayden said he was a strong believer in open government and that with a rare few exceptions things shouldn’t be discussed out of the purview of the public. Executive sessions should be recorded and there might be occasions where release of such minutes and/or recordings should be delayed until with every issue had been resolved, but ultimately all Council discussions should be open to public review.
Johnson saw more gray area in this matter. She cited advice from the city’s attorney that such records should not be kept. She did go over the types of issues that should be discussed in executive session and felt that for those issues. She pointed out that no votes were taken in executive session, all those need to be done in public sessions. She did agree with the questioners, that at the very least, there should be more information given as to the purpose of particular executive session. Johnson said that she does agreed with the current practice.
Council candidates elected by district
The candidates were asked whether or not there is advantage to having just six members elected by districts as opposed to having all seven council members elected at large.
Hayden said that he wasn’t sure there is advantage into breaking the city into districts and in fact just drawing the lines for the districts could be time-consuming and difficult for no apparent gain.
Johnson said she couldn’t see any advantage to breaking into districts either. She felt that the size of the city didn’t make districting an advantage.
We want to thank the two candidates, and also Brooke and Randy Baker for hosting these coffees at Chanterelle restaurant. They provide both the meeting space and free coffee for anyone who wants to attend. It is a great public service for their community. And thanks to Rachel, who was our server.
The final coffee, with council candidates Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and Ron Wambolt, will be this Thursday, Oct.17 at 10 a.m. at Chanterelle, 316 Main St.
— By Harry Gatjens