Edmonds City Council unable to reach consensus on appointment; vote postponed a week

Linda Hynd of the City Clerk's office distributes ballots to councilmembers, including Strom Peterson, left, and Diane Buckshnis. (Photos by Larry Vogel)
Linda Hynd of the City Clerk’s office distributes ballots to councilmembers, including Strom Peterson, left, and Diane Buckshnis. (Photos by Larry Vogel)

After 27 ballots failed to produce a winner, the Edmonds City Council voted Tuesday night to wait a week and then try again to agree on a candidate to fill Council Position 6, which was vacated by Frank Yamamoto when he retired at the end of 2013.

The council had spent the past two weeks interviewing the 15 candidates who had applied for the vacant seat, initially bringing some of them back for second interviews in an effort to learn more about them. Then, when that process came under fire by some who thought it showed favoritism to those candidates asked to return, Council President Diane Buckshnis announced that second interviews would be granted to anyone who wanted one.

On Tuesday night, after the council interviewed the last two candidates to take advantage of a second appearance — Deborah Anderson and Alvin Rutledge — Buckshnis said she had been asked to make a statement about the interview process, noting that the goal was “to ensure all applicants felt that they are treated fairly and equally.” You can see her complete statement at the end of this story.

Then, the six sitting councilmembers began the official process of selecting their new colleague, with each nominating one of the 15 candidates on which the entire council would vote — one ballot at a time. The first person to receive a majority of votes — four or more — would be the new councilmember, regardless of how many ballots it took.

Former Councilmember Steve Bernheim watches the voting unfold.
Candidates Steve Bernheim, left, and Stephen Schroeder watch the voting unfold.

20140211_schroederFrom the beginning, Councilmembers Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, Lora Petso and Joan Bloom supported just one candidate — former Edmonds City Councilmember Steve Bernheim. Petso said she was supporting Bernheim because during his interview he “emphasized that he would support process over outcome.” Fraley-Monillas added that the former councilmember is “a consensus builder” and that’s what the council needs.

The remaining three councilmembers —  Buckshnis, Strom Peterson and Kristiana Johnson — nominated three different individuals: Stephen Schroeder, Kathleen Dewhirst and Neil Tibbot, but eventually, as the balloting continued, those three narrowed their support to Schroeder, a former federal prosecutor that drew praise from Buckshnis for his “well-informed” answers to interview questions. “You can tell he does his homework.”

After 27 ballots, the two sides were deadlocked — three votes for Bernheim and three for Schroeder — and the council decided to retire into executive session for a 20-minute discussion on next steps.

When the council returned, Buckshnis made a motion to delay the vote a week — to Tuesday, Feb. 18 — which was unanimously approved.

Here is the statement from Diane Buckshnis on the Council interview process.

From the beginning, the goal of this Council was to ensure all applicants felt that they are treated fairly and equally; and this continues to be our objective.

The recommended process initially was going to follow the previous one that included two nights of extended interviews. But concerns were expressed that some applicants would become aware of questions ahead of time and this would be advantageous to them. Other Councilmembers were concerned that considering the number of applicants that the interviews would have to be shortened. In hindsight, the concern about applicants becoming aware of questions ahead of time was not resolved with all interviews being in one night because the interviews are viewable live. Regardless, a hybrid approach was adopted that allowed for shorter interviews of all applicants in one night. A second set of interviews was to be afforded to those candidates that may have been less known to the community and Councilmembers. I have not directly heard a single complaint from a citizen or applicants that this process was unfair.

Prior to the second set of interviews, some Councilmembers were uncomfortable that some applicants were afforded additional time. So the process was modified again to allow all applicants who wanted to have a second interview that right. Two of those applicants requested a second interview, with the others declining but providing written responses to the additional questions. We will now move forward with the process and select a Councilmember to join our team.

This hybrid approach may not have been a perfect process and the appointment process has never been a perfect process. But it is hard to argue that the applicants have not been afforded an opportunity to express in both writing and verbally: 1) Why they would like to join our Council, 2) Their perspectives about our community’s values and priorities, as well as 3) What their goals may be.

Considering the number of hours spent on this process, it may be valuable to consider adopting a formal policy for the future.

  1. While it is tempting to look at the time spent on this process as evidence of the dysfunctional nature of our city’s elected leaders, in this case, it appears that widespread application of open discussion, openly debating the standards to be used in interviews, and opportunities to hear from applicants on multiple occasions, have led to a wise delay. I do not envy the Council this task of appointment a peer, especially given how many of them first reached the Council through an appointment process – providing ready ammunition to their opponents by stigmatizing them as having not earned their position. While the voters may not have a direct say in this process, they’ll get a thorough look at the candidates, and will judge the Council on how they make this selection.

    There’s no need to rush to a decision on this, and I’m thankful that they are not. Gives me a chance to clarify my understanding not only of the thinking of the candidates, but of the thinking of our Council members. How they deal with people is far more telling than how they deal with legal questions.

  2. It is not surprising that the vote resulted in a deadlock.

    Candidate selection becomes an easier task when mutual priorities are defined and a common vision is present.

    When neither is present or ignored, the default is to push agendas. And thus, the result will be a deadlock.

  3. This is really sad but expected. One would have hoped the council would develop a process that was fair to all and would produce a new council member having the support of all the council. This would have been the case if had follow what some objective criteria for selection. Hiring employees, consultants, and other staff is always done with much more objectivity. When the list of 15 candidates was presented the quality of experience was impressive on paper and was reinforced with the interviews. With two former council members as candidates and others who have run for council before along with some impressive newcomers, the council could have created an analysis and voting process that would lead to a consensus candidate. But this is Edmonds, well known for its charm and a polarized council. With history as our guide it did not take a mental giant to conclude that the council would be as polarized on candidates as they often are on other issues. The pattern of 27 votes would suggest issues other than compromise at work. Creating a 4 member voting block seamed more important than selecting some fresh ideas.

    There are well established voting methods that are designed to produce comprise and select the candidate with the most overall support. Google “Rank Voting” and see how it works and how other cities have used this method for regular elections. Basically it requires someone to vote for a top choice and other choices at the same time. There are various ways to do the counting but all lead to a consensus. Had council used some form of rank voting we would not have produced the deadlock. Frankly this form of voting for regular elections would change the whole election to a much more positive process designed to give a more rounded selection of good candidates. Imagine if we were to have a council election for all seven at one time with the current council members AND the 15 original candidates all vying for 7 seats and we could each vote our top 7. Now that would truly be democracy at work vs what often is and election driven by special interests.

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