Edmonds City Council candidates share views during well-attended coffee

Harry Gatjens moderates the event.
Harry Gatjens moderates the event while Emily Hill looks on. (Photos by Larry Vogel)

It was standing-room only Thursday at Chanterelle for the first of this year’s “Coffee with Harry” candidate get-togethers. While scheduled to start at 9:45 a.m., much of the seating was already taken by 9:30. By the time things got started, the crowd was overflowing outside of the area provided by our generous hosts.

The draw was the opportunity to ask questions of both candidates for Edmonds City Council Position 7. Lora Petso, the incumbent, and Neil Tibbott, her challenger, both had agreed to meet and answer questions from citizens.

The meeting started with introductions from the two candidates. Tibbott went first and mentioned his 15 years of residency in the city and love for the “feel” of Edmonds and its neighborhoods. He talked of his work on transportation issues and his membership in and current chairmanship of the planning board. He expressed his desire to participate more in helping Edmonds in the future.

Petso spoke of her nine years of service on the council and being a member of several of the subcommittees, as well as serving as council president pro-tem twice and as council president once. She mentioned her training as a lawyer but her decision to run a small business with her husband in lieu of practicing law. She said she thoroughly enjoys interacting with the citizens in helping them deal with their concerns.

Lora Petso
Lora Petso

The first question for the candidates was a reference to the tension that is easily recognizable during council meetings and what they thought should be done to produce more “civil” interaction. Petso stated that the council had to have sessions with a consultant to improve communication between councilmembers and from it they have laid some ground rules about not trying to surprise each other by bringing items up without previously letting the group know what was coming. She stated that members tended to forget those ground rules and that efforts need to be made to remind everyone periodically to show those courtesies. Petso also felt that citizens could help by emailing the councilmembers and asking them to remember those ground rules.

Tibbott said that he obviously had not been a part of the trainings from the consultant but his impression was that councilmembers had differences of opinion outside of the meetings and that those differences spilled over during council meetings. He pledged to look for ways for the councilmembers to have more positive interactions, bearing in mind the limitations on outside meetings, which hopefully would bring in a better understanding and appreciation for each other’s viewpoint when items were discussed at council meetings themselves.

Neil Tibbott
Neil Tibbott

A citizen then asked how the candidates felt the city ranked in the areas of openness, consistency and listening to citizens’ input. Tibbott said that he would look forward to having open communications with citizens as it’s something he already practices in life and will continue it as a councilmember.

Petso felt that the city had improved on its openness with the citizens, an example being the financial statements being more consistent about what they show. She felt that there still needed to be improvement in the area of consistency; for example in the last couple of weeks there were some items that had been approved to be paid out of one fund and now were being paid out of another fund with no clear explanation. She thought that listening to citizens’ input was critical and was a rule that she set for herself.

The next question was directed specifically to Petso. It was about the proposal from the Port of Edmonds to develop the Harbor Square area and the council’s decision to reject the port’s proposal. It was stated at the time that the proposal should be re-examined in conjunction with the overall waterfront plans. The citizen had seen no progress on this idea in the two years since.

Petso said that to the best of her knowledge the port has not changed its plan at all since that date. As far as the overall waterfront, she felt that was being considered in the city’s overall comprehensive plan. She thought some changes had been proposed but could not remember precisely what they were or, how the votes had gone. She offered to get back to the citizen when she had an opportunity to review the records.

A question was asked about the tire crumb rubber issue at the Woodway Campus and what can be done in the future to help protect the city from possible health and environmental issues that may result from installing the material. Tibbott thanked the citizen and her group for their continued efforts in this area. He also mentioned it was good that they are continuing to provide new information regarding the effects. Tibbott felt there was a need to improve the notification process to ensure that citizens can have input far earlier in the planning process. He gave as an example the fact that his neighbors have worked for three years on a traffic issue in their neighborhood before resolution was in place.

Petso stated that we definitely need a system where the city has some say in future construction of fields within the city and even those outside the city where the City of Edmonds is a participant in field use. She thinks it’s important that Edmonds gives itself a voice both to protect its citizens and to watch out for potential liability. Even if we are a small contributor to the project, there is potential to be held responsible for all the liability from it, she said.

Cliff Sanderlin asks a question of the candidates.
Cliff Sanderlin asks a question of the candidates.

The candidates were asked what specific plans they might have for protecting the urban forest that would gain acceptance of the populace. Petso said that the council has a Tree Board, which she had supported establishing, and that the Tree Board had proposed a code that was perhaps “overreaching” in its efforts by requiring property owners to get permission to cut down trees on their own yards. Therefore, public reaction to the proposed code was so overwhelming that it was never seriously considered. There may well have been exit provisions in the code to help preserve the urban forest but as the code was sent back, those items were never considered. The council decided instead to accept the planning board’s recommendation to come up with an overall urban forest proposal and then write a new tree code to fit.

Tibbott said that the planning board tries to deal with preservation of natural habitat as part of its normal procedures. He felt that the problem with the tree code was that it was developed without being part of an overarching plan for protection of the urban forest. And it was the planning boards position that the code should be pulled back until the overarching plan was in place.

Tibbott then continued on that he has noticed more and more solar installations around town and that Petso had voted against installation of a solar system on the Frances Anderson Center. Petso responded that she was not opposed to solar systems but that the financial plan for the system on the Frances Anderson Center amounted to an illegal gift city assets to a private project.

There were additional questions asked about the city’s finances, economic development, what is the best way for citizens to be heard, dealing with Edmonds diverse community members, preservation of historic Edmonds and more on Harbor Square.

You can watch a video of the entire meeting (about an hour) below:

Also, if you don’t see the answer to your question answered during Coffee with Harry, both candidates offered up their email so you can ask them directly. They are

Lora Petso                   [email protected]

Neil Tibbott                [email protected]

Huge thank yous go out to both candidates, the citizens who were able attend and participate, and especially to Brooke and Randy Baker, owners of Chanterelle, who have hosted these events for the last six years. As always the food and service was spectacular.

— By Harry Gatjens



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