One by one, six candidates came before the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night, making their case for why they should be appointed to the council’s vacant Position 2 seat.
The six are among 12 total vying to fill the two years left for Council Position 2, which was held by Mike Nelson until he was elected mayor in November. The other six candidates will be interviewed Thursday night, Jan. 23 following a brief council business meeting, which starts at 6 p.m.
Here is a summary of the Tuesday night comments from each candidate, in order of their appearance:
Alicia Crank is a five-plus-year resident of Edmonds who currently serves on the Edmonds Planning Board and as vice chair of the Snohomish County/Paine Field Airport Commission. Crank has run twice before for the council, and lost in November to Vivian Olson. Crank has also served on the boards of the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce, Senior Center and Sister City Commission. She works as corporate relations officer at YWCA Seattle/King/Snohomish.
Crank began by stating that early in her career, when she served as a banker, “my mentor taught me to let your work precede you and everything you go after. I’ve carried that advice for the almost 25 years.” As an example, Crank cited several events she has launched since living in Edmonds, including last year’s Edmonds International Women’s Day.
Noting her decades of experience serving on both public and private boards, Crank pointed to the importance of having diverse opinions on the council. “I think the catalyst to make it all work is to make sure we are all being respectful of one another, whether we agree or disagree, and to be able come to a happy medium because we are all here to do the same thing — which is to serve the community at large,” she said. It’s also important for councilmembers “to challenge each other…and understand all sides” to be able to make the best decisions,” she said. Later in the interview, she stressed that “my leanings have always been to what’s factual, not because someone said I should vote a certain way.”
Among the ideas Crank said she’d like to prioritize if she were appointed would be developing an app for visitors that could highlight all Edmonds businesses. She also said that depending on the recommendations developed by the current Edmonds Citizens Housing Commission, she’d like to implement an application process that prioritizes Edmonds residents for affordable housing.
She also addressed the status of the city’s current business improvement district (the Edmonds Downtown Alliance) and stated it would be important to “at the very least revisit how it is structured and it’s doing the job that it was originally supposed to do” — to ensure is it serving all business owners.
Regarding the city’s finances, Crank said she would favor doing an external audit to ensure the city was spending its money wisely. “I think an outside set of eyes is always a good idea.” Councilmember Kristiana Johnson noted that the state audits the city annually and wondered if Crank was suggesting that audit wasn’t adequate. Crank replied that she stood by her answer that she believed an additional review and oversight was a good idea.
Crank also talked about the issue of the controversial waterfront connector that was proposed to address the issue of train blockages on the waterfront — but was rejected last summer by the city council. Crank said that while she supported the idea of a connector, she didn’t favor the concept that was proposed — and she hoped that it would be revisited to come up with a better solution.
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Lora Petso, a 24-year Edmonds resident, spent almost 10 years on the Edmonds City Council, losing to Neil Tibbott in 2015. Petso is also a commissioner for the Olympic View Water and Sewer District, where she has served for nearly 25 years. She and her husband have run a pension consulting business in Edmonds for the past 30 years.
Petso emphasized the experience and institutional knowledge she could bring to the council. She also added that she is excited to be on “this team” of councilmembers because they “conveyed themselves as quality of life candidates.” Among her attributes, Petso cited her method of analysis, the fact she is an extremely fast reader, and that she is “not a fad of the week type of person.”
Diane Buckshnis noted that Petso’s reputation on the council was “no, no, no” Petso, alluding to her practice of asking multiple questions that slowed the deliberation process on various issues. “Yes, things will not always get done as quickly as they might be,” Petso replied.
Regarding the waterfront connector, Petso said the process provided a case study for how to improve public engagement citywide: That it’s better to review ideas as the project goes along rather than waiting until the end to present a final product for approval.
Speaking about housing affordability, Petso said she’d like to focus on helping people stay in their homes rather than giving money to developers or consultants to solve the problem after people become homeless.
She also noted that she is a strong advocate of public safety, stating it would be her highest priority if appointed. “I really think people don’t come home from work and say ‘gosh, I hope the city does something about economic development tomorrow,'” Petso said. “I think they might come home and say, ‘Have you heard from the police department about our stolen whatever?’ Those are the kind of things that have to be first.”
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Jay Grant, a 42-year resident of Edmonds, is wrapping up his time on the Edmonds Salary Commission, where he served two terms, including one as chair. A long-time professional in the risk management field, Grant is former director of the U.S. Port Security Council and currently works as Secretary General of the International Organization of Airport and Seaport Police, which has included security and counterterrorism issues.
Grant cited his experience in team-building, negotiations, collaboration, rule-making and regulatory and legislative efforts as helpful skills for being on the council.
He also stressed the importance of increasing transparency in the way the city communicates with its citizen, such as holding more town halls, adding a communication officer and improving the city’s website, which also could include incorporating other languages.
Grant also noted his familiarity working on public safety issues, adding that would be a strength he could bring to the council. In addition, his past work has included exposure to the pluses and minuses of contracting with consultants versus hiring employees.
He concluded by reiterating that his past work has “required communication, collaboration and extensive knowledge of the relevant facts” that would contribute to his work as a councilmember.
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Roger Pence is a recent appointee to the Edmonds Planning Board who has lived in Edmonds for three years. He is a former transit planner at the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle (now King County Metro) and a long-time community volunteer. While living in Seattle, he served on community councils in three different neighborhoods.
Pence noted that he attended most of the council’s discussions on the budget late last year. While listening to Public Works Director Phil Williams talk about the city’s backlog in capital facilities maintenance, “I was frankly a little shocked,” Pence said. While cities had to make cutbacks during the Great Recession “that’s been over for a while and you have to get back into the habit…of keeping up the facilities,” Pence said. “It’s not exciting stuff. It doesn’t get headlines. There’s no ribbon cutting when a new elevator goes into city hall. It’s just stuff that needs to be done.”
Pence said a top priority is affordable housing for low- and middle-income citizens, adding it’s important to partner with surrounding cities to solve the issue. The most critical need is providing for people “who need a place to live to get on their feet or stay on their feet,” he said.
As for the waterfront connector, Pence said he would “do something different” than what had been originally proposed, although he didn’t have time to elaborate.
Pence stressed the importance of engaging with citizens, including people of color and those outside the Edmonds Bowl. His ideas also included printing city materials in a variety of languages and exploring exploring election reforms to better engage voters.
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Jenna Nand has lived in Edmonds for 17-plus years, and is a business attorney who practices in Lynnwood. She has been a member of the Mayor’s Climate Protection Committee since 2017, is a pro bono attorney for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and works as an adjunct professor at Seattle University. She ran for the city council in November, losing to incumbent Diane Buckshnis.
Nand said she’d make a good fit for the council because she is “a strong believer in diplomacy and bipartisanship and I would really work hard to bring consensus across the political spectrum.”
She added that she is passionate about small businesses and would like to bring a business incubator to Edmonds. She expressed support for the current Edmonds Downtown Alliance, adding she believes that most business members find it beneficial.
Nand, who lives in the Lake Ballinger neighborhood, said she would like to see more outreach to citizens outside the Bowl and more direct interaction with both the working class and homeless citizens.
She said that while she expressed opposition during her past election campaign to selling bonds to fund capital projects, she has since changed her mind. She now sees bonding as “very important to kind of distribute the cost and pain a little bit for our citizens and make sure they don’t feel overly burdened.”
In terms of increasing the supply of affordable housing, Nand said that the city could use its existing multi-family tax exemption program more effectively by requiring lower rents for some units. “I do think there are ways that we could make living more affordable here and make sure that a wider spectrum of the socio-economic scale is able to live and work in Edmonds,” she said. One idea she favors is to bring back the “boarding house model” where a tenant could rent a room and share other spaces in a home.
Nand added that she is conversant in Spanish, speaks Hindi and minored in Latin while she was in school.
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Carreen Rubenkonig has lived in Edmonds for more than 30 years. She has served on the Edmonds Planning Board since 2015, including a term as chair, and is a former member and chair of the city’s Architectural Design Board, where she spent eight years. She is a planner with Rubenkonig Planning and Landscape Architecture.
Rubenkonig was the only candidate Tuesday night to declare that she would not seek election to the vacancy after finishing the remainder of the Position 2 term, stating that she is not political nor a campaigner. Instead, she stressed that she is a known quantity, with her workmanship reflected through minutes of city boards for the past 15 years.
“Through diligent collaboration, and attentiveness to facts and process through board work, I’ve influenced our town’s image and public policy on protecting our native environment,” she said. “Use my talent and experience to move forward the council’s agenda in 2020 and 2021.”
Speaking about the waterfront connector, Rubenkonig said that she was supportive of providing an emergency crossing across the railroad tracks, and would like to revisit the feasibility of other alternatives that weren’t chosen. She also would like to further engage the Washington State Ferries in addressing the problem, since they are directly impacted by any service disruptions.
Addressing how to better engage underserved populations in city government, Rubenkonig said that she believes one reason people don’t participate “is because they don’t know how.” She proposed a regularly scheduled orientation for those interested in the city “and perhaps to move them into contributing to the public process.”
In closing, Rubenkonig said she could help the council address three critical issues: climate change, citizen involvement and Highway 99. She added that she needs no learning curve to become familiar with city issues.
“When I commit to something, I am all in. I have no off switch,” she said. “I will serve the city for two years and not seek election. This is your best way to exploit my 15 years of city experience and take advantage of my talents.”
— Story and photos by Teresa Wippel