Letter to the editor: Hearing examiner decision an example of hushed vs. open decision-making


Based on Edmonds’ July 21 City Council agenda action item, “Approval of Hearing Examiner,” it appears the council does not have to be burdened by following city code, and the mayor doesn’t need to enforce it.  Edmonds City Council is to award a four-year term to a hearing examiner, Phil Olbrechts. Rather than recuse himself, he worked without an appointment or a contract earlier in 2020.

The mayor’s job is to enforce the city’s code, and yet he is asking the city council to disregard and, or break local laws.

The mayor is disregarding city policy of:

1) bidding process for multiple hearing examiners applications.

2) appointment process.

3) requesting city council confirm his appointment of a hearing examiner.

The mayor is putting the burden on city council to approve a contract even though the above three steps have not occurred.   With the council yet to confirm a mayoral appointment, attorney Olbrechts, and city attorney Cates prepared a signed four-year contract for the meeting.

By keeping the same attorney, Edmonds might avoid potential lawsuits, among them, Olbrechts’ rulings on Feb. 10 of the Civic Field Hearing on Jan.23, 2020.

Ruling:  https://edmondswa.iqm2.com/Citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=12&ID=2519&Inline=True

Hearing: https://edmondswa.iqm2.com/Citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=1&ID=2532&Inline=True

Lori Rasmussen

  1. Why the retroactive requests? Tonight’s City Council agenda includes at least two problems:

    1. Council is being asked to approve a four-year contract for Hearing Examiner Services retroactive to January 1, 2020. The Council Packet fails to include the related Code Section which clearly states that “The hearing examiner shall be appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the city council for a term of four years.” Why is Council being asked to approve a contract before being asked to confirm an appointment that Mayor Nelson has yet to make?

    2. Council is being asked to approve an extension of an acting directorship (acting Police Chief) retroactive to July 1st through December 31st. The related Code Section was left out of the Agenda Packet. That Code Section clearly informs that the acting directorship shall expire and be deemed vacant six months after the date of the acting appointment. That date was June 30th. As such, there is nothing that the Council can extend. The position expired and is deemed vacant. Furthermore, the Code section is very clear that there is only one reason that the Mayor can request an extension – to allow the recruiting process to continue. Even if it was still prior to June 30th – there is no ongoing recruiting process, so Mayor Nelson has no ability to request an extension.

  2. Prior to approving the Hearing Examiner contract, the Edmonds City Councilmembers should take a look at the staff report for the Civic Center Playfield development and the Hearing Examiner decision comparing them to the following made points made in comparison to City law.

    1. The Edmonds City Code requires the Hearing Examiner to make his decision 10 days from the closed hearing date. The Hearing closed on January 23, 2020.

    Hearing Examiner decision is dated February 10, 2020 two days late.

    2. The Hearing Examiner decision states “this land use decision is final and subject to closed record appeal to the City Council as authorized by Edmonds Community Development Code (“ECDC”) 20.01.003. Appeals must be filed within 14 days of the issuance of this decision as required by ECDC 20.07.004(B).

    Appeals to the City Council and ECDC 20.07.004(B) was repealed by Ordinance 4151 with an effective date of July 10, 2019.

    3. The Staff Report didn’t provide all the names and mailing addresses for the property owners within 300 feet of the development project that Public Notice was sent to. This was discovered after his decision was made. It is the Hearing Examiner’s responsibility that City Staff are following the City Code and State Law.

    The Hearing Examiner missed this omission and made no effort to check the submitted Public Notice list for Code requirement compliance.

    4. The Hearing Examiner’s contract had expired 12/31/19 before the time of hearing and his decision. Phil Olbrechts was impersonating a public official without any legal authority.

  3. I’m sure there are valid complaints being presented here about some of the failings of our city government past and present but I think there needs to be a little fairness injected into this discussion.

    City codes and ordinances do not have to adjust for unforeseen circumstances like national pandemics and issues of social unrest from the national to the local level in our society. The Mayor and City Council do have to adjust to these events in real time. The simple mechanics of even having a public meeting are a major feat to pull off right now, let alone trying to conform to and always be on top of all of the minutia and detail in the city codes.

    I commend our Mayor, City Council (part time and highly underpaid) and our Police Chief (permanent status in limbo for who knows how long), for soldering on under difficult circumstances at best. Thank you for being there and putting up with the criticism.

  4. Clinton J. Wright,

    Attorney Taraday, found a loophole for well-liked and respected Jim Lawless to be appointed Chief of Police. I understand the Mayor and Council Members are learning as they go, as is often the case with elected positions.

    I appreciated learning from Attorney Taraday, Council Member Buchshnis, and Kristiana Johnson as to the procedures and implications of the past and present appointment process (including salary). I forget the details of the loophole, but it would have been on the books during COVID19. Perhaps it only works after six months.

    During the July 21 Council Meeting, Taraday said the Mayor could appoint without the Council. Yet, Attorney Taraday was recommending the Council to make a motion to either 1) encourage, or to at least 2) not to object for the Mayor to appoint Jim Lawless (on July 22).

    Why did the Mayor need an intermediary, an Attorney, to persuade the City Council to give the Mayor approval to make an appointment?

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