Police chief hiring process, plan for additional bike lanes focus of Tuesday council discussion

Edmonds City Councilmembers, mayor and staff meeting via Zoom Tuesday night.

Who will permanently fill the job of Edmonds police chief has been a longstanding topic of conversation in Edmonds ever since Chief Al Compaan announced his retirement in December 2019. And if Tuesday’s Edmonds City Council discussion was any indication, the matter is not yet settled.

When Compaan retired, long-time Assistant Chief Jim Lawless was appointed acting police chief, However, after new Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson took office in January, he indicated his intent to perform a national search for a new chief. That process, however, was put on hold in early March due to the COVI9-19 pandemic.

Then, in April, Nelson issued a press release stating that Acting Chief Lawless would be the city’s next permanent police chief, pending city council confirmation.

“One measure of a person’s worth is how they perform during a crisis,” Nelson said. “This has been a crisis like no other. Acting Chief Lawless has been a steady, firm hand during a time of uncertainty. I can’t imagine a person better suited for this job than Jim.”

Edmonds Acting Police Chief Jim Lawless

Fast forward to July. Communities across the U.S. are evaluating their relationship with law enforcement following the Minneapolis police killing of a Black man, George Floyd, that unleashed protests against police brutality locally and around the world. Nelson announced he was forming an Equity and Justice Advisory Task Force “to help identify and correct issues of systemic and implicit bias within city operations in response to the aggressions and inequities perpetrated on African-Americans around the nation and in our region.”

He and Lawless also pledged in a joint announcement to address community concerns about policing and racial justice in the aftermath of Floyd’s death. Lawless said that in conjunction with the mayor’s Equity and Justice Advisory Task Force, he would be forming a Community Response Team that will work with the mayor’s task force and other community members “to address concerns that may arise related to police interactions with the community.”

Lawless has been serving in an acting chief capacity under a six-month appointment, and that appointment expired June 30. The council Tuesday night unanimously agreed to give the mayor the authority to extend the duration of that appointment for up to another six months. But some councilmembers also wanted to know how the deadline for renewing Lawless’ acting appointment was missed.

City Human Resource Director Jessica Nell-Hoyson explained that early in the COVID-19 pandemic, state Open Public Meetings Act rules were modified to limit what topics government bodies could consider during their meetings. Edmonds’ city code currently requires that the mayor bring before the council three candidates for an open director position. While Lawless was Nelson’s preferred candidate, bringing him before the council as a single candidate would require a city code change, which wasn’t allowed under COVID-19 rules, Nell-Hoyson said.

Now that those public meeting restrictions have eased, Nelson has proposed modifying the confirmation process — a proposal that was discussed by the council Tuesday night. It would allow the council to confirm someone who has served the City of Edmonds in an acting director capacity for at least six months. Like any other exception to the three-candidate rule, the proposed exception would still require a supermajority vote of the city council to waive the three-interview requirement.

“The proposed code amendment doesn’t allow the mayor to automatically bring forward one candidate,” City Human Resources Director Jessica Nell Hoyson said. “It allows the mayor to request that exception of the council, who then has to approve that in that instance. It is not an automatic.”

Councilmember Kristiana Johnson expressed concerns about the proposal, stating that if the council were to adopt the one-interview rule it “would basically eliminate the city council from any choice.”

However, City Attorney Jeff Taraday countered that the council doesn’t really have a choice when it comes to appointments. “That really is the mayor’s power,” Taraday said. “Even if the council has a favorite among three candidates, the mayor is under no obligation to appoint that candidate. It is always the mayor’s choice whether it’s one interview, two interviews or three interviews.”

Councilmember Laura Johnson reiterated her original support of Nelson’s earlier plan to bring three candidates forward for Edmonds police chief, adding said she’d like to see the process “go the distance and make the best choice for the citizens of Edmonds.” Councilmember Luke Distelhorst agreed, specifically pointing to the mayor’s Equity and Justice Task Force and its work on police policies. “I think it’s important to hear what those recommendations are for our police department and then reflect on those in regard to the chief of police position,” Distelhorst said.

Distelhorst noted that the extension of Lawless’ acting appointment through Dec. 30, 2020 potentially provides “a six-month runway…that may give us more time to evaluate some of these ongoing work streams that directly impact this position and its relationship with the community.”

Councilmember Vivian Olson countered that she was “very disappointed to hear those sentiments expressed” about reconsidering Lawless’ permanent appointment, stating that Edmonds has “been so well served our chief during unbelievable circumstances.”

In other matters Tuesday night, the council:

– Had considerable discussion about a proposed citywide project, funded by a $1.85 million Sound Transit Access grant, to add bike lanes on both sides of various Edmonds streets, including: 100th Avenue from 244th Street Southwest to Walnut Street, Bowdoin Way from 9th Avenue South to 84th Avenue West, and 228th Street Southwest from 78th Avenue West to 80th Avenue West. In addition, the project calls for sharrows to be added along 80th Avenue West from 228th Street Southwest  to 220th Street Southwest. The council also heard testimony from citizens on the project.

Some citizens and councilmembers expressed concerns about parking spaces being taken up by bike lanes. Councilmember Diane Buckshnis said she has heard complaints from people who can’t find a place to park on 84th Avenue West near 5 Corners, where bike lanes were recently added. Both Buckshnis and Councilmember Susan Paine worried about the safety of bicyclists if lanes were added to the heavily congested area around the Westgate shopping area.

The project drew support from representatives of the Edmonds Bicycle Advocacy Group, who said the bike lanes will improve safety for all bicyclists and also give new riders more confidence.

In the end, the council agreed to postpone action on the plan until next week’s council meeting.

In other business, the council:

– Heard details of the city’s Six Year Transportation Improvement Program (TIP),  a transportation planning document that identifies funded, partially funded and unfunded projects that are planned or needed over the next six calendar years. That document will also be considered for approval during next week’s council meeting.

– Received a development activities update from the Development Services Department, which highlighted new projects that are underway or completed. You can see the complete presentation here.

– Unanimously approved a contract with City Hearing Examiner Phil Olbrechts for another four-year term.

– Approved a proposal to extend the personal services contract for a program administrator at the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

A scheduled review of the updated draft City Council Code of Conduct was moved to next week’s agenda due to the lateness of the hour.

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. I had to look up what “sharrows” are, and found this video guide for drivers and cyclists informative. It is from the city of Fremont, but I presume the same guidelines would apply here? Does anyone know if Edmonds has a similar guide? https://youtu.be/-qg6cpG7Zeg

  2. Last evening, City Attorney Jeff Taraday represented to City Council that it is always the Mayor’s choice whether there is one interview, two interviews or three interviews.

    However, our Code states that: “The mayor shall appoint, subject to council confirmation, the appointive officers. The city council shall interview the top three candidates for each position prior to the mayor’s appointment; provided, that the city council may waive the three-interview requirement by motion adopted by a majority plus one of the full council and may opt to interview as few as two candidates for any vacant appointive office…”

    I am puzzled why Mr. Taraday thinks that the Mayor has a choice as to whether there is one interview, two interviews or three interviews. I think it is the Council that has the choice – Council can choose to interview two candidates instead of three. Under our Code, there is no option to do only one interview.

    Furthermore, the City Council shall interview the top three candidates for each position PRIOR to the mayor’s appointment. As such, why did Mayor Nelson announce his appointment on April 9, 2020 before City Council had interviewed even one candidate? Will Mayor Nelson be held accountable for acting contrary to our adopted laws and ordinances – specifically ECC 2.10.010.D?

    Last evening’s Council meeting included a motion related to the City Attorney’s opinion that there is a “loophole” in the Code; a vote to approve a Hearing Examiner contract without the required Mayoral Appointment or the required Council Confirmation; and discussion of two different terms that had expired in the past. Regarding one of them, the Hearing Examiner contract, it was the second consecutive time that the related contract had expired without anybody in City Government noticing.

    I think and I hope our City Government can do much better than this.

  3. Bicycle lanes… for those thousands of bicycle commuters in Edmonds? If you build it, they will not come. Spending a $1,840,000 on taking lane space and parking spaces from the community to meet some imagined community need is a waste. Once built, they will also have to be maintained. Where is the long term funding plan for that?

    If we are truly focused on bicycle safety, how about requiring a front headlight and blinking red tail light on all bicycles in Edmonds? We could even have a program to give them away to those that had need and applied for them. Want a way for our amazing Edmonds police to have positive interaction with the public? How about they stop bicyclist’s that do not have lights and provide them with a road safety discussion.

    In 2020, doesn’t Edmonds have bigger priorities for public safety of commuters and neighborhoods?
    How about blinking crosswalks for the often misunderstood 4-way stop at 9th Ave S & Walnut St? Maybe even better overhead street lighting for that entire intersection? The same goes for 9th Ave S & Main St.

    The need for better safety infrastructure in Edmonds is at intersections for walkers, not sunny day recreational cyclist passing through.

  4. Well said Michael Watkins. We have such a tremendous bicycle community 1-2 months out of the year. How many locals travel on bicycles in Edmonds out of the summer 2 months maxium? Not to many. How many seniors ride bikes regularly out of that 2 month (summer) window? It’s our weather. Your jobs are to accommodate the majority of the city population. Not a select few. Bicyclists, many who never obey the laws, (I’m on Olympic View Drive). I would rather see funding go to sidewalks, better lighting..etc. that helps all the community.
    Ps we are in the middle of a Pandemic (which I’m told every waking minute of my life) should we be spending anything now? We have had many great police chiefs. My request is a no nonsense police chief that can keep Edmonds safe.

  5. I agree with Michael Watkins and Jtrevino. Look how well the bike lanes worked in Seattle. Those who ride bikes should learn the rules of the road. I have seen many just go through the 4 way stop in Perrinville without stopping many times over the years. Or they ride in tandem. This not only causes difficulties for the motorist, but definitely for the those riding bikes. I would rather that funding go elsewhere to help the entire community and not just a few.
    Also, delaying naming a permanent Chief does not help our Community. From what I have seen, Chief Lawless has been doing a good job under difficult situations.
    Just my opinion.

    1. I watched the meeting until 9:30. The discussion was on approving a grant for bike lanes or not from transit funds, not city funds. The real goal is to get bycicles to and from transit stations as quick and safe as possible to increase use of transit. Whether it will work or be good for the city is debatable. The Council chose not to act and to discuss it some more. Doing their job, in other words.

      On the Police Chief issue, the Mayor’s first intent was to follow city code on the matter but that got thrown out with the pandemic demands on government. In fairness I think he and the council are trying to perform within code but having great issue trying to work around the logistics of the pandemic. Lora Johnson stated her preference last night to go back to Mayor’s plan A. on the Chief; honoring the process.

      I think these folks are trying hard to be good public servants under most difficult circumstances. It’s easy to criticize the war when you aren’t in the trenches yourself.

      1. Clint is right. Grant has specific purposes and therefore conditions on how they can be used. Grants almost always have strings attached.

        Police Chief, other dept head vacancies, pedestrian friendly (blocking Main St), discussion of finances!, giving away $1m and 20,000 masks, Council blocking parking study, and now I am suppose to build an ADU in my back yard or make my house a duplex in a single family zone. This is all happening while CV19 is hanging around and the whales are going hungry.

        Lot of stuff to do, and our public processes are hamstrung.

        Clint, I am working on my respirator helmet, equipped with a straw to drink beer, but no place to use it in Edmonds and still keep my distance from others. When done, it will probably be against some city code.

      2. Remove all bike lanes until:

        1. Licenses for bikes are required as well as tabs. If you want to use the road, pay for its upkeep like vehicle owners do.

        2. Bike safety courses are required. If I see another bike blow Through a stop sign…….they should be cited as if any other traffic infraction occurred.

        1. Bike riders should also be required to have at fault insurance.
          If a bike rider crashes and puts a scratch on your cars paint, it could cost thousands of dollars to have it repainted ,if it can not be buffed out. Either way they need to pay.
          Their auto insurance will not cover them, for riding their bicycle., only while operating their vehicle. They need the same levels of insurance as auto drivers.

  6. I agree with Mike, Joy and Pat, why are we spending so much in a really small minority and letting the Majority stumble on broken sidewalks and poorly or unlit intersections. Or how about some enforcement of the stop signs on 5th and main.

  7. It is truly unfortunate that the Council has not acted on confirming the appointment of James Lawless as our new police chief. Acting Chief Lawless has been, and continues to be, a leader in law enforcement throughout Snohomish County during his years of service in Edmonds. With the search initiated by Mayor Nelson, we almost lost Acting Chief Lawless to another department in our county. And now the council hesitates and we may lose him again. During my time on City Council I was fortunate to work with Acting Chief Lawless on SNOCOM, SNO911, SERS and the Council’s Personnel and Public Safety Committee, and he brings values, insights, community understanding, patience and leadership in all that he does. He is the right choice for Edmonds and the Council needs to act to confirm him in this role.

    1. Some people are beating up the Mayor and Council for not following code regarding appointing a Chief at the same time others here are berating them for not appointing Chief Lawless immediately. Talk about a no win situation.

      1. This is typical – usually always at least two sides to every issue. It is also typical that one side has more credibility than the others. With this issue those supporting the appointment of Jim Lawless are more knowledgeable about the subject and therefore have more credibility.

    2. The City Council does not have the legal option of confirming Mr. Lawless as Police Chief. This is why the Mayor is trying to get a Code Amendment Passed.
      Furthermore, the City Attorney admitted last night that the acting directorship expired and is deemed vacant effective June 30, 2020.
      This is not the fault of Mr. Lawless or the fault of the City Council. Mayor Nelson knew the law as clearly disclosed in the February 18, 2020 City Council Agenda Packet.
      If he wanted to act contrary to the existing law, he needed to request City Council initiate and adopt the necessary Code Amendment prior to announcing his appointment of Mr. Lawless as Police Chief.
      Short of that, Mayor Nelson had to live with the laws adopted by our City Council via Ordinance 3959.
      This is simple, basic government. Mayor Nelson’s job is to execute policy adopted by those elected to make policy, the City Council.
      Jim Lawless is a man of great value to our community. How hard should it have been to review our laws and figure out the legal path to follow for the Mayor to pursue appointing Mr. Lawless Police Chief?

  8. Missing the renewal of Chief Lawless was a pretty big mistake. A completely avoidable mistake. Everyone is human, but there was definitely time to address this before the appointment expired. I applaud the council members who are in favor of moving forward with the appointment of Lawless, as he has had a major trial by pandemic, and has certainly excelled in many people’s minds.

    From what I have seen and heard, Lawless is an excellent public servant, and a great partner for bringing about sensible changes for police reform. I agree that the Justice Task Force should be consulted, but we clearly should move forward with the permanent appointment.

    The joint statement from Chief Lawless and Mayor Nelson on views for police reforms was incredibly good.

    However, I was not aware that the City of Edmonds and Lynnwood shared only 1 social worker between both cities. That is a pretty egregious problem, and is likely a MUCH more serious area where the Justice task force, the mayor, and Chief Lawless could make a significant difference. There were real problems discussed during the Chief’s discussion on crime along highway 99 that would be greatly reduced by having at least 3-4 full time social workers that are shared between the two cities. Right now having just 1 social worker in charge of such a large area for both cities is definitely not enough to make a significant difference. Having at least 3-4 full time social workers would make a big difference on working with the homeless and mental health problems for some of the citizens in that area. A way to make the area safer for businesses, residents, police, and repeat offenders. I believe that it is one of the most important investments that the two cities need to look a lot more into.

    As far as bike lanes go, I guess I will just have to disagree with some of the posters here.

    Bike lanes are an incredible strength of our community, and I am hopeful that we can move forward with that. The more bike lanes we have, the more usable it will be for people to get around our city. Biking is really a tremendous way to see our beautiful city in ways that you cannot see when you are locked inside of the cage of a car. Plenty of times I have gone down to parks where people are just circling around waiting for a parking space. As one less person who needs one of those parking spaces, I am directly positively impacting the parking issues there, and in other parts of the city as well. Bike lanes in the less used parking areas of the city make a significant difference in the most heavily used parking areas of the city.

  9. Vivian Olson expressed disappointment that council is now questioning the announced permanent selection of Jim Lawless as Chief by Mayor Nelson. I too am extremely disappointed to see this debacle.

    Acting Chief Lawless has conducted the department in exemplary fashion. Proactive to all concerns, professional, and transparent during a very challenging time for all. Where have Distelhorst and Johnson been? What more can Lawless do?

    Have you looked beyond yourselves to consider how this makes Jim Lawless and the EPD feel? This inaction is pathetic, do the right thing for all of us and confirm now not six months from now after continued analysis. The man was already told he has the job. Who does this to someone? What is wrong?

  10. If roads were safer for cyclists, more people would ride. “Don’t feel safe” surpassed weather as the most common reason those with access to a working bicycle don’t ride more often according to a September 2013, Seattle Department of Transportation survey of Seattle residents age 16 and older.

    Bicycle-only projects are a tiny piece of national transportation budgets and include projects such as on-street bikeway retrofits and bike share. Advocacy Advance found a total of 295 bicycle-only
    projects for a total of $422.3 million, which represents a tenth of one-percent of transportation
    funding for 50 states. The bike lanes don’t cost Edmonds residents one cent.

    According to The NPD Group, bicycles suitable for family use, neighborhood riding, and those with more approachable price-points showed the strongest year-over-year sales gains last April. Lifestyle/leisure bikes, which are more basic adult bicycles sold at prices under $200, grew by 203%; front suspension mountain bikes were up by more than 150%; and children’s bikes increased by 107% for the month.

    Besides–biking is fun, healthy and has benefits for non-riders too.

    1. Excellent and well informed comment. There are a lot of reasons to support bike lanes, and the fact that it would already be paid means that there are really no valid reasons not to support it.

      It will be a a great thing for the entire community, and something that we can all enjoy the benefits from.

  11. Mike, there is the chance that there is a push by some for a person of color to take over the police department or at the very least to be interviewed for the position.

  12. It is time to promptly name Jim Lawless Police Chief. Mayor Nelson originally wanted to do a nation wide search to fill the position, but after having the opportunity to work with Jim doing that job he realized that he already had the right man. Mayor Nelson then made the courageous decision to stop the search and announce that he intended to name Jim permanently as the new Police Chief of Edmonds.

    It is demoralizing To Jim and the entire police force to drag this situation on even longer. City Council needs to immediately endorse Mayor Nelson’s decision.

    1. Stopping the search and announcing on April 9, 2020 that Acting Edmonds Police Chief Jim Lawless will be the City’s next permanent Police Chief, pending City Council confirmation, was not allowed under our City Code. Mayor Mike Nelson is now asking Council to change our laws more than 3 months after his April 9th act and more than 7 weeks after the Governor lifted the restrictions on the Council and other public agencies from taking certain actions.

      Our Code clearly says the city council shall interview the top three candidates for each position prior to the mayor’s appointment; provided, that the city council may waive the three-interview requirement by motion adopted by a majority plus one of the full council and may opt to interview as few as two candidates for any vacant appointive office;

      Please note the words “shall”, “prior”, “three” and “as few as two”.

      This was well known – as evidenced by the process followed in 2019 when we hired HR Director Jessica Neill Hoyson.
      Council has no ability to do anything “immediately”. If Council is going to only interview one candidate, our City Laws must first be changed.

    2. Well put, Ron, and I totally agree with you at this point. I think Mayor Nelson realized that the Covid emergency made the code correct method of a search and council approval a bit of a reach to actually pull off under the adverse circumstances they have to deal with. The Mayor has the final say on who gets hired after the council interviews anyway, so why not a simple vote to dispense with the interviews and the Mayor appoint Lawless? These people have all of us nit picking their every move, comment, and decision and they can’t please everyone of us no matter how hard they try. One way to please most of us, apparently, would be to appoint the Chief permanently.

  13. Not a fan of littering the road with sharrows. Bicyclists should know how to ride in traffic before joining cars on the roads. Please do not turn Edmonds into the nightmare of traffic markings experienced in Seattle.

    I do support improvements to add walking space along busy roads such as 84th south of 220th. Also adding speed humps for residential roads that are often used as cut through.

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