Council rejects mayor’s request for emergency powers, hears from citizens worried about sewage smell

Councilmember Laura Johnson, far right in middle row, speaks during Tuesday’s meeting.

Reiterating their commitment to act quickly to help businesses  — and their desire to maintain legislative oversight —  the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night rejected Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson’s request for temporary 90-day authority to mitigate the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The council didn’t even take a vote on the proposed emergency ordinance, which was introduced by its only supporter — Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas — but died for a lack of a second. That failed motion came after all councilmembers had a chance to express their opinions about the proposal, which had first been introduced last week but was tabled after councilmembers requested revisions.

In a last-minute effort to sway council opinion, Nelson issued a statment to the media late Tuesdasy afternoon declaring that the purposed ordinance would be “one small response to the abnormal, messed-up reality we are currently living in,” and encouraged the council to approve it.

“Council has a critical opportunity to give our city the ability to appropriately and quickly respond in the moment when it matters most. Instead of using inflaming rhetoric and endless debate, let’s act decisively,” Nelson said.

In response to council criticism that the mayor’s request had been too broad, the latest proposal reduced the numbers of city code titles covered from nine to five, and also tightened the language to make it clear any actions would be related to the economic crisis generated by COVID-19. In addition, the measure reduced the number of days by which the mayor needed to notify the council of any waiver or suspension of code sections, from 30 days to five.

The six councilmembers who had expressed skepticism last week weren’t swayed by the revisions, however.

Councilmember Laura Johnson said that passing such an ordinance would relegate the council’s role to being capable of only “the bureaucratic equivalent of a slow waltz,” when in fact “in the early days of this pandemic, we exhibited our ability to quick step when called in a time of crisis.” Johnson referred to the council’s speedy action during a meeting called by Nelson Sunday, March 22, when councilmembers gave the mayor emergency powers to issue a stay-at-home order. “We convened and acted within a matter of days, not the weeks or months that are stated in the agenda memo,” she said, referring to Tuesday night’s written rationale by the mayor for needing the new authority. “This willingness to serve, at a moment’s notice, hasn’t changed for us.”

Councilmember Diane Buckshnis seconded Johnson’s sentiments, adding: “I believe that we can pivot on a dime, and I think we can actually do what needs to be done.”

Johnson and Buckshnis were among several councilmembers who said they spent time during the past week talking with Edmonds business owners and listening to their concerns about surviving the pandemic. Councilmembers generally expressed hope that legislation coming soon from the city’s Development Services Department — aimed at regulating restaurants longer term for outdoor dining known as streateries — would expand options for local establishments.

“I remain dedicated to working collaboratively in the best interests of our city, and I think we can use our energy to get positive benefits for our residents and business owners,” Councilmember Luke Distelhorst said. During his conversations with businesses, Distelhorst said he documented restaurants’ stated need for compostable containers for food takeout. As a result, the city announced Tuesday it will be providing such containers, along with disposable gloves, for free — paid by federal CARES Act funds.

Councilmember Susan Paine added that the best use of any emergency ordinance is when it’s specific and limited in scope, but stressed she appreciated the work that city staff and fellow councilmembers have put into addressing the businesses’ concerns.

Councilmember Vivian Olson reiterated her opinion from last week that councilmembers have a duty to review any economic actions proposed by the city .Those sentiments were echoed by Councilmember Kristiana Johnson, who repeated points made in her Nov. 3o My Edmonds News letter to the editor that the council — as the legislative branch — shouldn’t abdicate its roles and responsibilities.

Johnson’s letter also specifically mentioned both the mayor and the council president, stating: “It does not matter that Mayor Nelson wants these powers or that Council President Fraley-Monillas agrees with him. The mayor does not have a vote and the council president only has one vote.”

Acknowledging that she would be on the losing end of a 6-1 vote, Fraley-Monllas said she believes the temporary ordinance “is not harmful to the council process, but I will acquiesce to the six of you.” Later in the meeting, Fraley-Monillas also criticized Kristiana Johnson for writing a letter to the editor, adding she was disturbed “that we would have a councilmember using the media to undermine myself…and anybody else that was undermined.”

In other business Tuesday, the council:

– During the public comment period, heard complaints from several residents living in the neighborhood near City Park regarding what one described as “noxious fumes” from sewer gas. “Our neighborhood stinks and it seems to be getting worse,” another resident added.

– Held three public hearings. One was on the proposed 2021-2026 capital improvements program/capital facilities plan. The two others were related to an ordinance — passed by the council in November — that established a four-month moratorium on subdivision applications that contain eight or more “significant” trees per 10,000 square feet of lot size. The council voted 6-1 (Fraley-Monillas against) to approve regulations supporting the moratorium, which will come back to the council for further review.

– Unanimously okayed modifications to the contingent loan agreement with the Edmonds Public Facilities District, which oversees operations for Edmonds Center for the Arts. (The city holds a promissory note for the agreement, so council approval is required.) The agreement will allow the facilities district to skip this year’s principal payment and instead extend the length of the loan a year. Fraley-Monillas, who serves as the council’s representative to the facilities district board, said the move will give the organization needed financial breathing room, noting the ECA had to cancel performances and lay off staff due to the pandemic.

– Voted 7-0 on a resolution of intent to approve Whitney Rivera as Edmonds’ next municipal court judge. She will replace current Judge Linda Coburn, who will leave Jan. 10 after being elected to the State Court of Appeals.

– Unanimously approved Mayor Nelson’s appointment of interim Finance Director Dave Turley as the city’s finance director.

– Continued deliberation on the proposed 2021 city budget. The council plans to further discuss the budget in a business meeting following committee meetings next Tuesday, Dec. 8.

During his comments at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Nelson also provided an update on the hiring process to fill the position of Edmonds Police Chief. The mayor said that the city is “doing its due diligence” and he hopes to make an announcement by the end of the week. The two finalists for the job are Acting Edmonds Police Chief Jim Lawless and Sherman Pruitt, chief of police, director of public safety and emergency management services, with the Sauk-Suiattle Police Department.

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. How ironic and hypocritical that Fraley-Monillas said she is offended “that we would have a councilmember using the media to undermine myself…and anybody else that was undermined.”

    Look at the letter to the editor of the Edmonds Beacon onOctober 24 2019 from Fraley Monillas that undermines Neil Tibbot. She is a hypocrite.

  2. The best thing the mayor and council could do right now is to pass a “moratorium” on Governor Inslee’s job and small business killing lockdown diktat. There is no reason to keep this farce going and the destruction being done to our town is bordering on the criminal.

  3. Kristiana Johnson is the real deal. She comes off folksy sometimes (“I rode my horse to school”), but always seems to end up being the smartest person in the room.

  4. Now that the Mayor was denied those “magical and transcendental special” powers, what work still needs to be done immediately to help out the community?

  5. This editorial notes that there was a concern raised by a member of the community about the sewer smell that periodically blankets the bowl in the summer and also floats in the rest of the year. Were there any comments made by the council about this elephant in the room in Edmonds? Is this something everyone just lives with and avoids discussing or is there a plan going forward to address this noxious issue?

    1. We just received information from the city about this. Look for a story in the next day or two on city’s plans to address neighbors’ concerns.

  6. “one small response to the abnormal, messed-up reality we are currently living in,” – not really sure what this means. I was not worried about the decision to grant powers (I assumed our council would handle that request the correct way), I was more worried about the decisions and actions to be taken after they were granted….

    I really decided to start actively reading the MEN again, and love the posts, but dad gum, I start twitching like a sick robins butt when I read some of these things.

    With that being said, it is my choice to comment, and I probably should go back to my corner and reread 1984.

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