This year has been extraordinarily challenging on many fronts. It is additionally painful for the community, and us as well, to end the year with the current state of the search for the next Chief of Police. These begin with some decisions made over the last nine months that were unexpected to us; next, the circulation of potential misinformation; and combined with a lack of clear communication from the administration.
We three are in a spot we did not intend — by allowing the decision to move the Police Chief confirmation process to be advanced by a week, the unanticipated, late-arriving information (see Mayor Nelson’s communication of 12/15/20) would have avoided some of the pain felt by our community. In hindsight, the original timeline should not have been changed.
As Councilmembers, our roles for the hiring process and our authority around the confirmation of mayoral appointments rely on the expertise of professionals and their recommendations based on the background and reference checks. In addition, our diligence, which includes communicating with the city administration to ensure that information presented to us is accurate and factual. The Administration provides us with their professional conclusions and other administrative actions, which should occur prior to a nomination coming to us on the Council agenda.
We have always recognized that the Chief of Police confirmation is a critical, multi-faceted decision. As leaders, representing the entirety of Edmonds, there must be a balancing of community concerns, lived experiences, and desires for what makes all our communities feel safe, supported, and hopeful for an ever-improving future. There have been police program insights in the last year regarding policing in our community: the removal of School Resource Officers (SROs), recent non-compliance with a municipal court order, and reluctance for improvements in the DWLS process that in our view would reduce community harm. These insights support the view that there can be minor process adjustments that benefit the entire community.
This year, and this decision, renews our focus on better defining importance versus emergency. We have faced many emergency situations due to COVID-19 and its impacts. Important decisions, when connected to the personal reputations, professional careers, and any individual’s wellbeing may rise to an emergency, and sometimes they may not. In deciding to allow the vote to be moved up, we struggled with the impact of waiting, given the increasingly volatile situation, against the benefit of allowing the community and police department to begin to move forward sooner. As newer legislators we strive to make the best decisions, with the information we have available. We continue to learn, grow and adapt.
Today, all parties, and our communities, similarly find ourselves in an uncomfortable situation. Together, we need a clearly stated path forward which restores faith in decision making and our professional process. A clear path to meet our community’s changing needs. A clear path using collaboration and mutual understanding.
We hope that there will be a renewed focus on community wellbeing using a more transparent process, whatever process the city’s administration chooses.
Susan Paine, Laura Johnson, Luke Distelhorst
Edmonds City Councilmembers