In one-on-one interview, mayor discusses equity task force, police chief search, leadership style

Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson delivers his State of the City address Jan. 21. (My Edmonds News file photo)

In the first one-on-one interview with My Edmonds News since he took office in January 2020, Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson sat down Friday with Publisher Teresa Wippel, speaking to a wide range of topics — from the just-released Equity and Social Justice Task Force report to the police chief hiring process to his leadership style.

We have provided a transcript of the hour-long interview below, edited slightly for clarity and repetitive subject matter. We have also included, when needed, a summary introduction of the issues that the mayor addressed in each Q&A section:

Equity and Justice Task Force

Nelson announced in June 2020 he was appointing an advisory Equity and Social Justice 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.” The task force began meeting in August 2020 with the goal of both studying equity-related issues within city government and creating an Equity Toolkit and an Equity Work Plan for the city. While the initial goal was to study citywide operations, the task force started with the police department, based on the nationwide focus on policing as it related to social justice issues. The task force report on public safety/policing, which was released Wednesday, Jan. 27, was developed under the guidance of Bellevue-based Armstead Consulting, which specializes in equity and justice work. The city paid Armstead $47,500 its role, which included compiling all findings into the report.

Teresa Wippel (TW): I had heard that some task force members were concerned that the report came out before they had a chance to talk with you about it. That there was supposed to be a meeting with you next week to go over it, to agree on what would be released.

Mike Nelson (MN): They had presented to me a draft and…then they revised it. So we didn’t have a meeting since the revision, but I did have a meeting with all of them at the draft. The recommendations that were in the draft were no different than the recommendations that were finalized. There were no changes in the recommendations or the findings. Those substantive pieces were consistent. They hadn’t been changed. I felt like I had enough and heard from them enough to do that (release the report).

I think they (task force members) are understandably afraid. Some of them are in fear of their safety because of interactions that they’ve had with other people, with law enforcement.

TW: The question is, where was the disconnect? Because I heard very clearly there was some distress about task force members feeling like they didn’t have a chance to talk with you before that report was out there. To your point — feeling like they were vulnerable.

MN: Yes, I get that. I think there was this expectation that they could maybe be anonymous…but if there’s a public records request we have to release your names. There’s no legal reasoning not to do that. I think it’s just that overarching…they’re sharing stuff and it’s not easy.

If we don’t have these discussions, if we don’t get it out there, if we don’t share how are we actually making progress, the alternative is, everything’s fine, we’re good, don’t worry about it, just don’t talk about. Just wait until the next thing happens and it bubbles up again. I feel like this is our moment. We had 1,000 Edmonds residents marching for Black Lives Matter this summer (summer 2020). People were demanding we look at how we do things, in an equitable and inclusive way. We got people involved. We got their feedback. And now it’s the hard part. We say we need to do better. We need to have more training, we need to be more accountable.

You’re calling out police departments and that’s big-time scary stuff. But at the end of the day, they (task force members) are advising me and what I do with that or don’t do with that…here’s some information to help inform me…as to what I’m thinking about, how can we be better in all the different areas.

TW: I know you had said in forming the task force that you had hoped they would do more work in other areas of city government, so are you still thinking that’s going to be possible?

MN: Yeah, whether or not it’s exactly the same people. One of their (ideas) was to form an equity team, but I think the reality of this is, we just ran out of time.

TW: At the time the task force was formed, policing was the hot button issue? So that was why the decision was made to start there?

MN: Start there because this is the issue people seem to care most about in our community, in our state, in our country. Look right now in the (state) Legislature. Look at all the police accountability legislation that is going through and will probably pass. That is the focus, right? But I don’t want us just to say, stop there. One of the things they (the task force) also included, which may sound sort of insignificant, is this equity tool. There are cities who, when they make decisions, they take this thing (the equity tool), and they ask this series of questions before they make that decision. That’s something we don’t do in any of our departments, and that’s something that we now can take that and apply that (to the) next time we say, ‘OK where will our next park will be, where are we going to build it?’ I would submit to you…if we had that two years ago, I don’t think we would have redone Civic Field…we probably may have picked someplace else. So that is going to have a profound impact, I think, on where we’re putting our investments in the future.

But that doesn’t change what are we doing in our city in terms of hiring, what are we doing in terms of our own equity and inclusion training, what are our permitting policies, our ability to offer language services. We saw that with the triple shooting (Sept. 30, 2020 at Boo Han Market). There was a language barrier issue there. Other things we can be doing proactively out in the community, so we are not relying on some 24-hour translation service. So I absolutely want to have something — whether it’s them (the original task force members) or a combination of some of them and other new people — that is there to hold our city government accountable — not just what the policing recommendations are.

TW: Certainly, the findings of the task force and the things that people are feeling about how they are treated are concerning, and to have those there in a format that people can look it I think is very educational and enlightening. But there was one thing that struck me, in particular. It actually called out an individual police department employee, Detective Julie Govantes, and put her in a light that was — in some peoples’ minds — somewhat subjective. Here’s what I’m referring to, from Page 7 of the report:

In the interview, the police gathered four people including a person of color, whose role seemed to be strictly to represent and speak to the supposed diversity of the agency. This person was not an equal within the conversation, and spoke only on her lack of experience of tokenism. The dynamics in the interview created a sense of tokenizing her and putting her in a spokesperson’s role to blunt criticism or help address questions on diversity when speaking to an equity and social justice panel. What would have felt and been authentic would be that a police officer in an appropriate job description like community outreach officer or supervisor could give an equal and complementary experience to the many questions rather than one or two questions on tokenism. She was only called upon for the one or two questions which shows she was tokenized. Her body language was uncomfortable and we felt bad for her knowing she was obviously very uncomfortable.

In your role, you have so many hats you have to wear. You are responsible to the citizens, but you are also responsible to your employees…you are their boss. So you have a situation where you are having to balance, where you are releasing this report where there’s something like that. My understanding is that it was quite upsetting to her (Detective Govantes). Nobody asked her if that was the right read of the situation. Nobody asked her if she was being tokenized. And yet there she is, being held out there publicly in this perception. I’m bringing that up because, is this an example of, is there a responsibility to look at the impact of this report not just on calling out how the police can do a better job, but how maybe it did some damage to the morale of the (police) department and does that matter?

MN: First and foremost, this is the perspective of the task force members, and that is what is provided. They’re interviewing people, they’re getting information back, and they are forming their opinion based on that. I’ve met with Julie and I’ve talked with her about this and we had a really good conversation. I think there is in general a feeling that I’ve heard from law enforcement where they are not used to being under this microscope. And they feel uncomfortable, they feel like it’s unfair, they feel like “we are doing our job, we’re doing it the best, why is this happening?” And I think there is that time for them to share it, but that is not what this is for. This is from the community’s perspective, of community members, how they are feeling. Is there an opportunity to share how an officer feels? Absolutely. What’ve I’ve committed to do is to say, OK, when we do our police chief search, I want to hear not only from officers, I want to hear from people of color officers, and female officers particularly, are there things you’d like to see in the department differently or are things just perfect. In the audit, I’m asking the very same thing. I want you to interview the officers. As I understand it, maybe one time — in decades — has anyone asked their opinion. I absolutely value their opinion, I’m going to get their opinion and it’s going to be part of our audit and it’s going to be part of our chief selection process. So that is where they are going to be able to share their perspective, their viewpoint, how they feel they are being treated. This is not that place for it.

TW: My point is, that example maybe was not a good example to have in a publicly released report. I’m just asking if you think so?

MN: The report was intended to come to me. But everyone wants to see everything I’m getting, and everyone wants to hear what I’m doing, and I did not edit out comments, and I didn’t think it was really appropriate to edit comments. They (the task force) were really independent in that sense. Once I tasked them to go do “X” and they kept me informed but I never said, don’t say those things. I’m not saying that I agree with what they are saying but I also didn’t want to be in place where I was telling them ‘you should say this, you shouldn’t say that.'” I feel from the detective’s perspective and letting me know how she felt about it, I think we have a good process moving forward on how to address it.  It’s sort of a lopsided thing — you’re hearing ‘that’s not how it went.’

TW: I don’t even know if that’s how it went. What I did hear was, that the task force members thought there should have been some vetting between the time this report was given to the public on Wednesday and the time that they were supposed to meet with you.

MN: I haven’t heard that. That part didn’t trickle to me. Maybe some had different expectations. When they were working on the report, it was very clear that A) this could be a public document and B) it could come out. When I got, this is the final report, we’re good.

Police chief search process

The most controversial decision in Nelson’s year-long tenure has been his efforts to appoint a new police chief to replace longtime Chief Al Compaan, who retired Jan. 1, 2020. Assistant Chief Jim Lawless was appointed acting chief a year ago. During the 12 months since Lawless’ acting chief appointment, Nelson started one national search that was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nelson then stated in an April 2020 press release that he intended to hire Lawless without a search, pointing to his “steady, firm hand during a time of uncertainty” amid the pandemic. But the Edmonds City Council insisted that Nelson follow the rules for executive-level city appointments and conduct a search process for three applicants. When three suitable applicants could not be found, the council agreed to consider two finalists: Pruitt and Sauk Suiattle Tribal Chief Sherman Pruitt. Nelson then announced Dec. 3 he was appointing Pruitt, which the city council confirmed on a 4-3 vote. The appointment was labeled as conditional, because the city was awaiting a final written satisfactory report of Pruitt’s psychological evaluation, which was pending prior to the council vote.

The council’s approval came despite requests from three councilmembers to slow the process based on questions raised about Pruitt’s background. My Edmonds News published a story about the candidate’s domestic violence allegations here —  the same day that Nelson stated he was withdrawing the offer to Pruitt because Pruitt had “omitted relevant details from his application. (A letter from Nelson to Pruitt stated the reason: Pruitt hadn’t disclosed he had applied for a police officer job in Lake Stevens 10 years prior.)

On Jan. 14, the mayor released a six-minute video announcing that the city has selected the Washington, D.C.-based International Association of Chiefs of Police to conduct a new search, a process that is estimated to take five months. He also said he has hired the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Safety Management (CPSM) — at a cost of $66,000 plus travel expenses — to conduct a performance audit of the Edmonds Police Department.

TW: I wanted to revisit the police chief search process and put this Equity and Social Justice Task Force report into context, because it’s important for the community to understand the timeline. Going through April 2020, you had said Jim Lawless was going to be your choice, assuming council confirmation, and then the council said, ‘we want you to go through the process.’ So you did the process and came up with two finalists — Lawless and Pruitt — and after the interviews you selected Pruitt. What were some of the factors going into your decision? I’m wondering if you could talk a bit about that and mainly if there was anything happening during this task force that was influencing your thinking as you were looking at those two candidates?

MN: I don’t want to really get to…I’m trying to focus on moving forward.

TW: I know, but there are still questions people have and it might help us to move forward.

MN: I get that. I think when you are trying to hire somebody you are getting information from all kinds of sources. You’re getting information from the public, you’re getting information from private, you’re getting information that’s delayed, sometimes it’s not delayed. I will say that I was getting monthly reports from the task force. This was not the only source of information that was influencing my decision-making process. How people performed in a crisis vs. how they performed day to day and just seeing… when you are in that mode and you’ve both shared some experiences together but at the same time once you are out of that mode then you have to get back to normal day-to-day duties and operations and things.

Obviously, hindsight is always 20/20. Sure, I wish I could have done things differently. I’m not perfect. I make mistakes every day. I should have done a better job articulating the type of chief I was looking for, and that’s something that I did not do. But at the end of the day, I did not hire that candidate (Pruitt) and I’ve learned from it and I’m making sure that this time, we’re doing things differently. This time, I’m articulating this is what I’m looking for and I’m making sure we have a process that is including the community in several different ways.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police is a model for all police chief leadership in the country. They are not only going to be reaching out stakeholders, whether they are faith, education, business, chamber of commerce, the Diversity Commission. There’s going to be an online community survey. They’ll also be interviewing the police officers, the police union. And they’re going to produce a video. They are going to say, this is who we think your community wants as your next police chief. There is going to be, I think, a very clear community buy-in. I’m excited about that. I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s a healthy thing.

We’re at a place right now where our population’s getting younger, it’s getting more diverse, changes are happening, expectations are happening in terms of what we want our police services to be. And I think we have great officers. Do I think we can be better? Absolutely. And I think whoever is our next police chief is going to help us get there, which also ties in to the police performance audit. We have an organization (the police department) that has a budget of almost $12 million and I don’t know the last time anyone has looked under the hood over there. And it’s not just what are we spending money on but where are we putting our resources and is it most effective. Part of their (the consultant’s) process is a data-driven process, so they are going to look at all the snow calls, and dispatching and logs, and sort of where are we spending time on calls and where are we being proactive. Where are the gaps. We keep on saying, ‘We need to be up on Highway 99,” I want to have the data that shows that…where are we spending our time, do we need to be doing anything differently, do we need more community engagement to prevent some of these things?

TW: Returning to questions about the former police chief process that we never got answers to. The disclosure of what was found out about Chief Pruitt and how it didn’t jibe with the police department’s own standards and all of that. From what we could tell, it sounded like that information came out around Nov. 19 and yet the appointment you had recommended was Dec. 3. Was there ever any point where you felt during that time frame you were getting information that discouraged you from making that recommendation (of Pruitt for police chief)? Did Jessica (HR Director Jessica Neill Hoyson) talk to you about it or make any recommendations about it?

MN: I’m going to go forward. There’s a multitude of reasons why I’m not going to go back and engage in sort of what the timing was of this, and when did we know this and the standards of that, and there’s a lot of disinformation out there, but it’s all fixating on something that did not at the end of the day. Yes, it was not perfect. Yes, it was messy. Yes, I’m not happy the way it went. But we didn’t hire him. So as bumpy as it was, we didn’t hire him. If I had hired him, OK. But conditional offers are made all the time in business, all the time in government and those folks — for a variety of reasons — they don’t meet the conditions, and they are not hired. And that’s what happened here. It was a conditional offer, the person didn’t meet the conditions, we didn’t end up hiring him at the end of the day. This is more having to do with, their person wasn’t selected so therefore…nobody was talking about this process before their person wasn’t selected. It could have been the best process in the world, but their person wasn’t selected. So now, all of a sudden, let’s go into finding all of the, you know, things hidden, whatever, timing of this or that. I’ve publicly been very clear about, this is what I’ve learned, this is what I’ve decided, this is what I’ve decided to do next, and that’s where we are…which is that we have a new process and I’ve learned from the previous process…and I’m very confident that we are going to get the best chief for our community.

TW: So, I will take that as a not wanting to revisit those details.

MN: Yes

TW: Do you have some things in your head about what you want to see in a new police chief?

MN: Demonstrated leadership. I don’t just want a diverse police force, I want to see them diverse at all levels of that organization so that we are actually promoting people. Have they done that? I want to see demonstrated leadership. What are you doing to prevent gun violence? What are you doing to prevent domestic violence? Police work today is typically, something happens and you react to it. Our police department does an excellent job of reacting to crimes. No question about it. What I’m interested in, is what are we doing to prevent these crimes? When you look at domestic violence as an example, when. you look at how many homicides we’ve had in the last five years, I’ll tell you in short that the majority of them are domestic violence. What are we doing proactively, to outreach in the community, to prevent that from happening. We look at that triple shooting that happened at the (Boo Han) Market last year and a couple of issues were raised. There were language barrier issues there. The officers, they provided immediate first aid, no question they saved lives, they provided the combat tourniquets, but could we prevent those types of things from happening in the future? Are we doing enough to get out there…so the community knows, “I need to call the police or my neighbor.” ‘That’s the kind of stuff I want us to get more focused on. So I’m looking for that. I’m looking to see, ‘Where have you as a police chief done that, have you worked on preventing gun violence? What are you doing to actively prevent, so we are not having more gun violence. Those are the kinds of qualities I’m looking for. What are you doing to establish community engagement?  If I look around the community at other cities, there are different departments, different police chiefs, who are going out there — police chiefs, not officers — who are going out there meeting with different community members, different groups, people of color and. making inroads. I’m just looking for demonstrated examples. Of course, there are other examples the community will want to see: traffic safety stuff, what are you doing to keep our streets safe. And that they have the resources to do that. If they are spending the time responding to call to call to call, they don’t have the time to do reactive.

TW: But how do you find that balance? Because the calls are not going to go away

MN: They’re not. Which goes back to the audit point. If I see that there’s an imbalance or out new chief sees that there’s an imbalance, if 80% or 90% of the time they are out there on calls, and 10% on proactivity and now have an informed model of this is the best way to do it — actually 25-75 or 30-70 or whatever, then that tells me, maybe we need more resources there, maybe we need to replug how we’re staffing people so they are doing that type of work. I don’t have that information and I think that’s always a problem when you’re in government. You’re always just focusing on what’s in front of you. If you do that day in and out, you have to have some bigger things that you are trying to strive to, otherwise you are just responding. I’m trying to prevent things from getting worse. Yeah, we don’t have a lot of violent crime. Our crime is mainly property crime, but I want to make sure that stays that way. And I want to make sure we have the resources in place, so it does not get to that place. I want to make sure we are getting ahead of it because by the time we are overwhelmed, it’s too late.

TW: The criticism of the earlier police chief process was, there was a perception there wasn’t transparency. It all was happening, but no one got a sense of why things were happening or how things were happening. Do you feel like that is something that you are committed to with this process — the transparency of it.

MN: We just had a Zoom call with them (the police chief search firm) today, it was our kickoff. I’m working on a public-facing timeline so I can show the public because it’s five months, so no one should feel it’s rushed. And the most important part is that candidate profile piece. So that takes one to two months. That part of it will be going out to the community, getting stakeholders involved, doing the community survey, producing a video. There’s a feedback loop to show “We got your input. We’re putting it together. Did we get it right?”

It’s an important context. Forgot COVID, forget all other challenges we’re facing right now — equity and justice, all the other things. Anytime you have a process where you’re going to bring in a new chief or potentially hire from within is contentious in any city, which is why a lot of cities just stick with an internal candidate because they don’t want to deal with that. It is not unique to just Edmonds. It is a process people feel very passionate about and very strong about. Bringing in an organization who’s helpful with that, to help smooth that process over, I am confident that they have the tools to help us do that, to make it as smooth as possible under those circumstances. Understanding what has occurred and what we’ve learned from it.

At the end of the day, the result is the same: There’s going to be finalists, people are going to be able to hear from these finalists and council is going to interview them and they are going to tell me their feedback and at the end of the day I am still going to appoint one of those finalists and they are still going to say yay or nay. That is how the process the works, that is the check and the balance.

Decision-making and leadership

TW: I watched your video on Facebook and you talked about “a small group of local people spreading fear and lies, trying to tear our city apart, said it was time to move forward.” And you also said “I was elected by the majority of you to make positive change and not maintain the status quo.” How do you quantify the number of people who support the way you are pursuing changes vs. those who might prefer a different approach? People take office and say, “I have the support of the people,” right? But yet you see this pushback and I know for you it’s probably felt sort of personal and you defined them as a small group and I don’t know whether that’s true or false. I know there are very loud people just like there are loud people on other sides of things. And I’m not talking about people who are in the camp of against progress or against diversity, equity or inclusion, but maybe it’s just how it gets done. If your philosophy is, “I was elected to make change and that’s what I’m doing,” and there are people who are saying ‘Wait a minute, maybe we need to bring people along a little bit on this.’  How do you feel you are falling on that scale?

MN: Obviously I am somebody who likes to take action. It’s just my thing. And I clearly try to take action on things that are important. We all have a short time on this planet and time is precious and there are real problems that people are experiencing. And so as much as people want to engage in who our next police chief is, I still am focusing on other things. I still need to move on what are we doing to keep our community save from COVID, what can we do as a city to get the vaccine out to more people. I’m in conversations with the fire department about how to get them out to long-term care facilities. I have the city staff calling every week and I’m hearing that 30 of the long-term care facilities aren’t getting the vaccine, and they are supposed to be at the top of the list.

This COVID thing has identified how many people are struggling and that’s why we are doing the human services thing and the social worker. There is just a lot of things that I am moving on and so I don’t feel like I just have a lot of time. Sometimes maybe am I pushing too fast. Is it too much for some people and am I learning from that? Absolutely. We’re not going fast on the police chief now. We’re going to take our time on that now. But I also think it’s the nature of the issues that I’m tackling. I’m trying to take on social justice and equity. That’s going to be pushback no matter what. If I go two miles an hour trying to tackle social justice and equity issues, how much bad stuff happens between then and a year later.

We have people who are saying “We want change.” Taking advantage of that opportunity and using that to move that forward, yes I will do that. We have people engaged, we have people informed, let’s try this out. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. I’m just one person. There are seven councilmembers out there. I can propose ideas, I can do things, but they can vote it down. And they do vote it down.

What motivates me is I feel there are a lot of things out there that I feel we should be doing and I’m trying to do them all and maybe sometimes I should slow down a little bit. It’s not that I’m speeding so fast that I’m not hearing what people are telling me. I do try to do that. But there is a balance. It’s like our housing situation. There are housing commission members who feel like this process (to make recommendations for housing options in Edmonds) is rushed. How long have we been doing this process? Over a year? Two years? And I know it’s because some of those people don’t want to see anything happen. I don’t think anybody with a straight face can say the process has been rushed. Could we still get more community engagement? Yeah, sure. COVID has impacted stuff but these are not new issues. And at the end of the day, whatever recommendations that housing commissioners make, they are still going to go before council and they (councilmembers) are still going to take time to digest all of it. While we are trying to get the most perfect thing, in pursuit of the perfect, along the way, we still have so many people who can’t afford to live here. We still have so more people who have a house and now they are housing unstable and they’re going to be homeless.

I did this as a councilmember and I do it now — I represent the 43,000 residents. I don’t just represent one group or another group or this group. And I do factor that in and I know that we have different ways of going about preventing gun violence. Some people think it’s preventing gun violence because we should have more guns, other people think we should prevent it by not having guns. But we all agree we don’t want to have shootouts all the time. But I want to move on these issues because I think there are so just many things we have to work on. There’s a lot of big stuff happening and to seize that momentum because there’s a lot of interest out there.

TW: One thing that I’ve heard some people say, sometimes when they watch you speak, whether it’s at a council meeting or on a video, they feel like you’re almost giving a lecture as opposed to bringing people together. And maybe that’s part of your hyper focus on getting things done. Have you ever gotten that feedback?

MN: I hope people judge me for not what I say but what I do. Maybe how I say things or the way I’m saying things may not be receptive, and that’s not my intention. Whenever I talk about stuff, I talk about a lot of stuff and I feel like I just need to get it out there. That’s helpful to hear. I don’t want to come across that way. I’m a work in progress. I want to appeal to as many people as I can, and I am my worst critic. If some people feel that way, I will try to work on that more.

Future projects

TW: Anything we didn’t talk about that you want to add?

MN: We have all sorts of stuff that we are focusing on. Our economy — I was on a call with (Congresswoman) Pramila Jayapal (who represents Edmonds) and they are working on getting more local aid from the federal budget…for state and local governments. So hopefully we can get some of that and again be able to give it out to those who need it most. I think we did a really good job of doing that (giving out federal CARES Act money) by the deadline. There were a lot of communities that didn’t get their money out. Looking at working with our businesses to see if we can do the Main Street pedestrian stuff in a more semi-permanent way. We have such great feedback from pedestrians who are enjoying it. That’s something beyond COVID. We know that downtowns that have a walkable part — there’s a period of a year where people don’t know what to make of it and then it becomes that center. It’s thriving and vibrant. We saw a glimpse of that, and I want to keep that going.

We have Highway 99 –there’s so much potential there. (Read more on Highway 99 in our report on the mayor’s State of the City Address.) And the first step is this community renewal plan. What’s cool about it is, it’s based on state law and you have to go through these steps. It allows us to do public-private partnerships that we can’t do right now…to make some real investments to get some real changes there. Going back to what are we doing that’s proactive rather than reactive. We can sit there and keep sending more and police, or we can just get rid of that environment that’s creating the crime in the first place. We can bring in a more livable community up there and that’s an area that we have neglected and it’s just filled with opportunities, now that we have light rail coming through and we have a new (federal) administration, there is potential real money there to really help that. And (the idea of establishing) the satellite office — people have been talking about that. So let’s just do that. We’ve looked at some places, we think we might have a spot. I’ve got to ask council. We’ve got to get some funding. Most people agree that Highway 99 could use some focus. I’m hoping to be really a one-stop shop for every service. In addition to that, there could be classes after hours, there could be non-profits that could offer services. The sky’s the limit as to what that could turn out to be.

Our parks — people I don’t think really appreciated our parks before COVID, but we also realize, our parks need some help. We keep on seeing all those signs, “I’ll buy your home.” The developers out there are very proactive in acquiring land. We’re not proactive about acquiring open space. Can we have a land acquisition strategy where we’re proactively going out there? We have funding (approved as part of the 2021 budget) to do that now.

And then our human services program — every city is much farther along than we are doing it. And COVID has just made it worse. More people are needing more assistance and more aid. We know the food bank, the lines are doubling. Yes, some people are getting their jobs back, but they are not getting the same type of jobs back. We can provide additional help, additional services so getting that up and running.

— By Teresa Wippel









  1. I also want to clarify that in terms of the report mentioned, “This is from the community’s perspective, of community members, how they are feeling” – the more accurate statement would be, “this report is based on (x) number of interviews from the following age/race demographics.”

    A reminder that the position of mayor and councilmember is to be non-partisan. And regardless of what side of center the next mayor is on, the mayor’s hope that “people judge me for not what I say but what I do” is naïve. Words matters, responses matter, actions matter. And those in office are frequently – and often – judged by all three.

    1. Sam – slow down. Look at what I wrote – I didn’t say their lived experienced weren’t valid. What I stated is what all good reports include: the number of data points, those surveyed, etc. Anecdotal data is not invalid. Nor am I saying that what those on the panel shared is untrue or invalid. How wide and deep is the shared experience? This would be important to know if we truly want to improve. It is true I would prefer our mayor to lead in a more non-partisan manner. Always open to doing coffee. I find face to face conversations to be more honoring and civil.

  2. I’m honestly wondering if any of those attacking the Edmonds municipal government for tackling racism in town would make those same arguments in front of an actual Latino, Black or Native person. My gut and my experience says “no, they already go out of their way to avoid minorities challenging their preconstructed projections of us in fear”.

    Ugh. The hate is real. The defenses to protecting racism and white privilege are as fake and transparent as those who make them.

    1. What is being challenged is the approach and method, not the cause. If you want to truly fix a problem you must start with data and an objective method and approach that can be measured. The mayor’s current approach, that has been shared, lacks in those areas.

      1. So what you’re saying is that the lived experiences of the panel and their observations are not valid. Essentially, you’re dismissing them as liars. From the second this came out you were committed to discrediting the whole thing. Why? It’s a tool that can be used to make policing in our city better. What’s with the commitment to not taking any of it in at all?

        1. Regarding lived experiences, I think we all agree that Racism is like an institutional and ideological cancer. We don’t require or even prefer that our doctors be cancer survivors to treat cancer. What makes a system better is to observe strategies that have worked and to adopt those. Has Seattle been doing better or worse? Why are we adopting strategies from Seattle?

        2. Well if it’s not what you’re saying, then why are you fixating on how this isn’t valid without data? Lucky for you, data is forthcoming with the audit.
          Regardless, not all (probably most) people of color are comfortable reporting bad police behavior and practices for fear of retaliation. A lot of the things discussed by the panel are things that go unreported. So this panel deserves way more credit for literally putting themselves in danger by speaking up. In your obsession with discrediting and ousting the mayor, you’re also missing really important information and further marginalizing people who deserve to be heard and feel comfortable in this community.

        3. Sam,

          I think that, thus far, I am the only one being called a liar. That’s okay with me, I have been called worse. (Just in these responses alone.)

          As of yet, I have seen no discounting of lived experience. Perspective and lens are paramount in any discussion. Understanding (better yet, having empathy for them) is they key to meeting in the middle. Yes, there must be compromise.

          I am not worried about the 10% extreme on either end of the political spectrum. There isn’t anyone in the world who will meet their needs and demands except for their chosen demagogue. I am worried about the remaining 80% of us actually can make a difference.

          The Mayor took a hasty course (by his own words) on some of his initiatives. They also were not transparent with clearly stated goals (I want equity and justice too. )

          With this mayor, it is social issue to social issue without tactical objective steps to get to that point. It is alienation without substance. Sending a task force out to spearhead his initiatives was unfair to the task force. I don’t discount a single word they say. I disagree with some of it, applaud some of it, and hear the diverse perspectives. What I don’t see is the Mayor, prior to releasing a report that would cause disruption, sitting down with his administration, the task force, the consultant, and the police department and reviewing the findings, discussing concrete actions, planning budgetary line items and metrics, and then coming to the residents together. That’s leadership.

          Instead, in my line of work, we call that pin pulling. Pull the pin on the grenade, toss it high and far, and see what comes out of it.

          This is a good step to have a report. Unfortunately, it has dome more damage than good.

    2. Ashley,

      Please tell us what it is you want. Please tell us what we can work towards together. I have given my contact information repeatedly. I am not arguing with you, discounting anyone’s experiences or obstacles, or ignoring or discounting that racism exists. To the contrary, I am begging for a path forward.

      I have now been labeled a misogynistic, white, rich, gaslighting, white washing racist. One who happens to agree with a large number of the suggestions in the task force memo. I also agree that it is intimidating to contact the authorities.

      In being labeled, I also find a lack of equity and justice. What I am trying to find is a common path forward that doesn’t divide, and as of yet, you have either discounted those efforts as not worthy of your time, or worthy of vitriol.

      Reach out, I again, know nothing about you except that you have a passion for equity and justice, and a different lived experience than me.

      There is middle ground, and a path forward, and pointing fingers has done little, if any good to fix it.

      What are the concrete steps, that Edmonds, as a City, can take to bring equity and justice? For me, it is a thorough review of policy and procedures that have a basis in inequality. Ate there policy and procedures within the Edmonds Police Department that have created a lack of equity and justice. If there are, they should be attacked head on. If the Edmonds PD needs to conduct more outreach, more training, add more resources, then attack that head on. If the City needs to have more equitable hiring practices, let’s attack that head on. If housing needs to be more equitable, let’s attack that head on.

      In the interim, attacking each other just gets tiresome and muted.

      1. George, have you been called a fascist yet? You just need one more to get what I like to call a “PNW politics bingo”.

      2. George,

        Do you know why you have been labeled, “misogynistic”? I haven’t seen those traits in you yet? Am I missing something?

        In terms of your comments to Ashley, some people post comments because they want to be validated. It may be that some people aren’t ready yet to move toward solutions. The pain is what they are sharing and it is real for them. I pray for those people and wait for their readiness to trust us enough to share more.

        1. I got no idea why I am being labeled anything, whether it be a misogynist, or a potential Council candidate. I think I have an understanding of and empathy for diverse views – but that can always improve.

  3. My comments relate to the following statement in the above article:

    “But the Edmonds City Council insisted that Nelson follow the rules for executive-level city appointments and conduct a search process for three applicants.”

    It is not City Council’s duty to insist City laws are followed. That responsibility is the DUTY of the Mayor. Mayor Nelson knew the law, ECC 2.10.010 (D), as clearly disclosed in the February 18, 2020 City Council Agenda Packet. Nelson had also participated in execution of ECC 2.10.010 (D) while on City Council. On July 9, 2019, he was one of seven Councilmembers who voted unanimously to waive the three-interview rule and only interview two candidates for the vacant Human Resource Director position.

    The City Council did not have the legal option of confirming Mr. Lawless as Police Chief after Mayor Nelson announced his appointment on April 9, 2020.

    After violating ECC 2.10.010 (D), Mayor Nelson tried to get the City Council to change the related law. This effort is documented in the July 21, 2020 City Council Meeting Agenda Packet.

    While this was going on, Mayor Nelson overlooked the expiration of the acting Police Chief directorship. As a result, the acting directorship was deemed vacant effective June 30, 2020. The City Attorney confirmed this during the July 21, 2020 City Council Meeting.

    For weeks, in the middle of the pandemic, the acting Police Chief directorship was vacant.

    This oversight resulted in the City choosing to pursue a loophole (as described by the City Attorney) during the July 21, 2020 City Council meeting to fill the vacancy. Mr. Lawless commenced a second six-month term as acting Police Chief in late July, 2020.

    I have yet to see the Mayor held accountable for his violation of ECC 2.10.010 (D). He clearly knew the law but chose to act contrary to it.

    1. One other related point. Mr. Lawless has now commenced a THIRD six-month term as acting Police Chief. I believe this term commenced January 23, 2021.

      This is troubling. Mayor Nelson issued a Press Release on October 27, 2020 that stated:

      Mayor Mike Nelson is pleased to announce that “after an almost two-month application period, I am excited to move forward two exceptional candidates for further consideration for the position of Edmonds Police Chief.” He further offered: “Both candidates bring a wealth of valuable experience.”

      The October 27, 2020 Press Release proves that Mayor Nelson’s administration was able to generate sufficient interest from suitable candidates to satisfy the city council interview requirement.

      ECC 2.10.040(B) states the Mayor can only request City Council extend the Acting Directorship “If, during that six-month period, the administration has not been able to generate sufficient interest from suitable candidates to satisfy the city council interview requirement”.

      I believe City government breaks down and citizen confidence in City government is impaired when a Mayor chooses to not perform his duty. Sufficient interest from suitable candidates was generated. Again, Nelson stated on October 27, 2020 that he was “… excited to move forward two exceptional candidates for further consideration for the position of Edmonds Police Chief.”

      ECC 2.01.010 states:

      The mayor shall be the chief executive and administrative officer of the city, in charge of all departments and employees, with authority to designate assistants and department heads. The mayor shall see that all laws and ordinances are faithfully enforced and that law and order is maintained in the city, and shall have general supervision of the administration of city government and all city interest. [Ord. 2349 § 2, 1983].

      That duty includes ECC 2.10.040(B).

      Nelson labeled Jim Lawless an exceptional candidate which is better than merely suitable. How can an extension of an Acting Directorship be legal?

  4. for nelson and the left/liberal worldview it is all about race, so all public policy is initiatives nelson wants is going to be surrounded by the lefts obsession with america being a racist nation.

  5. How does a Mayor go from issuing a Press Release on October 27, 2020 stating that Jim Lawless was one of two exceptional candidates, both who bring a wealth of valuable experience – to not appointing Jim Lawless after new information was discovered about the other candidate?

    Furthermore, Mayor Nelson had exclaimed in an April 9, 2020 Press Release that:

    “One measure of a person’s worth is how they perform during a crisis,” Edmonds Mayor Mike 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.”

    Did something happen specific to exceptional candidate Jim Lawless between October 27, 2020 and December 15, 2020? Mayor Mike Nelson issued yet another Press Release on December 15, 2020 declaring that the City will be conducting a nationwide search in the new year with a NEW slate of candidates.

    Nelson’s December 15, 2020 Press Release did not make one mention of exceptional candidate Jim Lawless.

    If something changed specific to exceptional candidate Jim Lawless between October 27, 2020 and December 15, 2020, don’t citizens deserve to be fully informed of such? The City disclosed what changed with the other exceptional candidate Sherman Pruitt. Shouldn’t disclosure be made so the public knows why neither exceptional candidate is now our Police Chief? Why the difference in disclosure?

    Per RCW 42.30.010 (Open Public Meetings Act):

    The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.

  6. Mayor Nelson, governs thru the lens of Seattle politics. We’re the Marxist will do anything to destroy a city. I don’t think most people in Edmonds follow his leftist views.

  7. I want to thank the Mayor for giving this interview and know that there are issues that need to be addressed head on.

  8. Excellent in depth interview. This is why we all should be supporting local news coverage! Thank you, Teresa!

  9. I had held off signing the Petition until today. This interview was the final straw for me.

    I have requested equity and justice from Mike Nelson and fellow elected officials for years. I have not received one reply from Mike Nelson since April 6, 2018 when he responded to my “Re: Illegal Legislative Process #3 – Westgate Chapel-Please give Westgate Chapel back THEIR money!” email with the following:

    Mr. Reidy,

    I have asked the city attorney to look into the concerns you have raised.


    I never heard from Nelson again. I believe a person interested in equity and justice would have followed up with me and fought for equity and justice.

    The City Attorney and City Staff have been trying to change the Street Vacation law that I brought to everyone’s attention regarding the Westgate Chapel matter. Does the City employ a strategy of trying to change laws after the fact?

    The City Attorney and City Staff are not elected to make our policies.

    There is a ton more to that story. The pending Street Vacation code update has been in some secretive suspended status for well over a year.

    Equity and justice? I just signed the petition.

  10. You did a search, you and the city Council chose two finalists. You hired one and because, after being hired it became clear he neglected to share some important information, and he was let go. Once that information was discovered it left the City no choice but to terminate him as Chief. That still left one finalist, interim Chief Lawless. In my opinion the selection process worked and Chief Lawless was still available. So can someone let me know why he wasn’t hired? He was the second finalist from a large search process. I would like to hear the exact reason he wasn’t hired. I believe the City needs to know exactly why he wasn’t hired. What about Chief Lawless made him unacceptable to be Chief? The job by the way he is holding. Remember Mr Mayor you chose him for the job back in April 2020.

  11. “I don’t just want a diverse police force, I want to see them diverse at all levels of that organization so that we are actually promoting people. I want to see demonstrated leadership…prevent gun violence…prevent domestic violence…outreach in the community,. Those are the kinds of qualities I’m looking for. ”

    From the Mayor’s statement the above is his priority for Police Chief. Certainly a interesting list. (1) Promote diversity, (2) prevent gun violence, (3) prevent domestic violence, (4) community outreach.

    So what are the highest priorities for the community at large? My list is:
    (1) Promote the best candidate
    (2) Demonstrated leadership in public safety. Keep citizens safe by responding to unlawful situations (gun violence, domestic violence, traffic issues, etc)
    (3) Provides opportunity for officer training
    (3) Reach out to community to improve relations with all citizens
    (4) Reach out to young people to improve relations with police

    It is my belief that teaching about unlawful behavior (gun violence, domestic violence) comes initially from parents. Certainly, the City could provide that type of training to the community. However, I do not see that as a major element for consideration in hiring a Police Chief. We don’t want to hire a Training Specialist for an important public safety position.

  12. ‘human services department, every city is farther along than us doing it.”. I looked up every city in Snohomish county and the majority don’t even have a human services department. only Everett is close. I guess this is part of what others said about not having data or accurate information.

  13. “What are you doing to prevent domestic violence?” “When you look at domestic violence as an example, when. you look at how many homicides we’ve had in the last five years, I’ll tell you in short that the majority of them are domestic violence.” Now Mayor Nelson wants to look at domestic violence? That’s rich…..he knew his top pick for police chief had at least two incidents of domestic violence in his history and yet he pushed him through anyway. Now he’s trying to spin it as if he’s concerned about violence against women? Pretty transparent “spin” Mr. Nelson. But I guess it’s in keeping with Ms. Fraley-Monillas who stated that the incidents of domestic violence in their pick for chief of police were just silly incidents that don’t mean anything and should be overlooked. Guess it was just a couple silly women over-reacting.

  14. My main disappointment in Mayor Nelson and some I voted for on Council is that I thought they would be lazer focused on just efficiently running a relatively small city. Instead I got a bunch of idealoges trying to save the society and the planet at the City’s expense. Reading thru today’s “police blotter” I didn’t see large numbers of obvious hate crimes and incidents indicating bias toward any particular minority. I did see lots of incidents of property crime and one incident of possible tree abuse. I also noticed much of the calls concentrated in the hwy 99 area. Most of the Bowl area calls were car prowls, mail thefts, domestic issues and such. Let’s get real for a change.

  15. Just so everyone has all the information regarding the City of Edmonds Diversity Commission Equity Tool Kit Dated January 7, 2021 the Mayor mentions is his interview, I have posted links to areas that I think are important to know about. If you open the equity tool kit PDF and go to page 8 (websites), then click the first website:

    -Dismantling Racism — it will take you to another website where If you then click the “current” button to the right of the home button it will take you to a website that promotes defunding the police and if you click on the defund the police word in blue it will take you this page of demands

    I am brining this to the attention of everyone so you are informed about the tool kit and what you can access in it. Sometimes things get buried on purpose and sometimes it is by accident. I am not here to say which is which but I did want everyone to know that in the tool kit they reference a website that calls for the defunding of the police.

    Also if you go to page 2 of the tool kit you will find a section called Take the Pledge. Under pledge examples you can click a anti racist small business pledge and it will take you to this website that has a pledge example for small businesses….

    1. To clarify, the Edmonds Diversity Commission tool kit you referenced is different than the equity tool the mayor is referring to in the task force report. That equity tool is actually a series of questions to be asked as an equity lens — the purpose of which, according to the task force report on page 3, is “to be deliberately inclusive as an organization makes decisions. It introduces a set of questions into the decision that help the decision makers focus on equity in both their processes and outcomes.” The link to that task force report, which we’ve provided in the past, is here.

  16. Teresa, I appreciate the interview. Can you tell the readers how many weeks or months you have been attempting to interview the Mayor? Thanks

      1. I hope the Mayor is willing to do the interviews more often in the future. I wouldn’t think there would be any opposition since keeping the community informed is part of the code of ethics.

    1. Dorian,

      Opinion here, but based on the widely reported items, (if you look at just the MEN coverage alone), there were thorough investigations, report outs, and findings.

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