There will be a public statement “within the next day or two” from Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson about “the next steps in the police chief process.” That’s the word released Thursday by the city’s spokesperson, Edmonds Economic Development and Community Services Director Patrick Doherty. He had no further details.
The mayor must make at least one decision quickly. Assistant Chief Jim Lawless has held the title of acting chief since January 2020. It was supposed to be a six-month assignment while Edmonds conducted a search to replace long-time Chief Al Compaan, who retired Jan. 1, 2020. The COVID pandemic interrupted the search; the Edmonds City Council granted a waiver to extend Lawless’ acting role for a second six months, which expires on Jan. 22. What happens then? Under Edmonds City Code, “the mayor may request an extension of acting directorship authority from the city council, in increments of no more than six months at a time, to allow the recruiting process to continue. After the initial six-month term, each extension of the acting directorship shall be subject to city council confirmation.”
Will Nelson ask the council for another extension? The mayor has not made himself available for interviews and city spokesperson Doherty said he also he has no answer to that question.
The mayor said Dec. 15 that he plans to begin a new national police chief search. “We will provide details about the new search process once that has been determined,” Doherty said.
Last year, the city hired California-based consulting firm Public Sector Search & Consulting, which states on its website it is “the only search firm in the U.S. to focus exclusively on recruiting police executives.” The company’s initial contract with Edmonds totaled $28,500; the city paid out only $6,422 because the search was cut short when the COVID pandemic hit. Doherty says no additional firms were retained. It is not yet known how the city recruited candidates when the search resumed in September 2020. We have asked if the money left over can be used this year, or if the city must request new funds. We have had no reply on that yet.
Some Edmonds residents are not waiting for a new police chief search. A group took to the streets at Westgate Dec. 31, urging Mayor Nelson to resign or face a recall election over his handling of the police chief search. Denise Cooper organized the gathering, borne from what she calls her frustration at Nelson’s actions: “I do not believe the mayor has been a good leader; he seems to find divisiveness instead of discussion,” she said.
Residents Rod Schick and Rebecca Anderson stopped by the rally to share with the others a petition drive they have launched, also asking the mayor to resign. Said Anderson: “I don’t think the mayor has been transparent. We thought this (the petition) was the fastest way to involve residents who are frustrated with the police chief hiring process and want to make their grievances known.”
Their online petition at ipetitions.com/petition/drop-the-mike has gathered more than 370 signatures. It is not a recall campaign. Anderson said they plan to present the signatures to the mayor and city council within three weeks. “We don’t want this to go away and it’s not over yet,” she said. “Public safety is so important to all of us; how do we get the mayor’s attention?”
— By Bob Throndsen