Edmonds business owner, mom, Air Force Academy graduate, veteran and civil/environmental engineer Janelle Cass kicked off her bid to replace City Council Position 2 incumbent Luke Distelhorst at a Thursday evening virtual event.
In addition to facing Distelhorst, who was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Mike Nelson after Nelson’s election as mayor, Cass is running against business owner Will Chen and former Edmonds City Councilmember Lora Petso.
Cass’s campaign motto, Restore-Protect-Invest, provided the underlying theme for the evening. She pledged to restore common sense, transparency and accountability to Edmonds city government while protecting the city’s signature charm, safety and beauty, and investing in Edmonds’ economy, environment and infrastructure. Additional details are provided on her campaign website here.
Hosted and emceed by Eric Dubbury, the event included speakers and an opportunity for audience questions and answers.
The first speaker was Mike Schindler, CEO of Operation Military Family and a strong advocate for veterans’ causes. Schindler began by asking how we know who to vote for in today’s highly charged political environment.
In this regard, he recalled a conversation he had with his father as a young boy in the wake of Richard Nixon’s resignation.
“I was barely old enough to tie my shoes,” he related, “and I asked my dad ‘what happened to President Nixon?’”
His father responded with a very simple answer – “leaders don’t lie.”
Noting that this is a basic tenet of the Air Force honor code, he pointed out that Cass embodies this as a result of her Air Force Academy education and 17 years of subsequent military service.
“In the military one learns to become selfless, forward thinking and collaborative,” Schindler stressed. ‘These are things our city leaders need to embrace too. Our duty in this election is not to a political party or ideology, but to our city. Janelle is principled, she speaks the truth, and she will serve our city objectively. It is time for us to get back to proven standards, codes of honor, and move away from partisan politics.”
Schindler was followed by Christine Cisneros, a close friend of Cass and lifelong Seattle resident who has followed public policy all her life. Openly gay, she hosts the Confessional Radio Show broadcast on KKNW radio at 1150 AM.
“Janelle is the kind of person we unify under,” Cisneros began. “She is a natural leader.”
She went on to praise Cass’s personal qualities of listening, caring, and engaging with people, pointing out how this exemplifies the old political truth that “people don’t care as much about what you believe as they care about how you are with them.”
She then reflected on her years in Seattle and the disturbing changes she has seen there in recent years that have brought “homelessness, addiction, broken public trust and deception.”
“Janelle is interested in solutions for these things,” she stressed. “She will fight for what we have, and support the lifeblood of the community, the immune system, if you will, of our city. These are the folks who raise families, earn money, pay taxes and look out for each other, thereby enabling us all to live well.
“Janelle doesn’t ask questions when she comes in to help,” she continued. “She doesn’t care who you are or what you are – she’s there for you unconditionally. This is a time like no other, and Janelle is the obvious choice for what we all know needs to be done.”
The next speaker, Brooke Schick who owns and operates the Basement Salon in downtown Edmonds, addressed how Cass would support the small business community.
“Janelle understands what it’s like to run a business in a small city like Edmonds,” she began. “She understands the daily grind, how to serve customers, and the importance of spending quality time with customers – not just ‘hi and bye’ but a passion to listen to customers and respond to their needs. We need this compassion in a leader.”
She went on to relate conversations with her customers as they sat in her chair who expressed disappointment with Walkable Main Street and the lack of parking, with one actually saying that without the local small businesses, Edmonds “isn’t that much.”
“We need a leader to provide security for small businesses,” she concluded. “There’s no better choice than Janelle Cass.”
Next up was Darlene Stern-Rapp, an Edmonds Daybreakers Rotarian, emeritus director of the Edmonds Police Foundation, and wife of the late police chief David Stern.
“I am so delighted that Janelle is stepping forward,” she began. “She will bring needed integrity and independent thinking to our city government.”
Stern explained how in Cass’s job as an environmental and civil engineer in the military, she specialized in protecting against chemical and biological emergencies. In this capacity, she worked closely with first responders who often must expose themselves to these hazards in order to help others.
“Her job was to protect the protectors,” Stern explained.
“Janelle embodies the qualities of integrity, independent thinking and respect, combined with a deep civic commitment, dedication to and love of country,” she continued. “She will bring these qualities to bear and be a force on our ongoing path to keep Edmonds safe, flourishing and welcoming to all. She is the absolute right person for the right job right now.”
Stern was followed by 11-year Edmonds City Councilmember Diane Buckshnis, who related a recent three-hour conversation with Cass in which Buckshnis shared the details of her work on the Edmonds Marsh and other local environmental issues.
“She listened, asked intelligent questions, and took copious notes,” Buckshnis said. “She is totally committed to being informed on the issues.
“Frankly, I worry about future generations, our children and the environment we’ll be leaving them,’ Buckshnis continued. “I’ll be retiring in two years, and we need someone to carry on, help with environmental issues, and push the marsh forward. Janelle Cass will be the perfect fit for council because of her education, willingness to listen, and discipline. We need people like her who are committed to the environment. I fully support her candidacy.”
The final speaker was District 2 Edmonds Port Commissioner and local insurance broker David Preston, a close friend of Cass and her family.
“While I’m most known for my work with the port, my day job as an insurance broker brings me in contact with many of our small businesses, and I see first-hand the day-to-day struggles of running a business,” Preston said. “One thing I’ve learned is that the businesses with the best culture are the ones who treat their employees and customers like family.”
Pointing that the Hawaiian word for family, Ohana, is incorporated into Cass’s business name, Preston made the point that this reflects how she walks the talk in relating to her customers and employees.
“She shows compassion, empathy and tenderness with her patients,” he said. “She is an artful listener, who has mastered the art of hearing, digesting what others have to say, and using it to draw conclusions and make a difference. She values diverse opinions and knits them together to come up with creative solutions that others often don’t see. She’s where the rubber meets the road. And importantly, she is the only candidate for Position 2 that is truly non-partisan.”
With introductory statements complete, Janelle Cass took the virtual podium to outline her ideas, values and vision for Edmonds.
She began by thanking her supporters, family and colleagues for their help, noting that she and husband Chris will celebrate their 22nd wedding anniversary this weekend. Their son is a musician attending Western Washington University, and their daughter is following in her mother’s footsteps, with plans to attend the Air Force Academy and become part of the Space Force.
“My campaign theme is simple,” she began. “Restore, protect and invest. I will work to restore transparency, accountability and common sense to city government, protect the charm of our town, and invest in our economy, first responders and infrastructure. This is a simple plan to put our city back on track to serving you, the citizens of Edmonds.”
She went on to point out that restoring accountability means that all of Edmonds deserves to be heard, saying that citizens are the “only special interest group” the city council should serve.
“Over the past few years we’ve seen a basic disregard for transparency,” she added, pointing to the recent police chief selection process as a prime example.
“I’m not the kind of person who will vote to go along just to get along,” she said. “I won’t jump. I’ll do my do diligence, ask the right questions, and take the necessary time to ensure I have enough information to make the best decisions for the citizens of Edmonds.”
She criticized the several recent city government surveys, which she labeled as “biased” because they were written in a pre-decisional manner – where the questions were designed to elicit a pre-determined outcome – and cited the recent Walkable Main Street survey as a prime example.
“I believe government that truly serves the people doesn’t use biased surveys that are designed to evoke and manipulate desired responses,” she added. “As an engineer I find them scientifically inappropriate. This kind of dishonesty creates a toxic environment between local government, citizens, and businesses. Edmonds residents are hard-working compassionate people with good ideas They need to be heard, and heard honestly.”
She praised the value of working together with opposing groups and finding consensus that benefits all parties as basic to restoring the groundwork of trust, citing her own experience doing just this as an environmental engineer.
“And once you restore that groundwork, you need to protect it,” she added.
Moving on to protecting what many see as Edmonds’ particular charm, she spoke about her earlier years living in Seattle, and how it was a “pristine, safe place” where she would feel safe running across the University Bridge and walking alone.
“I don’t feel safe there now,” she said. “Seattle used to be a quaint town and I hold special memories in my heart, but I don’t even feel compelled to visit anymore.”
She attributes this change to policies leaders have implemented, warning that there are those in Edmonds who want to follow these same policies “that caused Seattle’s downfall.”
“We need to protect Edmonds and make sure we don’t do that,” she stressed. “I cherish how charming and special Edmonds is, and I am committed to preserving and protecting it.”
On the subject of housing, she stressed the importance of listening to residents who have said they want to preserve traditional residential housing.
“But that said, it is critical that we pursue other options in the right areas to provide variety in housing choices and meet the needs of the missing middle,” she added.
“We also have wonderful green spaces in Edmonds,” she continued. “In addition to the obvious benefits, we need to recognize that these play an important role in the health of Puget Sound. Over my 17 years of implement successful environmental protection projects, I know this first-hand. But we can never lose sight that part of doing this is reaching out and getting public input – community input is critical for a balanced approach to effective environmental protection.”
She then moved on to investments in the community, citing public safety as paramount.
“Public safety affects everyone equally,” she said. “I will work to invest in our first responders to ensure that they have the resources they need to do the job.”
She also stressed the importance of continued investments in our infrastructure and small businesses, adding that “as a business-minded person” she would ensure that these are done in a fiscally responsible manner.
“Small businesses are our bedrock,” she said, adding that she was saddened to see some businesses close during the pandemic, but at the same time was impressed and inspired by the resilience of others at adapting to weathering these unprecedented times.
Saying that she favors investments in the economy that come from creativity and energy rather than new taxes, she cited what she sees as the importance of updating the city code to make permitting more efficient, cut red tape, and “plant a seed that will grow new businesses in Edmonds.”
In conclusion, she again thanked all who are helping her campaign and all her supporters, saying that “together we can restore, protect and invest in this very special city that we all love.”
The question-and-answer session began with a query about the current six-month moratorium on removing trees 24 inches in diameter or more, asking if she would have handled this issue differently.
“Yes, I’d do it differently,” she said. “It goes back to needing public input on this issue. Most people in Edmonds are environmentally conscientious, but when you have rules like this that haven’t been well thought out there can be unintended consequences. As an example, she said she personally knows of “10 large trees that lost their lives” in the short interim between when the moratorium was passed and signed. She also noted unfair discrepancies in the way this is applied to developers vs homeowners.
The next question asked about the proposals to rezone single-family residential areas to multi-family.
“Again, this circles back to the need for quality, in-person if possible, input from the public,” she said. “Our surveys say single-family zoning is favored. That’s what people are asking for. I don’t see any need right now to reduce single-family zoning.”
The next questioner asked about Walkable Main Street, and how some perceive the current city administration as not listening to constituents on this issue, and how she would incorporate all input into a well-balanced solution.
“There’s a theme here,” Cass responded with a smile. “Again, we should listen to the people who are being affected. Our businesses came up with a compromise – street closure on Sundays only – which was ultimately rejected.”
She went on to explain that part of the basis for this rejection was the poorly designed survey that split the vote of those who favored a single-day closure by asking if it should be Saturday or Sunday, not simply one day vs two.
“We need to make sure we ask these questions properly, and then talk to all businesses and ask what they think of it,” she added.
Other questioners asked if she favors going back to in-person council meetings, to which she answered yes, if it can be done safely. She also added that the city should collaborate with the Edmonds Center for the Arts, which is also working on the reopening issue, to see if any of their approaches could work in other contexts.
The event concluded with a call for help, both financial and volunteer.
“None of us on the campaign staff are getting paid,” added Eric Dubbury. “We’re working for free. No consultants are being used. It’s just us. We’re doing this because we believe in the cause, we love Edmonds, and we’re fighting to do what’s right for our town and our citizens.”
— By Larry Vogel