Voting along familiar 4-3 lines, the Edmonds City Council agreed Tuesday to disband the Edmonds Citizens Salary Commission, which sets compensation for councilmembers and the mayor. Instead, the council agreed to work with the city’s Human Resource Department to address equity issues when it comes to councilmembers’ pay, with the goal of ensuring that council compensation is high enough to encourage more community members to run for office.
The decision came a week after a proposal was introduced by city staff to change the schedule of how the city’s salary commission presents its findings — from every two years to every four years. Human Resources Director Jessica Neill Hoyson had proposed the change because there is considerable staff time involved in working with the commission, and its findings on councilmember and mayoral salaries don’t change much over time.
When the council discussed the issue last week, the conversation turned to how to ensure council pay can attract a diverse range of council candidates — something that City Attorney Jeff Taraday said was beyond the salary commission’s scope. (Councilmembers currently make $16,000 annually plus health benefits.)
In revisiting the issue this week, none of the councilmembers who spoke Tuesday night disagreed with the concept of ensuring that council salaries should be set with equity in mind. The disagreement came in how to get there. Three councilmembers — Kristiana Johnson, Diane Buckshnis and Vivian Olson — supported the idea of keeping the salary commission structure the same — with findings presented every two years. The study of salary equity could be done in tandem, they argued, and then if necessary the salary commission could be disbanded later.
But Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas proposed eliminating the commission immediately, and having the city’s human resources staff begin work right away to address the equity piece. The salary commission could always be reinstated later if necessary, she said.
“It makes it very difficult to participate in the process when they (councilmembers) may be two-people working families, they have children at home..where they may have to give up their job to come,” Fraley-Monillas said.
City Attorney Taraday pointed out the council could accomplish the same goal by simply following staff’s recommendation to have the commission issue findings on a four-year rather than a two-year cycle, which would give the council time to address how to make salaries more competitive to attract a diverse range of candidates without changing city code to disband the commission. In the end, however, Fraley-Monillas’ motion was supported by Council President Susan Paine and Councilmembers Laura Johnson and Luke Distelhorst.
“If council does have the desire to move in the direction of the equity issue, council should do that first, and then decide whether the salary commission should meet in year three or year four,” added Councilmember Laura Johnson.
This isn’t the first time the council has eliminated the all-volunteer salary commission, which reviews and sets compensation and benefits of City of Edmonds elected officials. The commission was disbanded in 2014, then reinstated in 2016.
Taraday noted that if the council does decide to set compensation itself, any salary increase would not go into effect until 2026, when all sitting councilmembers would either have been re-elected or were no longer on the council.
In other business, the council held a public hearing regarding a master permit application from New Cingular Wireless to install small-cell wireless facilities in city rights of way. Those testifying raised concerns related to potential health and environmental impacts, both topics that have been raised in past council discussions.
While New Cingular’s current plans do call for the small cells to house 4G technology, wireless representatives admitted that eventually 5G would replace 4G. The carrier is the first to request permission to place small-cell wireless facilities in the city, but it’s expected that eventually other carriers will submit their own master permit applications. The master permit is the general authority that the city grants a telecommunications provider to place facilities in the city’s right of way.
In April 2019, the city council unanimously approved an ordinance governing the aesthetics of small cell wireless facilities in the city’s right of way; however, federal regulations don’t allow local or state governments to prohibit their installation altogether. The City of Portland, along with dozens of other local governments, filed a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding local governments’ ability to regulate 5G facilities, and that matter is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Concerns about asthetics were raised again Tuesday night, with some councilmembers expressing worries about potential visual pollution that could result from a proliferation of small-cell wireless facilities over time.
“This is serious stuff for our city,” Councilmember Diane Buckshnis said. “This will change the look of our city for years to come.”
Councilmembers also asked questions about the potential health impacts of the 5G technology, although Taraday again reminded them that the council can’t deny permits based on health concerns, including those related to radio frequency emissions — and that only the federal government has that authority.
Taraday agreed to provide a range of councilmember-requested background documentation on the issue for next week’s meeting, when the council is scheduled to decide whether to approve the master permit.
In other business, the council:
- Agreed to waive rent that the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce is paying for office space in city hall for July-September, for a total of $2,136.57. The chamber has been facing financial challenges due to COVID-related event cancellations during the past year.
- Heard an annual report from the Edmonds Diversity Commission, as well as a work plan for the coming year.
You can watch the entire council meeting at this link.