A group of more than 50 supporters gathered on Thursday evening at Claire’s Restaurant in Edmonds to help Edmonds City Councilmember Kristiana Johnson kick off her campaign for re-election to Council Position 1. Johnson’s stint on Council began in 2012 when she was appointed to fill the term of Councilmember Michael Plunkett, who vacated the seat when he moved to Seattle. She went on win re-election twice, and is now running for a third term. Johnson is facing two challengers: Edmonds Citizens’ Planning Board Vice Chair and Snohomish County Airport Commission Chair Alicia Crank, and Brian Hartman, Senior Director of Enterprise Technology at Blue Origin.
Supporters in attendance included former Edmonds City Councilmembers Neil Tibbott (also a candidate in this year’s election), Dave Teitzel and Ron Wambolt. Also present were current Councilmember Vivian Olson, current council candidate Janelle Cass, former Edmonds Police Chief Al Compaan, and former Snohomish County Councilmember Gary Nelson.
The first speaker was Johnson’s colleague on city council, first-term councilmember Vivian Olson.
“Kristiana has far and away the best credentials on council,” Olson began. “She has the best education, the best experience, and the longest length of service to our community. She’s a hometown girl, folksy, down-to-earth, and the smartest person in the room.”
As the applause died down, Olson struck a serious note, referring to last year’s personal attack on Johnson in which the mayor and several of her council colleagues leveled very public accusations of racism against her.
She went on to explain that these accusations were based on an “out-of-context sentence” pulled from a letter Johnson had written to Edmonds Economic Development Director Patrick Doherty questioning which Edmonds businesses should receive federal grant money to offset the financial impacts of COVID-19. Among the points she made in that letter, Johnson stated her position that “sales tax revenue [should be used] as a variable in determining which small businesses would get the limited funds,” and not the ethnicity of the business owner. (Read details in the June 25, 2020 My Edmonds News coverage here).
Characterizing this as “one of the lowest points” in council affairs this year, Olson railed at Mayor Nelson for pouncing on this sentence, and pointedly “ambushing and shaming” Johnson with direct accusations of racism in a public council meeting. She reiterated that this was based on that sentence pulled from a letter, which Johnson wrote as part of “doing her job” as a steward of public funds and a responsible representative of Edmonds citizens.
She went on to relate how things got worse the next day, when Councilmembers Distelhorst and Fraley-Monillas “piled on” with letters and social media posts “saying the same thing” and labeling Johnson as a racist.
“Through all this, Kristiana maintained her strength and dignity, and never stopped doing her job,” Olson continued. “She did the work. She didn’t talk about how horrible it felt. Kristiana Johnson is not a racist.”
Moving on, Olson listed the three top priorities she looks for in a council candidate:
- Good judgment that centers around what is right, kind, sensible, fair and makes sense, adding “What a different year we would have had if we had good judgment [in city government].”
- Independence, which entails being open to hearing and basing decisions on facts regardless of who is advocating for them, and putting the community ahead of partisan politics when these are in conflict, adding her observation that, “It’s unequivocal that the community should come first. That hasn’t happened this year.”
- Ability to unify, which means bringing people together, inclusion of others and avoiding divisive politics such as one councilmember’s dismissive reference to a group of citizens as “a pack of rich downtown white people.”
“Kristiana is a solid person for our community,” she said in conclusion. “Don’t give up on one of those known voices. Return her to city council.”
Next to the podium was former councilmember and mayoral candidate Neil Tibbott, who is also running to return to council in this year’s election.
“It’s a privilege to be here to support my friend and colleague Kristiana Johnson,” he began. “She is experienced, committed, and has served as an exemplary councilmember in so many ways.”
Tibbott recalled their 13-years of working together, starting with the Citizens Transportation Committee, where Kristiana interviewed him for the slot – “I was trembling,” Tibbott confessed. “She has this laundry list of education and credentials, and I was just a guy in the community interested in streets.” The two went on to serve together on the Edmonds Planning Board and City Council.
“And in 2020 we actually ran for mayor together,” he added, referring to the 2019 campaign when they were primary election opponents. “Now that’s some kind of friendship!”
He went on to note Johnson’s education, which includes an undergraduate degree in political science from Washington State University, a master’s in city and regional planning from Rutgers, and advanced coursework in transportation engineering from New York University.
“But she’s also a hometown girl,” he continued. “Born and raised in Edmonds, she rode her horse down our dirt streets, tied them up at grocery stores, and built her own home here. She has deep roots in Edmonds, and is well-known in the community.”
He moved on to highlighting some of the key attributes Johnson brings to the council.
“She is a fiscal conservative,” he began. “That means she goes through every line item in the budget, looks at every opportunity to save money, looks at every dollar that walks out of city hall.
“She works hard for our citizens,” he continued. “She reads her packet, studies issues, takes the necessary time to understand ordinances and contracts, and will follow through until she’s sure she has everything right.
“And she will continue to work with councilmembers even if she doesn’t agree with them,” he concluded. “She and I have disagreed on things, but she’ll always take the position that ‘I know I don’t agree with you, but let’s go ahead and work on the next thing together.’ How often does that happen these days?”
Tibbott ended his comments by stressing Johnson’s “fierce independence” and how she uses all her talents to get the best deal for the people of Edmonds.
“She doesn’t serve herself,” he concluded. “She serves the citizens. When she is on council, the people of Edmonds win.”
Kristiana Johnson then took the podium.
“It’s so great to be here tonight,” she began. “I’m loving seeing all of you, many for the first time since COVID. And I’m really loving all the hugs!”
She then moved on to why she is running.
“It’s really about Edmonds,” she stressed. “Edmonds first – that encapsulates a lot. I want to hear what people are saying, and represent them honestly and fairly. We have a representative form of government – it’s a democracy – that’s the way it should be. And I’m here to be a representative for all of you. We’re not Seattle North and we’re not Europe – we’re Edmonds.”
She went on to express dismay at what she sees happening on the national stage and in state and local governments, including Seattle.
“When I see what’s happening in these places, I don’t take their example and run out to make laws that tear down the police department,” she explained. “I try to make decisions that put Edmonds first.”
She then explained her priorities for Edmonds.
“I’m focused on protecting three things,” she stated. “Our neighborhoods, our charming downtown and our environment.”
She went on to detail her belief Edmonds is not best served by a blanket approach to managing our neighborhoods, but rather an approach that treats each neighborhood as a subarea with its own characteristics, needs and best practices.
“Our neighborhoods are the building blocks of our city,” she said. “What’s best for the central business district is not necessarily what’s best for Meadowdale, Highway 99 or Perrinville. We should do things on a neighborhood basis that enhance that neighborhood, not destroy it.”
Calling out as “nonsense” the recent proposals that would take a broad-brush approach to up-zoning the city from single family, she explained that existing regulations that provide for conditional use permits on accessory dwelling units are for the moment sufficient. However, she added that “we need to put more time and attention into this” to avoid repeating the “horror stories” from other communities who rushed in without sufficient study.
“We are so lucky to have our charming downtown,” she continued. “It’s developed over 100 years and contains historic buildings and new development, and it all fits together. But now that the governor has opened up restaurants to 100% capacity, it is time to rethink what we’re doing with Main Street. We need to look at things like the streateries, the 15-minute pickup parking zones, the weekend closures. These made sense before, but do they make sense now that things are changing? It’s clear what the mayor thinks – 27 business owners asked him to limit street closures to Sunday only, but he said no. We need to have serious discussion about this. I’ve asked the council president to put it on the agenda, and while it may not have more than three votes, it really needs to be discussed.”
Moving on to the environment, Johnson noted that Edmonds is a seaside city, but it would be wrong to take the city’s views, water and other local treasures for granted.
“While many environmental issues are being addressed, I’m concerned that sometimes we forget about our streams,” she explained. “There’s big erosion issues on Perrinville Creek and Shell Creek, where there’s also fish barriers. We need to work on these, as well as Willow and Shellabarger Creeks that feed into the (Edmonds) Marsh.”
Other environmental issues she noted include our improving energy efficiency in city government through such things as lighting upgrades and a more efficient fleet.
“I’m most proud of our zero-waste policy that has brought food recycling to festivals and street markets,” she added.
Finally, she addressed the need to get government “back on track,” and talked about the importance of knowing how and when to communicate, noting that our current “willy-nilly” approach leaves a lot of folks in the dark.
“If your voice is heard during public comments, it makes a difference,” she explained. “But if you don’t know in advance what’s on the agenda how can you do this? We keep getting surprised as things get added last minute and pop up for decisions before they’re discussed and investigated. This is the job of the council president – and it’s not an easy job – to have and follow a structure with rules and procedures that everyone understands and can follow. City Clerk Scott Passey has put some of this together, but discussion keeps getting put off. We need to return to good government. We say we’re open and transparent, but does the public know what’s going on? No, they don’t.”
Johnson ended by reiterating her priorities.
“It’s simple really,” she said. “Put Edmonds first; protect the environment; build back good government.”
The final speaker was another long-time Edmonds resident, Port Commissioner David Preston.
“Once again, Kristiana is the smartest lady on council,” he began. “She’s…dedicated her life to Edmonds. You can trust her to preserve the charm and resist the harm.
“She is non-partisan and works hard,” he continued. “I’ve watched many council meetings with great pain – I almost need hazardous duty pay to sit through them. Staff has to actually read the packet to the councilmembers because they haven’t taken the time to prepare for the meeting and do it themselves. It’s frustrating to sit in council and watch them deliberate when they’re not prepared. This amounts to municipal malpractice. It needs to stop. We need to retain Kristiana Johnson on council.”
Learn more about Kristiana Johnson’s campaign, donate and sign up to volunteer on her website, reelectkristiana.com.
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel