As elected officials, our mayor and councilmembers are accountable to citizens every four years. We can choose to vote them out of office if they do not meet our expectations. What about government “experts”? Government “experts” are most often directors of departments within the municipal structure of a town or city. Government “experts” are not subject to citizen oversight in the same way. Therefore, it is crucial there be full transparency during the hiring process about the unelected’s expertise, their viewpoints, and how they view their role in a city. They should be willing to be completely transparent about what they see as a good plan for a city’s future.
There will be a special council meeting Tuesday, Oct. 12 that allows for no public comment, called for by the mayor’s staff and Council President Susan Paine, that allowed for no notice to Edmonds’ citizens because it was not on the extended agenda or announced at a regular open council meeting. At the center of this opaque meeting exists a document to both appoint and confirm the hiring of a new development services director for Edmonds in one night with no input at all from the citizens of Edmonds. The only information citizens have about her is her name, Susan McLaughlin.
These unelected directors will have an immense amount of influence over a city’s future. Is it important that they match citizens’ vision of their town or not? The question here is this: Is it necessary that our new development services director be a “good fit” for Edmonds? Absolutely.
How can we know if the mayor’s candidate for director of development services, Susan McLaughlin, is a good fit for our community or if her vision is to change the future direction of Edmonds in a way a majority of citizens won’t like?
The appointment of a new development services director is an act that will greatly impact Edmonds’ citizens and a city which is facing huge city zoning debates and development code issues and a major Comprehensive Plan update is due in 2024. How are current councilmembers to determine if they should confirm the mayor’s appointment if citizens aren’t afforded the time to research the candidate and make their wishes known to councilmembers? This is the citizens’ only opportunity to be involved in the process – we can’t vote directors out during the next election. It is of the utmost importance that we get this right.
The City of Edmonds’ definition of our development services department states: “The Development Services Department is responsible for land use information and approvals, building permit review and assistance; long-range city and regional planning; building inspection; coordination of development review processes, development standards, and enforcement of the community development code. The Development Services Department’s mission is to preserve and enhance our community’s environment and quality of life…” Critical words in that job description are found in the last sentence: […The department’s] mission is to preserve and enhance our community’s environment and quality of life.” We saw a heavy-handed approach by our former development services director “expert” that chose regional influences rather than a local, “our community” approach. Are we getting the same vision from this new applicant or a vision that more closely aligns with what citizens have consistently asked for – to take a local view first to match our unique community and its vision rather than the cookie-cutter visions of Seattle, Shoreline, Lynnwood and beyond?
A public forum is needed prior to any vote to confirm the new development services director in order to provide needed transparency in the process. Remember, the Citizens are at the top of the city’s organizational chart: above the mayor, council, and all director positions in Edmonds. As the process is unfolding now, there is not even the opportunity for any citizen to comment or ask one question of this applicant There could hardly be a less-transparent approach than the one being employed with this backdoor special meeting. It is not a good feeling to wonder if there is something to hide. We certainly don’t want Ms. McLaughlin to start her job with a level of citizen distrust. Remember the debacle of the police chief process. This development services director is equally as important as the police chief. At least that process had some citizen involvement. Why not now? Council and the mayor should be glad that the citizens may ask tough questions and do their due diligence prior to any confirmation process. Everyone in Edmonds, including its citizens, should understand the vision this new “expert” will provide. Holding a public forum is one positive way the community could participate.
Now is the time to do the right thing and allow time for citizens to research the applicant and provide input. Citizens have every right to help decide if this director applicant is indeed the best choice for Edmonds. The future of Edmonds is in a precarious position in that many regional development interests and lobbying groups like the Master Builders and Sound Transit are eagerly lining up to bring in the same type of development as there is in “pack and stack” towns around us. Edmonds has a lot to lose if we are not careful.
If you want to have a say in how Edmonds develops and especially how it prioritizes its future planning of single-housed neighborhoods, please write the council and mayor immediately at both email addresses of: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Use your voice to call for a delay and public opportunity to get more information about and provide input for the hiring of the mayor’s appointee. Citizens should stay informed and involved to preserve Edmonds’ environment and quality of life as stated above. Once it is gone, it is gone forever.
Dr. Michelle Dotsch
President, Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds