Letter to the editor: Development services director hiring process not accountable to citizens

Editor:

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: council@edmondswa.gov and publiccomment@edmondswa.gov.   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

26 Replies to “Letter to the editor: Development services director hiring process not accountable to citizens”

  1. Thank you Michelle for this excellent letter. If the council truly wants to represent the people of Edmonds, then our input should be heard. Let’s not rush through another appointment without the citizens’ opinions and careful consideration.

    Edmonds is a special city and such an important decision that will heavily impact the direction of Edmonds demands our opinions! Citizen input is extremely important on this issue. Edmonds does not want to become Seattle.

    Please allow citizens input. The lack of this in the past has brought disastrous results. I urge every citizen to contact the mayor and each councilmember on this issue!

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  2. I keep hearing about Edmonds’ “unique” way of life and “unique community and vision” and “our way of life in Edmonds” and while I like living here most of the time, these concepts are fuzzy to me and it would be totally awesome if someone could explain what those phrases mean and how we/anyone knows that the majority of folks living in Edmonds agree with/support these ideals.
    Not asking to stir the pot. I just realized just how much I see those and similar phrases and don’t really understand what they mean. Although I read them enough, especially on MEN, such that it’s become almost a drinking game versus ideas that I can get my arms around and engage with in a meaningful way.
    TIA!

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    1. Hi Kim,
      The following is taken directly from our Comprehensive Plan and may be helpful:
      from Page 3 of Comprehensive Plan:

      Growth Management Goal A. Growth management policies should ensure that as a residential
      community​​​​, Edmonds continues to be heralded as “The Gem of Puget Sound,” in accordance with
      the following policies:
      A.1. Decisions affecting the growth pattern of the community should be made
      with a maximum of citizen participation.
      A.2. The Comprehensive Plan and its implementation measures should be
      developed and maintained in such a manner to assure that there are
      sufficient resources to ensure established levels of community services and
      that ample provisions are made for necessary open space, parks and other
      recreation facilities.
      A.3. The role of commercial and industrial enterprises, the attendant tax base and
      provision for consumer needs, should be considered as a supporting part of
      achieving a sustainable community and maintaining the residential nature of
      the area rather than as the dominant activity of the community
      A.4. Any growth or development should strive to preserve for itself and its
      neighbors the following values:
      A.4.a Light (including direct sunlight)
      A.4.b Privacy
      A.4.c Public views, open spaces, shorelines and other natural features.
      A.4.d Freedom from air, water, noise, and visual pollution.
      A.5. Any residential growth should be designed to accommodate and promote a
      balanced mixture of income and age groups.
      A.6. Edmonds should cooperate with surrounding communities to ensure that the
      regional growth policy is consistent with the stated local policy and help
      ensure a coordinated implementation of the regional growth strategy.

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  3. I absolutely agree Michele and I have emailed council, and public comments as recommended. I didn’t realize the full depth of this appointment and I’m convinced even more of the importance of the need for public review and involvement!! I hope all who care about the trajectory of our city contact council and state, “no confirmation” until we get an opportunity to learn about the potential appointee. Thank you for bringing this to the attention of all who love and care about Edmonds.

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  4. Edmonds will not have any sort of meaningful citizen input mechanism as long as we have the type of government we have and continue to put up with. Saying that the citizens are at the top of the organization chart does not make it so. The fact is, the Mayor is at the top of the organization chart for a period of at least four years. He/She has the power to choose the directors that he/she wants to direct. That’s the system folks. You either change it, or you live with it. Our council persons have very little power to do anything, and there is no real obligation beyond their personal desire to be fair to listen to you (us) at all. Most of our council members have their own views about what Edmonds is or isn’t and most of them vote on code and policy based on what their particular interests are and their own particular view of what Edmonds is or isn’t. Public hearings are not a highly sought after feature of Edmond’s City Govenment, past or present. That’s why we end up with so many special interest motivated actions and codes in Edmonds, and things that many of us just don’t want, like Streateries, blocked off streets, and ugly concrete overpasses to the beach marine sanctuary (almost).

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  5. The last time I checked, we’re still a representative form of government. I speak from a history of 48 years of federal and state government. We elect government leaders and allow them to perform their duties as stated in their job description. Part of their performance includes hiring and firing people to achieve their goals and objectives. Would you have public hearings about hiring police officers and firefighters? The problem here seems to be your displeasure with the person you (or at least the majority) hired to run the city. Or maybe it’s the form of government you don’t like. Having a totally public process every time you want/need to hire a department head is not the answer.

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    1. You might want to double-check your 48 years of government history knowledge. Certain positions are nominated by the administrative branch at the federal, state, and local level then are required to be confirmed by the legislative one. Locally we we like to call it the City Council. The Council works for the citizens, they are not employees of the mayor, which is why often there is a public process.

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    2. Mr. Tays,

      This LTE is not about police officers or fire fighters. It is about a director level position. Our Code of Ethics says Edmonds City government SHALL, quote:

      “Keep the community informed on municipal affairs and encourage communications between the citizens and all municipal officers. Emphasize friendly and courteous service to the public and each other; seek to improve the quality of public service, and confidence of citizens.”

      Note: “all municipal officers.” Directors are “municipal officers”, required to enforce our laws and ordinances. They also wield an enormous amount of influence on those laws and ordinances, as they advise Council in their legislative role. In this case, citizens are very concerned about how a new Development Services Director will address citizen concerns about the Citizen Housing Commission’s recommendation to up-zone all single family neighborhoods in Edmonds.

      Given this Mayor and this Council’s history in the process of hiring our chief of police, Edmonds citizens are rightfully concerned about the lack of transparency in this process. As with any “municipal officer,” Council has the authority to confirm or deny this appointment. Previous administrations allowed a significant amount of Council AND citizen input in the process of hiring “municipal officers.”

      This is not about the candidate. It is about the lack of transparency in the hiring process, and yes, that is very much related to our current Mayor.

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  6. Is it just me? This feels like the Edmonds Police Chief debacle. Our council follows a mayor, who stood at my front door promising things, only to ignore emails and phone calls and zero action on those promises. We need new leadership in Edmonds that listen to the residents.

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  7. Appointive Officers are unique, different than police officers, firefighters and all other city employees who are not Appointive Officers. Hiring of Appointive Officers requires CONFIRMATION by the legislative body. This confirmation process affords citizens the opportunity to research and inform City Council whether they are for or against confirmation. I hope this helps understand why this is different. Confirmation is a significant legislative power, best exercised with knowledge of what citizens want and support. Confirmation must be done in an Open Public Meeting. No such requirement exists for the hiring of those who do not hold an Appointive Office.

    “Appointive Officer” in Edmonds includes all director-level positions in the city’s adopted budget, including the police chief.

    Also, it really isn’t that we allow them to perform their duties. They are responsible for performing their duties. When those elected to office refuse to do their duties, citizens have the right to be upset. When we elect them, it is with the understanding they will perform their duties. Citizens shouldn’t have to expend time and resources to get elected officials to perform their duties – performing duties is required by those holding elected office.

    The duties of the Edmonds Mayor are: The mayor shall be the chief executive and administrative officer of the city, in charge of all departments and employees, with authority to designate assistants and department heads. The mayor shall see that all laws and ordinances are faithfully enforced and that law and order is maintained in the city, and shall have general supervision of the administration of city government and all city interest. [Ord. 2349 § 2, 1983].

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  8. So now ACE is speaking for all of Edmonds ?
    I wonder what percentage of Edmonds residents have even heard of ACE …. or what “unique community vision ” you’re advocating for…?
    Thank you .

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    1. Bill, ACE is a non-profit organization that strives to keep the charm and small-town atmosphere of Edmonds, and balance it to make our city a beautiful, productive city.

      It makes sense then that the City Council’s stealth hiring of a City Planner after the bang-up job they did in the Police Chief disaster, should be of great concern to all Edmonds taxpayers, ( not just ACE) since their taxes payed for the police chief search, and now legal fees in relation to Mr. Pruitt’s lawsuit, and might have to pay for a settlement after rendering him practically unemployable.

      The organizational scheme that the City of Edmonds has us, the people at the top, then the Mayor, City Council, etc. , all this implying that we, the people should be involved in the decision.

      Given that this administration proposed the upzoning, and is still promoting it in spite of the fact that 76% of residents are against it, hiring a City Planner of all things, without going through the proscribed steps ( yes, there’s a process) raise a huge red flag for me, and it should for anyone who lives in Edmonds.

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    2. I’ve heard of ACE. So I expect many have. I might even be in that group ha so many ya know…I remember reading about ACE I believe when it formed and it sounds like a good group for all of Edmonds so whats the beef you have with ACE. What do you know about what ACE does and discusses? Just wondering as you seem agitated about ACE…?

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  9. When I look to place an individual into a leadership position I look for the following attributes:

    Knowledge – is it applicable to the task at hand
    Vision and strategy –ability develop a vision and strategy before moving forward toward meeting an objective
    Management experience – demonstrated ability to perform to plan on time and on budget
    Leadership skills – ability to motivate a team and lead an organization
    Communication skills – ability to interact with the community and administration

    I can only hope that between the Mayor and City Council they provide transparency into the selection process used and that the candidate meets these minimum standards. In this case it would be very informative if MEN could interview Ms. McLaughlin before any confirmation to gain her perspective on how she would handle the job. That, of course, would necessitate the Council postpone any action on her confirmation.

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  10. Government “experts” are indeed Directors in our current city government structure. It is the Mayor’s job to hire the professional expert they feel are best for the job. And it’s the Council’s job to approve/reject the hire based on their perception of the individual’s ability to do the job. In this case this process is being followed appropriately by all accounts. The role/impact of the Director of Development is very different from Police Chief. By its very nature, the work that comes out of the development services department is subject to scrutiny by the city council, other city departments & public comment/input. I see unnecessary fear-mongering by those who insinuate a potential hidden motive in this hire, even though I understand the lingering sentiment from the Police Chief hiring process. But it’s important to treat each situation individually & not assume that one action in the past means the same will automatically happen again. I learn from my experiences (& mistakes) and believe that others can and do as well. In this case it would be unfair to the new hire to make any assumptions beyond her professional experience and competence – and we should all want her to succeed in her role for all Edmonds citizens. From a communications standpoint I agree that it would have been nice (and smart) if there was an opportunity to introduce Ms. McLoughlin to the citizens beyond a simple press release but it’s tricky to do that *before* a person has been hired. Based on the info provided, Ms. McLoughlin looks to be a highly accomplished professional who brings unique experience to the position. Citizens do not have the right to help vet all Director level city employee hires – what some may consider to be a “good fit” for the majority of Edmonds is highly subjective. What I value most (and expect) from our city employees is competence, experience & professionalism – as well as a commitment to help improve our great city in their role. I have no reason to believe that Ms. McLoughlin falls short.

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    1. My comments are in response to David Kaufer’s. Even though I share similar sentiments to Michelle’s LTE, I was going to sit on the sidelines on this one; however, I now feel the need to weigh in. David, you are correct in stating the process the Mayor is following is “correct”; but, to state that there is unnecessary fear-mongering means you must have either had your head in the sand this past year, you work for city government, or you are completely biased in protecting a mayor who has shown time and time again, he can’t make good decisions on behalf of the citizens he represents. If Susan is such a great choice then why hide behind closed doors? If Susan is such a good fit, then why not share more information and be more transparent in the decision-making; especially, when the Mayor and the “majority four” on council already have shown they are representing a regional and state agenda. If she’s so great for our city, then be proud up front and share with Edmonds citizens what she can do for us. Take input and then make a decision. It’s become very clear that hiding behind zoom meetings, closed-door executive sessions and rushed hiring decisions are the norm for an authoritarian mayor with an agenda that conflicts with the majority of citizens providing feedback. He has chosen a dictator leadership style which is not congruent to Edmonds Code of Conduct and frankly, Code of Ethics which are repeatedly violated by the Mayor and his Directors.

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  11. “Nice and smart” to let the constituents weigh in! You expect “competence, experience and professionalism” and a commitment to their “role” in government! David, do you and I live in the same city? What you are describing is an “ideal” we would love in this city! However, citizens have been tromped on hard trying to protect this gem! I Are you aware of all the violations our city has stacked up? Ones that Mr. Reidy makes citizens aware of regularly? Someone highly versed in the laws, codes, and ordinances of this city and all that has occurred. For you to be so dismissive of our citizens tells me either you don’t know what’s really going on here or you do and are willing to turn a blind eye to it. You claim to have read some qualifications and credentials of the appointee. What about anything not on the resume’ ? There’s a lot at stake here. I’m offended that you don’t think the voice of the people matter. We do!

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  12. I would like to point out one small yet significant omission in Dr. Dotsch’s original letter, from which many replies picked up steam without verifying the facts.

    Her letter was posted on October 11th, four days after this information about Ms, McLaughlin appeared in The Beacon:

    https://www.edmondsbeacon.com/story/2021/10/07/news/appointed-development-services-director-comes-from-seattle/25697.html

    The article contained far more information than her name only.

    Five days before a city council meeting was ample time for anyone with a genuine interest in the position and the person proposed to fill it to do a little searching on the internet and provide e-mail messages to the council with their concerns or questions about the process or the qualifications of the potential appointee.
    It appears from the comments posted here that those making them are more interested in finding fault that solutions.

    In the council agenda packet for the meeting a substantial amount of information was provided as well:
    <>

    This information was also provided in the article in the Edmonds Beacon five days before the meeting.

    By a six to one vote the council agreed to proceed with the approval of confirmation. That is about as close to unanimity as this council ever gets.

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    1. It is hard for me to tell in following this link, since it was updated Oct. 14, to tell when the details were first released. I can say that I requested more information and a bio from the city on Oct. 8, when the council agenda was first released announcing her pending appointment. I didn’t receive a reply Oct. 8, but I did receive the news release the city sent out on Oct. 11, the day before the council meeting.

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      1. The original date stop on the article was 2021-10-07. It was updated on the 14th. I also could not tell what thee updates included, only that at least some substance was available at the Beacon web edition as of the 7th of October.

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  13. I contacted the Beacon late yesterday and asked:

    Can you inform me when you first were provided the name of the new City Of Edmonds Development Services Director as well as background information. A person named Lora Hein is claiming on My Edmonds News that the Beacon ran an article about Susan McLaughlin on October 7th. The City did not issue a Press release until October 11th. Thanks for your help with this.

    I received the following response from Brian Soergel:

    “Yep. First saw Oct. 11 on press release from Kelsy Foster from the city.”

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  14. Thank you Ken for asking the source for clarification, which confirms that no prior information was released to the public or media about this candidate. Only at the last minute was a hurried press release put together after citizen and media emails were sent to the Mayor and Council after the Council Packet was released on Oct 8, pointing out the glaring omissions. To give context to how much of an outlier this process of hiring of a Director position was, this information may be helpful:

    Back then, citizens could watch the interviews and had a much greater opportunity to determine whether they supported confirmation or not. Please see pages 2-47 of the June 8, 2010 City Council Agenda Packet to see the type of information citizens used to be provided weeks before Council was asked to confirm a mayoral appointment to a Director Position. Forty-six (46) pages of detailed information were made available to citizens before the Mayor even made an appointment.

    The following took place during a special meeting on June 8, 2010:
    A special meeting of the Edmonds City Council was held at 6:00 p.m. to meet with two candidates for the position of Public Works Director. The two candidates present were: Phil Williams and Chal Martin. The meeting was held in the Council Chambers located in the Public Safety Complex, 250 5th Avenue North, Edmonds. An informal meeting was held from 6:00 p.m. to 6:10 p.m. where Councilmembers introduced themselves and spoke with the candidates. At 6:10 p.m., all parties were seated at a table, and Councilmembers interviewed the candidates. Candidates were each allowed an opportunity to provide closing comments. Council President Bernheim stated that the mayor would like input from Councilmembers concerning the candidates as soon as possible. It was requested that the Council forward comments to the Senior Executive Council Assistant which will then be forwarded to the Mayor and all Councilmembers. At 6:30 p.m., the City Council adjourned to Committee Meetings.

    Why is this hiring process being handled so differently in 2021?

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  15. Michelle – processes change over time, as the elected leaders responsible for the processes change. The recent process for Chief of Police had some strong elements of citizen involvement. The Planning Director position did not. But that does not mean that the Planning Director hiring decision is flawed.
    I challenge you to write letters in our two little newspapers that are more professional, provide stronger insights, or ask complex questions. It does very little good to complain, complain, complain. It’s very clear from your library of articles that your favorite candidates were not elected in the last election. But that does not mean you should beat them over the head with your published verbiage for their whole term in office. We have regular elections- put your energy towards campaigning for your preferred candidates. Then once the vote is counted, find a way to make a useful contribution to the Edmonds community in the future years.

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