Letter to the editor: We must engage all residents in updating Edmonds’ Comprehensive Plan


The City of Edmonds is embarking this year on its now once-every-10-year major revision to the Comprehensive Plan. The city, under Development Services Director Susan McLaughlin, is proposing to use an “Equitable Engagement Framework” to solicit input about this revision from communities in Edmonds that may not have participated in the past. Ms. McLaughlin envisions recruiting what she calls “community champions” to represent their respective communities and as such they may volunteer their time or be compensated for their work. But will this process ensure that the voices of actual Edmonds’ renters, business owners, homeowners, who represent the great majority of Edmonds’ residents, are listened to and that residents truly feel “heard” and engaged? And how will traditionally under-represented communities be defined? Will they include

  • Families with young children
  • Veterans and Wounded Warriors whose incomes are above poverty levels
  • Families with children with mobility, sight, and cognitive concerns
  • Independent adults with mobility and sight concerns whose incomes are above poverty levels
  • Independent senior citizens whose incomes are above poverty levels?

It is critical as this work of revising the Comprehensive Plan moves forward that an elegant process be used to hear the voices of all residents – renters, business owners, homeowners. All should have the ability to express their needs and desires regarding infrastructure, parks, the environment, the overall “vibe” of Edmonds, housing, streets, and general livability of the city. This is not an easy task. And, in fact, using a representative as a voice for a community is different from listening to all the voices in that community expressing their concerns, wants, desires, and then distilling those public discussions into a vision and guiding principles for review of the Comprehensive Plan.

Citizens from every neighborhood, community, and group want to be heard; they want their ideas and thoughts “on the table”; and they believe they are busy and the process to participate should be easy. While it is timesaving for city staff, the use of group spokespersons simply does not afford that same feeling of inclusion for residents. Further, the possibility of paying group spokespersons runs the risk of introducing a financial bias that may be neither honest nor helpful. That money would be better spent holding more listening sessions out with the underserved communities at times that meet their needs. Understand that people engage and remain engaged when they feel they are heard, not necessarily when they are told a spokesperson will advance issues on their behalf.

What is a better way to move forward in order to be truly equitable? Information-gathering sessions need to be held in all geographic areas of Edmonds at a variety of times of day. Some additional sessions could be held in the morning at 8 a.m. and in the evening as late as 10 p.m. to be supportive of those who work night or evening shifts. In the end, this extra effort will pay off in wide-ranging community engagement and ownership of processes. And that will in turn benefit the Edmonds’ community well-being and growth.

The Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds supports a strategy of community-wide outreach with targeted actions and geographic dispersion to ensure all voices in the community are heard. Updating the Comprehensive Plan is now a once-in-a decade opportunity for Edmonds’ residents to engage in creating the vision for the community in which they live and work. We need to get the process right to get the vision representative of all Edmonds – an increasingly diverse and inclusive community that is the “Gem of Puget Sound.”

Dr. Michelle Dotsch, on behalf of 
The Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds (ACE) 

  1. I am not against the engagement but I would think it should be done by elected leaders and staff but ok let’s waste more money conducting a study that tells us what we mostly know already no problem. My problem comes from paid participation and added weight to whatever ideas they come up with. What are the parameters around this extra weight? 10% of the population gets a 60% weight? Will this study produce a equitable outcome? So do the study don’t pay participants and if they represent 10% of the population then give the results 10% weight.

    1. This plan should be based only on the freely expressed and un-compensated opinions of actual citizens and stake holders of all types in regards to our town. As far as I’m concerned we have all been under represented for years by a form of government that is essentially a Mayoral Fiefdom and dinosaur of the past. We finally have a majority of independents on Council and we need to reward and encourage that behavior every way we can. There is no need or desirability to pay for our expensive government twice with biased hired guns. If McLaughlin can’t handle it herself let’s send her elsewhere and get someone who can. I don’t mean this as a put down of Ms. McLaughlin, as I suspect she has little autonomy on how she is proceeding with this plan as she has to answer to our Mayor like all paid staff do. C.P.s don’t have to answer to him, but some still do for, why?, I don’t know.

  2. Has anyone actually asked who specifically has been reached out to? There seems to be a lot of assumptions being made by members of the highly engaged majority that seemingly haven’t been asked to participate. Would make for a stronger case to actually know who has been asked to participate. What’s the fear?

    1. I just did. I sent an email to the Mayor and Director McLaughlin to ask for clarification on this project.
      Let’s see if they want to share.

  3. I have a real problem with paying people to participate. I have served on many committees and never felt I should have been compensated. I f you really care your time doesnt need to be paid for

  4. Great article. Thank you for clearly stating the desires of the Edmonds citizens that want to be involved in this process and have their opinions equally weighted. The Comprehensive Plan is an important document and should be open to all citizens by providing “wide-ranging community engagement and ownership of processes.”

  5. After seeing what transpired with apparent disregard for broad public involvement and input on the update of the Parks, Recreation, and Open Space (PROS) Plan, I agree that the citizens of Edmonds should be very concerned with City staff’s approach to updating the City’s Comprehensive Plan. We have enough problems with differing opinions on what’s best for the citizens of this City, and another biased/selective public involvement approach, this time with the Comp Plan, is only going to make things worse in this City.

  6. I heard back from Susan McLaughlin. She said the framework is not yet determined, but that the work is being done to determine what the framework should be. I understood that aspect. I inquired on the specific concerns related to compensation and weighting. She sent me the body of work document to review. Here is a portion that specifically addresses these 2 topics:

    Please note – I CAPITALIZED certain words to emphasize

    “Task 3: Equitable engagement framework

    The PRR team will build on the results of the discovery phase to develop an equitable engagement framework. The framework WILL include:
    ▪ Clear goals and objectives for city-wide public engagement
    ▪ Criteria to map underrepresented communities
    ▪ Priority audiences of the top ten (10) underrepresented communities based on the criteria, and a list of community leaders and/or organizations within those communities
    ▪ A model for advancing mutually beneficial relationships with community-based organizations. This MAY INCLUDE A COMPENSATION STRUCTURE depending on the results of the discovery phase.
    ▪ Principles to guide communications and engagement efforts, INCLUDING A PROCESS FOR WEIGHTED ENGAGEMENT that addresses weighted impact and historical exclusion
    ▪ Scalable inclusive engagement strategies, protocols, and tactics
    ▪ Recommendations for the implementation of engagement strategies

    My question to her:
    Who will determine the weight or worth of input from any particular group of people as you divide us into buckets of race and class? The approach just drives more divisiveness in our community. Just what we need more of.

  7. “Equitable Engagement Framework” seems to me to be nothing more than “cherry picking” the people and opinions you want to hear. It has nothing to do with representational democracy. The mayor and his cadre of minions know the result they want and have designed a “process” to find opinions from their selected “community champions” to justify the conclusions they have already reached. Of course, there is no City Council approval of this “process” so, the reasonable Council Members should feel free to ignore the results of this farcicle dog and pony show directed by Mayor Nelson. It is the Council who will ultimately decide any changes to the Comprehensive Plan.

  8. What is needed is a very open and transparent public process where ALL opinions are welcome and put on the table for all to see and evaluate. Opinions from all individuals and groups should be encouraged and sought after. However, staff should not be giving more weight to some commenters over others. If they do, then their assumptions and recommendations relying on such weighing needs to be clearly explained and out in the open for all to see. Paid “champions” should not be used. Paid citizen reps are called “lobbyists” and we have plenty of those. Finally, the ultimate deciders and the only ones to decide on the relative weight and importance of submitted public comments are our elected City Council members who will vote on the plan update and be answerable to Edmond’s voters. This is their job and not the staff’s.

  9. This is beyond absolutely unbelievable. And our Mayor and his staff are making us pay for this nonsense to boot. Virtual hoards of the under represented people all over town are finally going to get to say they want downtown to be a walking mall, a rebirth of the Streateries, and crap, over priced, dinky apartments on every other block downtown. Of course the “chosen” under represented are as yet unidentified for this, nevertheless, absolutely fair and unbiased outside study. I call a big B.S. on all this. It’s time to start printing up the save our town from Nelson signs before it’s too late.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.

By commenting here you agree to abide by our Code of Conduct. Please read our code at the bottom of this page before commenting.