Council committees: Inclusive playground, police hiring, collection letters — and more

Discussing a proposed inclusive playground Tuesday night via Zoom are, at right, Edmonds City Councilmember Neil Tibbott (top), Edmonds Parks Director Angie Feser (middle) and Lynnwood Parks Director Lynn Sordel (bottom).

The Edmonds City Council’s Parks and Public Works Committee took a closer look Tuesday night at a request from the City of Lynnwood to have Edmonds share the cost of installing a $507,000 inclusive playground at Meadowdale Playfields — and agreed that more study and discussion were needed before bringing the idea to the full council.

The committee had first been briefed on the proposal during its June 14 meeting, with Edmonds Parks Director Angie Feser discussing a proposed interlocal agreement with the City of Lynnwood to replace the playground equipment, which is 40 years old. Lynnwood has suggested that Edmonds pay 50% of the $507,000 cost. The matter came back before the committee, chaired by Councilmember Neil Tibbott, Tuesday night so it could be reviewed more closely. (Council President Vivian Olson filled in for Councilmember Kristiana Johnson, who was absent.)

The property on which the sports fields and associated park and playground are located — next to both Meadowdale Elementary and Middle Schools — is owned by the Edmonds School District. An interlocal agreement based on a master plan for the site was originally created in 1985, Feser explained, with Edmonds, Lynnwood, the school district and Snohomish County participating.

Renovation of the sports fields was completed in 2017, with Lynnwood covering the majority of the $5.2 million cost. (The City of Edmonds contributed $500,000.)

The playground is located near the sports fields, which were renovated in 2017.

Attending to provide more detail and answer questions regarding the project was City of Lynnwood Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Lynn Sordel. He stressed that Lynnwood is committed to moving foward with the project — with or without Edmonds’ financial support — but stressed he believes the facility would serve the needs of Edmonds residents who are frequent users of the facility.

“This improvement is just going to be a fantastic addition to this really popular park,” Sordel said.

In presenting ideas for possible project funding, Feser had suggested the city could take from cost savings in other areas of the parks budget, including $94,500 from the Yost Pool plaster project and $50,000 for a greenhouse replacement that can now be funded with a recent donation from the Goffette estate. Another possibility, she added, is using $104,058 in funds now designated for the Civic Park stormwater mitigation project if that could instead be covered as green infrastructure through federal COVID recovery dollars.

Tibbott expressed some frustration that Lynnwood didn’t include the City of Edmonds earlier in planning for the project — a significant upgrade from what was proposed earlier —  noting that Edmonds already has an approved parks budget and several other major parks projects underway. In addition, Tibbott pointed out that Edmonds has its own inclusive playground not too far away — at Seaview Park — opened in 2019.

Councilmember Olson said she feels strongly that the Edmonds School District should also be contributing to the playground replacement, calling it “a major investment and improvement in a school district property that is not owned by either Lynnwood or Edmonds. It continues to bug me a little that there isn’t any contribution from the school district toward this.”

Feser then suggested that all participants — the cities of Lynnwood and Edmonds and the school district — ‘take a bigger picture” look to identify projects needed at the Meadowdale Playfields site over the next 10 years, “as we’re starting to hit some life cycle ends on some big ticket items,” including turf replacement and lights.

“That gives everybody — all entities — the ability (to have) a longer runway to plan for these capital investments and start to incorporate those into our capital facilities programs and then put those monies aside,” Feser said.

A discussion on next steps regarding the playground will come before the council at a later date.

A range of topics were discussed in the two other council committees Tuesday night. One theme that ran through both the Public Safety, Planning, Human Services and Personnel Committee and Finance Committee was hiring — with requests for additional positions or expanding the FTEs of existing staff. The requests will come before the full council for consideration, since they do involve adding additional personnel, but they include the addition of a new public records associate to assist with the increasing volume of public records requests received by city hall, as well as a new public records specialist for the police department. The latter position would specifically address the expected increase in public records workload once all police officers are using body-worn cameras. Police Chief Michelle Bennett explained that body-worn camera footage will be accessible via public records requests, but it does require significant staff time to review prior to public release. There is also a request to expand the police department’s domestic violence coordinator from a half-time to a full-time position and the parking enforcement officer from a three-quarter-time job to full time.

Bennett also mentioned during staffing discussions in both committees that her department does plan to request, as part of the 2023 budget, an additional full-time police officer who would be stationed at the satellite city hall office on Highway 99. Also regarding Highway 99 and criminal activity there, Bennett shared that she plans to add a fourth patrol district to the city, essentially splitting Highway 99 into two districts so police can give the area more attention. “We are working hard in that area,” the police chief said. “We are definitely focusing our efforts there.”

There were sharp exchanges during the  Public Safety, Planning, Human Services and Personnel Committee regarding a proposal — submitted by Council President Vivian Olson — to edit the public information officer’s job description “to limit/prohibit…involvement in preparing opinion-based commentary.” Committee members Laura Johnson and Susan Paine both said they had concerns about the suggested changes, which Olson said were aimed at “trying to add clarity” to the public information officer’s role.

“This is a position that serves under the mayor and you are inserting with this wording that is subjective,” Johnson said, adding “it is not clear who is going to be…the deciding factor for when things adhere to the wording you’ve put in here and when they do not.”

Paine added that “one person’s idea of an opinion could be totally appropriate,” pointing in particular to Mayor Mike Nelson’s commentary regarding the council majority’s decision to revisit the 2022 budget.

“I think it’s fair to have that discussion,” Paine said. “That sort of discussion with that opinion and using that forum is appropropriate in my mind because our council meetings are our council meetings and there’s not another forum for the mayor to bring up concerns.”

Olson said she doesn’t have a problem with the mayor expressing his opinion, but added that “the PIO is not the mayor’s mouthpiece. The PIO is the city’s mouthpiece and what comes out of the PIO’s mouth is supposed to be neutral and representing the entire city.”

After more back and forth, Paine proposed the committee keep the proposal on the agenda “one more month for review,” which Johnson seconded.

The committee ran out of time to discuss its final agenda item: Repealing the city’s much-contested gun storage and unauthorized use ordinance, which was invalidated in the courts. That matter is likely to come before the committee during a special meeting soon.

Councilmember Will Chen, upper right, asks a question during the Finance Committee meeting.

Another topic of discussion in the Finance Committee — with members Diane Buckshnis and Will Chen present — was what to do about business owners who owe the city money. One of these situations involves the city’s Business Improvement District (otherwise known as the Edmonds Downtown Alliance or ED), in which businesses are assessed a quarterly fee. The fees are collected by the city, which keeps the books, and ED uses the money for a range of projects, including marketing, promoting special events, security, beautification and parking.

Pam Stuller of the ED told the committee that 11 businesses have refused to pay their assessments since the Business Improvement District was created in 2013, and they owe about $25,000. Approximately 30 other businesses owe close to $12,000 and she believes much of that is due to pandemic-related financial difficulties that businesses are just now recovering from. City Administrative Services Director Dave Turley also proposed that the city consider assessing a fee to ED to recoup the costs for providing bookkeeping services. That idea generated some concerns from Stuller, who noted that ED operates with a very small budget. The Finance Committee agreed that the city should send out deliquency letters and revisit the issue later in the year.

The Finance Committee also received an update from Turley regarding next steps regarding a recent state audit related to the city’s distribution of federal COVID relief funds.

The audit, released in March 2022, found the city didn’t comply with requirements governing the distribution of pandemic relief funds in 2020.

During fiscal year 2020, the City of Edmonds spent more than $2.1 million in relief program funds. More than $1.3 million of that money was used to establish a program that provided direct assistance payments to local businesses financially affected by COVID-19. In its report, the State Auditor’s Office said that documentation was lacking to ensure that Edmonds businesses receiving COVID grants were eligible for those funds. Responding to the auditor’s concerns, the city hired an external contractor to get additional information from the 172 businesses that received funding to ensure they met revenue loss criteria and were eligible for the assistance payments.

That review identified 29 businesses that had received a total of $235,500 in grants and did not meet the city’s eligibility criteria based on the information they provided. And eight businesses that received a total of $62,000 either did not respond to requests for that information or provide the city with the additional financial information requested.

In its response to the audit, the City of Edmonds said it would be “exploring various remedies that may be available and appropriate, including but not limited to civil suits and criminal prosecution,” to recover the money noted in the auditor’s report.

During Tuesday’s Finance Committee meeting, Turley explained that the city’s review identified 33 businesses that didn’t meet eligibility requirements. The city will be sending letters requesting the businesses reimburse the city for the relief money, totaling $268,500. “We’re hoping that a lot of them comply,” Turley said. For those who don’t respond, the city can take them to either criminal or civil court, he added.

— By Teresa Wippel

    1. Found a good description here, which explains the difference between accessible and inclusive:

      Playground equipment is accessible if it is usable by kids of any and all ability levels. Or to phrase it another way, it has no barriers that would prevent kids with disabilities from entering the grounds, accessing different elements, or navigating the landscape. For example, an accessible playground would have no barriers at the entrance or along pathways and would offer ramps leading to elevated areas.

      A playground is inclusive if it’s designed to encourage engagement and participation by children with disabilities. It goes beyond simply ensuring access and embodies a commitment to offering a fun day of play for all little ones, regardless of their physical condition. For example, an inclusive playground would offer a mix of activities that ensure kids who can’t slide or climb still have fun activities available to them. It also encourages social engagement among all visitors instead of isolating “special” elements in one area.


  1. Is there a list of the businesses that received the money that did not qualify? I think the public would like to know this.

  2. Chief Bennett and the entire EPD are doing a fantastic job despite all the work that still needs to happen along 99. If she says her officers and department need something, people should listen.

  3. I am wondering if the City is considering a Highway 99 Business Improvement District? Still wondering. The funding received from that can add additional funding for policing, marketing, enforcement, and enhancements. Why should the downtown area businesses (mostly small, local businesses) be the only ones who have to contribute to their specific BID?

    Highway 99 are national chains, large corporate interests, and a myriad of other businesses that, through group think, get the benefit of all of the programs, the ability to complain about crime and other issues, and really have no responsibility to police their business corridor and enhance the vitality of that corridor for business AND residents who live along that corridor.

    What say you City Council? Any word on this – I could see a beautiful new shiny standalone public building funded by and paid for with a Quasi-governmental agency that has the sole purpose of improving the economic conditions along this vital corridor through park like spaces, enforcement of standards, marketing, and programs focused on increasing the vitality, livability, walkability, and draw to that area.

    1. I think a BID is a good idea as well but correct me if I am wrong but isn’t 99 basically the cash cow for the city as is? My point being that the financial fairness argument doesn’t hold up for me because it’s those businesses paying for the rest of the city services. That aside, all the other benefits you mention are well worth the effort.

      1. I agree – it is the cash cow for the city (particularly car dealerships) but it is also a major draw for traffic, crime, requires a high degree of cash outlays (Highway 99 project) and real time input from the business owners. Downtown is a big draw for the City as well – the charm attracts new visitors and residents, that increases home and property values, that in turn, pays for services. My argument is that locally owned businesses (much like all of downtown) have a much higher vested interest in the success of the BID in bringing in new customers and a vibrant economy. Large box businesses along Highway 99 (and the small businesses) also have a vested interest, but it gets diluted without a concerted plan and effort – and funding to do those joint activities that one business alone cannot do.

        Corporate businesses and big boxes contribute taxes, create a draw, sure – but in areas that need specific improvements (as the Highway 99 project points out) and specific targeted promotion/expectations – seems to be a perfect candidate for a BID zone that focuses on that specific area. I would argue that regional or national chains are less likely to be involved in those projects unless participation is a requirement. I think if you look at any heat map for City services – there’s probably an argument that with the cash Edmonds receives in taxes from these businesses, there’s probably a corresponding outlay in services and improvements.

        I am not one for more taxes – that just leads to some uneven distributions and projects that are somewhat beyond the control of the folks who are paying them – but I do believe in targeted agencies that have control (albeit to the extent of their involvement) in specific projects in their respective areas.

        1. Great reply George – I think we are at this point saying/thinking the same thing. Thanks for taking the time to reply thoughtfully. Let’s not forget also on that corridor we have the majority of our BIPOC businesses which are also generally speaking small businesses.

      2. Yes they are a cash cow but not by doing anything expect pay the sales tax they collect to the state who in turn allocate a portion of the tax to the city in which they reside. A business, 99 or anywhere pay fewer taxes for things like fire than if they were located in another city. Businesses in Esperance for example pay more taxes then if they were part of Edmonds. Residence in Esperance would also benefit with lower taxes if they were formally part of Edmonds and not just sharing a Zip code.

        Setting up some sort of BID would simply add to their ability to focus resources on the area of the BID.

        Good idea!!

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