Reader view: Is it city staff’s job to set the vision for Edmonds’ future?

The City of Edmonds administration and staff, in concert with paid consultants, have repeatedly commenced major projects and initiatives, many with serious policy implications that are leaving Edmonds’ citizens and indeed even city council in the dark. With no or very little prior knowledge, this has often left councilmembers scrambling to get answers and information for their constituents about these covert initiatives. Lack of transparency in this process is understandably leading to a growing lack of trust in how our local government functions.

Is it time for us to ask whether non-elected staff have exceeded their imperative?

City council has the authority to formulate and adopt city policies. One of our elected city council’s most important jobs is to listen to citizens and determine the citizens’ vision for the future of Edmonds. The mayor and staff may assist in the development of the vision through projects and administrative activities when asked to do so by the city council. City council deserves to know what staff is doing when its work goes beyond routine administrative businessHow is it then that such major projects and initiatives listed below barely crossed the desks of all councilmembers? Voters elect councilmembers and count on their seasoned judgment, control of the purse and their ability to keep citizens informed. It may be that city staff are overstepping their role in Edmonds’ city government.

Some recent examples of controversial staff-initiated projects include:

  1. The “Equitable Engagement Framework”
  2. The Washington State Commerce Department Middle Housing Grant
  3. The “Reimagining Neighborhoods and Streets” Citywide Project

There is a common theme to these projects. They are large in scope; they involve hiring numerous outside consultants; they are seen by many, even a majority, as controversial; and they would result in major changes to Edmonds, including transforming large portions of Edmonds’ neighborhoods into dense “urban environments.” There is much reason to be concerned that the process to conceive and advance these far-reaching initiatives has been flawed.

Equitable Engagement Framework

This staff-initiated process will prioritize citizen opinions from those whom staff defines as having been underrepresented in the past. There is evidence that such opinions would be given added weight and could result in discounting input from the rest of Edmonds’ residents.  In fact, the Planning Department has proposed paying what it calls “community champions” for their input on everything from the PROS plan update to the Comprehensive Plan. In fact, staff has indicated that this framework will be used for all major projects and plans in the future (see excerpts from the EEF agreement below; the full document is a public record).

Washington State Commerce Department Middle Housing Grant

For an exchange of a mere $100,000, this grant would have resulted in a state-assisted, pre-planned upzoning template of 30% of Edmonds single-housed neighborhoods and the loss of local control over land use planning. Planning department staff not only initiated the letter of intent to apply for this grant, but advocated for pursuing it right to the end, with the development director working with two councilmembers to put it on the consent agenda, bypassing normal protocol to have staff present it to the fullc cuncil and the public to find out if this was even desired. Once it was made public, only then did the full picture become clear what was involved in asking for this state rezoning grant; and then staff got real feedback to find out there was overwhelming public and majority council opposition to it.

Reimagining Neighborhoods and Streets

Edmonds residents have not been included in any kind of decision about whether we want to reimagine our neighborhoods and streets to the extent outlined in the meetings so far. The focus instead is on how supposedly “excited” everyone is about the prospect of “reimagined neighborhoods and streets.” Tellingly, although the initiative began as “reimagined public streets,” it now also includes reimagined “neighborhoods.” What does that mean? Is this an end run around zoning decisions? Also, how does this project relate to the Comprehensive Plan?

A one-page document purported to be a “survey” was distributed at the neighborhood meetings. However, these were in no way a tool to collect our opinions about the advisability of reimagining our neighborhoods and streets, but instead merely a rubber stamp of the project. And, shockingly, the planning department has stated that these “surveys” will be used to demonstrate citizen support for “Reimagining Neighborhoods and Streets.” (See inserted survey).

Note also that staff inserted a question that asks for the survey taker’s ethnicity. Is the purpose of that to facilitate certain citizens’ opinions being more heavily weighted? (See Reader view: Equitable engagement framework not what it purports to be – My Edmonds News June 6, 2022).

It is important to remember that we have an extremely compressed timeline to update all 14 elements, plus visioning and an Environmental Impact Statement, of what is our guiding document, the Comprehensive Plan. These piecemeal staff-generated initiatives do not equal comprehensive public visioning for the community as a whole. Of most concern is whether these are attempts to use pre-determined outcomes, developed with limited public and council input and feedback, to reach a one-sided and consultant-driven vision for Edmonds.  Is this all the public opportunity for involvement in crafting the vision of our city that our community will be given so that staff and consultants can craft their future for Edmonds?

We should be wary of a vision for Edmonds independently developed by staff and consultants, a vision that is not consistent with what a majority of Edmonds’ citizens want. Let’s return to a transparent and inclusive process for envisioning Edmonds’ future. This is a process where our elected council develops, with input from our citizens, through our Comprehensive Plan, a vision for our city.

— By Dr. Michelle Dotsch, president and Laurence Williamson, treasurer
on behalf of the Board of The Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds (ACE)


  1. Yup the mayor and his administration and staff are trying to push their agenda and in my opinion a lot of that agenda is counter to the majority of citizens wishes. It is like we the citizens are children and the city the parent who knows what is best for the child. We are adults we can decide which way we want the city to go even if we are wrong that is the way it is supposed to work. We pay their salaries they should do as we bid. I am starting to get the idea we need to fire and unelect a number of people who don’t seem to be working in what we deem are our best interests.

    1. Is this the mayor and his administration and staff behind all this? Can this be found out for sure? There must be ways to censor such activity and those involved when it is counter to how the city is set to operate. Taxpayer money is being used and wasted in these private escapades. It needs to be stopped. Where is a budget being derived from? How is it being paid for? And consultants from where? Doing what has not been authorized.

  2. So well presented – thank you.
    There is a constant stream of attempts to find a way to circumvent the will of the people.
    I would like to see a full recap of how Edmonds is performing to the goals set in our Comprehensive Plan so that we can determine the prioritization of all of the needs our community is facing.
    Snohomish County is updating the County Comprehensive Plan as we speak- and the language is much the same in prioritizing feedback from underrepresented groups and weighting the feedback.
    I believe we can do better and we should always aim for greatness but this is not going to unite us all behind a vision.

  3. Next “Re-imaging” public meeting is THURSDAY, JULY 7. Representatives from our over-reaching planning department along with some of the pricey consultants will be there. Take a list of questions and get to the bottom of this nonsense in person. Voice your opinions. I’ve attended two meetings and can’t stomach another.

  4. The simple answer to this is No. The solution is not simple. To get any Mayor and his/her staff out of the town “visioning” business we would either have to switch to the Council/Manager system or get the state law changed that requires the Strong Mayor to preside over City Council meetings, which gives the Mayor minimal voting rights to break tie votes, veto power and the bully pulpit to present the executive point of view in what should only be legislative deliberations. It’s hopelessly broken and it won’t get any better without systemic change. It’s been the same old thing around here for as long as I can remember and it’s not getting better. Our part-time weak city councils end up being pretty much a debating society and rubber stamp operation no matter how hard they try not to be. Now we have the specter of partisan politics added to the mix; just to make it even a little bit more broken.

    1. It certainly feels like Edmonds is off-track. It appears the Mayor and City staff are making decisions without any input or consideration of the citizens of Edmonds.
      Firstly, the Equitable Engagement Framework document is so fashionable…a virtue signaling feel good document, and extremely dangerous. It does not allow for equal input from all citizens of Edmonds. “Equality” yes–please reach out to all people that live in Edmonds–but this document discriminates against it’s own citizens. It works to further divide our citizens. For example, does this document send the message that no representation is valued if you’re a straight white male, or anyone else that does not fit the “underrepresented” group category. Sure does! If we want to bring people together and stop this division, we need to respect all citizens and their input. This document is damaging to our community.
      The Reimagining Neighborhoods and Streets project was not requested by the citizens. It is a project developed internally with no interest in hearing that citizens are not supportive. Most probably an attempt by government to control the zoning issue of our City. A clarification as to the desired outcome/goal by City staff would be helpful, and an honest answer regarding why this is being pushed. Perhaps a survey to ask if people even support this concept
      So, City Council we need your help–please take a look at these issues. I believe many voters do not want this Mayor and City staff making the decisions that affect every City plan and action taken here. The policies and plans for the City, listening to the citizens of Edmonds regarding how our city grows, these are your responsibility. Please help!

  5. Thank you, Michelle and Laurence for such a clear explanation of the new ways to bypass us. If you look at the organizational chart of the City of Edmonds, The People are at the top. Under them are the Mayor, then the CC and then the Edmonds admin staff. The reality is different; Last year, some wit on the Staff came up with the racism portal, a beautiful piece of Big Brother initiative, with all the redolence of the Stalinist Era in E Europe. Without consulting the residents, the Council passed something that through its anonymous reporting of others, brings on division, paranoia and suspicion, the absolute opposite of unity, and community. Now, they paid a tidy sum to city planners, who feel compelled for us to get our money’s worth, which would be attempts to “make a difference”, regardless of wether this would be good or bad. A very important step was skipped: we, The People, were not asked if there were problems, we did not identify a set of issues, and THEN hire someone to solve them. We were told that someone was hired to find the problems and solve them… an accident in search of an intersection. That is the height of condescension and arrogance, because the attitude of “Don’t worry your pretty heads, we’ll fix it for you and yeah, you’re welcome” is how this looks. I’ve been in some corporate reorganizations, and here’s how it works: you’re asked what you want, committees are formed, you attend meetings, and 6-18 months later, something is “discovered” where management gets exactly what it wanted from the beginning, and they thank you for your “enthusiasm”. I’m willing to put money on the table that this will play out the same way, if we let them. Admin had no right to hire them w/out our input. We have amenities and events that are fantastic, we don’t need unwanted improvements that WE will have to pay for. I’d rather solve students’ Wi-Fi problems, or pay for more school programs.

  6. For the most part our city council people mean well, are dedicated, and want to do right by us but it is pretty hard for them to succeed at their task when they are working part-time for peanut pay; doing what has become a full-time plus job, if done right and fairly. Several of our C.M.s are confused about what their job is and who they work for and need to be replaced ASAP.

    It isn’t fair for us to put all this on the shoulders of these seven people, doing a full time job for quarter time pay, working nights and weekends and trying to push back against an over zealous and over powerful Mayor and Staff beholding to him or her. This is the system we have and seem to accept as the best there is available; so we need to either stop whining and figure out how to change it, or just shut up and keep accepting it. If we let the Mayor and Staff destroy the town it is on all of us, not just seven people working long hard hours for next to nothing.

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