The Edmonds City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to table a proposal from Council President Vivian Olson that she said was aimed at ensuring that future council resolutions be related to city business and politically nonpartisan.
Olson’s proposal came six weeks after the council unanimously passed a resolution condemning the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down Roe v. Wade. The resolution urged Congress to pass a law guaranteeing the right to abortion nationwide and to create a policy that Edmonds police should not cooperate with out-of-state law enforcement to prosecute those who come here for an abortion or other reproductive health services.
Residents testifying during the July 6 council meeting on the abortion resolution had mixed opinions. Some stated that the city council had no business taking a stand on what the U.S. Supreme Court ruled; others stated they were pleased that the council opted to show leadership on the topic.
The proposal introduced by Olson Tuesday night included stated goals of providing elected officials with guidelines for responding to requests for resolutions, with a focus on those items that dealt with city business. It also stated that resolutions would not be issued in areas “expressing an opinion on matters of political or ideological controversy” or those issues “generally identified or known as suppoorted by one political party and/or opposed by a political party.”
Finally, it also gave the city council president “and his or her designee” the authority to process requests for resolutions.
In introducing the proposal Tuesday night, Olson said she hoped it would be a starting point for council dialogue on the topic. Instead, it drew swift and sharp criticism from Councilmembers Susan Paine and Laura Johnson.
“This is not small d democracy,” Paine said. “This is authoritarianism or totalitarianism because this is wanting to control what gets put out there into the public.” Olson’s stated desire to keep council resolutions nonpartisan “is a red herring,” said Paine, who then accused the council president of wanting to “control all the messaging by controlling the framework of what is important in our community.”
Johnson said the proposal “gives unchecked power to interpret and apply guidelines and inhibit council’s ability to respond to the needs and wants of residents of Edmonds and limits the voice of the community.” She also said “it is not feasible to truly legislate in nonpartisan manner, given the views and differing interpretations and/or motives of using the label partisan vs. nonpartisan.” Among the issues identified during an online search that people define as partisan, she added, are “reproductive freedom and rights but also climate change, housing insecurity, LBGTQ rights, racism, gender equality and more, all which some have labeled too controversial and therefore partisan.”
Olson replied that her goal in bringing up the matter was to have the council decide whether it wanted to stick to issues that are specifically related to city government business. “Do we want to focus how we spend our time as a city council? she asked. “I do feel like we get into topics that are in the purview of other levels of government. If we focus on things that are just our level of government, we can do our jobs better.”
Paine responded that spending time on the resolution proposal Tuesday night also delayed discussions about city-focused issues. She then suggested that such a topic would be better discussed during a future council retreat.
Councilmember Neil Tibbott said he would appreciate a better process for developing council resolutions that involves a greater number of citizens. But he agreed that the topic should be part of a future council retreat agenda, and then made a motion to table Olson’s proposal, which passed unanimously.
In other business Tuesday night, the council also spent a significant amount of time debating the language in a proposed new city code chapter that outlines the qualifications for the council’s student representative. Among the issues were whether the position should be limited to those in high school or if college students should also be eligible. Councilmember Johnson argued in favor of including college students, noting that in the past the council has had trouble getting many applicants for the job. In the end, the council settled on language that the position be open to a high school or college student — living in Edmonds — who is age 21 or younger at the time of application.
In addition, the council:
– Repealed a city ordinance related to grocery worker hazard pay, which the council had approved in April 2021 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic
– Heard a second-quarter financial report from Administrative Services Director Dave Turley, who noted the city’s ending fund balance for 2021 was $15.9 million, which indicated Edmonds has “recovered pretty well” from the pandemic. You can see the complete presentation here.
– Received a proclamation regarding Puget Sound Starts Here Month, which is in September.
– Discussed, but didn’t take action on, proposed code changes related to the city attorney. Those will be brought back to the council next week for possible action.
– Postponed until a future meeting an update of the city’s Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan and a related code change related to disaster preparation, emergency coordination and civil emergencies.
–– By Teresa Wippel