Council interviews five candidates for Position 7 seat; selection set for Monday, Oct. 17

Edmonds city councilmembers on Friday interview Mackey Guenther, center, a candidate for appointment to the vacant Position 7 council seat.

Touching on issues of zoning, unifying city neighborhoods and using streets for non-vehicle purposes, the Edmonds City Council Friday afternoon interviewed five candidates who have applied for the council’s vacant Position 7 seat.

The six questions asked of the candidates were the same ones used to interview candidates for the Position 1 council seat, which was filled in September with the appointment of Dave Teitzel. A total of 15 people have applied for the vacant Position 7 seat, including 10 who were among the original 17 candidates seeking the Position 1 vacancy. Those 10 have asked to be considered for the new opening along with the five additional candidates, and the council will use the past interviews for Position 1 as part of their decision-making process.

The council is scheduled to appoint the new councilmember during a special meeting starting at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 17, in the council chambers, Public Safety Complex, 250 5th Ave. N. The format for the appointment process will be the same as previously: Each councilmember can nominate a candidate from the list of applicants. Councilmembers are given the nomination and ballot forms and the city clerk collects each round and tabulates them. The first nominee to get four councilmembers’ votes is the winner.

The council appointed Teitzel Sept. 6 after six rounds of nominations and 41 ballots that spanned two meetings. For comparison purposes, in January 2020 the council selected Luke Distelhorst out of 12 applicants to fill Position 2. That process took five rounds of nominations and 44 ballots. In 2014, it took the council 59 ballots to select Tom Mesaros — one of 14 applicants — to fill the vacant Position 6 seat.

During the interviews Friday, each candidate answered a series of six questions — one posed by each councilmember — which they received in advance.

Here are summaries of the council interviews with the five new candidates:

Janelle Cass is an Air Force veteran who has a degree in civil and environmental engineering from the Air Force Academy. She owns Ohana Hyperbarics in downtown Edmonds and serves on the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce board, as well as chairing the Edmonds Citizens Tree Board. She ran for the city council last year, narrowly losing to current Councilmember Will Chen in November. She is also running for the District 21 Washington State Senate seat as a Republican, facing incumbent Marko Liias, a Democrat, in the November election. Cass has lived in Edmonds since 2007. During her previous work with the Federal Aviation Administration, she traveled across the western U.S. but realized she was happier being in Edmonds full-time, so decided to quit that job and open a business here 2018. Her goal in running for council, she said, is to “give back to the community that I love so much.”

Councilmember Vivian Olson had the first question, asking Cass if she had time to devote to the council appointment. Cass replied that as an Air Force Academy graduate, “I was trained to handle high demands and long hours and sacrifice. And my family is extremely supportive of this application,” she added.

Councilmember Susan Paine asked Cass for her opinion about streateries — temporary outdoor dining structures erected during the pandemic — and also how she feels about using city streets for non-vehicle purposes. Cass acknowledged there was “a lot of emotion and passion around the streateries,” and she commended the City of Edmonds and the restaurateurs “for the creativity and how quickly they moved out to help out our restaurants and our bars.” But as time went on and occupancy limits expanded indoors, Cass said she became worried that allowing the streateries “didn’t seem that fair to some of our other businesses,” and she was also concerned about the public safety aspects after she heard reports of streateries hit by cars. As for street closures for non-vehicle purposes, Cass said that such decisions have to include “as much community enagement as possible, as fair as possible.” Responding to a Paine follow-up question asking her opinion about bike lanes, Cass said it’s important to “have  community buy-in,” adding that “for safety of cyclists, we do need to have some designated bike lanes.”

Councilmember Dave Teitzel asked Cass to list what steps she would take to start implementation of her top three priorities, which are public safety, the Edmonds Comprehensive Plan and moving to a biannual and/or priority-driven budget. “I am an engineer and I usually start with research and evaluation,” Cass said. The council is just entering budget season, so that effort should be delayed until later, but Cass said she would “see how priorities fit or are compatible with other councilmembers’ priorities and see how we could plan those out together.” As for public safety, she said, that’s a matter of keeping an eye on that as part of budget development and also looking at the city’s legislative agenda to ensure “we’ve got good legislation for the police to use their tools and resources to keep us safe.” Teitzel then asked a follow-up question regarding how to address access to the Edmonds waterfront during emergencies. Cass said it’s important for the city to have a comprehensive emergency management plan, and also noted that waterfront access is likely to get more complicated as BNSF implements plans to add another railroad track.

Councilmember Diane Buckshnis asked Cass for her opinion about zoning. Cass replied that “everybody in Edmonds is worried about how their neighborhoods are going to evolve in the future.” Comprehensive planning and zoning “are very important,” Cass said, “and it’s very important, I think, to have as much community engagement as possible.” The city’s recent outreach to engage residents in the Comprehensive Plan update have been “amazing,” she said, but added she would like to see more ciitzens involved. Buckshnis then asked Cass her opinion about single-family residential neighborhoods and zoning. “It seemed pretty clear from the (Edmonds Citizens) Housing Commission that people want to maintain single-family zoning in Edmonds,” Cass said. Pointing to recent attempts by the state Legislature to mandate zoning changes near transportation hubs, Cass said: “Any zoning decision needs to absolutely be kept local. We have unique environmental issues, we have unique infrastructure issues and just unique characteristics. It’s going to depend on people here making those decisions.”

Councilmember Neil Tibbott then asked Cass to share any activity she has been involved with in Edmonds that has given her insight into the city’s needs and how it changes how she leads. Cass said she recently held a forum on drug addiction and public safety, and through her interactions with those involved in the effort, “I am just humbled by the kinds of saerifices that people make to help others.” As for how that experienced has changed her, Cass said: “I take opportunities to volunteer when I can,” she said, which includes working with people who have gone through recovery and watching them give back to their communities.

Council President Vivian Olson asked a question on behalf of Councilmember Will Chen, who arrived later in the meeting: How does she describe her understanding of the concept of One Edmonds that includes all of Edmonds’ different neighborhoods and how the city can equitably deploy its resources. “One of best parts about campaigning is getting to know all of your neighbors all over the city,” Cass said. “I feel I have a much better perspective on the unique needs of each neighborhood.” It’s important, she added, “to distribute resources fairly amongst all the neighborhoods.”

During her closing statement, Cass said she wanted to address “the elephant in the room” that she is currently running for a partisan State Senate race. “My values and my priorities and the way I think are far more complex than two-party system ideas,” Cass said. “The way I make decisions is not party defined.” Edmonds has ” unique issues and unique people, and I just want to serve to the best of my ability with the background that I have and the relationships I’ve developed over the past few years.”

~ ~ ~ ~

Mackey Guenther, a 2019 Edmonds-Woodway High School graduate attended the University of Southern California, where he studied business and urban economics, but said after two years he moved back to Edmonds because he realized it’s where he wanted to be. He’s currently working as a planning intern with the City of Edmonds, where he has led the neighborhood placemaking initiative. He said he is committed to building infrastructure “that serves people with compassion.” While at Edmonds-Woodway, he was active in the school’s Students Saving Salmon Club.

Councilmember Buckshnis asked Guenther for his opinion about zoning. “I absolutely support this notion that communities from the ground up need to be responsible for planning for their own needs,” Guenther said, “particularly to map out different relationships of how land should be used and where.” Guenther said he got his start caring about the built environment while working with Students Saving Salmon — which focused on salmon restoration strategies — because it helped him understand “that certain outcomes are predisposed by certain decisions, especially around infrastructure and land use.” He added that he has “a deep appreciation for making decisions that support healthy populations and ecosystems. We are absolutely part of that bigger picture — no different than salmon,” he added. When it comes to zoning, Guenther said he is interested in “small-scale experimentation and playfulness, really, for understanding the options for our future.”

Tibbott then asked Guenther to describe a recent activity in Edmonds he has been involved with that has given him a unique insight into the needs of the city. Guenther replied that he was hired in June to work in the city’s planning department, where he has been involved in both permitting and community engagement. In particular, he worked to engage residents about the city’s Comprehensive Plan update. “My own perspective on the needs of people in Edmonds has broadened significantly because of that opportunity,” he said. “It made me aware of the limitations of my perspective.” He returned to the concept of playfulness, explaining he didn’t mean that in a trivial way, but “in the sense that any productive outcomes come through iteration.”

Teitzel asked Guenther to explain what steps he would take to implement his top priorities, which are land-use innovation and expanding public engagement. Guenther noted that he listed only two priorities, rather than the requested three, “because they are big and I think they fill up the space for a third.” The housing conversation, Guenther said, “is very emotional. There’s an abruptness to that process that doesn’t serve us very well.” He said he would like to see the city evolve its land use “in a really iterative and really an experimental way — some of them (those experiments) are not going to work and some are. It’s only through that process of being playful…that we can really start to get closer to solutions for some of these really heavy land use things.” As for public engagement, Guenther said, “we have opportunities for people to be heard and for their voices to be included in the process.” He advocates experimenting with different approaches “for bringing people in, things like public space charrettes or design studios and sessions for community members.”

Olson then asked Guenther if he had the time to devote to the council appointment, and also noted that since he is a city employee, he wouldn’t be allowed to both be on staff and serve on the council. “I have my immediate notice ready to go,” Guenther said. “The reason I applied for this role is I think my perspective is really helpful in finding solutions for some of this stuff,” adding: “My commitment will be robust, to say the least.” That said, Guether said that campaigning to retain the seat after the Position 7 appointment ends “is not a viable option for me economically. I would not likely be able to make enough to live in this community and it’s a signficant enough time commitment that it would inform my other decisions” regarding future employment. However, Guether said that “a limited term is a good opportunity to include a voice that is not viable in an election, and I would love to see some other 21-year-olds to start running for the council.”

The next question, from Paine, asked Guenther’s opinion about streateries and using city streets for non-vehicle purposes. Guenther replied that Walkable Main Street — where a portion of Main Street was closed to traffic for two summers during the pandemic — was “not activated well enough to overcome the very reasonable criticism” of it. Although he commutes almost exclusively by bicycle, Mackey said it’s important to consider tradeoffs for those with limited mobility and the majority of people who use a car. Providing opportunities for neighborhoods to pursue street programming that works for them on a temporary basis “is fantastic,” Guenther said. But he added it’s important to think about long-term investments that will reduce the overall demand for parking and vehicular use of right of way. “Land has different uses and we should probably be flexilbe for how citizens want to use it,” he said.

Regarding Chen’s question about his understanding of the concept of One Edmonds and his ideas for deploying resources to the city’s unique neighborhoods, Guenther replied that “that concept doesn’t exist in practice for everyone.” He pointed out the contrast between the Highway 99 corridor and downtown Edmonds, which reflects differences in people’s economic situations. “We really want to enhance the ability, not of the city to come and dump money in any particular neighborhood, but of the city to support citizens in characterizing their space a little more and giving it…a human imprint,” he said. To build One Edmonds, “we need to recognize that to some extent we have an inherited economic infrastructure that segregates people by class, particularly income.” It’s time, he added, “to have our money reflect the understanding of that situation.”

~ ~ ~ ~

Mary Jane Goss is a former city councilmember (1998-2005) and mayor (2012-2015) of Lake Forest Park. Goss, who moved to Edmonds in March 2021, and works as a real estate analyst for a firm specializing in federal government contracting. She has degrees in accountancy and city administration.

Councilmember Teitzel asked Goss how she would implement the three priorities listed on her application, which include making sure the public’s money is well spent, supporting safe transportation corridor improvements, and protecting single-family housing while accommodating multi-family housing. “I am a person who has no problem meeting with different groups, diferent individuals,” Goss said. She added that when she first moved to Edmonds, she decided to campaign for Councilmember Kristiana Johnson — who held the Position 1 seat prior to her death in July — “because I saw in her a very exceptional public service person.” She also said during her time in Lake Forest Park, she became familiar with regional issues that also involve Edmonds, including sitting on the Lake Ballinger Forum, and is also familiar with wastewater treatment due to her past work with King County.

Goss was then asked by Buckshnis to share her opinion about zoning. She noted that “Edmonds is a built-out city in many places,” adding that it’s important to “accommodate what we can with what people are willing to live with.” Change “is really hard for people,” she added. Highway 99, she said, is a prime transportation corridor for commuting via Community Transit’s Swift bus to both Everett and Paine Field, and yet there is no place to park. She suggested building a parking garage on Highway 99 to accommodate those commuters.

Paine asked Goss her opinion about streateries and using city streets for non-vehicle purposes. Goss replied that while they were “a fantastic response in an emergency situation, the streateries posed problems for those with mobility issues. She also said it’s important to think about placing those types of activities in other areas beyond downtown. As for non-vehicle use of streets, Goss said it’s key to get citizen feedback before implementing such ideas. “You have to work with what you have — it’s a built-out city in many areas and a lot of the topography doesn’t fit some things,” Goss said. “It takes a lot of thought and a lot of planning, and I think that most people are willing to try and do their part if they can see the benefit.”

Next came Tibbott’s request that Goss speak to a recent activity she did in Edmonds that gave her an insight into the needs of the city. She talked about attending Councilmember Diane Buckshnis’ recent town hall forum and how it helped her understand residents’ concerns about  city issues. She said that while attending that forum — and also while campaigning for Kristiana Johnson last year — she heard “a lot of frustration” from residents and wondered what she could do to help people better understand each other.

Chen then asked about One Edmonds and his ideas for deploying resources to the city’s unique neighborhoods. Goss noted the similiarities between Lake Forest Park and Edmonds, with their single-family neighborhoods and small businesses. “If we all think about it as a group, as the whole city, I think that’s a great way to get that going,” she said of the One Edmonds idea. She also suggested a citywide block watch program for distributing information, which Lake Forest Park used successfully.

In the final question, Olson asked Goss if she had the time to devote to the council appointment, and she replied that she did.

“My philosophy about public service is that it’s basically a sacred duty,” Goss said in her concluding remarks.

~ ~ ~ ~

Jeremy Steiner has lived in Edmonds for nearly 50 years. He is executive producer of the Michael Medved syndicated radio talk show and is also a real estate broker with Pacific NW Realty. He noted that he previously ran for Edmonds City Council more than two decades ago, when he was just out of college. He has two daughters — one attending Western Washington University and the other at Edmonds-Woodway High School.

Councilmember Susan Paine asked the first question, regarding Steiner’s opinion about streateries and the city’s use of right of way for non-vehicular purpose. The streateries, Steiner said, kept businesses and restaurants alive during the pandemic and his only suggestion was to think about moving them off Main Street where parking isn’t as much of an issue. As for bike lanes, Steiner says he bikes to work a couple of days a week but thinks adding bike lanes may not be a top priority given that “we live in city and state where it rains a lot.”

The next question, from Olson, was regarding whether Steiner can meet the time demands of the council. “Time and workload is not an issue for me,” Steiner said, noting that he and his wife are “almost empty nesters” and that he’s off work every day at 3:30 p.m.

Tibbott asked Steiner about a recent activity in Edmonds that brought him new insights into the needs of the community. Steiner talked about the recent incident at Edmonds-Woodway High School where a student was found with a gun. It reminded him, he said, of the time when  police officers used to have a routine presence at the high school and “it was really reassuring…to provide the presence and the peace of mind to the residents and the students.” He said he would like the council to take a role in encouraging police to return to the schools.

Buckshnis then asked Steiner’s opinion about zoning. “It’s important to maintain Edmonds as we’ve had it for a very long time with the residential, the business, the waterfront, and the multifamily and the commercial areas,” Steiner said. People want to live in Edmonds “for a reason and I think we should keep that intact of why they came here, especially in the residential areas,” he said. Buckshnis then asked Steiner’s opinion about spot zoning issues. “Personally, I think we should keep downtown as it is right now,” Steiner said. Any housing proposal “has to fit that mold of Edmonds,” he added. “I don’t want to change Edmonds in any way and upset any of the longtime residents, because that’s who we serve.”

Teitzel asked how Steiner would begin implementing his top three priorities, which are economic growth, better park amenities and expanding marketing of Edmonds as a place to. live or visit. Steiner notes that events already bring people to Edmonds but he’d like to showcase restaurants and other businesses. He would also like to better promote all the “amazing restaurants” on Highway 99 instead of just those in the Bowl.

The next question was from Chen, asking for Steiner’s thoughts about the concept of One Edmonds and how to equitably distribute resources citywide. “The concept of One Edmonds is very important because people think of Edmonds and they just think of it as the Bowl area,” Steiner said. He said he would like to see more marketing of other neighborhoods in addition to downtown when encouraging people to visit. As a follow-up question, Chen asked Steiner’s opinion about how to address public safety issues on Highway 99. “I would as much as possible promote and push the police department to spend the majority of their time on 99,” Steiner said. “I think that would help out a lot.”

In his closing statement, Steiner said he would focus on “three Ps” if he was appointed to the council: A greater police presence at the schools and on Highway 99, expanded hours for the planning department, and finding more downtown parking.

~ ~ ~ ~

Jessie Upp

Jessie Upp has been an Edmonds resident since 2009. As a learning strategist and a behavior strategist at Amazon, Upp said that “this (applying for the coucil seat) is a moment where…instead of trying to change other communities, I’m looking at my own (community) in my own backyard and seeing a lot of potential, and I’m looking forward to seeing where I can influence and where I can’t,” she added.

The first question was Chen’s asking Upp for her thoughts about the concept of One Edmonds and how to equitably distribute resources throughout the neighborhoods. Upp said she’s interested in acquiring the data to identify health and social inequities “to make more informed decisions on how to approach those problems in different pockets (of Edmonds). Once you have the data, Upp said,”it’s important to prioritize decision-making based on what will have the biggest impacts,” she added.

Teitzel asked how Upp would begin implementing her top three priorities, which are supporting the needs of residents, focusing on a sustainable future for Edmonds and strengthening the community’s financial and ecological weakenesses. Upp again raised the issue of data, noting that much of the information in the city’s Comprehensive Plan came from 2013. “It’s hard to make decisions on old data,” she said, adding it’s important to have recent information to inform her priorities. She also noted that while the city is using a lot more surveys, “I think we’re. missing the mark on getting a good representation of diversity in who’s answering those surveys.”

Upp then addressed Paine’s question regarding streateries and the city’s use of right of way for non-vehicular purpose. “I don’t have an opinion,” Upp replied. “My question would be, what’s the impact of having those streateries — both positive and negative — from both the city’s needs and the business owners’ needs and from the residents and then work backwards from that to create a stronger opinion.” She offered a similar response to Paine’s question about using city streets for non-vehicular purposes, asking: “What’s the problem we are trying to address… and then is that the best way to address it… or is that a really workable way?”

The next question was Olson’s, regarding whether Upp can meet the time demands of the council. “That’s a big question mark for me,” Upp said, “in terms of ensuring not only me but this particular position isn’t set up for burnout and neglect of other areas of life that are just as important if not more, like family.” The position’s part-time salary, which Upp and the councilmembers agreed works out to minimum wage or less, was a concerning factor, Upp added.

Upp was asked by Tibbott to share a recent activity in Edmonds that brought her new insights into the needs of the community.”I saw a need, I went to the Comprehensive Plan, I read it, I saw gaps in the data and that’s why I’m here,” Upp replied. She also noted that she is interested in building a detached accessory dwelling unit in her backyard for her aging mother, “but there are so many stipulations to making that happen,” and she would like to find ways to address that.

Finally, Buckshnis asked Upp for her opinion about zoning. She replied she would want to look at “where it is impacting us the most and those are the questions I would bring to the table.”

The other former Position 1 candidates who have asked to be considered for the Position 7 appointment are:

Elizabeth Fleming

Susanna Law Martini

Lora Petso

Natalie Seitz

Bob Cram

Jenna Nand

Michelle Dotsch

Jeremy Mitchell

Roger Pence

Lauren Golembiewski

Persons wishing to join Monday night’s meeting virtually can follow the Zoom meeting link here:
https://zoom.us/j/95798484261. Or join by phone: US: +1 253 215 8782 Webinar ID: 957 9848 4261

— By Teresa Wippel

 

  1. My question is for Jeremy Steiner. You stated having a police presence in schools is one of your top three priorities. Would you recommend this for High Schools only? What about Middle and Elementary Schools?

    What exactly does police presence mean? Patrolling the hallways? Meeting with students individually or as a group? Monitoring students, teachers, volunteers and visitors as they enter the building? Other activities?

    You cited a recent handgun incident at Edmonds Woodway High School. Have there been similar incidents over the past decade?

    Would the police carry a weapon?

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