Debate sparks new rules for choosing City of Edmonds board and commission members

When things hit the fan in Edmonds, the blowback can be intense. Four vacant positions on a city volunteer board have sparked a sharp debate between the Edmonds City Council and Mayor Mike Nelson. The debate has now led to proposed new rules about how vacancies will be filled and how the public is notified about opportunities to serve.

The proposal comes as the mayor tells My Edmonds News that the city council “is playing games” by delaying a vote to confirm his four nominations for the Edmonds Planning Board. “I just don’t understand that,” Nelson said. “Why is there nobody voting — because they don’t like this mayor? I don’t know, they’re not voting, they should, they could.”

Council President Neil Tibbott responded, “We’re not playing games at all, we’re responding to the (volunteer) selection process,” which Tibbott and several other councilmembers think is flawed. At the Jan. 17 council meeting, Tibbott will introduce a new ordinance to revise the way all board and all commission member vacancies in the city are filled. And we have learned that city boards and commissions don’t all follow one set of guidelines.

It is not the candidates for the planning board vacancies that triggered the debate, said Tibbott — it’s the process by which the mayor and administration selected and nominated those candidates.

Planning board candidates, clockwise from upper left: Lauren Golembiewski, Susanna Martini, Jeremy Mitchell and Nick Maxwell.

Three of the candidates — home ownership counselor Susanna Martini, architect Jeremy Mitchell and environmental remediation company owner Lauren Golembiewski — had applied for appointment to recent city council vacancies that ultimately were filled by Teitzel and Nand. Those three then submitted applications for the planning board. The fourth candidate— Nick Maxwell — is a research psychologist who has worked as a data statistician.

Council President Neil Tibbott

The council routinely confirms a mayor’s nominations quickly. But, after the council interviewed the candidates during a special meeting Jan. 3, Tibbott told those attending that “we are not making any confirmations tonight; we are looking at the process and how we received those (applications), and we’ll be reviewing that.”

That outraged the mayor. “They interviewed them and then didn’t want to put them on the agenda even though these are people they’re already familiar with,” Nelson said. Three of the candidates, Nelson argued, applied for the city council.

Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson

“I mean are you serious?” Nelson continued. “How is it they didn’t know (them): they’re (the council) is playing games, they’re playing games and they’re using you — (My Edmonds News) — to play this game.”

Some councilmembers said they are not satisfied with the selection process — that the city did not post notices seeking three full planning board members — only one alternate member. The alternate does not take an active part and vote in meetings unless a full board member cannot attend. Those councilmembers said they want more information on the candidates, and Tibbott is bringing the issue to the council’s next business meeting, Jan. 17.

In October, even though there were already two vacancies on the board, the City of Edmonds posted a public notice for candidates for the alternate. When they didn’t get enough candidates, the city extended the application deadline into November; in the end, only five people applied for that alternate position. Two additional vacancies came in December, when the mayor chose not to reappoint Planning Board Chair Roger Pence and Boardmember Mike Rosen, who is also a candidate for mayor. Suddenly, the planning board had four empty seats, and had to cancel at least two meetings because they did not have enough members for a quorum.

The city never posted a notice for volunteers for the full voting board positions. The mayor said he chose his nominees from the original “alternate” pool. “I took the applicants of those people that applied for the alternate position,” Nelson said. “I had all the applicants that I used to fill the planning board positions.”

Former Board Chair Pence believes many more people would have applied had they known of the full board member openings. “I’m absolutely confident there are people out there who would want to serve in one of the voting positions and those people never had a chance to apply.”

Councilmember Vivian Olson

Councilmember Vivian Olson, last year’s council president, said she also asked the administration twice for resumes, but added “that none were provided” before councilmembers’ interviews with candidates. The mayor said councilmembers were provided with application information in their agenda packets; “they said they needed more time, more time for what?” he asked.

In the case of two of the nominees, the council received a one-page application form, with limited information. The resumes of the three past council hopefuls were not provided in the agenda packet.

Olson told My Edmonds News that “you aren’t expecting to get the same pool of candidates (the three who had applied to be councilmembers last year).” She added that the process “felt funny to us.”

When asked if the council could confirm these candidates without additional information, Council President Tibbott said, “It’s difficult. We will never have all the information, but we do expect to have enough to make a decision with confidence.”

Councilmember Susan Paine

However, Councilmember Susan Paine thinks “if we’re holding up the process because it was not advertised fully… that’s the very thinnest nail to hang a hat on.” The council could, she added, “have voted and then started the process over again, if we were not happy.”

Paine said, “It is astounding to me that we’re treating a group of volunteers like this.” She has no issue with the nomination and confirmation process and “I don’t see any trouble with the people who are here and what the mayor is suggesting.”

“We’ve had really superb people on the planning board to make recommendations to us,” added Paine. And, of the four candidates, she points out there’s an architect (Mitchell), a construction firm owner (Golembiewski), an advocate for those with disabilities (Martini) and a data scientist (Maxwell) – “how great is that?” she added.

The most important board in the city

The Edmonds Planning Board does not make laws, does not create rules, does not impose ordinances. It is composed of eight citizen volunteers — seven full members and the one alternate. Working with planning staff, they make recommendations to the staff, mayor and the city council. Councilmembers and former and current board members say the planning board has been the most important board in the city.

By city code, the planning board is charged with advising the mayor and city council on all amendments to the Comprehensive Plan — the city’s master growth strategy. That includes reviewing all elements of that plan, reporting on the need for plan changes, and reviewing the text of development regulations. The board also makes recommendations for the city’s zoning map, holds public hearings, advises the mayor on parking regulations and serves as a Parks Board for purchase/development of all city parks and recreation facilities.

During the past several years, the planning board has studied and made recommendations on the electric vehicle charging code, had input on the Parks, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) development plan and the city’s capital improvement and capital facilities plans, held a hearing on the proposed tree code, and made recommendations for the downtown business district (BD2) rezoning, the salmon certification program and the siting of wireless communications equipment. It is now poised to tackle the revision of the city Comprehensive Plan.

Not all boards are created the same

The council’s level of overthinking this process is “astounding,” the mayor said. “I have respect for anybody who is volunteering their time. It’s not that I dismiss the planning board, I just treat it as any board or commission… and if they’re volunteering their time, we should appoint them and confirm them.”

At next week’s council meeting, an applicant for the Edmonds Arts Commission is on the agenda. The notice from the city on this position says that the “Commission’s interview committee” and a staff member interviewed candidates, selected one as “the best for the Commission at this time,” then the “full Commission” unanimously approved the nominee and sent their recommendation to the mayor.

That did not happen with planning board candidates. The city’s planning staff recommended candidates to the mayor, who then interviewed them. Planning board members were not involved in whittling down the applicants.

“If people don’t like the process and want to change the process, that’s fine; we currently have a need, I’ve filled that need and they’re not acting on it,” Nelson said.

The proposed changes 

That change is what Tibbott says he is initiating with his proposed rules for filling all board and commission vacancies:

  • Public notice of all vacancies must be posted within 14 days of an opening
  • For an expiring appointment, public notice must be made 90 days prior to the term ending
  • Public notice must be on the city web page for board/commission openings and released to media
  • The notice must provide the specific board position number of the opening if known.
  • All vacancies must be filled within 90 days of an opening
  • Incumbents trying for another term must provide a new application to be considered
  • New appointments, for those whose term is expiring, must be made 30 days before the old term ends.
  • Not complying with the rules may be grounds for the city council’s not confirming an appointee

What happens now?

The mayor said he didn’t make his nominations until late in the year, after he learned that the planning board was having trouble making its quorum. By December, there were four openings after he didn’t reappoint Rosen and Pence. But the first vacancies had happened in early fall, when board members Alicia Crank and Matt Cheung voluntarily resigned. Former Planning Chair Pence told us he asked to meet with Nelson early on, and emailed him about the openings, but got no response. Nelson said the budget process was a priority in the fall and that the vacancies “didn’t rise to the top of the list” until much later.

The mayor was clearly frustrated when asked if he was downplaying the significance of the board. “I guess I’m making light of the sort of questioning of ‘when and who did what, and why, and how,'” he said, “that kind of thinking as opposed to the issue of ‘OK, we have a lack of people on’ (the board); I’ve appointed them and now, nobody wants to confirm them.”

Tibbott said the issue is bigger than these appointments: “Our city policies lack precision in how board vacancies are filled. I am working on some proposals to improve both the process and transparency,” he said.

Councilmember Paine reiterated, “I’m not sure what problem is being solved with having a review… I don’t think you’d get more or fewer people applying” for board positions. She wants to get the board slots filled; “we have a pretty aggressive work plan for the planning board – stormwater plan review, the comprehensive plan, the parks plan – we’ve got a lot to do,” Paine said.

Councilmember Diane Buckshnis

Councilmember Diane Buckshnis thinks “we need to establish a central process for all applications as each commission has a staff lead, and is the mayor’s office responsible or the clerk’s office, or planning and development?” She would like to create a citizen task force to ensure transparency in applications and a review the city’s volunteer website and position postings.

Tibbott and the mayor agree that the city is extremely grateful for its volunteers. But Tibbott said the changes he is proposing are vital. “We are eager to have the planning board positions filled as well as five or six other board positions,” Tibbot said. “Our concern will always be the best fit between the demands of the position and the strengths of volunteers.”

Next stop for this debate – the Jan. 17 city council meeting, where the council is scheduled to talk about any changes. But a vote on the current slate of planning board candidates still is not on that agenda.

— By Bob Throndsen

  1. A cauldron that seems to have hit a boiling point between the Mayor and City Council. Just waiting to see who gets cooked.

  2. Does a alternate step into a full position when a member resigns or do they remain a alternate? Did the people that had applied for council apply for the alternate position that was posted or were they allowed to apply for the open positions that wasn’t posted? If these 4 are confirmed is there still a open alternate position? Seems some rules need to be worked out and certainly the open positions should have been posted maybe we need a do over. Oh and count me in on the list of who doesn’t like the mayor.

  3. This is disappointing to see our elected in this kind of debate. Here are some Facts shown on the city web site as of a few minutes ago.

    Boards & Commissions Openings: “No openings at this time”

    But here are the openings listed when looking at individual Boards and Commissions:
    Architectural Design Board 1
    Arts Commission 1
    Cemetery Board 1
    Planning Board 2 vacancies listed and list two members who are no longer on the board also listed.
    Salary Commission Lists 5 people all who have expired terms.
    Sister City Commission 1
    Tree Board 1

    That is a total of 14 openings??

    Another incorrect note is the council representative to Historic Preservation Commission is listed as Kristiana Johnson. She regrettably is no longer with us.

    Game playing or no game playing this shows we can do better on the whole idea of public information and Transparency.

    What would help all citizens is for the Council to create some sort of committee to review our web site in general and see what can be done to “Fix” many other issues relating to complete and accurate information. Short of that we will continue to have “Game Playing” by our elected.

  4. The proposed changes in the rules make a lot of sense, should lead to a larger pool of applicants, and prevent us for being in the position that we are currently in with board positions unfilled..
    I don’t know if the Council doesn’t like the Mayor or not, but many of them and the Citizens don’t like the way he does things.

  5. The mayor booted two good men willing to serve off the Planning Board because we need to give new people a chance to serve (paraphrasing). One of these two men happens to be running for the mayor’s job. The mayor so far hasn’t announced whether he will run again or not, but boots possible competition off the planning board just in case, I guess. This all begs the question of who’s playing games and why? Nelson is just about as hard to read as Donald Trump and that ain’t hard. Same goes for S. Paine.

    It’s also interesting that all these new appointees are functioning in the building and housing industry in some capacity with one a staunch advocate of open zoning. Does this represent a broad base of possible planning views in our fair city? I think not. There is a big stench in Edmonds and it’s not coming from the sewage plant.

    1. So glad to see this at this time. We have an mayor who ignores people and will not meet with them. He is the game player and has not shown the unbiased, best qualified approach necessary to run an effective government. The stench is ripe.
      Hopefully, the citizens are aware of his lordship style, and will continue to stand up to the pettiness. Thank you Council for your honest and questioning approach. Better safe and sound than stuck with cronies.
      Hopefully, your efforts will pay off with better governance in Edmonds, which is currently sorely lacking.

  6. A big Thank You to our Councilmembers that support establishing rules for filling all board and commission members. The City needs consistent and full citizen participation and this cannot happen if there are no guidelines for ending and filling these positions.

  7. Forgot to mention that the Mayor says the Council is “using you,” referring to MEN when all MEN is trying to do is get him to state and defend his point of view in all this. Newsflash, that’s what all unbiased news outlets and reporters are supposed to do. This tells you all you need to know about how open and honest he wants to be in all this. Conversely, Mr. Tibbott had no problem stating his point of view and what he would like new rules to accomplish and why they are needed. The tragedy in all this is that Mr. Nelson could have been one of the best Mayors Edmonds ever had after his correct change of stance on the Connector, but chose political party politics and favoritism instead. This is what happens when you over buy into group think. It’s bad for everyone in town, including himself.

  8. Why can’t the mayor just follow the codes and get it right. He has a history of not following the rules in his past. What did we expect. So glad the council is questioning the mayor when he doesnt follow the process

  9. Finally! Finally, we have a Council that is willing to step up and make some necessary changes to the way the city functions. I applaud Council President Tibbott for leading this effort. Once they get through this one, I have a whole list of processes that need attention and improvement that they can work on. Can one say: “budgeting”?

  10. These comments give me hope! Mayor Nelson’s behavior is an embarrassment. Much appreciation goes to the council members for paying attention and not falling prey to the path of least resistance. I can’t wait until this Mayor and his ridiculous posse are gone.

  11. Jim is correct, this council will make some improvements on citizen involvement. The is much more to do and with this as a start, hopefully this council will sort out other issues and make progress on other issues. The key issue is money. We do not have enough to do what folks want. Probably do not have enough to do the basics either. But it is unlikely elected officials can sort out priorities in a way to satisfy most folks. Nor do elected officials seem willing to talk about added funding. That gap increases every year and with 5 council positions and the mayor’s office up for election in less than 10 months, it will be interesting. Working on processes may be our only hope in the short run.

  12. Mayor Nelson is the one playing politics – kicking Mike Rosen off the Board, simply because Mike Rosen announced he is running for Mayor.
    By all indications Mike Rosen has done a superb job on the Planning Board.
    A huge thank you to Council President Neil Tibbott for calling time out on (another) of Mayor Nelson’s politically motivated moves.
    City Council, please establish a good process and make sure the City of Edmonds interests are served, not Mayor Nelson’s political agenda, which has been his MO simce day 1.

  13. The Edmonds City Council wants to have reasonable rules about how vacancies will be filled for board positions and how the public is notified about opportunities to serve. Mayor Nelson and submissive council member Paine disagree. Go figure.

    1. The city is fortunate to have Olson, Buckschnis, and Tibbott to oversee and respond to the practices of this administration on behalf of the residents.

  14. Darrol Haug is someone all the people in this town need to start listening to more. Along with the likes of Ken Reidy and Roger Pence (who I also disagree with at times, but still like and admire). Darrol and I are friends and we frequently disagree on things (like having a regional instead of a city fire department) but he always studies the issues from a data specific and true cost standpoint and uses very good reasoning in how we might possibly approach any problem or need as a city. Joe Scordino is another person we need to listen to in terms of planning the future.

    One way we could start a better and less costly process of governance would be to to quit hyping up and selling the town all the time. Be content with the really good and quit shooting for the perfect. Our new over budget civic field park is a good example of that past program. Another area of over reach is “visioning” everything and over planning. Sometimes the best plan is to plan nothing and let people cope as best they can with what they have.

  15. Interesting——same process being used to appoint boards and commissions as previous mayor did for 8 years.
    One current council member served with previous mayor for 8 years and Two other current council member served under previous mayor for Four years. Previous mayor made dozens and dozens of appointments the same way. Crickets from those Three current council members then.
    Now who is playing politics with our citizens?

    1. Adrienne, the fact that the system has been used for 8 years or 50 years doesn’t necessarily make it a good system. As far as the three CMs not speaking out, this was partly caused by the Democratic Party four Council Cabal who almost always voted for whatever the Mayor and his planning staff wants. As C.P.; Susan Paine was practically Mayor Nelson’s administrative assistant. This isn’t personal. I think you were right that the Civic Field project was mostly not needed and unfair to non-bowl residents. As far as the Planning Board goes; if the private town citizens are really atop the organization chart, as claimed, the board should perhaps be popularly elected rather than appointed by possibly highly biased elected officials. A Mayor and staff should definitely not be in the business of “visioning” what the citizens supposedly want for the town. This is a recipe for bad Connectors and cheapo apartments going up all over the place.

  16. “Nelson said the budget process was a priority in the fall and that the vacancies “didn’t rise to the top of the list” until much later.”

    I think this statement says it all. We have a mayor who can’t walk and chew bubble gum at the same time let alone run a city. Even giving the mayor the benefit of the doubt, his involvement in the budgeting process is less once he proposes his budget to the Council (the beginning of October). So why did it take until now to get from him his nominations?

    Positions such as the mayor require the skills of delegating and multi-tasking, among others. Whining isn’t one of them.

  17. Review my post on Jan 14 above. Do we have other openings on boards and commissions or not? Either the information listed under each board and commission is incorrect or the “open positions” page is incorrect.

    When we built the website, we did so in a decentralized way. Each department does their own stuff. But who is responsible for the stuff on each of the boards and commission pages and who is responsible for the open positions page?

    If you look at the website, you will quickly see the difficulty of finding information in general. The city would be better served by with a citizen review of the website and recommend improvements. These improvements could reduce the number of public records requests.

    Council should sort out the whole idea a transparency and develop a plan to improve it.

    Some of this stuff is more than political. Let’s make some improvements, not just put out the current fire.

  18. Congratulations to council-member Tibbot that tonight was not political it was about ensuring that we update our policies and procedures .
    It was not about guilt of anybody. It was about moving forward!

  19. I agree with Adrienne about this. I would suggest that the place to start in relation to the Planning Board position (possibly all town boards and commissions) is some sort of consensus on what makes a person qualified or not to be on it in the first place. My view is that if you really believe in broad based democracy and the average citizen being at the top of the city organization chart; the only requirement should be “a certified citizen of Edmonds.” Anything beyond that requirement could be construed as discriminatory and/of arbitrary. You shouldn’t have to have a degree in urban planning or be a friend of an elected official to be on our planning board for example. I suggest 10 or 12 positions and draw names of interested citizens until it’s filled. All not drawn names stay in the hat to fill vacancies as they occur. Serve a specified term and throw your name back in the hat for the drawing of a new board. Make it as fair and random as possible.

  20. Not for that at all. Random selection for technical skilled help? How does that help staff, and how does that address the shortfall in smarter Planning, City work products / City management? Our City administration and Council, like many others – has a history of hiring and appointing based on wrong priorities – putting first – political policy orientation, ability to fund current planned projects, narrow criteria for short term needs, and HR specs; rather than the more important – relevant talent and expertise as the primary qualification. Private sector all the time prioritizes qualification standards that adapt to hiring a talent-set that meshes with and strengthens the mission, team, organization, and relevant long-term development. I think that is what Council wants, they are right to demand it, and any folks in doubt can ask and receive a boat load of examples where the City has hired and appointed in ways that fails to address – insufficient in-house expertise, frequency of costly consultancies, over-budget project errors, and – sadly – failures to leverage citizen expertise to fill in the gaps.

  21. So, if my Edmonds home is located next to a planned by “experts” three story apartment house with 30, 900 sq. ft. apartments with no setback and parking for 15 cars, I can’t be on the planning board because I don’t have a degree in some technical field related to planning? Our mayor and city council don’t need anymore “skilled technical help.” They need some more people with the brains they were born with telling them what to do. You know, common sense.

  22. While it is true that common sense is mandatory, and some experts lack it – Both are required in some measure in order for either discipline to be effectively useful. Isn’t that why we want Council to view the resume and check references – to determine if the candidate has demonstrated common sense and expertise in a measure appropriate to the postiion?

    Where you are right….”Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing.” Emerson.

    However…. “There is absolutely no common sense; it is common nonsense.” Thoreau

    Indeed, put these two men on the Planning Board and ask yourself – how would they detect the underlying issues that wasted vast sums of non-budgeted money at Haynes Park, Old Town development, and The Edmonds Connector?

  23. We had a bunch of “experts” appointed by Mayor Earling and the then current Council telling them what they wanted to hear and we got a one lane Connector to a marine sanctuary. To each his own, but I’d prefer random rank amateurs doing the advising over that approach. Plus I believe in the concept of a broad based democracy and trusting “we the people.”

  24. On face value its a worthy statement. However, you have chosen one of the more blatant failures of Edmonds governance, not so easily applied to the discussion of the Planning Board. Nonetheless, very relevant. So – with reservations – I will address it: I believe that my comment about having a balance of expertise and common sense stands true. Here is why: The Edmonds Connector “experts” were not experts at all; the few that were experts – were excluded or ignored. For example, the word “conservation” appeared just once in the public documents. What the heck kind of “experts” would do that? Fact is, neither the Mayor, the Parks Director, Council, Council’s lead for public outreach, Council’s committees, none (aside from Kristiana) had a degree or notable direct experience in matters of land use involving a protected area as complex as Brackett’s Landing. Indeed, the relevant expert authorities – such as County marine affairs – were not aware of the conflicts until public informed them – too late then. Furthermore, the State Parks & Conservation erred in issuing their endorsement based on Park’s wrong definition of the project as an enhancement of public park access.

  25. Respectfully, no, not the lesson of the Connector. Let me be more clear on this important piece of Edmond history: Yes I said – “Indeed, the relevant expert authorities – such as County marine affairs were not aware of the conflicts until the public informed them.” More accurately stated… EDMONDS NEVER BOTHERED to inform them! Edmonds failed to call on their expertise – the foremost experts in marine land use affairs in the County and State were not called on! I am speaking from first hand knowledge – I was there in Snohomish, at the meeting. So, I assert here and now – had those experts been called in – the Park would have been ruled out as an option from the start on the basis of technical land use rules. Instead, public common sense defeated The Connector – But not until tons of $ were wasted on the feasibility work/contracts. Sincerely,

  26. Edmonds needs to figure out a way to put the potential angry mob in front of all the processes, instead of the actual angry mob at at the back of them. That would save a lot of money, time, and hard feelings. The process is highly flawed and always well be until there is a different way of thinking here. I wish us all luck my friend. We will need it as unwanted growth and bad planning is foisted on us from all directions by so called “experts.”

    1. Clinton, I share your views on doing a better job of building in extensive, objective citizen input far earlier in the process. An example of an effort toward improved process was the Citizen Housing Commission, which was a broad-based group of citizens from all areas of Edmonds who worked collaboratively to develop a range of recommendations to address housing needs here. Sadly, only one of those recommendations (regarding an ILA focused on provision of housing for seniors) has been implemented to
      date. While more work is clearly needed to move forward other of the Commission’s recommendations, this is an example of how the city can engage citizens early on around important issues and we should be looking at building on this concept as a means to expand such citizen engagement.

  27. That Housing Commission was set up based on establishing districts in the town. I think it was a missed opportunity to explore the idea of representation by district and routinely established Town Hall meetings with unlimited input from ordinary citizens at those Town Halls.

    1. Clint.

      Having been a member of the Housing Commission, that was our intent, to have multiple Town Hall style events to solicit more input. Then COVID happened. The rest is history.

  28. Jim, great point about COVID fouling up the works. The Streateries “solution” played right into the goals of some of the more politically motivated movers and shakers in town. Some of the C.M.s were playing politics about who they wanted to oversee in the district Town Halls, but over all that was a very well designed Commission and it does not surprise me that you were a part of it. That commission grew out of an earlier Edmonds ad hoc housing group to address homelessness issues that I was involved in for a time, and that the city management tried to get involved with and influence as soon as they got wind of it. In my view that ad hoc group kind of went too far toward the “woke” end of the thinking spectrum and I became uncomfortable with it. Bottom line is, I firmly believe we need Districts and routine town halls built into the system so all can be completely heard before the decisions get finalized. Politically partisan and power based mayors definitely need to go, if there is any way to do it. Managing and “visioning” are not compatible functions.

  29. Thank you Councilmember Tibbott. The processes for recruitment, nomination, and confirmation of advisory board members must be transparent, welcoming, and equitable. Prospective and incumbent citizen volunteers deserve the highest levels of appreciation and integrity.

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