During daylong retreat, Edmonds council prioritizes 2023 plans

Edmonds city councilmembers and staff get to know one another during Friday’s council retreat.

Members of the Edmonds City Council took time away from routine council business Friday to immerse themselves in a daylong retreat focused on strategic planning and goal setting.

“I hope you brought your thinking caps as well as your running shoes,” said Council President Neil Tibbott as he kicked off the day’s events in the City Hall Brackett Room.

The council spent the first hour of the day with Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson and city department directors. First came an an ice-breaker exercise in which councilmembers and staff were asked to talk one-on-one with at least three people in the room, asking about their skills, knowledge and passion. Participants then reported on some surprising things they learned about each other. Among them: Planning and Development Director Susan McLaughlin teaches fitness classes, Councilmember Will Chen is an avid golfer and Parks, Recreation and Human Services Director Angie Feser paints watercolors and runs marathons.

Councilmember Diane Buckshnis interviews Public Works and Utilities Director Oscar Antillon.

From there, Tibbott asked McLaughlin to read the city’s vision statement, developed through a public process last year, describing how residents want to see the community take shape and grow over the next 20 years.

The City of Edmonds Vision Statement:

Edmonds is a welcoming city offering outstanding quality of life for all. We value environmental stewardship, vibrant and diverse neighborhoods, safe and healthy streets, and a thriving arts scene. We are engaged residents who take pride in shaping our resilient future.

Tibbott then shared a list of city goals he developed, “directly related to what we spend the most money on in the city.” These included public safety, community services, administrative support, infrastructure needs and economic development. He also invited participants to talk about other goals that should be included. One area that generated a significant amount of discussion was ensuring that the city is positioned for grant funding opportunities, and that infrastructure is in place to implement those grants once they are received — and to ensure they are distributed geographically with equity in mind. Several people suggested it would help to have a grants manager position in the city for that purpose.

Council President Neil Tibbott leads a council discussion on strategic planning.

Following that exercise, councilmembers gathered on one side of the room to develop a list of possible priorities, which after further discussion throughout the day were refined as follows:

— Exploring plans for city services that include development of a police substation or relocation of police station to Highway 99, plus development/relocation of other city services including a new community center, the Edmonds Library and Edmonds City Hall.

— Development a public/private partnership for citywide cleanup activities.

— Continue work on a council code of conduct and rules of procedure.

— Monitor implementation of city financial software.

— Promote conversations with the public about zoning.

— Review Edmonds Housing Commission recommendations.

— Plan and schedule a budget retreat that includes participation from both council and staff.

— Develop a budget timeline through the council finance committee.

— Create an “engagement zone” for councilmembers, possibly by geographic area.

— Develop a plan for a salary commission.

— Promote arts and activities across Edmonds.

— Review staffing as it relates to budgeting.

— Evaluate city revenue with a focus on long-range financial planning.

— Explore annexation ideas with Snohomish County related to Southwest County Park, Perrinville and Esperance. This includes evaluating the cost to the city and the tax impacts of annexation on residents in those areas.

— Improve representation on council by considering council districts, ranked choice voting.

— Prioritize city code update/code rewrite, with involvement of council committees.

— Focus on options for hiring/contracting for city attorney and city prosecutor services.

— Focus on public transparency related to next steps for county-purchased Highway 99 hotel for transitional housing.

— Explore environmental funding to address watershed/erosion issues.

— Explore future of fire station facilities.

— Work on council clarity, direction and communication with city boards and commissions.

— Explore downtown parking needs and options.

— Address aging infrastructure.

In this team-building exercise, city councilmembers — helped by two community members — used play dough and pasta to build a structure. In left photo (L-R): Edmonds resident Roger Pence with Councilmembers Diane Buckshnis, Vivian Olson and Dave Teitzel. In right photo (L-R): Edmonds resident Darrol Haug with Councilmembers Susan Paine and Will Chen.

After lunch, the council heard from guest speaker Deanna Dawson, a former Edmonds city councilmember who last year was appointed CEO of the Association of Washington Cities, of which Edmonds is a member.

Dawson spoke about a range of topics, including what it takes to be an effective councilmember and how to manage meeting agendas that consistently run too long. She also addressed how councilmembers can best engage with each other.

Deanna Dawson

She said that AWC recently polled the public and included a question regarding “polarization in government and a lack of civility among elected officials.” Survey respondents were asked which they would prefer: A) having elected leaders “treat each other with respect and civility” and work together for the city even if they have political differences, or B) having leaders who “fight for what they believe in and to stand up against those they disagree with.” The result: “85% of people chose option A,” Dawson said. “They want you to work together to get stuff done.”

During a question-and-answer session with councilmembers, Dawson also focused on an area of interest to many — bills in the Washington State Legislature that would allow for multi-family housing in areas that cities have zoned single-family residential.

Dawson noted that state legislators had considered similar bills last year, which AWC adamantly opposed, arguing that cities needed to maintain local control of zoning decisions. As a result, she said, “we got a lot of flak from a lot of folks in Olympia,” who claimed that cities were burying their heads in the sand about the need for affordable housing. In reality, she said, cities felt like legislators didn’t engaged with them on the issue and so this year, AWC decided to proactively work with lawmakers on the topic.

“We had a very robust process over the summer and fall with elected officials from all across the state who all agreed that, yes, there is a huge need for affordable housing in the state, but that there is a role for local government in how this all plays itself out,” Dawson said. AWC then came up with a list of recommendations based on this issue, which some cities have reacted negatively to, believing they take away local control.

“The feeling was, if you don’t come to the table with some significant proposals to move the needle on some of these things, we’re just going to get really run over this year,” Dawson said. “It is going to be a hard-fought battle and I think it’s important to talk with our legislators both about why it’s important to be able to have some local decision-making authority but also to acknowledge that this is a crisis and show what you are doing in your community to address this challenge. Because the feeling is, there are some cities that are not doing enough.”

Dawson pointed to the notion many have “that if you build enough housing it’s going to become more affordable. But I think the challenge to that argument is, there is no capacity for the construction industry to build housing at a sufficient level that it’s actually going to move the needle in that regard.”

Many cities are opposing density because they lack the infrastructure to support it, she added. One solution, she said, is for cities to advocate for more infrastructure dollars at the state level.

City Council Administrative Assistant Beckie Peterson places prioritized items on the calendar during the retreat.

After Dawson’s presentation, the council returned to its list of priorities, identifying top issues to be addressed in 2023 and placing them on the calendar. Among them: Next steps for hiring a city attorney, developing a timeline for and scheduling a council/staff budget retreat, and proactively engaging with residents regarding logistics for a transitional housing facility that Snohomish County has planned for the former America’s Best Value Inn on Highway 99.

Councilmember Jenna Nand said she believed the transitional housing issue was especially critical in light of recent community outcry involving the siting of an opioid treatment facility in Lynnwood. Councilmembers agreed that should be prioritized for the first quarter of 2023.

— By Teresa Wippel




  1. I missed last year’s retreat but have attended about 10 of these in the past 15 years. Counting staff and CMs I think only CM Buckshnis and maybe Teresa has attended more. This was the best of all! First MEN did a fantastic job capturing not only the content but council’s work plan for 2023.

    Council minutes will add to the public understanding of the day’s work. And work they did!

    Basically, CMs created a work plan for the year which is of their making and not just drinking from a fire hose of issues on their normal agenda. Look at the list above and you will see topics that are not only important but interrelated. Much of their discussion related to Tranparency, and Public Engagement.

    Engagement Zones? Council representation by District and Rank Choice Voting. Wow talk about public engagement.

    This was a great 30,000 ft level view and before we each grab one of these ideas and drill down to either block it or cement it in the Comp Plan we should all HELP council sort out the options, inter relationships, costs, benefits and trade off necessary to move forward.
    Well done Council.

  2. Excellent article and work by the Council and MEN. I’d like to offer four suggestions to help the Council achieve some of their goals.

    1. The Editorial in the Jan. 27th edition of the Seattle Times, “Serve the people not developers…” offers some excellent insight and alternatives to the present direction regarding zoning.

    2. Susan Howlett (https://susanhowlett.com/) conducts one day workshops for cities, schools and non-profits on how to find and apply for grants. When I was on the King County Council I sponsored several of these. We received excellent feedback and attendees garnered thousands of dollars from their grant applications.

    3. Change the budget cycle to start with outreach to the public & neighborhoods in the Spring. This outreach can be in person and Zoom and by survey. Staff would share current and future budget needs. The public would be asked about their priorities. The goal is to capture community needs earlier in the process.

    4. Work with the Edmonds Arts community and Diversity Commission to broaden the summer Art Festival into an International Festival with music, dance, food and art from around the world. Help us cross paths with each other.

    1. Thank you, Maggie – particularly for the Seattle Times editorial as I did not see it in their print edition.

  3. Thank you, Council – well done!

    Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing for the AWC. Seems to me that they’re selling us down the proverbial river. Not advocating for us at all.

    “We had a very robust process over the summer and fall with elected officials from all across the state … this year, AWC decided to proactively work with lawmakers on the topic.” How did they work with us? I don’t recall a forum that they engaged us in. Unless, of course, it was behind the scenes, and we don’t know actually what Edmonds’ official position is.

    They also seem to have already given away our local decision-making authority and it’s only important to be able to have SOME local decision-making authority on our growth strategies. Our Council needs to have a sit down with the AWC and make our position perfectly clear. Are they working for us or against us?

  4. Lots of sanity, common sense, politically unbiased discourse and looking at real problems and trying to find real solutions. Input from some smart unconnected and open minded ordinary citizens like Roger and Darrol. Someone with pretty well known Left leaning past political views (Deanna Dawson) willing to look at and maybe take a position that doesn’t necessarily square with what the “group think” crowd from the ultra Left, in Olympia, wants as a one size fits all solution to the so called “housing problem.” (More of a too many people not making enough money problem I suspect). Recognition that there is a real need here for actual location based representation so everyone can be seen and heard without a bunch of artificial restraints (time clocks and prior participation “no speak” lists). Man, finally a breath of fresh air on a beautiful, sunny winter day in Edmonds. Special thanks to all who participated and hope for better outcomes ahead.

  5. Great work, Council President Tibbott!
    Unfortunately I couldn’t attend, but it’s very refreshing to see this type of transparent and thoughtful approach to the prioritization of issues that we face together!

    1. Hi Greg,
      I was at the retreat, and I can assure you that the environment was center stage of many of the discussions. One of the first steps in council’s work was to list key issues they wanted to discuss during the day. Here are 6 key issues they “boarded” and used throughout the day.
      1. Environment
      2. Public Safety
      3. Community Service
      4. Economic Development
      5. Funding
      6. Administrative Support

      The detailed minutes will likely have more details that we all should read. If you heard and observed all the council work at this meeting, I do not think you would be disappointed about their concern for the environment.

    2. Looking through the list again I found these 2 bullet points:
      1. “Develop a public/private partnership for citywide cleanup activities.”
      2. “Explore environmental funding to address watershed/erosion issues.”
      And many of the priorities are process oriented ones. Specific items that address environmental issues would be found in the actual budgets and work plans in departments like, Parks & Recreation, Planning & Development, Public Works & Utilities.

  6. The minute we start talking about, “International Art Festivals” and a broad category like, “The environment”, we immediately lose focus on how we simply address Edmond’s problems and needs. What we need is honest, open citizen public input and representation in terms of managing the wonderful aspects of what we already have, how to keep them, and what we may need (not necessarily want) in the future. We need a very open, neighborhood by neighborhood system of telling the city managers what we want; rather them telling us what we should want based on regional and national interests that they are personally interested in. On the questionable pretext of saving money we farmed out our Fire Dept. to regional interests. To save the environment we formed a do good tree committee that resulted in hundreds of small trees being cut down to defeat a moratorium. We can do better, if we listen to the Darrol Haugs Ken Reidys, and Joe Scordinos that we are blessed with at the neighborhood grassroots; BEFORE decisions are made, not after.

  7. The Fire Dept. was not farmed out “on the questionable pretext of saving money”. The action was solely taken to contract our fire services with FD1 to save money and that was clearly accomplished as $1M + has been saved each year. This action was taken after an extraordinary amount of competent analysis, public hearings and discussion.

  8. Ron’s points are very true. By subcontracting we have saved Edmonds taxpayer money. We did at the get go and we are still saving money annually. We also should note that SCF had a significant budget excess found a way to do “refunds” for some of their customers.

  9. I’m not interested in fighting or arguing with anybody anymore. I had a personal experience where Regional fire authority tried to dump a city problem on me and another volunteer at the old Senior Center and that would probably not have happened if it was still Edmonds Fire Dept. Just my opinion based on an experience. Apologies to all for striking a nerve apparently. I still stand by my comments and enjoy reading yours. I’m just saying it should not always be about saving money or serving regional needs. It should always be about what most of the citizens of Edmonds want and need for their well being as citizens of Edmonds. You’ve farmed out my Fire Dept. and allowed my H.S. to have its name and traditions lost for some percieved greater good – financial apparently. I accept it but I don’t have to like it.

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