In an early Wednesday evening event at Edmonds’ Café Louvre, former Edmonds Planning Board Member and Chair Roger Pence officially kicked off his bid for Position 1 on the Edmonds City Council.
Among those attending were current City Councilmembers Neil Tibbott, Dave Teitzel, Vivian Olson, Will Chen and Diane Buckshnis, former Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell, Port Commissioner Jay Grant, and City of Edmond Senior Planner and recently-announced mayoral candidate Brad Shipley.
The Position 1 seat was held by longtime Councilmember Kristiana Johnson, who died last year. The council appointed Teitzel, a former councilmember, to fill the vacancy. He has decided to not seek election to the final two years of the term, instead endorsing Pence for the seat.
In his introductory remarks, Teitzel spoke of Pence as one who will “keep with Kristiana’s traditions” of fact-based decision-making, open-mindedness, attentive listening, non-partisanship and above all, an abiding love for Edmonds and its residents.
“Roger shows these same attributes and will be able to step in and maintain that legacy,” Teitzel stressed. “He has been active in community affairs his entire life, most recently as a member and then chair of the Edmonds Citizens Planning Board, a critical arm of our local government that studies and makes recommendations to city officials on a wide range of land use, zoning, and related issues.
“He majored in political science at the UW, and has served on and led a variety of community organizations including the Wallingford Community Council and the successful Beacon Hill initiative to develop a neighborhood plan,” Teitzel continued. “He’s been a Metro Transit planner where he worked on public outreach, light rail system design, and more. Through all this, Roger has shown his unfailing commitment and belief in the critical importance of obtaining citizen input before taking action.”
Pence told attendees that his remarks would be aimed at clearly articulating his story, approach to public issues, and values he will bring to the city council.
He spoke of working as a state legislative aide after graduating from the University of Washington, where his primary responsibilities included constituent communications.
“I learned really fast that to do this right — you need to be candid, forthcoming and transparent,” he explained. “All around me I saw folks who always had their finger in the wind and crafting their messages, comments and even their beliefs to fit with the way they thought the political winds were blowing. Let me stress that this has never been my approach. I believe in being out there with what I believe and what I think is in the public interest, and let the chips fall where they may.”
He went on to relate some of his 40 years of experience being involved in community organizations and working with city government in Seattle, keenly observing what works and what doesn’t.
“While some things worked fine, one of the most important things I learned in Seattle was what doesn’t work, and what I would not bring here,” he laughed.
“The overall theme of my campaign is communication — specifically how we can communicate better with our citizens,” he explained. “It’s sad and tiresome for me to hear from involved, dedicated, informed citizens that their emails to city officials go unanswered. We have eight elected officials who – in my belief – are obligated to communicate with citizens.
“I pledge to answer your emails within 24 hours,” he stated. “I also want to create other areas of communication including town halls where – unlike the three-minute comments in city council – citizens can engage and actually have a conversation with elected officials. It’s called advancing the civic conversation.”
Pence said he would also work for improvements in the city website, where many pages are incomplete and outdated, and regular newsletters to keep citizens informed and provide opportunities for input.
Other issues he addressed included protecting Edmonds’ natural environment, especially water quality, stream health, the Edmonds Marsh and the city’s urban forest/tree canopy.
He gave particular attention to what he calls the city’s “built environment,” the look and feel of the town.
“You walk up Main Street from the ferry landing and you soon realize that there is a real town here,” he related. “It’s not just a collection of subdivisions and strip malls, but a place with a soul and a wonderful vitality. This is why many people are so passionate about our town, and it’s something I want to preserve.
“And of course change is inevitable, but whatever changes we make need to be done with public engagement and citizen participation. The public must remain the driver in all planning decisions that could affect the look and feel of our community,” he added.
Opening the floor to questions and answers, Pence was first asked to articulate why he’s running for council.
“I know the current councilmembers,” he responded. “I like and respect them, and I think I’d make a good colleague. I think I have something to contribute, and the energy to do it.”
Asked his thoughts on changing to a system of voting for councilmembers by district, Pence expressed reservations, noting that Edmonds is a pretty small city to be divided up into political subdivisions. He also noted that if the voters were to adopt districts, it would only be for voting in the primary and that once the two top vote-getters were identified, the general election would go city-wide. He also explained that if someone aspired to be on council, they’d only get one shot every four years at a single position, meaning that voters would be restricted to a narrower pool of potential candidates.
Moving on to zoning, Pence was asked about the potential challenges for Edmonds related to House Bill 1110, now approved by both the House and Senate but yet to be signed by Gov. Jay Inslee, which would allow multifamily construction in single-family zones statewide.
“I am very much in favor of cities like Edmonds maintaining local control of zoning,” he stressed. “But at the same time I support the principles of the Growth Management Act (GMA), in such a way that we accommodate reasonable levels of growth without cutting down forests and taking over farmland to build low-density housing. But local cities need to be the ones to figure out the details. I have faith in our planning division and planning board members. They can do a good job to the extent that they’re allowed to, but if the state preempts local control and gives power to the (state) Commerce Department to control our zoning, it’s not good.”
Asked about what he’d propose to protect Edmonds should this legislation become law, he responded that he would like to see more subarea planning and neighborhood planning at the city level.
“That’s the kind of thing that makes sense – design in density where the infrastructure already exists,” he added.
Special guest at the event was former Seattle City Councilmember and Seattle Port Commissioner Peter Steinbrueck, who came to offer his comments in support of Pence.
“Everything Roger has ever done has trained him for this job,” Steinbrueck said. “Edmonds is a city like no other, one of the most beautiful in the state. Roger will be great – he’s a problem solver, a listener and he will be out there. I may not be from Edmonds but I wish I was, and maybe someday I will be. There’s lots here worth saving for future generations; Roger sees that, believes it and is dedicated to it.”
Closing remarks were offered by Dave Teitzel, who reiterated his support for Pence as he made the request for contributions to fund campaign expenses.
A Pence for Council website is being developed now and will be announced by the campaign as soon as it goes live.
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel