Edmonds council president causes a kerfuffle with decision to eliminate council email address

Council President Neil Tibbott

Updated with additional councilmember comments.

For years, constituents wanting to express their concerns to all members of the Edmonds City Council had an easy way to do so: using the  council@edmondswa.gov email address.

This week, however, reports began coming in that the catch-all address for reaching councilmembers was disabled. Instead, those emailing the council received an auto-reply notifying them of the following:

“Starting July 15th, emails sent to council@edmondswa.gov will no longer be forwarded to all Councilmembers. 

Please route your message to the specific councilmembers or staff department related to your particular area of interest.”

As part of the auto-reply message, people were provided with individual emails of each councilmember as well as their committee assignments, plus ways to contact city staff and the mayor’s office for specific concerns. In addition, the auto-reply suggested that constituents use the online form on the council webpage for submitting public comments — noting that online form “is copied to all councilmembers nad published in the next regular council meeting agenda packet.”

Edmonds City Council President Neil Tibbott said Thursday it was his idea to eliminate the catch-all email address for councilmembers, for a few reasons.

For starters, he said, people were using that email address “for all kinds of purposes,” many of which the council can’t address and have no control over. He pointed to the city’s new “Fix It” mobile phone app as a good way to notify staff of issues that need to be taken care of, from overgrown vegetation to potholes.

In addition, Tibbott said, the volume of email council receives “has probably doubled” since he first served on the council from 2015-2019. (Tibbott was elected to the council in 2021 after stepping down from his council seat to run for mayor in 2019.) On one recent topic related to an upcoming council agenda item, the council received over 70 emails, Tibbott said.

“The council is not really set up to handle that volume of information,” he added. Using the web-based form “helps communication get to the right place,” he added.

“It’s not like we don’t care and we’re not interested,” Tibbott said. It’s simply more transparent, he said, to have constitutents use the web-based public comment form, so those comments will become part of the public record.

“I realize and recognize that change is sometimes difficult to wrap our minds around,” he said.

Tibbott also noted that “not all councilmembers wanted to try this experiment of using the other methods for reaching the council. It was my decision. My hope is that we continue to improve ways for citizens to let us know what’s on their minds and to resolve issues or get answers to their questions.”

Councilmember Diane Buckshnis said via email Thursday she has challenged Tibbott “on his authority to initiate a complete change in how Council is contacted.  A CP (Council President) should represent all councilmembers and changes to how we are contacted should be vetted by the public and Council,” Buckshnis wrote.

“The lack of transparency causes distrust among citizens and to be notified in an email that the current method of contacting us has changed and they must use a form structure is confusing at best,” she wrote. “There was nothing wrong with the current method of contacting Council and just because the CP didn’t like it — does not give him the authority to change. It’s ineffective and inefficient and I’ve yet to have the pros and cons outlined to me nor was asked my opinion.”

Councilmember Susan Paine said in an email that change in the email process “makes it much tougher for people to be able to reach Council as a whole, which I do not support. One of my biggest concerns is that with this being implemented, there was no outreach to the community about how they would like this change. My hope is that we can continue to keep this communication path remaining the same as it has been for so may years.”

From Councilmember Jenna Nand: “I am concerned that this will make it more difficult for community members to reach us. I don’t think that the volume of email that council was receiving was prohibitive enough to justify this change. I appreciated being able to see responses to citizen emails from other council members who shared the “council@edmondswa.gov” email with me. I feel that we are now more siloed because of this email change.
“Just as when the mayor attempted to regulate communications between council and city staff by forcing us to use a form to contact city staff rather than emailing staff directly, I think that this innovation was not asked for and is more ‘cure’ than the problem,” Nand said.
“It is standup for CP Tibbott to own that it was his idea only,” said Council President Pro Tem Vivian Olson. “I have been and continue to be fervently opposed to this change. We should foster all inputs getting to all councilmembers (as the “council@” email does), and we should not add difficulty to residents reaching their representatives.”

Councilmember Dave Teitzel added: “Bottom line: I’d like it to be convenient for citizens to contact their Councilmembers with concerns or comments. I don’t have a strong opinion about the method.”

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. If bunched together as a matter of record means council won’t likely see daily mail and concerns will likely be over looked because of volume in the group dump. I know our council people are under paid something we need to address. As it is few want to respond to questions I am lucky to get 2 responses and have never got one from the mayor. Apparently concerned citizens aren’t worth his time of day. I think the way to contact him has also changed maybe more than once. I am curious when the last time the mayor sat down to answer questions from a public group or from a media organization not including the one recent debate? I have heard proclamations and grandiose ideas but I can’t remember the last time he gave answers to the public, in my opinion the most important part of the job. Not so impressed by Neil either.

  2. I don’t understand how this change is a problem. In my address book in addition to having each member listed individually I have also set up council members as a group and simply make that one selection if I want an email to go to all members. What am I missing?

    1. Hello Ron
      Just like when Nelson had us fill out request forms which “they” mothballed. The writer cannot tell if all CMs received and read the issue. It does not show up in your sent folder and Microsoft has some follow-up app that allows the writer to perhaps re-send. It is difficult to respond to these forms as the context does not follow along with the email. It causes confusion and an extra layer for non-transparency.

    2. Hi Ron, please consider that some folks that don’t usually engage in council matters and city government might not know which CM sits on which committee, which CM to contact about x issue, etc. Many emailers are new to emailing their council and don’t have CMs in their contacts. This is just stacking onto the issue of distrust in our current council. It removes another link that citizens use to communicate with their representatives.

  3. What a strange move by CM Tibbott! I really like having the council@ email. Not all my comments or questions are intended to be part of the public record, for one, and it’s an easy, accessible way to reach every CM. I hope Tibbott reverses course.

    1. I wanted to share this info sent from the city’s public records officer:

      Regarding the comment on the council email article, may I please ask that you let your readers know that any contact they have with the City is a public record? Whether it be email, text, applications, etc, all of it is public record, and if requested, by law, the City is required to provide it.

      1. Ah yeah I should have been more specific! I know that emails to council can be made public through a records request. I was referring to the council packet where public comments are printed. AFAIK emails to council@ are not automatically included as part of written comments in the council packet.

  4. I believe that the decision to eliminate the all inclusive email address for the City Council should have been made by the Council, not the Council President alone.
    Also, for a large number of residents, the all inclusive address is much easier to use, and many people may not want their comments placed in the public record.

  5. The council@edmondswa.gov website was used and was popular yet Neil Tibbott decides, on his own without discussion, it’s too much trouble to read our emails? Not a great way too garner votes for yourself.

  6. Specific emails make sense to me. As someone else noted, a group email is too easy to pass over and figure someone one else will handle it.

    1. I believe I’ve heard it represented that the Council President is the one who typically responds to emails to the City Council. From memory, I believe Neil Tibbott represented such during a radio interview/podcast dated June 26, 2022. I can’t find an archive of that podcast so perhaps Council President Tibbott recalls what he said and will post his comments here.

      Another problem with this is I don’t think City Code grants the City Council President the authority to act alone and make this change. The City Code states the following in ECC 1.02.031:

      In addition to any other duties assigned by the city council, the council president shall have the following responsibilities:
      1. Assign members of the city council as members and liaisons to boards, commissions, and committees, and otherwise supervise the committee system;
      2. Formulate and prepare the agenda for city council meetings; and
      3. Supervise and direct the activities of any staff whose primary responsibility is to support the city council.

  7. This whole topic needs some “truth in advertising”.

    Is the intent to reduce public input by making it more difficult for the public to contact their elected representatives collectively? The rationale for change starts off with a complaint that Council members are getting too many E-Mails, but the proposed change is to have E-Mails go to Council-members individually – how does this change the volume of E-Mails?

    More importantly those who try to communicate with the Council through the online system know it is a “farce” in that public concerns about a topic are usually posted AFTER the Council has made its decision on that topic.

    If the intent is to improve public communication with Council, then all the processes, including the 3 minute public comment period at Council meetings, need to be evaluated and revised as necessary (with public input) to allow MORE EFFECTIVE public input (rather than more cumbersome, potentially ineffective processes).

    1. Joe, my good friend. Please stop confusing this issue with honesty, reasoning and common sense.

  8. I agree that specific emails are more likely to be answered. Group emails get lost in the shuffle, and even when someone replies thanks to one person the whole group gets that one word email. Could be that process is the issue and not the change.

  9. Perhaps CP Tibbott had good intentions, but generally speaking I think any action that makes it more difficult for citizens to contact their elected officials is bad policy. I think a lot of my elderly mother who reminds me often that “ technology is elder abuse”. She is very capable of sending an email to a long held address, but going to a website and filling out a form and trying to figure out which council member to contact, not so much. As for his comment about too many emails, my response is Boo Hoo – it’s part of the job! If you truly want people to contact the council with their concerns, too many emails is a good problem to have.

  10. Our City Council is elected at large and, supposedly, represents everyone in town equally. Why would anyone think it is a good idea to try to force people to contact their representatives individually by email or any other way? Who died and made Neil Tibbott King of Council email? He’s President of the Council, not Dictator of the Council. With this thinking, every time someone got up to make a three minute comment at the Council Meetings, the citizen would have to name a council member to relate to and the six others would have to be sequestered somewhere until called upon. Please quit unilaterally inventing problems and solving them by decree Mr. Tibbott. It’s downright undemocratic.

  11. Note to salary commission. Please pay council members to be full time. Some already work full time and then some. They then would have time to review and answer emails.

    1. Amen Brother Haug. We expect the Moon from these people and pay them peanuts for what is really a rather big responsibility, if done right.

  12. Not sure the new proces & use of the form will work. The Form says that any messages sent before 5 PM on the Wednesday BEFORE the next regular meeting will be inlcuded in the Council’s agenda packet. HOWEVER, the agenda packets are not available until the Friday just before the next meeting and thus we will not be able to send comments to the Council that will get there for the next meeting Seems like a Catch 22!! If I come to the meeting, I can orally tesitfy to the entire Council for just 3 minutes which is hardly adequate to comment on the more complex issues or the nuances of public policy. This new approach needs to be reexamined.

  13. Whenever I really wish to have a response from a councilmember, I put their individual email address in the TO line and I put their name in the salutation~ Hi Neil, Dear Susan, or whatever. When I just want to convey some information or maybe an opinion on a minor matter, I’ll send as a cc or bcc with no expectation of a response. This works for me and might for others also.

  14. I have been exchanging emails with CP Tibbott about this for two days. Tibbott’s recent reply to me began:

    “This may be a short term experiment until we find an ultimate fix.” “I disagree with you about transparency.”

    Edited excerpt of my response:

    The publiccomment@edmondswa.gov email address, also eliminated, was transparent. The comment appeared in the Council packet, could be copied to others, and the writer had a record. In my opinion, Council should not have replaced that with a link on CEO website to make a “public” comment.

    If you want citizens to participate, you make it as easy as possible. Council@edmondswa.gov was easy. You clearly don’t want more emails, you want less. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be complaining about 70 emails that you get on an issue, and looking for an “ultimate fix.”

    But the most egregious part of this is that you made the decision to remove Council@edmondswa.gov without involving Council or citizens in that decision. Where did you get the idea that Council President has that level of authority?

    This was a bad decision. If you truly represent Edmonds citizens you will admit your error and reverse this immediately.

  15. Darrol – I agree that Council is vastly underpaid. At the same time, all know that fact when they decide to run for office. I hope pay is increased some day if such would encourage more citizens to run for office.

    Roger – I can speak from years of experience that your recommended technique doesn’t work for all. I’ve tried everything I can think of to try and get a mayor to respond. The last response I ever received from a Mayor was in March of 2012.

    Joan – excellent points. I hope CP Tibbott reverses this decision immediately. Either way, he should be held to account for acting on his own. It is very hard to understand why he did not involve the full council in this decision.

    1. Ken, I was only discussing City Council emails, not the mayor’s. I agree with your assessment of our current mayor; he won’t communicate with Edmonds’ citizens, excepting perhaps for his political allies.

  16. At a pure personal level I really like you Neil Tibbott; your’ve always been personable and friendly with me during what few times we’ve interacted in person or email. But, Neil, you have a problem. This is the second time you have acted in a non-collaborative way with your fellow Council Members. The first time, acting in concert with a former Mayor, probably cost you your own chance at being our Mayor. That was the main reason why I did not vote for you then, for example. You’ve created a problem that does not really exist here and are discouraging good communication between council and constituents in the process. Enough is enough already.

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