Candidate Conversations give Edmonds voters a window into priorities of those running for office

Approximately 250 attendees gathered to hear candidates respond to questions and interact with each other.

Voters had a chance to hear from Edmonds City Council and mayoral candidates during a Thursday evening candidate forum.

The event, sponsored by My Edmonds News and the Edmonds Center for the Arts (ECA), attracted more than 250 attendees to the ECA and brought together candidates for the office of mayor and the three contested Edmonds City Council positions  — 1, 4 and 6).

Candidates Chris Eck, Kevin Fagerstrom and Susan Paine pause for a photo in the ECA lobby prior to the forum.

Participants included:

  • Mayor: Incumbent Mike Nelson and challenger Mike Rosen.
  • Council Position 1: Chris Eck and Roger Pence (this position is occupied by Dave Teitzel, who has chosen not to run for reelection)
  • Council Position 4: Michelle Dotsch and Mackey Guenther (this position is currently occupied by Diane Buckshnis, who is not running for reelection)
  • Council Position 6: Incumbent Susan Paine and challenger Kevin Fagerstrom.

Candidates running unopposed (Vivan Olson position 5 and Jenna Nand position 7) were not included. Olson had an informational table in the ECA lobby; Nand was unable to attend.

Incumbent City Councilmember Vivian Olson is running uncontested but she had a table in the ECA lobby to meet with voters.

The format was as follows:

  • Candidate introductory statements.
  • A discussion between the two candidates for each race on four major topic areas facing the city posed by the moderator. What are their solutions? Where do they agree and disagree?
  • Audience questions, asked by those attending. Participants were chosen at random from those who have indicated they have a question for a particular candidate/race.
  • Candidate closing statements.

 

Moderator Teresa Wippel welcomes attendees.

The event began with moderator Teresa Wippel, president and CEO of the My Neighborhood News Network, welcoming attendees and explaining the format.

First up were Chris Eck and Roger Pence, both vying for Position 1.

Introductory statements:

Eck noted that she is a working mom and wife who “loves this community.” She referenced her work with Volunteers of America, where she is employed as deputy chief operating officer, and service on the Snohomish County Planning Commission and the Edmonds Tree Board as providing her with critical management and organizational experience. “I am all about serving my community,” she said. She stressed that her approach would be to work respectfully with all sides on the issues.

Pence pointed out that Position 1 had for many years been occupied by the late Kristiana Johnson, whom he described as “the people’s voice” on council, and expressed his firm intent to emulate this if elected. He noted his years of volunteer service in Edmonds including chair of the Edmonds Citizens’ Planning Board, and board member of the Edmonds Civic Roundtable.

Question 1:

Both of you have served on planning bodies – Ms. Eck, you are currently on the Snohomish County Planning Commission and Mr. Pence, until recently you served on the Edmonds Planning Board. I’d like each of you to take 30 seconds to describe your general approach to city planning, and then for the remaining minutes, talk about your ideas for engaging – as a councilmember — with the Edmonds planning board as well as other city boards and commissions.

Pence: “My primary approach to city planning is public involvement,” he began. He went on stress that bringing the experts and stakeholder/citizens together at the same table is necessary to come up with the best solutions to planning issues.

Eck: In addition to hearing from and involving citizens, Eck stressed that she would look at the environmental and economic conditions today in Edmondsd, and where we want to be tomorrow.

Noting that both had been involved with various planning bodies, Wippel then asked both candidates for their ideas on how the council might better engage with the planning board.

Pence noted the need for “better collaboration” between the two bodies, pointing out that in the past the Edmonds Planning Board was not always represented at the council table when staff presented its recommendations, and that the information presented by staff did not reflect planning board recommendations.

“The planning board needs to be a bigger player in the process,” he said. He also referenced the challenge of recruiting volunteers for the “about 15” city boards and commissions, and need to have our elected officials more engaged with the community members to facilitate identification of quality candidates.

Eck noted that since the city recruits volunteers to be on the planning board, “we’d darn well better listen to them.” She also expressed her belief that councilmembers should be “doing their own research and listening to the experts on the city staff” to give them a full grasp of the issues under discussion. Regarding recruitment of new board and commission members, Eck stressed the importance of targeting these efforts to include all areas of the city and make an “intentional effort” to ensure that the diversity of the community is represented.

Position 1 candidate Roger Pence, right, answers a question.

Question 2:

I’d like to talk about an issue that comes up frequently with city elections – whether a candidate should be nonpartisan when running for office – and that includes seeking endorsements from political parties. Could each of you state your opinion?

Eck replied that while she recognizes city elected positions are non-partisan, she acknowledges that she “is not going to hide that she has been affiliated with a particular political party since I was of voting age.” She went on to stress that she would come to the position as “a whole person,” which includes her volunteering and role as a wife and mom as well, and is not limited to her association with the Democratic Party.

“That [my political association] is not my only identity,” she added. She advised voters to look at her endorsements page where they will find organizations including the Sierra Club, the Firefighters Union, and Washington Bikes, noting that these are diverse organizations with a range of viewpoints.

“I will not look to my party when I have a decision to make, but I will not lie and deny that I have been associated with it all my adult life,” she added. “But it will not be my main source.”

Pence noted that while he is a lifetime Democrat, he made a “conscious decision” to not seek endorsements from the party — or from elected officials and others associated with the party — when he decided to run for council.

“We ought to make decisions based on what is good for the City of Edmonds, and not according to political party platforms,” he said. “If I were facing an issue that I was genuinely torn on, the local Democrat – or Republican – organization is the last place I would turn for advice.”

Question 3:

Explain your planned approach for staying in touch with voters.

“I truly love to talk with folks,” Eck began. “And it won’t just be for the campaign, it will continue in my role as councilperson.” She went on add that she will be knocking on doors, dropping in at cafés and putting herself in different places in the community where she can “talk and engage with folks.”

She stressed that many folks have busy lives – parents with children, folks with regular jobs – and she plans to be at the places where they are – city parks, the Edmonds Waterfront Center – where she can “sit down and just talk to folks.” She said she is committed to making the time for this, fitting it in with her work and family activities. “This is a high priority for me,” she said. “There’s nothing more important than getting out into the neighborhood and talking with folks.”

Pence spoke of his “love for talking about issues with people in our town,” and how he has spent innumberable hours in Edmonds coffee shops and other community gathering spots talking about local issues. He described mixing with people, hearing their opinion and sharing his own as “part of my DNA, part of who I am.”

He added that this includes spending time in neighborhoods outside the Edmonds Bowl, knocking on doors, responding to emails and answering personal phone calls — noting that unlike his opponent he is retired and plans to devote his full time to these endeavors. He also promised a regular newsletter and quarterly town hall events, which he characterized as “ask me anything” sessions. He concluded by reiterating that he is an advocate of “one Edmonds,” a recognition that we are one community spanning diverse backgrounds, languages and cultures – but all part of the same community.

Teresa Wippel poses a question to Position 1 candidates Chris Eck and Roger Pence.

Question 4:

Let’s talk about bills that the state Legislature passed last session related to middle housing, accessory dwelling units and design review/standards. Edmonds residents were divided on some of the changes required in these bills. Describe the most important first step the city must take in addressing these requirements.

Pence stressed that the solution would requires first reconciling the conflicts between the three housing bills passed in Olympia, noting that they currently contradict one another in several key areas, and then developing a new zoning and building standards framework that makes sense for Edmonds.

“This should not be something imposed from Olympia,” he added.

He went on to say that his biggest issue is the mandate from Olympia to zone for multi-family development across the board. Noting that he lives in an area without sidewalks and with ditch and culvert drainage, he pointed out that many area of Edmonds simply lack the infrastructure for multifamily development. He suggested a neighborhood planning program where stakeholders including residents and property owners are at the table to shape the decisions that would ultimately affect them.

“We’ve always accommodated the Growth Management Act, and we do not need Olympia mandating our zoning,” he concluded.

Eck said that most important first step is for both residents and elected officials to “talk together about what this means,” and ultimately come to consensus about how the new mandates will look and feel. She added that councilmembers have a duty to educate – especially on complex issues like this.

She went on to acknowledge that while she doesn’t like what Olympia did, “the reality is that the horse has left the barn.” While multi-family development is coming, Edmonds should not change the look and feel of the Bowl where this makes no sense, she said, adding that whether to build a multi-family unit, add an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), or do nothing should be the property owner’s decision.

An audience member asks a question.

Next came questions from the audience.

The first question: “How should the city finance the purchase and construction at the Burlington Coat Factory site.”

Pence said he doesn’t know the answer regarding the project, which city officials have labeled Landmark 99, because so far the city has not provided enough information. He added that he “does not embrace that project” and looks to the new council – and perhaps a new mayor – to provide answers about “how we should pursue that project, if at all.”

Eck noted that the project is under review, and at this point officials don’t know if they are going to move ahead with it at all. She does believe that if city does go ahead, it can’t do it alone. Edmonds needs partners and must receive some type of revenue streams from the property, she said.

The second question: “We have two Democrats running for the same office. One was endorsed by and has funding from the party. Why would we expect that one to be less affected by the party’s feeling than the one who chose not to do so?”

Eck clarified that she did not get cash from the party but did get voter rolls. She suggested checking out her positions and endorsement, stressing that she is “much more complex [than a simple party affiliation]. “I don’t just do party line,” she added.

Pence reiterated his conscious decision to not seek party funding or personal endorsement. “I intend to be a non-partisan elected official who represents the citizens of Edmonds.” He went on to reference the “partisan block of four” on a previous city council that always voted together on every issue of policy and pursued an agenda with which many in Edmonds disagreed. “We don’t want to go back to that,” he added.

Third audience question (paraphrased): “How should we handle those who would use protracted process to drag out and delay decisions we need to make in the city?”

Pence said that officials should not let process hold up what needs to get done but allowed that a certain amount of it is necessary. “Good process yields good results when it is structured right and used properly,” he said.

Eck said that she wants to see action on the important issues in the city, and that she will bring a respectful approach to each issue. “I will not let process freeze me and will continue to listen to all and be respectful,” she added.

Fourth question: “How long have you each lived in our community?”

Eck said that she has been in South Snohomish County for more than 30 years and spent many of these in a townhouse in Lynnwood. During this time she and her family saved for a single-family home, and since last April have been living in a beautiful house in Westgate. “We fully intend Edmonds to be our forever home, and I intend to fight for this community,” she added.

Pence related that he and his wife Alison moved to Edmonds seven years ago from Beacon Hill in Seattle. “I’ve been involved in the civic life of this town ever since we moved here,” he added.

Closing statements:

Pence: “I’ll be accessible, easy to find, and ready to talk with you, and ready to be your independent councilmember,” he said, adding that his inspiration is the late Kristiana Johnson, who also embraced this approach. “I’ll be the kind of councilmember you can talk to anytime.”

Eck: “I’m running to represent everyone,” she said. “We need to feel safe in our homes, be listened to and be heard. I am here to do that work and devote my life to serving my community. I will always have an open door and work with you to solve the problems of today and build the future we all hope for tomorrow.”

The next set of candidates included Michelle Dotsch and Mackey Guenther, vying for Position 4.

Position 4 candidates Michelle Dotsch and Mackey Guenther on stage with moderator Teresa Wippel.

Introductory statements:

Dotsch began by acknowledging that citizens are at the top of the city organizational chart. “I work for you,” she said. She pointed out that she is a lifetime citizen of Edmonds, having practiced dentistry out of her Shoreline office, a practice she took over from her father. For the past 23 years she has lived in the Maplewood neighborhood. She noted how her experience running her business gave her the skills needed to be an effective listener and problem solver. She retired five years ago to become a full-time caregiver for her parents. She is the past president of the non-partisan Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds (ACE), which has exposed her to a range of local issues.

Guenther jumped out of his seat to stand and address the audience, stating that he grew up in Edmonds and is a 2019 graduate of Edmonds-Woodway High School. After attending USC for a year, he returned to Edmonds because of his strong belief that “this is a very special place, and we need to take care of it.” He proposes to build an Edmonds that is safe, affordable and vibrant by focusing on housing policy, transportation policy and public safety policy.

Question 1:

Provide an overview of your approach to how the city should be managing population growth and housing density.

Guenther stated his view that growth is happening in Edmonds, and that it’s best when it happens a little bit every day rather than in spurts as it has been doing. He mentioned the new development on Highway 99 that includes several-story buildings and predicted that 90% of our growth over the next years will occur there.

“We’re concentrating our growth in areas where it is politically convenient, and it makes me sad to see that,” he said, adding that the city should be looking at which neighborhoods are actually working (he used downtown Edmonds as an example), and emulating these as Edmonds improves other neighborhoods. “We need to reproduce what’s going right in areas like downtown,” he concluded. “On Highway 99, we’ve built boxes for people to live in, and I don’t think we’ll be proud of this in 50 years. I believe that places like Westgate and Firdale have the potential to be as much loved as our downtown. We need to concentrate on seeing that this happens.”

Dotsch spoke of the need to consider how growth will impact our lives, and the need to be intentional to avoid adverse impacts. She said it was important to have an overall vision that recognizes that Edmonds is not a one-size-fits-all city. “We have streams, slopes and a tree canopy that we want to preserve,” she pointed out, stressing that these call for different types of zoning to balance things, adding that Edmonds needs to rewrite and revise city codes to allow for this.

Question 2:

I’d like to talk about the concept of Green Streets, which the city council has been discussing. The concept is to provide sustainable stormwater management while enhancing pedestrian safety and promoting walkable neighborhoods. Some residents have said they’d prefer that the city focus on building sidewalks rather than Green Streets. Is this an either-or proposition?

Dotsch said that this is more of a priority and financial question than an either/or question, pointing out that Green Streets cost “millions of dollars” even for a short section. She noted that setbacks are an important part of this, allowing space to plant trees and other vegetation. She also advocates looking at other sources of funding to help with sidewalks, and looking at alternatives to traditional sidewalks that would offer many of the same benefits. She concluded by adding that Green Streets is a solution to restoring what Edmonds used to have here but lost through development, characterizing it as a “Seattle-style” solution to things like impervious surfaces and no building setbacks.

Guenther pointed out that sidewalks are also very expensive, and because of this Edmonds needs to focus on building new ones in locations where they serve a larger purpose, like connecting schools and parks, rather than just where new construction may be happening. He characterized Green Streets as “kind of a buzz word” and that the same goals can be accomplished by focusing on features like the bioswales near Perrinville that help control stormwater while encouraging plants to grow. “Sidewalks cost about $1 million per mile to build, and we could accomplish many of benefits promised by the Green Streets program in more cost-effective ways,” he concluded.

Mackey Guenther makes a point.

Question 3:

In your campaign materials, both of you have referred to the importance of protecting Edmonds’ small-town charm. Define charm.

Guenther suggested that a better word for charm is pride. Each person who lives here picks up a little piece of the city, takes pride in it and polishes it until it shines and “you can see it from outer space. Give folks a piece of this place, let them take ownership in it, and they will return it ten-fold.” He went on to observe that while our original charm was our trees, as we grew it came more from the people who live here.

“Downtown was developed before zoning and reflects what people wanted when it was built. Does Highway 99 have the same charm as downtown?” he asked. “Will it after development? We’ll see, I guess. I believe that charm happens when people have ownership of the change that happens.”

He went on to state that part of this should be allowing people to build dwelling units on their property for their parents and others, and giving you options when you want to downsize. “When change is done to us, we don’t like it. When we do the change we’re proud of it,” he concluded.

Dotsch observed that Edmonds’ charm results from how it grew and the strong sense of community its residents share. She believes that this shared pride generates charm. She also expressed her belief that it results from things that happened here years ago, such as building height limits that helped preserve views and setback requirements, and the need to be intentional going forward in preserving these values and extending them to other areas, avoiding things like a “seven-story apartment building at Five Corners.”

Question 4:

Let’s talk about public transportation and each of your priorities in this regard: Describe your overarching approach to this issue.

Dotsch began by observing that our current transportation system is less than adequate. Many folks live far from bus stops, and using public transportation is a challenge. She went on to say that right now going anywhere local involves driving and finding parking, and as more folks move here this is only going to get more challenging. She also acknowledged the increase in the number of folks working from home, which means more local trips for shopping and other errands than when folks were physically commuting.

Guenther referenced the ferry, train and bus transportation hub in downtown, and how it connects to major employment areas like Seattle. But he acknowledged that for most people, the best way to get around is driving. The goal of transportation is to give folks more options to get around, including things like bike paths and on-demand transportation, which Bainbridge Island offers currently.

Looking to the future he acknowledged that the systems providing transportation are operated by independent agencies, not the City of Edmonds, and therefore Edmonds’ ability to control and influence these is limited. Again citing Bainbridge Island, he described how you just open an app on your phone, order your ride, and it’s there in 15 minutes. “It’s like Uber by bus,” he added. “It’s low-cost, and would be something to look into for Edmonds.”

Next was audience questions.

First question: “What specific initiatives will you purse to increase affordability in Edmonds, specifically for those who are underrepresented and not here tonight?”

Guenther began by addressing the two kinds of affordable housing: subsidized affordable housing, which is designed to help those on limited incomes who must apply and qualify, and non-subsidized, which are targeted to folks making 80 to 100% of the median income and who can afford it without subsidies. “Edmonds doesn’t have that (subsidized housing) and won’t until we make intentional decisions to make it work for us,” he added.

Dotsch maintains that market rate housing is what’s going up in Edmonds now. But there’s also the existing housing stock – such as ramblers on cul de sacs – that serve as Edmonds’ pool of affordable housing. “Nothing that’s getting built today is as affordable as these,” she observed.

Second question: “We now pay the full cost of services from South County Fire. That service is due to expire in six years or on a two-year notice. What steps would you take to evaluate how to provide the best service for fire and EMS in Edmonds?”

Dotsch pointed out that there are two different tracks. It’s part of Edmonds’ budget as a city right now. The city can maintain the existing fire contract or it can be shifted — through joining the Regional Fire Authority — to appear on each homeowner’s tax bill. The city needs to look at the full picture, including possibly contracting with Shoreline Fire for these services.

Guenther said he needs to understand the options more, but his first priority is a high level of service for the community.

Third question: “How would you improve pedestrian safety in Edmonds?”

Guenther mentioned how this ties in with housing policy and planning for growth. “We should direct growth to areas we designate as high density, and then direct improvement money toward these areas that will have higher traffic volumes and more pedestrian activity rather than sprinkling these investments throughout the city,” he said. “This will build successful neighborhoods.”

Dotsch addressed the challenge of getting around when sidewalks are damaged and buckling, specifically for those with mobility problems. She advocates addressing improving existing sidewalks and being intentional about where to build new ones.

Fourth question: “If elected, what board or commission do you want to liaison for?”

Dotsch feels the Economic Development Commission would be most interesting and could benefit from additional attention. She advocates diversifying our economy with new businesses and other enterprises that will bring in jobs and tax dollars.

Guenther’s choice would be the Edmonds Planning Board. It’s important that the board’s decisions reflect the wishes of the community, and with coming growth the role of planning we become increasingly important, he said.

Closing statements:

“I’m running to build a safe, affordable, vibrant Edmonds, where our teachers and police officers can afford to be our neighbors,” Guenther said, adding that he would work to preserve Edmonds green spaces and natural ecosystems, embrace cultural change and promote a city where everyone feels safe walking our streets and sidewalks.

Dotsch stressed she will have an impact from day one. She pledges to respect and listen to all and promises that they will have her ear.

Next up were Position 6 candidates, incumbent Susan Paine and challenger Kevin Fagerstrom.

Teresa Wippel welcomes Position 6 candidates Susan Paine and Kevin Fagerstrom to the stage.

Introductory statements:

Fagerstrom led off by referring to his 27-year residency in Edmonds, mentioning that he and his wife “shopped long and hard” when making the move from Seattle – but when they found Edmonds they knew they were home. They raised their daughter here, and she now lives in Edmonds with her husband. Fagerstrom said he looks forward to ensuring that his grandchildren will grow up in this “fantastic’’ place.

Paine referenced events of the past four years, focusing on the city’s pandemic response while she was on the council and public safety including school zone cameras. Looking ahead, she said she wants to ensure that the prosperity Edmonds experienced in many areas can be spread around to the city as a whole.

Question 1:

Edmonds has a new Climate Action Plan and there are concerns the city won’t reach the plan’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2050. Address whether you support a 2024 city budget proposal to hire a climate action manager to oversee this effort — and why or why not.

Paine expressed her strong support for the climate action manager position, which will provide stewardship and metrics for the program as well as finding tools for individuals in the community to “do it on their own.”

She observed that Edmonds started its climate action plan in 2010, but that along the way “it fell apart and I’m not sure why.” She said that the city needs something outward facing to the community to show our citizens where they can get their rebates and other incentives for everything from induction cooktops to e-bikes, adding that this will include adaptive changes including transportation options that a climate action manager could help facilitate. She added that she has located dollars in the budget that can be freed up to fund this position.

Fagerstrom was adamant that he is not in favor of adding this position, that it is too costly at this time, and that we need to draw the line between our needs and our wants, and that in his opinion this position falls squarely under the category of a want. He stressed that we already have a Climate Action Plan in place, and that the city administration needs to hold the department heads accountable for adhering to that plan and achieving these goals.

He noted the successful efforts underway to convert the city fleet to electric vehicles as an example of how department heads are already working to achieve these goals. He also said that the city needs to do a better job reaching out to its citizens to make sure they do their part as well.

Question 2:

What is Edmonds’ number one public safety concern and why?

Fagerstrom identified traffic safety as the number-one priority. He walks through town frequently and has personally observed an increase in speeding vehicles, drivers running stop signs and other reckless driving behaviors. He referenced his own experience being hit in a crosswalk in front of City Hall.

“This kind of conduct is unacceptable,” he said. “It’s due to excessive speed and driver inattention, and it’s got to stop.”

He added that while he is in favor of the red-light cameras proposed in the 2024 budget, they need to be “strictly monitored.” Those cameras generate huge amounts of revenue, and this is only happening because of the violations. “We need to keep in mind that the goal of these cameras is to reduce traffic violations, not generate income,” he said.

Beyond this, Fagerstrom also identified vacancies within the police department – currently 11 – that need to be filled as soon as possible, and that this might include providing additional incentives.

Paine said she agrees completely that traffic safety is a top priority and stated that this is the reason behind installation of school safety cameras. It is also a reason for installing more sidewalks to enhance safety, she said.

She maintained that existing stop signs and traffic lights are already in place, but despite this there are some particularly scary intersections in Edmonds with a history of car-pedestrian collisions. She also suggests that any revenue from red-light cameras be directed to additional traffic safety measures. Regarding police officer vacancies, she referenced the new recruitment video and incentives such as assigned cars.

Teresa Wippel poses a question to Position 6 candidates Fagerstrom and Paine.

Question 3:

I’d like to talk about human services. The city has put an emphasis on this in recent years with a program specially focused on assisting those in need. How can the city best address the issues we are seeing here in Edmonds, from homelessness to addiction to those struggling to make ends meet. Is there more we could be doing?

Paine maintained that there is “certainly more we can do.” She referenced that the Edmonds Food Bank serves “more than 800 families each week,” and the new Lynnwood Neighborhood Center — now in the planning stages — will provide a host of services to those in need.

Regarding drug use, she identified the fentanyl crisis as being particularly acute and worthy of being addressed. She said this will involve helping people out of the despair that drives them to drugs, part of which is working with people to stay housed. Specifically, she cited that this year the city spent half a million dollars for family support and home services, all targeted to keeping people in their homes.

Fagerstrom stressed that he favors services “by Edmonds and for Edmonds,” where funds would be appropriated to help fellow Edmonds citizens in need.

He stressed he is not in favor of programs that would cause someone to want to move to Edmonds to take advantage of city services — and he specifically cited drug abuse, which he feels needs action by the state to “step up and fund.”

Regarding homelessness, he stated that Seattle is “doing a horrible job” addressing the issue, noting that Seattle is spending a quarter billion dollars a year and accomplishing nothing. “The situation is so bad that many homeless people are scared to live there, and are looking for other places – like Edmonds,” he said. “I’m not in favor of allowing any encampments here, and I support our recent ordinance targeting this issue.”

Question 4:

The next question addresses the city budget. This year, the city is facing its lowest ending fund balance in years and has proposed the transfer of several million dollars in federal pandemic relief funds to make ends meet. As the council considers the draft 2024 budget, do you think this is the right approach for addressing the issue? And does the council bear any responsibility for this budget challenge?

Fagerstrom began by stating that Edmonds is going to be in deficit this year, and while the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds were not intended for this purpose, the city is “up against the wall” and needs to tap into them if it doesn’t wish to reduce services. He also expressed confidence that the grants manager position proposed as part of the 2024 budget will be a major help in this regard, adding that “the cost in terms of salary will be far outshadowed by the revenue the position will bring in.” Regarding potential cuts, he feels that the city runs a pretty lean program, and at this time he sees nothing that qualifies as an extravagance.

Paine agreed that this is true, and that inflation has hit the city hard. In addition to using the ARPA funds, she advocates finding other revenue. She said she is looking to the new grant manager position to help in this regard, perhaps extending this help to human services, police, arts and more. Regarding additional possible budget cuts, Paine stated that the human services program is the only new item that has been added since the pandemic so there is little left to cut.

Then it was time for audience questions.

Tickets were drawn to determine which audience members asked questions.

First question: “Currently Edmonds has a contract with South County Fire for fire and EMS services, under which we pay the full cost. That contract expires in six years or can be cancelled with two years notice. What measures would you take to ensure that we have the best possible fire and EMS service at the lowest cost?”

Paine mentioned the recent council resolution requesting that South County Fire provide the council with the necessary numbers to make an informed decision regarding future fire service. She also mentioned the options of contracting instead with the City of Shoreline or reinstituting the Edmonds Fire Department, and added that any of these decisions would have to go to the voters.

Fagerstrom lined out our four options for fire services, 1) continuing to contract with South County Fire and continue to pay the bill, which is increasing substantially, 2) become annexed to South County Fire, which will shift this cost to property owners in the form of an additional property tax, 3) look for contracts outside the city, such as Shoreline, and 4) start up our own fire department ourselves.

Second question: “How can we extend the benefits of the “Edmonds charm” to those experiencing food insecurity in our community?”

Fagerstrom feels this is an area where a grants manager could be of “great assistance” identifying money out there for food insecurity assistance that would be available to nonprofits such as the Edmonds Food Bank.

Paine agreed with this approach, adding that the pandemic caused many to lose their homes and those continue to remain unhoused. She believes that keeping folks in their homes needs to be a priority.

Third question: “Are you open to plans to acquire the Gateway property?”

Paine began by clarifying that this is a 10-acre parcel that the city has an option to acquire, but that she needs to see more information about what will be done with the property before making up her mind on how to best proceed. Possibilities include a new police station, market-rate housing and a community center.

Fagerstrom said he absolutely does not support the purchase of this property. He stated that Edmonds not only doesn’t have the $37 million to buy it, but the city also doesn’t even have enough for a down payment. In addition, the city doesn’t know what it is going to do with it and has no pre-identified plans for specific needs in that area. Six years ago, the parcel in question sold for $8 million, and land inflation has never been that high in the area. “I feel the entire project should be shelved immediately,” he concluded.

Question 4: “The current sponsors of the Fourth of July fireworks show are not planning to continue this. Which of you will go on record as supporting retaining this event at Civic Field?”

Fagerstrom said he hopes for some volunteer enthusiasm to keep this event running. The city itself isn’t in charge of this – it’s the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce – but he proposed that the city’s economic development director work with other stakeholders to keep this event alive and find the necessary sponsors for it.

Paine said that she’s not sure if a fireworks show would be an allowed use of the new Civic Field, and she advocates looking at an alternative like a drone show that is more environmentally friendly.

Closing statements:

Paine expressed her deep gratitude for the chance to serve on council and be there to help meet the challenges the community faced while weathering the pandemic. She said she looks forward to being an advocate for sustainability and to build community across the city.

Fagerstrom reiterated that he is “for Edmonds and by Edmonds.” He expressed pride that with the exception of a few family members, all of his endorsements are from inside the city. He added that he has turned down endorsements from outside organizations because he doesn’t want to be beholden to any interests outside the city of Edmonds.

Next up were the mayoral candidates, incumbent Mike Nelson and challenger Mike Rosen.

Mayoral candidates Mike Rosen (L) and incumbent Mike Nelson respond to questions.

Introductory statements:

Nelson started by thanking the audience for being there. He expressed that he looks forward to talking about how his administration has made the community more open and welcoming, the state of our city, and what our future may look like.

Rosen posed a three-question survey for the audience: 1) how many of you could live anywhere you want, but choose to live in Edmonds, 2) how many have donated money or time to make Edmonds even better, and 3) how many of you think local government could be better than it is today? All questions received almost unanimous hands up.

“That’s who we are,” Rosen concluded. “We love this place, but we think it can do better. There is incredibly low trust in government, the relationship between the council, mayor and staff is not good, our budget is in crisis, and too many of our basic services are going unattended. I’m looking forward to talking tonight about how we can fix those things.”

Question 1:

The city’s infrastructure has been a topic of concern among many voters. They are asking for more sidewalks, improved ADA access and smoother roadways. Recent state legislation mandating multi-family housing is also expected to have an impact. Describe your number-one priority in addressing the city’s infrastructure needs.

Rosen’s top priority is pedestrian safety – sidewalks, crosswalks and traffic calming. He praised city staff for how hard they work and added they deserve the residents’ thanks. He stressed that while Edmonds will never have enough money to do everything it wants, safety must come first. He also spoke of the city’s water and wastewater systems, and that we need to look ahead to ensure that Edmonds can handle the challenges it will face 30 years from now. Additionally, Rosen said he feels we need those people at the decision table who will be affected by planned infrastructure projects.

The mayoral candidate also advocates prioritizing improvements such as sidewalks and water systems by identifying where these are needed most and then start whittling away at it, and also looking ahead to be ready for more flooding and other consequences of climate change. Lastly he questioned Nelson directly about the cost of an Edmonds Greenway Loop, a citywide walking path the mayor proposed last summer.

Nelson stressed that traffic and pedestrian safety across the board is his top priority, and that Edmonds has the infrastructure in place to support a range of transportation modes.

He continued by saying that the city has a priority plan for sidewalks, and that while it can’t do all of them right away, Edmonds is moving ahead with this. With regard to ADA access, he stressed that “we are chipping away at it bit by bit” and moving ahead to follow the ADA mandates.

“I’m here to solve problems, and when folks ask for more sidewalks I recognize the expense these entail,” Nelson said, adding that is why he is recommending the Greenway Loop approach. “A car coming along at 40 mph won’t be stopped by a 9-inch curb, but would be stopped by a buffer that separates you from the vehicle. We want to do this across the entire city, and there’s federal infrastructure dollars available to help with this.”

Regarding cost of the Greenway Loop, Nelson responded that Edmonds should first look at what it is trying to achieve, and then find a way to pay for it. Other communities have similar projects, and there’s no reason why Edmonds can’t too. He proposed start with a pilot project in an area with high traffic volumes and see where it goes from there.

Question 2:

Public safety has been mentioned by both of you as a high priority. There are still concerns about crime in some areas of Edmonds – particularly along Highway 99. Please tell us how you would address this issue.

The candidates’ answers soon diverged from the topic into other areas on which they strongly disagree, and resulted in a sometimes lively on-stage debate.

Nelson began with his intention to recruit more police officers, and that part of this is incentives. He added that he sees a two-pronged approach to fighting crime — one is hiring more police officers, and the other is changing conditions in these communities to make them unattractive to crime.

He also mentioned that his administration created an entirely new patrol district in the Highway 99 area, expanding patrol areas to four rather than the previous three.

Regarding a new police substation that has been suggested for the Highway 99 area, Nelson said he feels that officers make a difference when they’re out on the street and that the location of the substation is secondary to this and wouldn’t necessarily be a crime deterrent.

He added that acquiring the Landmark 99 property would provide additional options in this regard, characterizing it as an opportunity to invest in a community that has been traditionally underserved and to pass it up would be “short sighted.” He stressed that the city’s budget is balanced, and Edmonds will seek others with whom to partner to minimize the financial impact of the Landmark 99 purchase on the city.

Rosen said he agrees that the resources being put into the police department are warranted. He added would go beyond this to work with the college system to make sure more police academies are available, feels that a bigger police presence in the Highway 99 area is also warranted, and that property safety as well as personal safety should be addressed.

He said he favors an additional police substation in the Highway 99 area, noting that one possible location could be the currently vacant 7-11 store.

Regarding the Landmark 99 property, Rosen’s advice is to “walk away” from the deal, but he stressed that passing on the property doesn’t mean that the city is passing on its commitments to the surrounding community. Moving ahead with Landmark 99 would mean spending money the city simply doesn’t have, he added.

He took issue with Nelson’s assertion of a balanced budget, saying that using $6 million in ARPA funds. which were not intended for this purpose, and $2 million from the city’s maintenance budget to make ends meet, is “a patchwork, the consequences of which are waiting downstream for us.”

Question 3:

This follows up on an earlier discussion about climate change. There are concerns that Edmonds is way behind in planning, much less taking action, for Climate Change. If elected, what will you do to assure that the city actually follows the requirements of the city’s 2010 and 2023 Climate Action Plans?

Rosen said that climate protection is key to our future, and that it’s more than just building seawalls against rising ocean levels – it’s getting at the source of what’s making this happen. Edmonds needs to prioritize all the options available, he said, recognize this is a regional issue and work with others.

Regarding hiring a climate action manager, Rosen said he believes it could be a good idea if we can find a way to offset the cost, perhaps with the help of the proposed grant manager position. He suggested creating partnerships with utilities, major retailers and manufacturers to incentivize things like purchase of front-loading washing machines and low-flow toilets to help conserve resources.

Nelson identified the climate initiatives as an issue close to his heart. He said that there is accountability and a priority lists, and urged Rosen to “check these out.” He went on to say that he “can’t think of a higher priority than spending funds on the protection of our planet,” and that hiring someone to keep us accountable “makes perfect sense to me.” While he agrees that incentives are a good thing, it’s also important to put codes in place mandating electrical appliances rather than gas, and other measures, he said.

Question 4:

Define your leadership style as mayor and how you believe it benefits (or would benefit) the city.

Nelson described himself as a problem solver who listens to the community, brings their problems and issues to his staff, and works with these staff to develop solutions. He then presents the solutions to the council for consideration and approval.

He went on to relate a story about a parent of a Westgate Elementary student who was concerned about traffic safety around the school. He personally visited the school with the police chief, talked with parents and teachers, and came up with some solutions including speed cameras. His staff presented these to the council, they approved the approach, and the first cameras will be installed this December.

Additionally, he talked about the many surveys his administration has sent out, stressing that through these “we’ve reached thousands of resident” who otherwise might not have been heard. He also spoke of his regular newsletters, popups and other strategies to engage with the community.

Rosen characterized himself as an inclusive leader who surrounds himself with experts who’ve dealt with the issues at hand before and know what they’re doing. He said he would bring these experts, his staff and the stakeholders together at the table to review ideas, formulate recommendations, and come up with a plan to be presented to the council.

Rosen referenced that much of his professional work has involved bringing people – who sometimes didn’t like each other – together to reach consensus. In this case it’s more than that – it’s the community which is at the top of the org chart, the mayor, the council and the staff. It’s a four-legged stool and can’t be dysfunctional.

“I’m big on bringing everyone to the table representing the full diversity of our community,” he said. “I recognize that we are doing more than we’ve done before to reach out to the community, but we still need to do better.” He suggested that part of this is ensuring that survey questions are asked in such a way that the person responding is not led to provide a pre-determined answer and that are sensitive to the community to which the city is reaching out.

Then it was time for audience questions.

An attendee poses a question for the candidates.

First question: “Regarding public safety, what specifically can we as a community use to address the problems of drugs and crime?”

Rosen said that while the city has to deal with the crisis as it’s going on, Edmonds needs to focus on ways to prevent the problems in the first place. It’s also important to examine the broader issue of public safety and ensure that EMS services are quickly available, and teams are ready to respond to everything from fires to chemical spills.

Nelson said that in addition to hiring new officers and getting them into the community, Edmonds is bringing on a crime analyst to look at the hot spots and identify what the city can do, both proactively and reactively.

Question 2: “Regarding the budget, of all the current project being considered, which would you retain and which would you take out if needed to balance the budget should this be needed?”

Nelson referred to his proposed budget, noting that it is balanced as it stands.

Rosen advocated prioritizing when cuts are needed. He would put safety first in line, and then subject the others to being categorized into which the city cannot do, which it can do differently, which someone else can do for the city, and which Edmonds can do later. He also advocates finding new revenue streams.

Question 3: “For Mayor Nelson, looking over your time in office what are you most proud of, and what are you looking forward to over the next four years?”

Nelson responded that he is most proud of the entire community’s response to COVID, including providing day care, providing personal protective equipment, and helping small businesses qualify for grants. Looking forward, he said he wants to see the community become more walkable, invest in Highway 99, and ensure that all residents are represented.

Question 4: “As CEO of our city, what drives you to do this job?”

Rosen pointed out that he was happily retired, but then he saw the dysfunction at the national level. He told himself it wouldn’t happen here, but it did and it troubled him. He saw anger getting higher and trust getting lower, and people becoming polarized, distrustful and angry.

“I am done with that, and I think everyone is Edmonds is also done with the crazy,’ he concluded. “We want to come up with ideas and talk about solutions together. The job is 1,461 days and I think we can get there.”

Nelson related another story about a quadriplegic mom who was concerned about navigating the steps in Edmonds. He explained how he met with her and other city staff, reviewed what was needed, and made changes.

“This year for the first time she was able to attend Taste Edmonds with her child and bring her child to one of the four inclusive playgrounds we have built,” he said. “These are the kind of things that make me proud – when we can help people who have been historically ignored. We are doing this every single day.”

L-R: Mayoral candidate Mike Rosen and incumbent Mike Nelson shake hands at the conclusion of their session.

Closing statements:

Rosen reminded attendees that he has a track record of results that have made others’ tomorrows better than today, adding “and that’s what I intend to do for Edmonds.”

Nelson expressed his gratitude for four years of working with great people who do things well. He referenced Edmonds’ thriving downtown, and noted that while difficulty finding parking is annoying, it’s a sign of our economic vitality.

“I’m so honored to have the opportunity to serve you,” he concluded. “I hope you will give me four more years to continue to work with you and improve our wonderful community.

Wippel then thanked the audience and candidates, closing with a reminder to vote on Nov. 7.

The event was sponsored by My Neighborhood News Network and the Edmonds Center for the Arts.

The event was recorded via livestream and is available for viewing here: Note that due to technical difficulties, there is no audio for the part of the livestream. The audio picks up at marker 32:47.

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

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