Important decisions coming soon

By DJ Wilson | Jun 10, 2010
The City of Edmonds is in a very fragile place.
Regarding our financial situation, we appear set to spend through all of our reserves by the second quarter of 2012. 

The administration is beginning to pull together information for next year’s budget process. But with our mayor leaving, and a finance director that is still completing his first year with the city, our institutional knowledge is thin.

In 2008, I served on the Budget Review committee starting in August, and which culminated in the adoption of the budget in December. 

It is possible that Councilmember Plunkett may have served in a similar capacity in the past.  That said, that means perhaps only one or two of the eight elected officials (Council and mayor, once appointed) have had significant budget experience, starting from beginning to end.

Another reason we are in a fragile place is the state of our leadership in the city. 

When we fill the vacant council and mayor position, it is likely we will only have one of the eight members with more than one term of experience.  After Mr. Plunkett, who has more than a decade of Council experience, Mr. Bernheim and I are next in line of seniority at 2 ½ years.  Again, taken together, we have very little institutionalized knowledge of “how things have been done.”

Moreover, after filling the vacancies of Mr. Haakenson and Mr. Orvis, and including the recent appointment of Ms. Buckshnis to the Council, that will mean three of the eight elected officials will have been appointed to their position rather than having been elected by the people.  In my more than 15 years as an observer, teacher and practitioner of politics, I don’t know of any city that has had that many appointees – particularly with 18 months before the next city election.

Finally, we elected just aren’t getting along very well lately.  Relations between the mayor and Council have been very poor for months, while the divisiveness on the Council itself is rancorous and petty.

As one of the eight elected officials in the city, I certainly have responsibility for some of that, as we all do to varying degrees. 

In fact, I would offer that I bear more responsibility than most, given my strong activism during last year’s elections and my push while Council President to stabilize our finances here in the city.  I have made some friends, and I have made some enemies.

All that said, these next two appointments – to the Council and to the position of mayor – hold huge potential to turn things around. 

Staff has already begun working to better staff-Council relations. 

For my part, I have already begun to reach out to colleagues which I sometimes frustrate most.

And, Council President Bernheim is doing what he can to guide our city to a less contentious place.

We all have a part to play, including our most vocal citizens, in calming down the rhetoric and focusing on solutions to the problems which matter most. 

That starts with these two appointments.  The Council appears set to appoint the next Council member on July 6. 

I believe we should also move as expeditiously as possible to fill the vacancy of mayor, as well.  Since Mayor Haakenson announced his departure June 1, I believe we should be able to fill that position by July 13, and at the absolute latest by July 20. 

The person we appoint to mayor should be adept at bridging divides, experienced in managing change in a large organization, and have significant credibility with the public. 

In my view, the single most important issue we face as a city government is making the case to the voters that we need new revenue to be able to provide existing services. 

We’re running out of money.  The cuts coming in this budget process are going to be deep and they are going to touch the vast majority of our citizens in direct and indirect ways.

As for myself, I will not be a candidate for this appointment to mayor.  In fact, I think we should probably look outside of our current city elected officials to find the kind of person who can meet the challenges listed above.

In my own mind, I think of folks like county Councilman Mike Cooper, former city Councilman Dave Earling, former City of Edmonds Fire Chief Tom Tomberg, former city Councilman Ron Wambolt, Port Commissioner Jim Orvis (the father of the former Councilmember), or former Publisher of the Enterprise and President of the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce Jim Hills. 

Each of these individuals would mean dramatic change for the city, and hopefully dynamic movement forward through this very challenging time.

Getting beyond the petty divisiveness between the Council and mayor, and amongst members of the Council should start now. 

We should appoint a mayor as soon as is reasonable, get to work digging into the budget process, and develop a road map for moving us to a more stable footing for our community.

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