The Sunset connector and the disconnected City Hall | Guest View

By Aseem Prakash | Jun 27, 2019
Aseem Prakash

Editor's note: At the author's request, the Beacon has allowed the author to revise his Guest View initially submitted and published in the June 27 paper. It also includes comments regarding Mayor Dave Earling's Mayor's Corner published in the most recent edition and online.

The Sunset Connector issue has revealed the disconnect between the Edmonds political establishment and the citizens of Edmonds.

It took 9,000 signatures on the Save Edmonds Beach online petition (above 11,000 as of today), along with 400 energetic demonstrators outside City Hall, for the establishment to appreciate that citizens do not buy their narrative on the connector.

The establishment has always sought to portray a false choice: either chose the connector, or there will be no medical help across the tracks. However, everybody wants medical assistance to reach across the tracks in the event of an emergency.

The actual debate is about the rational and cost-effectiveness to do so without destroying the Brackett’s Landing Beach and saddling the city with millions of dollars of unnecessary costs.

Looking at the future, both connector supporters and opponents should work towards finding a rational solution to the medical emergency issue. Does this mean a fresh round of the “stakeholder consultations” that the city had organized in the past?

The mayor claims: “What’s more, with over three years of public process invested in the project, the result was hundreds of hours of public involvement, resulting in 1,500 members of the public providing input at over 20 public meetings and online. In addition, 25 meetings of two advisory task forces and a design committee were held. Lastly, the public provided over 700 points of direct feedback and input to the process.”

Well, everybody agrees that the City Hall needs to engage with citizens.

But we need it in a new format. As I understand it from many who attended these previous “stakeholder consultations,” the conversations tended to be one-sided. It seems the presenters were not there to listen to citizens but rather to preach.

Future consultations should to be organized differently and with a new set of facilitators.

Moving beyond the consultations, the city establishment has other ways to gauge public sentiment. For example, it appoints citizens to various commissions, committees, and bodies.

These volunteers are supposed to act as conduits between the City Hall and the citizens. Why did they not sensitize the mayor to the growing backlash?

The problems, I suspect, are three-fold. First, these volunteers tend to reflect a very narrow range of views. Hence, they have a poor understanding of the public sentiment.

Second, they serve on these bodies for multiple terms and become prisoners of “organization speak.” Third, the same set of people probably get shuffled between different bodies.

Like the consultative process, the process of appointing volunteers to these bodies needs to change. The objective is to ensure that a broader and more diverse set of people sit on these bodies.

To this end, Edmonds should consider implementing term limits. Think of the U.S. presidency. Thirty-six of the 50 states also have term limits for the office of the Governor and some for their legislatures as well.

Even most of the largest 10 U.S. cities have term limits.

Term limit opponents argue that these “artificial” limits deny organizations the benefit of wise and experienced individuals. But who gets to become wise and experienced in the first place?

It is the City Hall insiders – because they are the ones who get appointed to these bodies. So, they are the ones to accumulate “wisdom and experience.”

Can citizens not serve Edmonds outside the city commission?

I did my doctoral studies in the Midwest. Every weekend, community members would organize workgroups to perform non-glamorous tasks such as picking up litter, keeping drains clear of leaves and needles, and shoveling snow from the sidewalks.

The snowstorm this winter horrified me: The city did not clear our sidewalks, and I detected no community effort to do so. Imagine the difficulty slippery and dangerous sidewalks must have posed for those with mobility constraints.

There are multiple ways to contribute to the local community. Some may be less prestigious but are useful nevertheless.

If the only way you are willing to serve Edmonds is by getting appointed to a city commission, you are serving yourself, not the Edmonds community.

Aseem Prakash is an Edmonds resident.





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