Letter to the editor: Development services director hiring process not accountable to citizens – My Edmonds News

Tuesday, October 12, 2021
As elected officials, our mayor and councilmembers are accountable to citizens every four years. We can choose to vote them out of office if they do not meet our expectations. What about government “experts”? Government “experts” are most often directors of departments within the municipal structure of a town or city. Government “experts” are not subject to citizen oversight in the same way. Therefore, it is crucial there be full transparency during the hiring process about the unelected’s expertise, their viewpoints, and how they view their role in a city. They should be willing to be completely transparent about what they see as a good plan for a city’s future.
There will be a special council meeting Tuesday, Oct. 12 that allows for no public comment, called for by the mayor’s staff and Council President Susan Paine, that allowed for no notice to Edmonds’ citizens because it was not on the extended agenda or announced at a regular open council meeting. At the center of this opaque meeting exists a document to both appoint and confirm the hiring of a new development services director for Edmonds in one night with no input at all from the citizens of Edmonds.  The only information citizens have about her is her name, Susan McLaughlin.
These unelected directors will have an immense amount of influence over a city’s future. Is it important that they match citizens’ vision of their town or not? The question here is this: Is it necessary that our new development services director be a “good fit” for Edmonds?  Absolutely.
How can we know if the mayor’s candidate for director of development services, Susan McLaughlin, is a good fit for our community or if her vision is to change the future direction of Edmonds in a way a majority of citizens won’t like?
The appointment of a new development services director is an act that will greatly impact Edmonds’ citizens and a city which is facing huge city zoning debates and development code issues and a major Comprehensive Plan update is due in 2024.  How are current councilmembers to determine if they should confirm the mayor’s appointment if citizens aren’t afforded the time to research the candidate and make their wishes known to councilmembers? This is the citizens’ only opportunity to be involved in the process – we can’t vote directors out during the next election. It is of the utmost importance that we get this right.
The City of Edmonds’ definition of our development services department states: “The Development Services Department is responsible for land use information and approvals, building permit review and assistance; long-range city and regional planning; building inspection; coordination of development review processes, development standards, and enforcement of the community development code. The Development Services Department’s mission is to preserve and enhance our community’s environment and quality of life…”  Critical words in that job description are found in the last sentence: […The department’s] mission is to preserve and enhance our community’s environment and quality of life.”  We saw a heavy-handed approach by our former development services director “expert” that chose regional influences rather than a local, “our community” approach. Are we getting the same vision from this new applicant or a vision that more closely aligns with what citizens have consistently asked for – to take a local view first to match our unique community and its vision rather than the cookie-cutter visions of Seattle, Shoreline, Lynnwood and beyond?
A public forum is needed prior to any vote to confirm the new development services director in order to provide needed transparency in the process. Remember, the Citizens are at the top of the city’s organizational chart: above the mayor, council, and all director positions in Edmonds. As the process is unfolding now, there is not even the opportunity for any citizen to comment or ask one question of this applicant   There could hardly be a less-transparent approach than the one being employed with this backdoor special meeting. It is not a good feeling to wonder if there is something to hide. We certainly don’t want Ms. McLaughlin to start her job with a level of citizen distrust. Remember the debacle of the police chief process. This development services director is equally as important as the police chief. At least that process had some citizen involvement. Why not now? Council and the mayor should be glad that the citizens may ask tough questions and do their due diligence prior to any confirmation process. Everyone in Edmonds, including its citizens, should understand the vision this new “expert” will provide. Holding a public forum is one positive way the community could participate.
Now is the time to do the right thing and allow time for citizens to research the applicant and provide input. Citizens have every right to help decide if this director applicant is indeed the best choice for Edmonds. The future of Edmonds is in a precarious position in that many regional development interests and lobbying groups like the Master Builders and Sound Transit are eagerly lining up to bring in the same type of development as there is in “pack and stack” towns around us. Edmonds has a lot to lose if we are not careful.
If you want to have a say in how Edmonds develops and especially how it prioritizes its future planning of single-housed neighborhoods, please write the council and mayor immediately at both email addresses of: council[email protected] and [email protected].   Use your voice to call for a delay and public opportunity to get more information about and provide input for the hiring of the mayor’s appointee. Citizens should stay informed and involved to preserve Edmonds’ environment and quality of life as stated above. Once it is gone, it is gone forever.
Dr. Michelle Dotsch
President, Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds

Great Letter Dr. Michelle Dotsch! Thank you for posting!

Thank you Michelle for this excellent letter. If the council truly wants to represent the people of Edmonds, then our input should be heard. Let’s not rush through another appointment without the citizens’ opinions and careful consideration.
Edmonds is a special city and such an important decision that will heavily impact the direction of Edmonds demands our opinions! Citizen input is extremely important on this issue. Edmonds does not want to become Seattle.
Please allow citizens input. The lack of this in the past has brought disastrous results. I urge every citizen to contact the mayor and each councilmember on this issue!

I keep hearing about Edmonds’ “unique” way of life and “unique community and vision” and “our way of life in Edmonds” and while I like living here most of the time, these concepts are fuzzy to me and it would be totally awesome if someone could explain what those phrases mean and how we/anyone knows that the majority of folks living in Edmonds agree with/support these ideals.
Not asking to stir the pot. I just realized just how much I see those and similar phrases and don’t really understand what they mean. Although I read them enough, especially on MEN, such that it’s become almost a drinking game versus ideas that I can get my arms around and engage with in a meaningful way.

Hi Kim,
The following is taken directly from our Comprehensive Plan and may be helpful:
from Page 3 of Comprehensive Plan:
Growth Management Goal A. Growth management policies should ensure that as a residential
community​​​​, Edmonds continues to be heralded as “The Gem of Puget Sound,” in accordance with
the following policies:
A.1. Decisions affecting the growth pattern of the community should be made
with a maximum of citizen participation.
A.2. The Comprehensive Plan and its implementation measures should be
developed and maintained in such a manner to assure that there are
sufficient resources to ensure established levels of community services and
that ample provisions are made for necessary open space, parks and other
recreation facilities.
A.3. The role of commercial and industrial enterprises, the attendant tax base and
provision for consumer needs, should be considered as a supporting part of
achieving a sustainable community and maintaining the residential nature of
the area rather than as the dominant activity of the community
A.4. Any growth or development should strive to preserve for itself and its
neighbors the following values:
A.4.a Light (including direct sunlight)
A.4.b Privacy
A.4.c Public views, open spaces, shorelines and other natural features.
A.4.d Freedom from air, water, noise, and visual pollution.
A.5. Any residential growth should be designed to accommodate and promote a
balanced mixture of income and age groups.
A.6. Edmonds should cooperate with surrounding communities to ensure that the
regional growth policy is consistent with the stated local policy and help
ensure a coordinated implementation of the regional growth strategy.

I absolutely agree Michele and I have emailed council, and public comments as recommended. I didn’t realize the full depth of this appointment and I’m convinced even more of the importance of the need for public review and involvement!! I hope all who care about the trajectory of our city contact council and state, “no confirmation” until we get an opportunity to learn about the potential appointee. Thank you for bringing this to the attention of all who love and care about Edmonds.

Edmonds will not have any sort of meaningful citizen input mechanism as long as we have the type of government we have and continue to put up with. Saying that the citizens are at the top of the organization chart does not make it so. The fact is, the Mayor is at the top of the organization chart for a period of at least four years. He/She has the power to choose the directors that he/she wants to direct. That’s the system folks. You either change it, or you live with it. Our council persons have very little power to do anything, and there is no real obligation beyond their personal desire to be fair to listen to you (us) at all. Most of our council members have their own views about what Edmonds is or isn’t and most of them vote on code and policy based on what their particular interests are and their own particular view of what Edmonds is or isn’t. Public hearings are not a highly sought after feature of Edmond’s City Govenment, past or present. That’s why we end up with so many special interest motivated actions and codes in Edmonds, and things that many of us just don’t want, like Streateries, blocked off streets, and ugly concrete overpasses to the beach marine sanctuary (almost).

The last time I checked, we’re still a representative form of government. I speak from a history of 48 years of federal and state government. We elect government leaders and allow them to perform their duties as stated in their job description. Part of their performance includes hiring and firing people to achieve their goals and objectives. Would you have public hearings about hiring police officers and firefighters? The problem here seems to be your displeasure with the person you (or at least the majority) hired to run the city. Or maybe it’s the form of government you don’t like. Having a totally public process every time you want/need to hire a department head is not the answer.

You might want to double-check your 48 years of government history knowledge. Certain positions are nominated by the administrative branch at the federal, state, and local level then are required to be confirmed by the legislative one. Locally we we like to call it the City Council. The Council works for the citizens, they are not employees of the mayor, which is why often there is a public process.

Mr. Tays,
This LTE is not about police officers or fire fighters. It is about a director level position. Our Code of Ethics says Edmonds City government SHALL, quote:
“Keep the community informed on municipal affairs and encourage communications between the citizens and all municipal officers. Emphasize friendly and courteous service to the public and each other; seek to improve the quality of public service, and confidence of citizens.”
Note: “all municipal officers.” Directors are “municipal officers”, required to enforce our laws and ordinances. They also wield an enormous amount of influence on those laws and ordinances, as they advise Council in their legislative role. In this case, citizens are very concerned about how a new Development Services Director will address citizen concerns about the Citizen Housing Commission’s recommendation to up-zone all single family neighborhoods in Edmonds.
Given this Mayor and this Council’s history in the process of hiring our chief of police, Edmonds citizens are rightfully concerned about the lack of transparency in this process. As with any “municipal officer,” Council has the authority to confirm or deny this appointment. Previous administrations allowed a significant amount of Council AND citizen input in the process of hiring “municipal officers.”
This is not about the candidate. It is about the lack of transparency in the hiring process, and yes, that is very much related to our current Mayor.

Is it just me? This feels like the Edmonds Police Chief debacle. Our council follows a mayor, who stood at my front door promising things, only to ignore emails and phone calls and zero action on those promises. We need new leadership in Edmonds that listen to the residents.

Appointive Officers are unique, different than police officers, firefighters and all other city employees who are not Appointive Officers. Hiring of Appointive Officers requires CONFIRMATION by the legislative body. This confirmation process affords citizens the opportunity to research and inform City Council whether they are for or against confirmation. I hope this helps understand why this is different. Confirmation is a significant legislative power, best exercised with knowledge of what citizens want and support. Confirmation must be done in an Open Public Meeting. No such requirement exists for the hiring of those who do not hold an Appointive Office.
“Appointive Officer” in Edmonds includes all director-level positions in the city’s adopted budget, including the police chief.
Also, it really isn’t that we allow them to perform their duties. They are responsible for performing their duties. When those elected to office refuse to do their duties, citizens have the right to be upset. When we elect them, it is with the understanding they will perform their duties. Citizens shouldn’t have to expend time and resources to get elected officials to perform their duties – performing duties is required by those holding elected office.
The duties of the Edmonds Mayor are: The mayor shall be the chief executive and administrative officer of the city, in charge of all departments and employees, with authority to designate assistants and department heads. The mayor shall see that all laws and ordinances are faithfully enforced and that law and order is maintained in the city, and shall have general supervision of the administration of city government and all city interest. [Ord. 2349 § 2, 1983].

So now ACE is speaking for all of Edmonds ?
I wonder what percentage of Edmonds residents have even heard of ACE …. or what “unique community vision ” you’re advocating for…?
Thank you .

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