Why I support Steve Bernheim for appointment to Edmonds City Council
Prior to running for Edmonds City Council, I was actively involved in Edmonds politics. I served a two-year term on the Transportation Committee, and participated in numerous city-sponsored and citizen-sponsored meetings. I regularly attended and spoke at Council meetings. And I was a member of the newly-formed Tree Board when I declared my candidacy, in June, 2011.
I decided to run because I was already spending many hours weighing in on decisions facing the Edmonds City Council. Because the Council manual said the position required 12-18 hours per week, I figured that I could balance Council work and my private practice, by dedicating 20 hours a week to each.
When I assumed office, I soon discovered I was spending over 40 hours a week on Council business. As a new Member, I had to get up to speed and, simultaneously, do the work. In contrast to the Council manual, the Council (department) budget (presented to us in the fall of 2012) estimated 25-32 hours a week, nearly double the figure in the manual.
In short, Council business is nearly a full-time job. Council business plus learning-on-the-job is more than a full-time job. Until one assumes office, it is impossible to understand how difficult the job is and how much time and dedication it takes. My concern regarding whether a candidate understands the time commitment to do a thorough job has been a major factor in my review of the candidates.
Along with the above, in reviewing the 14 applicants, here is what I considered:
(1) History of involvement in the public process and demonstrated respect for an Open Government process.
I looked first for a candidate’s experience as an official on City of Edmonds boards, commissions, committees, and work groups. If that was missing, I looked to involvement in citizen groups not sponsored by the City, and other volunteer activities within Edmonds. Years of involvement demonstrates commitment to improving Edmonds, and might indicate that the candidate has a better working knowledge of the challenges they will face.
Respect for an Open Government process is difficult to measure, so one of the questions I asked in the interviews was specific to the public process.
(2) Understanding of Council’s legislative role, and budget oversight responsibilities.
Council is charged with developing legislation and approving funding that allows implementation of the citizens’ vision as reflected in the Comprehensive Plan. Although I have my own vision for the future of Edmonds, it is relevant only as it is consistent with the guidelines set forth by our Comprehensive Plan.
With the above in mind, I reviewed candidates’ answers to determine how well they understood the respective roles and responsibilities of the Council, Mayor, and City staff.
(3) Understanding of Council’s “homework” and “research” responsibilities.
If you have been following this appointment process, you have heard the term “homework” used frequently. This refers to the packet that Council must review prior to each meeting. The packet can be up to 400 pages for committee meetings, over 1000 for a quasi-judicial hearing, and commonly over 600 pages for a Council meeting. A Council Member’s “homework” is to review these agenda packets.
What has not been emphasized is Council’s “research” responsibilities. If we have questions about information in our packet, or we think that more documentation should be provided to enable Council to make informed decisions on an issue, it is on us to ask the questions of staff, and to do the necessary research to bring forward additional information.
A second question that I asked of the candidates was related to these “research” responsibilities of Council members.
(4) Understanding of the environmental challenges facing the city of Edmonds.
In my review, I looked for indication that the candidate understood the challenges of balancing protection of critical areas with development of a city which is mostly “built out.”
Edmonds is home to many critical areas: wetlands, streams and creeks, steep slopes, wildlife preserves, earthquake liquefaction zones, flood plains, the shoreline and tidelands. (Have I missed any? Add your favorite critical area.) The State requires that our storm water be cleaned before reaching Puget Sound. Cleaning the storm water is dependent upon enforcement of our Critical Areas Ordinance, and upon development regulations, both of which are under the legislative authority of Council.
Edmonds faces serious challenges related to development we have allowed, and continue to allow, in critical areas. To paraphrase our City Attorney, there is no end to the changes that need to be made to our City code. We are currently working on the Shoreline Master Plan, which will implement environmental protections of our shoreline.
(5) Understanding of the role of Council, and of the importance of working cooperatively with fellow Council members.
I gave a wide berth to any candidate who criticized seated Council members (and, ironically, in the same breath claimed to be a consensus builder). I was puzzled by those who suggested they had the skills to bring consensus (wave a magic wand?) to Council. Nothing remotely close to consensus exists in any democratic governing body. In contrast to opinions of many, it is not a Council Member’s job to build consensus among its members. It is our job to ensure information is available, and that the public process is open and inclusive. In this way, we can best represent the interests of the citizens.
(6) Time requirements to be effective.
This is not a typical job application process, in which a candidate’s current job is assumed to be replaced by, or can easily fit in with, the job applied for. We have no job description, or even accurate time estimates, for the position.
So, in looking at those candidates who have full or even half-time jobs, I have to consider my own experience and ask how in the world would they do it? There are both financial and time management reasons that current Council members are retired or semi-retired (Buckshnis, Johnson, Fraley-Monillas), or have their own business (Petso, Peterson, Bloom).
(7) Voters right to choose
I was encouraged to throw my hat in the ring for Council appointment on two occasions. One was when Council President Buckshnis was appointed. The second was when former Council President Petso was appointed. I did not apply either time, and supported the appointment of each of those candidates. Each had proven their dedication to Edmonds through years of active service. Each went on to win election to their positions on Council.
I am certain that most of our City’s residents would prefer to elect Council members themselves. For this appointment, the above review has led me to support former Council Member Steve Bernheim as the best choice for this Council, at this time. Mr. Bernheim accomplished the difficult task of winning election against an incumbent. To defeat an incumbent, one must have an established record of citizen activism, and a clear and compelling platform.
In reply to the question on the application “If selected, would you campaign for election to retain your seat?” Mr. Bernheim answered “no.” If he is appointed, his seat will be open in 2015 for anyone who wishes to run, thus allowing the citizens to decide who will best represent their interests for that four-year term.