Letter to the editor: The process of hiring the director of development services is not accountable to citizens
As elected officials, our mayor and our councilors are accountable to the citizens every four years. We can choose to reject them if they do not meet our expectations. What about government “experts”? Government “experts” are most often heads of departments within a city’s municipal structure. Government “experts” are not subject to citizen control in the same way. Therefore, it is crucial that there is full transparency during the hiring process about the expertise of unelected people, their views and how they perceive their role in a city. They must be prepared to be completely transparent about what they see as a good plan for the future of a city.
There will be a special council meeting on Tuesday October 12 which does not allow any public comment, requested by the mayor’s staff and council chairperson Susan Paine, which did not allow the citizens of Edmonds not to be notified as it does not was not on the extended agenda or announced at a regular public council meeting. At the center of this opaque meeting is a document to both appoint and confirm the hiring of a new Director of Developmental Services for Edmonds overnight without any input from the citizens of Edmonds. The only information citizens have about her is her name, Susan McLaughlin.
These unelected administrators will have a huge influence on the future of a city. Is it important or not that they correspond to the citizen vision of their city? The question here is: does it need our new Director of Development Services to be a “good fit” for Edmonds? Absoutely.
How do 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 that a majority of citizens will not like?
The appointment of a new director of development services is an act that will have a huge impact on the citizens of Edmonds and a town facing huge debates over the city’s zoning and development code issues. A major update to the overall plan is expected in 2024. How can current council members determine whether they should confirm the mayor’s appointment if citizens do not have time to research the candidate and make their concerns known? wishes to council members? This is the only opportunity for citizens to get involved in the process – we cannot vote against the administrators in the next election. It is of the utmost importance that we do things right.
The City of Edmonds definition of our Development Services Department states, “The Development Services Department is responsible for information and approvals relating to land use, reviewing building permits and assistance; long-term urban and regional planning; building inspection; coordination of development review processes, development standards and application of the community development code. The mission of the Development Services Department is to preserve and improve the environment and the quality of life of our community… ”The critical words of this job description are found in the last sentence: […The department’s] mission is to preserve and improve the environment and quality of life. We saw a muscular approach from our former “expert” development services manager who chose regional influences over a local approach, “our community”. Do we have the same vision for this new candidate or a vision that more closely matches what citizens have always been asking for – adopting a local vision first to match our unique community and its vision rather than winning visions? -room from Seattle, Shoreline, Lynnwood and beyond?
A public forum is necessary before any vote to confirm the new director of development services in order to ensure the necessary transparency in the process. Remember, citizens are at the top of the city’s organizational chart: above the mayor, the council, and all director positions in Edmonds. As the process unfolds now, no citizen even has the opportunity to comment or ask a question of this candidate. 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 civic mistrust. Remember the debacle of the chiefs of police process. This director of development services is just as important as the chief of police. At least this process had some citizen participation. Why not now? The council and the mayor should be happy that citizens can ask tough questions and exercise due diligence before any confirmation process. Everyone in Edmonds, including its citizens, should understand the vision that this new “expert” will provide. Holding a public forum is a positive way for the community to participate.
Now is the time to do the right thing and give citizens time to research the candidate and provide feedback. The citizens have every right to help decide whether this leadership contestant is indeed the best fit for Edmonds. Edmonds’ future is in a precarious position as many regional development interests and pressure groups like the Master Builders and Sound Transit are lining up to deliver the same kind of development as in the “pack and stack” cities. That surround us. Edmonds has a lot to lose if we’re not careful.
If you would like to have a say in the development of Edmonds and in particular how it prioritizes its future planning for single-family homes, please write to the council and the mayor immediately at both email addresses: Council @ edmondswa.gov and [email protected] Use your voice to ask for a deadline and a public opportunity to get more information and provide feedback for the hiring of the person appointed by the mayor. Citizens must stay informed and involved to preserve the environment and quality of life in Edmonds as outlined above. Once he’s gone, he’s gone forever.
Dr Michelle Dotsch
President, Citizens Alliance for Edmonds