The city of Snohomish faces many of the same issues as any other local government in the county, but following last fall’s vote to change the form of government from council-mayor to strong mayor it will now need a mayor and council that can make that transition as smoothly as possible.
Along with electing a new mayor, Snohomish voters also will determine representation for five of the council’s seven seats, two of which are on the primary ballot with the mayor’s race. The two candidates receiving the most votes in the Aug. 1 primary will advance to the Nov. 7 general election.
Often to its benefit, city government has long been a spectator sport in Snohomish, one where the residents and other interested parties aren’t shy about offering their play-calling advice during council meetings. Those discussions also show there isn’t always consensus on how to proceed.
Even the vote on the change in government was nearly equally split among those who wanted to keep the current government structure, where the mayor is appointed from among the elected council members, to one where voters directly elect the mayor. Last November’s vote was won by the strong-mayor proponents, but only by nine votes.
Snohomish mayor: The switch in city government has attracted four impressive candidates for mayor, profiled in the July 16 Herald:
Elizabeth Larsen is a senior environmental planner for Snohomish County and a volunteer with the Red Cross and the city’s Community Emergency Response Team.
John Kartak, a semi-retired contractor and former co-owner of a glass business, was the treasurer and one of the leaders of the campaign for strong-mayor government.
Karen Guzak has been on the city council since 2008, won re-election in 2015, and had been appointed by fellow council members as mayor for seven of those years. She runs a yoga studio and a historic building renovation business.
Derrick Burke, who owns a woodworking business where he’s an instructor, has served on the council since his appointment in 2010; he won election in 2013. His run for mayor precludes him for running for re-election to his council seat.
Each has much to recommend them to the post, but Burke provides the best balance of leadership skill and experience and willingness to move the city forward with the new position.
Larsen, with her planning and environmental science background and her desire to serve her community, has a lot to offer Snohomish, but doesn’t have the leadership experience that the new position will require. Likewise, Kartak ran his campaign well and would be dedicated to the success of the post, but can’t claim the same experience of working as part of a collaborative body as Guzak and Burke can.
Guzak, as mayor for seven previous years, was the lightning rod for some of the city’s most contentious issues, including as a vocal opponent of the switch to strong-mayor. She’s served her city well and was responsible for work that has benefited the city, including as co-chairwoman for the Highway 9 coalition.
Her efforts on the council and past leadership also make her indispensable to the council. With five council seats up for election this fall, the city faces the likelihood of several newly elected council members, including her seat, a sixth, if she is elected mayor. She’s needed on the council, and unlike Burke, Guzak still has two years remaining in her council term.
While Burke shared Guzak’s concerns about the change to strong-mayor, he shows an understanding and appreciation for what it will take to map out the the new position’s responsibilities and work with the council on restructuring the city administration, specifically the role of a city administrator.
Burke, who holds a masters in business administration, has said his focus would be on economic development and increasing the supply and range of housing in a city dominated by single-family housing. Burke stands out as the best choice to launch the new strong-mayor post while leading a growing city of nearly 10,000 residents.
Snohomish City Council, Position 6: The current council member, Dean Randall is not seeking re-election.
While three names are on the primary ballot for this race, only two people are actively campaigning: Larry Countryman, who has previously served on the city council and runs Countryman Bed and Breakfast; and Eric Reyes, an advertising employee for radio and television stations. Dale Preboski has withdrawn his candidacy for health reasons and has asked voters to consider the qualifications of the remaining candidates.
Snohomish City Council, Position 7: The current council member, Tom Hamilton, the current council-appointed mayor, is not seeking re-election.
Three candidates are on the primary ballot: Lisa Caldwell is a sales and marketing director for a senior living facility in Monroe and is active with Monroe Rotary and is its president-elect for 2018-19. Steve Dana is a real estate agent and a former city council member from 1990 to 1997. Meagan Gray is a hair stylist and serves on the city’s open government committee and its historical society board and volunteers with Snohomish Community Food Bank.
Voters should select between Dana for his past experience on the council and Gray for her work with two city panels.