EDMONDS — One City Council member hoping to take the reins of City Hall has often sided with outgoing Mayor Dave Earling while the other has sparred with the two-term city executive.
In November, Edmonds voters will decide which councilman, Neil Tibbott or Mike Nelson, could best lead the city after Earling decided not to seek a third term.
Nelson, 44, previously has served on the climate protection committee and planning board. In 2015, he was appointed to fill a vacant council seat for which Tibbott also applied. Nelson was first elected later in 2015 and re-elected in 2017.
He said he has a stronger legislative resume than Tibbott, and accused Earling and others on the council of stonewalling several of his policies.
“Being one of seven council members, there’s only so much you can do,” Nelson said. “I’m going to be a mayor that’s actually going to take action. I have a record I can point to and I don’t know if (Tibbott) has that.”
One example he cited was getting money to make Seaview Park more accessible for people with mobility issues.
Tibbott, 61, started his City Hall career on the transportation committee and then served on the planning board for multiple terms. He said he’s running for mayor to lead the city with solutions that are “authentically Edmonds.”
“We don’t want to Seattle-ize Edmonds,” Tibbott said. “I think we can do better. For me it’s always going to be multiple people bringing ideas together.”
In the August primary, Nelson’s support carried throughout town, winning all but two precincts.
Tibbott carried the two precincts Nelson lost with narrow margins. Two other candidates were knocked out in the primary.
One large issue for the next chief executive is maintaining the city’s small-town appeal while alleviating the problems that come with an increasing population in a largely built-out city.
Affordable housing, parking and homelessness are some of those growing pains.
Both candidates said the stretch of town along Highway 99 is the best place to address the city’s housing needs.
Tibbott cited his work on helping form the citizen advisory housing committee, a group of 15 residents appointed by the mayor and council tasked with developing housing policy ideas for city leaders.
He also emphasized a focus on uniform building standards that keep the look of Edmonds the same, whether you’re downtown or on Highway 99.
Nelson said he wants to use the 2-mile stretch to attract a young, vibrant extension of the community. He said the area has been neglected by city leaders for decades and higher-density units would work there, unlike in downtown.
A lack of downtown parking is another consequence of the growing population.
In August, the council voted unanimously to put off a downtown parking study because it was too expensive.
Nelson said he doesn’t want to see a parking structure occupy the town’s core, but rather increased spots for ride-share apps like Uber and Lyft.
Tibbott said there’s no “magic bullet” to solve the parking issue, but he wants the city to become more pedestrian and bike friendly.
Both candidates said they’re interested in the idea of a trolley that would connect neighborhoods to downtown.
On the campaign trail, Tibbott and Nelson each boast a long list of endorsements from elected officials.
Most of Tibbott’s support comes from current and former city leaders including mayors, council members and commissioners. He said his campaign was a “grassroots” effort.
Nelson, a union employee, is primarily backed by county and state Democrats and organized labor.
“Those are people who are in positions that can help our city, for example, to get state and federal funds,” he said.
At City Hall, current elected officials are divided over who should lead Edmonds next.
Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas was an early Nelson supporter and has donated $500 to his campaign, per the state Public Disclosure Commission. Councilwoman Kristiana Johnson, who ran for mayor and lost in the primary, also backs Nelson.
Mayor Dave Earling and council members Tom Mesaros and Dave Teitzel all have pledged support for Tibbott, who’ve combined to give their colleague’s campaign $1,400, per the PDC.
Councilwoman Diane Buckshnis hasn’t endorsed either of her colleagues. Picking one candidate could “indicate that I am unwilling to work with any selected winner,” she said in an email Monday.
Edmonds city planner Brad Shipley, who failed to advance in August’s mayoral primary, endorsed Tibbott Monday.
In a letter published Sunday to myedmondsnews.com, a group of former Edmonds mayors and council members criticized Nelson, saying he lacked transparency and responsibility.
Their complaints included a lawsuit against the state Service Employees International Union, where Nelson coordinates legislative and political activities, from the state Attorney General’s Office. They also faulted his failure to pay federal income taxes for six years.
The AG’s office issued a $250,000 fine, on par with some of the largest dollar amounts for campaign finance violations, in February to the union for failing to report millions of dollars in donations to initiative groups and its own political committee in 2014 and 2016, according to a news release.
The AG’s office said no evidence suggests the violations were intentional and Nelson was not named in the suit.
Additionally, Nelson and his wife paid off their tax debt in 2018.
In a response to the letter, Nelson said Edmonds deserved better than “Trump-style politics.” He ended his response asking Tibbott to denounce the letter.
Tibbott said he had no knowledge of the letter before it was published, but thinks his supporters “made some valid points.”
“Maybe it’s important for them to know that elected officials from prior administrations find it concerning,” he said.
Nelson said the letter is bringing up issues he’s already addressed.
“I’ve managed budgets, I’ve supervised staff, I’ve talked about that,” he said. “What I’m hearing about is the divisiveness of my opponent.”
With the Nov. 5 general election less than a month away, Nelson leads Tibbott in campaign contributions with about $52,000 to Tibbott’s $43,000, per the state PDC.
What’s at stake?
A four-year term leading the city of Edmonds, population 42,170.
The job is nonpartisan. The mayor’s salary was recently raised to about $130,000.
Meet the candidates
Occupation: Human resources consultant for nonprofits and small businesses
Experience: Elected to City Council in 2015
Occupation: Executive director of the Washington State Service Employees International Union Council 14
Experience: Appointed to City Council in 2015; elected that year and again in 2017