By The Herald Editorial Board
Edmonds, a city of about 42,000, benefits from a busy downtown, the natural beauty of its shoreline, an active community and a thriving arts and entertainment scene. The city also is home to many of the same issues as its fellow cities in Snohomish County: growth, rising housing costs, traffic congestion and safety, concerns for the environment and representation of an increasingly diverse community.
Those issues will remain the focus for a city council for which voters will choose between incumbents and challengers for three of its seven seats.
Prior to the Aug. 3, primary, the editorial board endorsed Alicia Crank for Position 1, in the race among herself, incumbent council member Kristiana Johnson and Brian Hartman. Johnson and Crank were the top two candidates following the primary.
Johnson, who has served on the council since 2012, has extensive background in public service. She holds a certificate of municipal leadership from the Association of Washington Cities and 30 years of experience in growth management, environmental planning and transportation. Her volunteer work includes time with the Chamber of Commerce, Friends of Edmonds Library, the Edmonds Historical Museum and Rotary. Johnson did not return repeated requests to participate in a joint interview with the editorial board before the primary election but did participate in a recent League of Women Voters of Snohomish County candidate forum.
Crank, with a career in management for businesses and nonprofits, most recently as chief development officer for an employment recruiter, has made two prior runs for the council. Crank also has a long list of service to Edmonds and county agencies and groups. She serves currently on the city planning commission, the county’s Paine Field commission, the Hazel Miller Foundation board and Snohomish County Tomorrow steering committee. She has also been active with Rotary, the city’s senior center board, Chamber of Commerce and Edmonds Sister City Commission.
Crank during her earlier board interview said she’s most concerned with assuring housing availability for the city’s current residents and for those who work in the city who often struggle to find affordable housing in Edmonds. On housing and other issues, Crank in her responses expressed a need for action by the council but balanced with transparency and inclusion of community consultation and discussions. Crank has notably led some of that discourse through a virtual discussion series she has led called Black in Edmonds.
While Crank has not served in public office before, she has served on numerous commissions that would inform her work on the council. With a need on the council for greater transparency and outreach to the public, Crank has a record that should provide both while furthering discussion among council members.
Prior to the primary election, among current council member Luke Distlehorst and challengers Will Chen, Janelle Cass and Laura Petso, the editorial board endorsed Distlehorst, who had been appointed to the council in 2020. Cass and Chen, however, were the voters’ top two choices in the primary.
Cass is a bio-environmental engineer who has worked for the U.S. Air Force, the Federal Aviation Administration and currently is president and founder of an oxygen therapy provider. She has a degree in civil and environmental engineering. Her community service includes the Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors, the American Legion, Edmonds Sea Scouts and a youth soccer coach. While Cass did not return requests to participate in a joint interview, she did participate in a recent League of Women Voters candidate forum.
Chen, a CPA, owns an accounting firm in Edmonds. He has a master’s degree in accounting and business administration. He has served on the city’s Citizens Housing Commission, Edmonds Chamber, Rotary, on the accounting advisory committee for Edmonds College, was the lead organizer of a Rally Against Hate at Esperance Park and collected and donated PPE to local businesses and organizations during the pandemic.
Chen supports the work and conclusions of the recent housing commission process, noting the city’s need to provide an adequate supply of housing for the city’s college students and seniors who are looking to downsize and reduce their housing costs but want to remain in Edmonds. Chen wants to follow the practice of other cities in the county and the county, itself, which have streamlined applications and reduced permit costs for accessory dwelling units in single-family neighborhoods.
Both Cass and Chen, during the candidates forum, showed ample knowledge of the range of issues facing Edmonds. Chen, however, displays a temperament and ability to support his positions while respecting others’ views that is needed on a council that sometimes experiences division and contention among its members. Chen deserves Edmonds voters’ support.
With only two candidates, incumbent Adrienne Fraley Monillas and challenger Neil Tibbott skipped the primary election and now face voters in the general.
Fraley Monillas is seeking her fourth term on the council and has served as council president for three years. She is retired following a 33-year career with the state Department of Social and Health Services. As part of her council work she has represented the council on the county health board for several years as well as the board for the city’s senior center. She also has served on the board for Down syndrome community and has volunteered with other community groups including the Edmonds Homeless Coalition and the Edmonds Center for the Arts public facilities district.
Tibbott served one four-year term on the Edmonds council, prior to his 2019 run for mayor against Mike Nelson. Tibbott now seeks a return to the council, where he previously served as its representative to the Economic Development Commission and county housing board. Tibbott runs a small business as a human resource consultant. Prior to his election to the council, he served on the city’s parks and public works board, including time as its chairman, and its citizen transportation committee. He has a degree in communication and a master’s in divinity.
On issues of housing, Tibbott and Fraley Monillas, in a recent joint interview, appeared to be in agreement that efforts to increase the stock of housing should be focused along Highway 99, and that investments are needed there to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety. Fraley Monillas is opposed to significant changes in zoning that would increase building heights or greater density in single-family residential zones. Tibbott said he was in favor of considering options, in particular efforts to increase availability of subsidized housing.
Both also supported holding the line on taxes and fees. While supporting safety projects along Highway 99, Tibbott said he would not support an increase in the city’s Transportation Benefit District fee, believing current funding is sufficient for needed projects. Fraley Monillas pointed to her own vote against an increase in the city’s utility fee.
Where the two appeared to differ most notably was regarding division and disagreements among the council and sometimes contentious meetings. Tibbott pledged to work to restore civility on the council. Fraley Monillas acknowledged sometimes-raucous meetings, but pointed to a vocal group upset over decisions by a majority on the council.
Tibbott isn’t wrong in his concern for civility, but during the joint interview with the editorial board’s representative, he did not inspire confidence is his ability to participate in respectful or even frank discussions. On more than one occasion Tibbott interrupted Fraley Monillas during her responses to deliver attacks and accusations against her, behavior that is par for the course for cable news and even forgivable during an interview but wouldn’t — or shouldn’t — be tolerated in a public meeting.
The Herald Editorial Board endorsed Tibbott in 2019 in his run for mayor, noting his ample experience on the council and outside it and his grasp of issues before the city. But Fraley Monillas also has nearly 12 years of experience on the council from which she can draw and has fostered working relationships with other officials inside and outside the city.
Voters should return her to the council for a fourth term.
Watch the Edmonds Council candidates forum, presented by the League of Women Voters of Snomish County, at tinyurl.com/SnoCoLWVEdCouncil. For more candidate forums for races on the Snohomish County ballot go to the League’s YouTube channel at tinyurl.com/SnoCoLWVforums.