By The Herald Editorial Board
Fittingly for a city of growth and change, Lynnwood’s city council can expect to see a change in representation on the seven-member council, with three races for Positions 1, 2 and 3, each with three candidates in the Aug. 3 primary election, seeking to be the two finalists moving on to the Nov. 2 election.
The decision by current council member Christine Frizzell to run for Lynnwood mayor leaves an uncontested seat now sought by Shirley Sutton, Nick Coelho and Chris Eck.
Sutton is a former city council member and has previously run for the council and for the state Legislature. Sutton, who has a master’s degree in education, previously worked for Edmonds College as its executive director for diversity affairs and with the Yakima School District in several leadership posts. Sutton did not respond to editorial board requests to participate in an interview with other candidates.
Coelho, who hold a bachelor’s degree in history and interdisciplinary studies, is an owner and manager with a board-game pub in Lynnwood. His service to the city includes time as chairman of the city’s parks and recreation board, the South Lynnwood Neighborhood Co-Design Committee and volunteer work with the Lynnwood Food Bank, the city’s parks foundation, Volunteers of America and Compass Housing Alliance.
Eck, who has a bachelor’s degree in history, is the deputy chief operating officer for Volunteers of America’s Western Washington chapter and formerly worked as a human resources recruiter for Cocoon House. She also is the current chair of the city planning commission and serves on the county board of United Way and is president of the Human Service Executives of Snohomish County.
In an interview with the editorial board, Eck and Coelho were in general agreement on issues of housing and how to balance city revenue and services.
Eck sees issues of housing as the city’s biggest priority, especially as many of those who work in the city are having difficulty finding homes and rentals that are affordable. While the city has immediate housing needs, Coelho also is concerned that some of the city’s housing stock is aging and will need to be replaced within the next 20 years.
Each also expressed optimism for the city’s future. Lynnwood, Eck said, is happily one of the more diverse communities in the county and she wants the city to take advantage of that diversity by seeking more input from city groups and residents. Coelho wants to open the city up to business opportunities through reforms to the city’s commercial zoning code.
Coelho and Eck demonstrate strong understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the city and have fairly evenly split the endorsements of city and regional leaders. Both showed the demeanor to work cooperatively with the rest of the council and the next mayor.
And both have put their work in prior to running for council on city committees. Eck’s experience on the planning commission will be of greatest help to the council as it considers reforms and incentives to increase the stock of available housing. Likewise, her business management experience will be helpful as the city’s economic recovery continues. Coelho’s support for municipal and business development would be key to supporting living wage jobs and improving Lynnwood’s overall quality of life.
With two such evenly matched candidates, the editorial board endorses both for the primary and will reconsider its support for the general election. That’s not so much a punt as it is a recognition of two strong candidates.
Following the departure of council member Ian Cotton in March, the council appointed Patrick Decker to complete the term through the end of the year. Decker filed for the seat’s election, as did Don Gough and Naz Lashgari.
Decker, prior to his appointment to the council, served on the city’s planning commission, with time as its chair and also serves on the city’s civil service commission. He volunteers as a mentor at Lynnwood High School. Decker has lived in Lynnwood for more than 30 years. He has bachelor’s degrees in Chinese language and literature and Chinese regional studies. He works at Microsoft in its financial department.
Lashgari has worked in business and as a human resources manager at Seamar and Community Health Center, as a fundraiser and an art curator. She has served as chair and vice-chair of the city’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission and has 30 years of community involvement in the Puget Sound region. She has a bachelor’s degree in biology.
Gough has previously served on the council and as the city’s mayor for eight years before losing to Mayor Nicola Smith in 2013. His final years in office were marked by controversy, including poor audits of the city’s finances by state auditors, complaints filed by city employees and a 6-0 vote by the council in 2010 that called for his resignation over alleged misconduct regarding city staff. A local business owner, Gough has a degree in law and has worked as an attorney. In filing for the election, Gough did not include a contact email address or phone number and was not reached for an interview.
A tough decision remains in choosing between Lashgari and Decker. As with the Position 1 candidates, Decker and Lashgari, during the interview, showed a detailed understanding of issues related to housing, the budget and city services, in particular for police and public safety.
Lashgari’s concerns on public safety center on the mental health care inequities that have pushed more toward housing insecurity and homelessness. She wants to see more training for police and perhaps the creation of a 911-like service that would redirect responses for mental health crises to social and mental health workers.
Decker has seen the city’s public safety challenges first hand through his participation with the city’s Cops and Clergy outreach and sees a need to better address a growing challenge from crime, specifically that victimizes the city’s seniors and lower-income families. The council, Decker said, is addressing policy that will aid police in referring those contacted for possession of drugs and those with mental health issues to resources, rather than arrest. But, Decker also wants the city’s law enforcement officers to trust that they have the city’s financial and general support, especially over concerns of liability. If there are laws that leave open issues of liability, Decker said, those laws need to change.
Both candidates have already made an investment in the city, Lashgari on the diversity commission and Decker on the planning committee, work that would serve the council and the city in those areas, as would the professionalism both have shown on those panels.
City residents would be well served by either candidate, but Decker’s knowledge, community ties and the council’s earlier selection of him to complete Cotton’s term break the tie and give him the endorsement.
Ruth Ross, who has served on the council since 2013 is not running for reelection, drawing the candidacies of Lisa Utter, James Rutherford and Joshua Binda.
Utter previously served on the council from 1998 to 2009 and also served on the Puget Sound Regional Council. She has a master’s degree in public administration and her 30 years of community and government service includes leadership for the nonprofit National Alliance on Mental Illness for its state and county chapters. Other community service includes the South Snohomish Emergency Shelter, public radio KSER and school PTAs. Utter did not include contact information when filing for office and was not reached for an interview.
James Rutherford, a five-decade resident of Lynnwood and a military veteran, is an advocate for the disabled and lives with a disability himself. He has served on the Airport Community Council. Rutherford has a bachelor’s degree in business. He was the husband of longtime city council member Sharon Rutherford, who died in 2012. Rutherford did not return requests seeking an interview.
Binda, born in Rhode Island to parents who emigrated from Liberia, has lived in the Lynnwood area for about 10 years. A graduate of Kamiak High School, Binda currently is enrolled at the University of Washington as a political science major. He has an aerospace engineering certification through Sno-Isle Tech, has worked for Boeing and Microsoft and administered a covid testing center in Lynnwood. He currently serves as chair of the city’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission and is a volunteer for the Lynnwood Food Bank. Binda was featured last summer in Herald coverage regarding leaders in the county’s racial justice protests.
Binda, as did the others interviewed for council positions, responded quickly and thoughtfully to questions on housing, the budget and taxes and public safety.
Binda’s youth should be seen by voters as an asset to the council and the city, especially when considering the educational, work and community service resume that he has developed in a relatively brief time. Discerning and well-spoken, Binda would add to council discussions and consideration of issues and would provide needed generational and cultural diversity to the council. Yet, as he expressed, Binda has the maturity to recognize he can’t rely solely on his own thoughts and preferences and would seek to represent the broad range of community opinion and its needs.
Binda has earned the editorial board’s endorsement.
The League of Women Voters for Snohomish County held candidate forums for several local races. For video or audio forums for these races and others go to tinyurl.com/SnoLWVforums.