Editorial: Edmonds voters should retain Mike Nelson as mayor

Diane Buckshnis and Mike Rosen make a case for a change in style. But Nelson has served the city well.

Mike Nelson

Mike Nelson

By The Herald Editorial Board

The race for mayor of Edmonds offers three candidates, including incumbent mayor Mike Nelson, with impressive records of experienced service to the community.

The four candidates for the nonpartisan position are:

Nelson, who has lived in Edmonds for 13 years and served on the city council for four years before winning election to the mayoral post in 2019, taking office at the start of the covid-19 pandemic.

Diane Buckshnis, who has served on the council for 13 years, working with the administration of four different mayors during that time. Her professional work in finance and regulatory work has served her as a fiscal watchdog on the council. Buckshnis also has focused attention on environmental issues within the city and region.

Mike Rosen, retired from a communications and marketing firm with some 100 employees that worked with corporations and government agencies, and has experience with overseeing employees and multi-million dollar budgets. Rosen, a past chair of the city’s planning commission before leaving in 2022, continues work on the board of the Edmonds Center for the Arts.

Brad Shipley, formerly a planner for the city of Edmonds, also ran for mayor in 2019. Shipley did not include contact information when he filed for office and was not contacted to participate in an interview.

During a joint interview with the editorial board, the three did not display wide differences in opinion on many policy issues but did disagree more frequently on management style and Nelson’s record in his first term.

For Buckshnis, Rosen and Nelson, among the more pressing issues for the city of more than 42,000 remain those related to growth, housing and public safety.

One area of agreement for the three is their shared opposition to state legislation that removes some city authority regarding the placement of duplexes and triplexes in single-family residential zones; all three would prefer to see the city keep that control, though each recognized the need to accommodate and plan for growth.

Rosen, while saying Edmonds can prepare for additional housing, noted that it’s not realistic to set rules for the range of cities to which the state law applies, “treating Edmonds the same way they treat Seattle and the same way they treat Spokane.”

Nelson noted the need to address growth beyond housing, for infrastructure related to “green” building standards, transportation, including pedestrian and bike safety and stormwater treatment. Buckshnis agreed, putting an emphasis on stormwater and sewage treatment concerns and the region’s watersheds and streams.

Issues regarding public safety focused on Nelson’s current term, notably a recent departure of the legal firm that had provided prosecution services for the city. Citing a disagreement with the mayor over its contract, the previous firm — which had served the city for 20 years — ended its contract early, forcing the city to make a quick search for a replacement. A three-year contract recently was signed with another firm.

The previous firm notified the city in March of its intention to leave, after a budget address in October by Nelson, in which he signaled his intention to consider handling the prosecution duties in-house. After consideration, Nelson said, the proposal didn’t “pencil-out,” so a search was made for a new firm that Nelson said will cost the city less than the original law firm’s contract.

Buckshnis said the decision by the previous law firm to leave surprised her, mostly because she learned of its letter to the city from a Herald reporter and not the mayor’s office. Rosen said that delay in notification to the council is evidence of a larger problem of communication between the administration and the council and city residents.

“Government serves at the speed of trust,” Rosen said. He promised a change in transparency and engagement between the council and administration and its outreach to the public. Buckshnis, noting some improvement in relations between council and the mayor, said more work is necessary and also promised a change in management style.

In his own defense, Nelson noted that he has yet to veto a council decision and believes that there has been effective collaborative work among council members and the city’s administration.

Buckshnis has faced criticism of her own relations with city staff, after she made comments to a fellow council member in July 2021 regarding the then-public works director’s management of issues related to the Edmonds marsh, saying she felt the director had “ruined” the marsh for years. The public works director left the city that November.

Nelson had a rocky start to his term, even beyond having to deal with the pandemic. There were missteps, shared among himself, city staff, the council and a candidate for the police chief’s job, in the replacement of a retiring police chief. An incomplete check of a finalist’s background — finished only after he was offered the position — led to the eventual loss of a respected internal candidate to another police department. After an extended search, the city hired then-interim chief Michelle Bennett — who started her law enforcement career as a cadet in Edmonds — as chief in August 2021 and has served the city well since.

It’s expected — and fair — for challengers to make their cases for election a referendum on the incumbent’s record and management style. And both Buckshnis and Rosen make valid points about the necessity of transparency and engagement with residents, businesses and others. Both also more than prove their grasp of issues key to Edmonds.

Yet, even noting rough patches for Nelson, he also has posted a good record in terms of recommendations for the allocation of state and federal covid funds to aid businesses in southwest Edmonds and along Highway 99, his advocacy for the city’s “streateries” program that aided business for restaurants during the pandemic, and his pledges to continue work that will improve pedestrian and bicycle safety, connect the cities parks and schools with a multi-use trail system, recent improvements and beautification to Highway 99, continued advocacy for the city’s under-served communities and seeking an agreement with stakeholders on the eventual purchase and ensured protection of the Edmonds marsh by the city.

Edmonds voters are fortunate to have three strong candidates from which to choose as mayor, but — on balance —Nelson’s record deserves a second term.

Correction: An earlier version of this editorial mistakenly omitted the name of candidate Brad Shipley. Shipley did not include contact information in his filing for office and was not contacted regarding an interview.

Primary election

The primary election for local offices is Aug. 1. Ballots, which will be mailed July 12, must be returned to drop boxes or postmarked by Aug. 1. The voters guide will be mailed July 11. Voters also can consult an online voters guide at vote.wa.gov.

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