Differences in opinion are to be expected in city politics. Whatever the issue, disagreement over the best response or solution are common, even when there’s agreement on general goals.
But in the city of Snohomish those differences have meant marathon city council meetings, a lack of consensus on actions and, at times, acrimony among residents and city officials.
Differences over decisions came to a head last year with a vote on a change of government for the city of about 9,900 residents, switching from the current council-manager form, where the mayor was appointed from among the council, to an elected or “strong” mayor system. Voters, by a margin of 11 votes — 2,227-2,218 — chose the strong mayor form, leading to the Nov. 7 mayoral election.
As the same time that Snohomish voters usher in a new form of government and elect a mayor for the first time since the 1960s, voters also are being asked to elect five representatives to the seven-member city council. In each of the five races, while three candidates have served on the council in the past, none is an elected incumbent, representing a significant turnover for the council’s makeup.
The editorial board makes the following endorsements for mayor and for council positions 3 and 4 today, with endorsements for council positions 5, 6 and 7 following Wednesday.
Mayor: Prior to the Aug. 1 primary election, the editorial board endorsed current city council member Derrick Burke for mayor, seeing him as offering the best mix of experience and leadership for the new mayor’s position.
The Aug. 1 top-two primary, however, went to challenger John Kartak, one of those who led the campaign for the change to strong mayor, and long-time council member Karen Guzak.
Kartak, a local business owner, led the way for the new position and would be invested in ensuring its success, but he offers no significant public office experience.
His statements regarding the proposition on the Nov. 7 ballot regarding retail cannabis sales also raise questions about how seriously he takes his responsibility to represent residents. Kartak has said that he will respect a vote by a majority of residents to allow retail sales of marijuana only if it is by a significant margin. A close vote, he says in a statement on a Facebook page, would lead him to slow the process to approve a legally permitted business.
That’s an inconsistent stance for someone who likely would have objected if the city council had unduly slowed the process for the switch to strong mayor because that proposition passed by only 11 votes. A simple majority, even one of a few votes, is still a majority.
Our endorsement of Burke in the primary was not meant to dismiss Guzak’s successful tenure on the council. Guzak has served on the council since 2008 and was appointed by her fellow council members as mayor for seven of those years, demonstrating their confidence in her leadership. She has been an effective leader for the council and the city and has worked to its benefit, including time as co-chairwoman on the Highway 9 Coalition.
But Guzak has been a lightening rod on some issues, in particular her advocacy to retain the council-manager government. Guzak has the experience the new position requires, and has demonstrated a strong ability to work with others on the council and with other local governments. But her biggest challenge will be in working with the entire community to build consensus.
Guzak is the best choice for mayor, but she will need the assistance of a council that also is committed to consensus and finding a way forward on several issues.
Council Position 3: Current council member Jason Sanders, appointed to fill an unexpired term at the start of the year, is challenged by Daryl Ferguson, who previously ran for the council in 2005 and was one of the applicants considered by the council to fill the Position 3 vacancy.
Ferguson, a real estate broker and small-business owner, has served on the advisory board of an early childhood learning council. He did not respond to requests for an interview with the editorial board.
Sanders, a 25-year resident was appointed to the council in January. He has worked for Puget Sound Energy since 1989, serving in various positions pertaining to business services, human relations, labor relations, operations and safety. Sanders also has served on the city’s Economic Development Committee since 2015 has been a board member of the Evergreen Health Monroe Foundation, also since 2015.
In less than a year on the council, Sanders has developed a good understanding of the issues facing the city and a deliberative approach. While not ignoring controversial issues, he’s also shown an interest in addressing day-to-day concerns such as the city’s infrastructure and streets, parking, public safety, economic development and environmental issues.
Voters should have confidence in affirming the council’s choice of Sanders.
Council Position 4: Incumbent council member Michael Rohrschieb declined to run for re-election, drawing the candidacies of R.C. “Swede” Johnson and Tom Merrill.
Johnson, a Snohomish High graduate, will be familiar to voters for his past service on the Snohomish School Board, from 1982 to 1993 and one term on the city council from 2006 to 2009. Johnson is retired, following 31 years with the Snohomish Public Utility District and 18 years as a sales consultant at Bickford Motors.
Johnson’s past service in local government deserves consideration, as does his focus on financial matters for the city, telling the editorial board he would have three questions regarding most city issues: Why? What will it cost? And what is its measured value to residents? All good metrics for a council member.
Merrill has not served in public office before, but offers a range of professional experience that should be valuable to the council and city. Merrill has degrees in computer information systems and whole systems designs. He worked for Paccar for 20 years, including time as its director of technology. He currently runs a small business, coaching young managers.
Merrill told the editorial board he is running because he believes his background in helping businesses and individuals facing change will be of use to the city and because he is concerned by what he sees as a “toxic” level of interaction between various factions in the city on some issues.
Along with shepherding the change in government, Merrill also spoke of the city’s need to increase the supply of housing and keep city services affordable. He also recommends working regionally with other cities on the issues of homelessness and addiction and wants the city to consider some of the proposals outlined by Everett in its Safe Streets Initiative.
Merrill is best suited to help the council and the city work toward consensus even on issues where it is most divided.
Register to vote
New voters can register in person at the Snohomish County Elections Office until Oct. 30. For more information on registering or changing an address, call 425-388-3444 or go to tinyurl.com/SnoCoVoteReg.
The county’s voter guide will be mailed Oct. 18. Ballots will follow Oct. 19.