Time for a positive change

Leadership is an art. In government, its best practitioners get things done by inspiring others. They listen first, building productive relationships that provide the foundation for lasting success.

Lynnwood Mayor Don Gough, who is seeking a second term against longtime City Council member Jim Smith, doesn’t fit that description. Neither did his immediate predecessor, Mike McKinnon, whom Gough defeated in 2005. Yet four years later, charges reminiscent of those leveled at McKinnon then are directed at Gough.

An enthusiastic, hopeful beginning has yielded to complaints from council members that Gough is a top-down manager, that budget details aren’t readily shared with the council, and that he doesn’t work well with other regional leaders. Complaints have also surfaced from staff members, some privately, some openly, that Gough uses bullying tactics and intimidation to get his way.

While we respect Gough’s intellect and his ability as a strategic thinker, we see his temperament as a serious problem that threatens how far Lynnwood can progress, both internally and regionally. We endorse Smith, whom we believe can bring a more positive tone to city hall while keeping the city on a reasonably progressive track.

In our primary-election endorsement, we favored Lisa Utter to face Gough this fall. She finished third, prompting us to take a fresh look at Smith, who has served on the council for 22 years.

Smith knows what he doesn’t like: too much spending and too many taxes. Smith has been a leading skeptic of spending initiatives on the council, voting no on the $27 million recreation center expansion (he favored a $9 million option) and on a plan to rent courthouse space downtown that, it turned out, couldn’t accommodate that need.

A challenge for Smith will be to effectively articulate a vision for the city that keeps it moving forward. He vows to engage in an open process to prioritize city spending, and to build a more constructive relationship with the council.

His proposal to do away with the full-time mayoral position and adopt a city manager form of government is intriguing, and deserves a full public discussion. (Gough says he’s open to it.)

Gough argues that much of the animosity directed toward him is the result of taking people out of their comfort zone in order to make progress on issues that had been languishing. There’s something to that, but it hardly explains the depth and breadth of the complaints. Gough admits he should listen more, but we’re not convinced he appreciates how much work he needs to do on that front.

Gough’s interpersonal shortcomings cast a shadow over some successes. We think the recreation center plan is an exciting one — if it turns out to be affordable, given the recession’s impact on revenue. He also gets points for the public process of shaping a vision for the city’s future.

Turning those relatively vague priorities into action, however, will require a collaborative spirit moving forward. We’re not confident that Gough can muster it.

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