By The Herald Editorial Board
Wrapping up eight years of leadership — with regular declarations of “an Edmonds kind of day” — Mayor Dave Earling announced earlier this year he would not seek a third term as mayor, opening up a contest that has drawn three sitting city council members and a city planner to lead Snohomish County’s third-largest city, with more than 42,000 residents.
Blessed with a vibrant downtown, an active arts and restaurant scene, inviting parks and a state ferry terminal, the challenge for Edmonds has been to foster growth while protecting the environment and character of the city and its downtown, issues for which all four candidates can point to experience.
Running for the four-year term are: Kristiana Johnson, a council member since 2012; Brad Shipley, a planner for the city since 2014; Neil Tibbott, on the council since 2016; and Mike Nelson, a council member since 2015.
Tuesday’s primary will determine which two of the four will move on to the Nov. 5 general election.
Johnson offers an extensive background, with degrees in transportation planning and political science and a recent certification in municipal leadership by the Association of Washington Cities. Her prior work as a planner with Bellevue and King County provides experience in transportation, environmental issues and growth management.
Shipley, with a degree in community, environment and planning, has worked on issues of real estate finance, urban design and volunteer work on environmental cleanup and disaster relief.
Tibbott runs a small business as a consultant to churches and ministries. Prior to his election to the council, he served on the city’s planning and parks board, including time as its chairman, and its citizen transportation committee. He has a degree in communication and a master in divinity.
Nelson, prior to his appointment and election to the council, served on the city’s planning commission and climate protection board. With a juris doctor degree, Nelson currently works as the executive director of the Service Employee International Union’s state council.
Each of the candidates, during a discussion with The Herald Editorial Board, explained what made their particular backgrounds relevant to the mayor’s office.
Shipley, as with the other three candidates, said he would seek to protect the character of the downtown, and sees great potential for residential and retail development along Highway 99.
Nelson, during his time on the council has shown himself as a progressive leader and effective member of the council, winning passage of a resolution that seeks 100 percent clean electricity for the city and its residents by 2025, an initiative similar to others later adopted by local governments and the state Legislature. Nelson, a former deputy sheriff and a gun owner, also drafted an ordinance that set gun-storage regulations in the city. While the ordinance is being challenged in court, similar provisions also were adopted as state law this year.
Nelson has had to answer questions related to his position with the SEIU council and his personal taxes.
A settlement with the state Attorney General’s Office earlier this year required the state council to pay up to $250,000, following a complaint that it made significant campaign contributions but failed to register as a political action committee during 2014-16. The AG report, however, did not find evidence that the reporting violations were intentional. Nelson explained that the contributions were made directly by the council, rather than though the council’s PAC, as intended.
Regarding his taxes, Nelson explained that he and his wife had previously owed back taxes, but those obligations have since been satisfied.
With 30 years of planning experience, Johnson offers the most-extensive background of the four in terms of growth issues, including work to launch a transportation study of State Route 104 that adopted design guidelines and set standards since used for sidewalks and pedestrian safety. Johnson also was key in establishing buffers to protect the Edmonds Marsh. And she won passage of the city’s zero-waste policy that encourages food composting at the Edmonds Market and other festivals.
Tibbott, as he wraps up his term, has represented the council on its arts and economic development committees and the council’s representative to the Port of Edmonds. His perspective as a small business owner should also help the city connect with its local businesses.
Tibbott was in agreement with the others about the opportunity for development along Highway 99, especially as Sound Transit’s Link light rail system is developed.
One project Tibbott suggested would develop an online “dashboard” on the city’s website that would allow city residents to track the progress of development and other projects in the city and see what’s next.
Tibbott’s experience with and outside the city provides him a range of tools that would serve the mayor’s office well, including an ability to connect with residents, local officials and lawmakers and generate consensus.
Among a slate of qualified candidates, Tibbott offers the best mix of skills closest to those employed by the current mayor: a civic promoter, a responsive communicator and a leader who can represent the city and the region.