Cannabis legalization motion rescinded, debates over administrative transparency at May 13 council meeting

With Mayor Christine Frizzell breaking a 3-3 tie, the Lynnwood City Council at its May 13 meeting voted to rescind a previous measure directing the planning commission to research and suggest a plan for cannabis sales inside the city limits.

Washington state voted in 2012 to legalize recreational use of marijuana, but the Lynnwood City Council voted in 2015 – after several temporary moratoriums – to ban the establishment of marijuana businesses in Lynnwood. During the its April 22 meeting, the council voted to approve Councilmember Nick Coelho’s motion instructing Lynnwood’s planning commission to research and suggest a plan for implementing cannabis sales. The order passed 4-3 and included the support of Shirley Sutton, who resigned shortly thereafter.

David Parshall

 At May 13’s meeting, Councilmember David Parshall moved to rescind the order with Council Vice President Julieta Altamirano-Crosby and Councilmember Patrick Decker joining Parshall voting in favor and Coelho, Josh Binda and Council President George Hurst voting against. Consistent with her voting record during past debates on the topic, Mayor Christine Frizzell broke the tie by voting in favor of the motion. 

Parshall stated his motion to rescind was based on:

  • A desire that the council not “legislate from the dais” and instead allow action items to come to them.
  • That the action would place challenging time constraints on the planning commission, which is currently working on the city’s Comprehensive Plan update.
  • The fact that the Lynnwood Police Department was not contacted for an opinion until after the initial motion was made.

Decker said that allowing dispensaries while supporting public health campaigns deterring the use of juvenile use of cannabis was unconscionable and stated that it would harm public health. 

Nick Coelho

Coelho called the debate “ridiculous” and said that the council has reviewed public safety information on the retail sale of cannabis several times in recent years.

“If you’re against banning tobacco stores and bars, then OK, but this seems like such a huge double standard. The rest of the world is moving on. This is silly,” Coelho said.

George Hurst

Hurst said that Lynnwood was alone in its stance against cannabis sales and reiterated arguments about the ban’s negative effects on Lynnwood’s entrepreneurs. He added that he did not believe the item would be an “undue burden” on the planning commission and invited its representatives to share any concerns.

Binda, agreeing with Coelho and Hurst, said that the council’s ban did not represent the expressed interests of the community. 

In response to the rescission, Hurst asked for councilmembers’ support to bring the item back for discussion in future meetings. Coelho and Binda endorsed Hurst’s action.

In other business, an ongoing discussion about the process used to appoint department leaders continued. While most edits to the city’s policies involve wordsmithing, some conversation focused on the duration (90 days vs. six months) of interim appointments and the process used to appoint interim staff to their positions.

The current procedure requires the administration to interview candidates and bring three candidates to the council for consideration when appointing department heads, a stipulation that causes issues when there are not enough qualified candidates. 

Julieta Altamirano-Crosby

Hurst, Altamirano-Crosby and Decker have pushed for more council involvement in the appointment process, saying that they have been excluded from major staffing decisions, such as the recent appointment of the interim parks department director. That appointment drew significant criticism when ex-Parks Director Lynn Sordel publicly voiced his frustration that a succession plan he created was not shared with the council or used during the appointment process. The merits of following a succession plan generated lengthy debate during the Monday meeting.

Pushback related to the parks director decision was compounded further when Sutton publicly stated that a driving force for her resignation was a “total lack of leadership in the administration, including personnel issues and a lack of support for her request for a full financial audit.”

Shirley Sutton

Sutton is quoted in an email received by the Everett Herald:

“The decision to put off a Financial Audit only solidified my fear that there is more afoot at The City (than) meets the eye,” Sutton wrote. “Without a complete independent audit there is no way The Council can enter into the budget season with any idea as to what they are dealing with.”

She continued: “This, as well as personnel issues, in my judgement the administration has miss-managed, has brought me to a point I can no longer sit with. The failure to replace the planning director, the overmanned administration, the continued churn of the directors, indicates that more than financial problems have beset The City… In the meantime, I no longer can lend my good name to such an organization.” wrote Sutton.

In her resignation letter sent to Hurst, Sutton stated her decision to leave the council was spurred by health concerns and a desire to return to her home in Yakima Valley.

A retired city employee spoke during public comment May 13, expressing concern about what he’d recently read and his reservations about the administration’s staffing decisions.

Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell

Lynnwood Today requested a response from Frizzell and received the following statement via email:

Regarding the personnel decisions:

“The former Council Member has also made comments regarding replacing the Planning Director. This position was consolidated when the Planning and Economic Development departments merged in 2021. This decision was also made and approved by the Council at the time. 

“Comments have been made about the City’s personnel choices. The City of Lynnwood has some of the most dedicated and passionate employees who love what they do and the community they serve. During my time as Mayor, our Lynnwood Police Chief and Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Director have retired after decades of service to our community. We have worked to carry on their legacy. I want to make clear that any decisions I have made during my time as Mayor and as a Council Member have not been taken lightly and have also been within the confines of the Revised Code of Washington and the Lynnwood Municipal Code. They are not always easy, but they have always been made with a focus on what is best for our city community members.”

Regarding the audit:

“The recent comments from former Council Member Sutton regarding her motion for a financial audit require more context and clarification of what happened. The motion was a Council decision, not by me or our employees. Our team spent a period of time working with the Council to understand what they wanted from an audit that differed from the other audits we are required to do annually from governing agencies.” 

Sutton’s audit request received pushback from other councilmembers because it was not backed by evidence of wrongdoing as well as its high cost. It was unanimously rescinded – with Sutton joining other councilmembers in voting yes – during a March 14 business meeting

Later, Coelho and Parshall focused their statements on the separation of powers between the city’s legislative and executive branches as well as problems that could emerge from the council’s proposed changes.

Patrick Decker attended the meeting via Zoom

Frizzell cited the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) during her comments:

“The mayor shall be the chief administrator and executive officer of the city in charge of all departments and employees, with authority to designate assistants and department heads. The mayor may appoint and remove a chief administrative officer or assistant administrative officer if so provided by ordinance and charter. It is the mayor’s responsibility to run the administration of the city. It is the council’s responsibility to set policy and approve ordinances, so I just want to make sure that we’re staying in our lanes.”

In response, Hurst asked Frizzell if she’d prefer they simply eliminate the policy in question – that is, the council’s responsibility to confirm appointed officials and employees. Frizzell said she didn’t believe that was in the best interest of the city either but did not favor placing undue restrictions on how the administration performed the task.

Joshua Binda

Binda added that succession plans could also reduce the equitability of the appointment process by creating a pipeline wherein external applicants are not considered. Decker argued that a succession plan was simply information that could be considered and should be weighed as the outgoing director would be knowledgeable about their department. Frizzell rebutted that it could still create an unfair advantage for a candidate.

The council agreed that conversations regarding the appointment process would be scheduled during future meetings.

The council also:

  • Read proclamations acknowledging Memorial Day, Older Americans Month and Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders Heritage Month.
  • Unanimously approved a motion instructing city staff to begin the advertising process for a councilmember to replace Sutton.
  • Heard from Hurst about his intent to create a task force on tenant and landlord rights, spurred by rent and fee increases at local mobile home parks.

–By Jasmine Contreras-Lewis

  1. They should put the marijuana sales issue to a vote by the citizens. The same people should not be allowed to continue to subvert the inevitable because they have outdated views. Lynnwood has bars and sells alcohol which is unquestionably a more destructive substance. They want to attract new business, but only those that they deem pure enough to fit the strip mall vibe of this city.

    Also the way they did this is shameful. Decker, Parshall, Altamirano-Crosby, and Frizzell pounced on an opportunity to continue to force their policy preferences on the citizens. Watching them pull this stunt and then dismissing former Council member Sutton concerns raises a lot of questions about whats really going on here.

    I appreciate the reporting by Lynnwood Today. You guys are clearly paying attention and providing the context needed. I just wish people in Lynnwood payed attention to what these people are doing.

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