Concerns about the conflict in Ukraine hit close to home Monday night when the Lynnwood City Council heard from Lynnwood resident Veray Yeremeyev, who moved here from Ukraine in 2000.
Yeremeyev was welcomed by Council President George Hurst, who made a motion at the beginning of the meeting to have a Proclamation in Unity with the People of Ukraine read.
Yeremeyev attempted to hold back tears as she spoke about the tragedies happening in her home country. She still has many family members and friends in Ukraine, and said she is constantly worried about their safety. A few days ago, she saw her cousin on the news and worried whether that would be the last time she saw her relative.
“Every time I watch the news, I feel physical sickness,” she said. “I wish not one of you will ever experience anything like this.”
Despite her grief, Yeremeyev thanked everyone in the community for the kind words, thoughts, prayers and donations being made to help Ukrainian citizens.
“I appreciate people thinking about my country,” she said. “The easiest way [to help] last week was to send money. Now, I don’t know if they can even receive it.”
An apartment manager in Lynnwood, Yeremeyev said her tenants have been very thoughtful, asking how she’s doing and bringing her flowers. She said the greatest need of Ukrainians in the community right now is kindness.
“If you see someone [from Ukraine], hug them,” Yeremeyev said. “Hug them and hold them in your arms for a minute. Be open. Be human.”
During public comments, one commenter suggested that Lynnwood temporarily rent out apartment buildings for incoming refugees from Ukraine and Russia. With the abundance of apartment buildings still being erected in the city, the commenter said it would be easy for Lynnwood to allot a few of them for short-term stays.
“Create temporary housing for temporary stayers,” he said.
In other business, the council had a lengthy discussion about resuming in-person council meetings. Hurst suggested a hybrid version be adopted, so that councilmembers still have an option to attend meetings via Zoom, but there was opposition to that idea.
“For us to be able to have meaningful, hard-working discussions in person, we need to be in person,” Councilmember Shannon Sessions said. “If you’re here, you should be required to be in person, unless you are out of the state, out of the country, out of the area.”
Councilmember Patrick Decker suggested that any councilmember who wants to attend via Zoom be required to submit a request that has to be approved by council leadership prior to the meeting.
Councilmember Julietta Altimarano-Crosby said she agreed with both Sessions and Decker that Zoom attendance should be a limited option that must be approved by council leadership.
“It gives us flexibility,” said Councilmember Jim Smith, adding that Zoom attendance should be limited to roughly two times per year, with the option of leadership approving more than two if the need arises.
Sessions said there should be a hard limit of two, with any more than two requiring councilmembers to use one of their four approved absences. Councilmember Decker disagreed, using a personal example of his aging parents.
“I have no idea what their needs might be over the next four years,” Decker said. “In terms of my time and my ability to be in person, I would maintain my position that I would like the council leadership to have the ability to waive that limitation.”
As part of the in-person meeting discussion, Hurst also asked the council for their thoughts on security and having a police presence to protect them, should the need arise.
Sessions said adding security is the most important aspect of the discussion on returning to in-person meetings.
“We are sitting ducks,” she said. “It’s always been that way. It’s been very irresponsible of the city to not fix that for years.”
Councilmember Josh Binda said, however, that the last thing he wants is security at meetings.
“I personally am not a fan of having security or police officers at the city hall,” he said. “I do believe it will make certain community members uncomfortable.”
Sessions replied that any community member who is uncomfortable doesn’t have to come to the in-person meeting and can watch online via Zoom. Members of the council have been physically threatened at meetings before, according to Sessions, and she said that behavior is not acceptable in the City of Lynnwood.
“Just because a few people get their feelings hurt because a police officer is in the room, [that’s] not a good reason not to have it there,” she said.
Sessions went on to say that a majority of community members who attend meetings want the extra layer of safety that having an officer’s presence provides.
“I can guarantee if something bad happens to us, to our staff and to the community members that are there during the council meeting, and there’s nothing we’ve done about it … you think the uncomfortableness and potential legal liability is strong the other way?” she said. “Just wait. If that happens, the city’s going to have a major problem.”
Councilmembers Altimarano-Crosby, Sutton and Smith all voiced their support for having police presence at the meetings to keep the peace.
“I just think it’s not necessary,” Binda countered. “For the community members that do feel uncomfortable, their voices matter as well. It’s important that their voices are heard as well in this situation.”
Council President Hurst said this is a deeper issue than community members’ hurt feelings. Hurst said he will be meeting with Chief of Police Jim Nelson later this week to discuss safety options. The council will decide on the matter at a later date.
In other business, the council discussed the appointment of a new city attorney, with Hurst moving to change the required number of city attorney candidates presented to the council from three to one.
Lynnwood Municipal Code requires that the city council have a choice of three city attorney candidates unless the council waives the requirement. The city interviewed two firms and recommended to the council that Kenyon Disend be selected.
Councilmember Smith commented that although he planned to vote for contracting with Kenyon Disend, he was displeased with the lack of information the council received regarding the attorney’s contract. Smith said he would have liked to be told the length of the contract as well as the amount the city was planning to pay the attorney.
Mayor Christine Frizzell pointed out that all the information Smith was seeking had been provided in his council packet, as well as thoroughly talked about during last week’s meeting.
The council unanimously voted to accept the introduction of one city attorney candidate, then also unanimously voted to approve Kenyon Disend. The firm will provide city attorney services to Lynnwood for the next five years at an estimated cost of just under $400,000 per year. That’s nearly the same amount the city was paying the previous city attorney, Inslee Best.
In another matter, Hurst moved to reintroduce a council discussion about possible fee and tax cuts for Lynnwood residents. Hurst brought up the two recent council ordinances that were approved and then quickly vetoed by former Mayor Nicola Smith.
On May 26, 2020, the council adopted Ordinance 3358 to eliminate the 6% utility tax on water, sewer and stormwater utility rates. The elimination ordinance was supposed to go into effect last year. Then, on Oct. 25, 2021, the city council adopted Ordinance 3400 to eliminate the $40 Transportation Benefit District vehicle license fee, which was to become effective in 2023.
Smith said the city’s 6% utility tax is misleading because it doesn’t go toward improving the city’s utility operations. Instead, the tax goes straight into Lynnwood’s general fund, which the city can spend on whatever it deems necessary.
Because of this, Smith said it’s wrong for the city to be taking money from its citizens to advance “corporate Lynnwood.”
“We should be supporting the citizens of Lynnwood and not the corporation of Lynnwood,” he said.
Councilmember Sessions quickly interjected, asking why this topic was being brought up at such an awkward time. The city council had already agreed to discuss these issues during budget deliberations, Sessions said, adding she felt it was unfair to the newer councilmembers to be introduced to this topic without all the budgeting facts laid out for them.
Councilmembers Sutton and Altimarano-Crosby agreed with Sessions that this was an inappropriate time for discussing the matter. Altimarano-Crosby said she expected this conversation to occur during either one or multiple in-person meetings, where the council sat down with budget experts to better understand exactly what they were dealing with.
The matter was dropped, and councilmembers agreed to bring it up again during future budget meetings.
In other business, the council unanimously voted Naz Lashgari as the newest member of the Lynnwood Planning Commission.
Lashgari thanked the council for taking the time to get to know her and said she hopes to use her commitment and interest in equity to become the voice of not only current Lynnwood residents, but builders, contractors and anyone else involved within the city limits.
“I hope that I can be helpful and serve my community by bringing the lens of equity to the conversation and to the planning commission and be of any assistance that I could be,” Lashgari said. “I just want to thank you for the opportunity and the time you have taken to review me. I appreciate that.”
The city council meeting ended with an executive session that was closed to the public.
— by Lauren Reichenbach