The Lynnwood City Council at its July 24 meeting debated many issues, and it also confirmed Mayor Christine Frizzell’s appointment of Cole Langdon to be the next Lynnwood Police Chief.
Langdon was a popular choice among councilmembers, but the method used to select and appoint him was not. In the public comment section preceding Langdon’s appointment and subsequent confirmation, two residents asked that the process be opened to the public for transparency and community input. One requested that external candidates be considered during the police chief search.
According to Frizzell, the council decided to choose only from internal candidates and — of the three qualified candidates within the Lynnwood Police Department — two applied. Lynnwood has legislation that dictates how city department heads – including the police chief — are appointed to their positions:
“At the conclusion of the initial administrative interview process, the mayor shall refer to the council at least three candidates for a city council confirmation process. The council resolution or motion made pursuant to LMC 2.06.020 may change the number of candidates to be referred by mayor based upon substantial justification acceptable to the council.”
For this reason, a resolution was placed on the council’s July 24 agenda to acknowledge and waive the requirement that three candidates must be presented to the council.
Councilmember George Hurst motioned that this resolution be tabled.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen the council approve less than three candidates after the selection of the candidate,” he said. “It’s always been before the interviews.” He also said that he had not received information about the candidates prior to the council’s interviews with them, adding that he normally is given a binder.
“The LMC (Lynnwood Municipal Codes) are the rules and regulations of the city. We need to follow them. Doing this after the fact, I think defeats the purpose of this process.” Councilmember Josh Binda seconded Hurst’s motion.
Councilmember Jim Smith stated it was ironic that councilmembers had issues with the selection process now as he recalled a similar instance in the past where only two candidates were considered for the police chief position and no objections were raised.
Council President Shannon Sessions described the waiver as “housekeeping” in nature and that it was not a big deal, restating that there was a limited pool of candidates.
Hurst’s motion failed on a 4-3 vote. Binda and Councilmember Shirley Sutton joined Hurst in voting to table the resolution while Councilmembers Smith, Sessions, Patrick Decker and Julieta Altamirano-Crosby voting against the measure.
Following this, Frizzell thanked retiring Police Chief Jim Nelson for his work and leadership, calling him a “wonderful human being.” She spoke briefly about the administrative process that she and city administration used to select Langdon for the chief of police position, saying that she spoke to union representatives and a variety of other sources to advise her decision. She also said she believed that an internal candidate would continue the department’s positive momentum in community policing.
Smith then moved to confirm Frizzell’s choice, and councilmembers voted 6-0 to approve Langdon – with Binda abstaining. In explaining his vote, Binda said that community members had spoken to him about opening the position to external candidates, and added his abstention was purely about the selection process, adding he believed Langdon to be “well-qualified.”
Langdon, who starts his job Aug. 1, eagerly accepted the appointment, saying that he knew every councilmember to be a believer in Lynnwood.
“I’m looking forward to getting out there. The work is out there, in the community. Building those relationships. So, thank you so much. If even if this is a matter of process or not, I want to earn your trust. I want to earn that confidence. We’re going to be doing some awesome work together.” Langdon said.
Public commenters and councilmembers discussed other issues during the meeting, including the Lynnwood Public Facilities District (the District) board’s decision to remove recent city appointee Vivian Dong.
On July 11, the District board asked Dong to resign because of her activity in promoting a protest planned by Sovereign Women Speak. Dong refused to step down and received a vote of no confidence from the other PFD board members. District board officials stated that the protest cost them approximately $10,000-$12,500 in lost revenues and costs for protest management, while local businesses suffered an estimated $35,000 revenue loss.
The demonstration was organized in response to a federal court ruling that Olympus Spa – a tenant of the District — had discriminated against a protected class through its “biological women”-only policy. Under this policy, the spa prohibited access to men and transgender women who had not undergone transitional surgery.
The District stated that while Dong was aware that Olympus Spa owner Sun Lee did not want the protest to occur, she continued to create signage and promote the protest. The District said that Dong’s actions violated their code of conduct due to the revenue lost by local tenant businesses and going against the spa owner’s wishes.
The District’s board chair, Mike Miller, said he came to the meeting to clear up misconceptions about the situation. Specifically, he mentioned the following:
-Janet Pope is not a voting member of the District but instead the organization’s executive director and does not possess a voting role.
-The District is apolitical and its primary role is bringing new business and tourism to Lynnwood. The District’s secondary role is to support its small business tenants and create a lively downtown entertainment district.
-Under state law, public facilities districts possess the same powers as a corporation and the District hoped to keep working with Lynnwood going forward.
Another public commenter brought up their concerns regarding the attendance of Washington 3% at the protest, referencing the group’s classification as a hate group in Canada.
Three commenters voiced their support for Dong, who has since claimed that she was discriminated against for her race and expression of support for women’s rights. Some brought up the fact that Dong was at one point muted as evidence of censorship, drawing comparisons to the Chinese Communist Party. During the July 11 District meeting, Dong spoke for about 3.5 minutes before she was muted, removed from the board and asked to leave
After her supporters spoke, Dong herself came to the council podium.
“Less than three months into my tenure, I was unexpectedly attacked, retaliated and discriminated against because I had the courage to stand up for women’s rights,” she said. Dong added that it was clear the board had organized the vote of no-confidence without her knowledge and claimed that she repeatedly reached out to confirm her rights prior to the meeting.
During the council’s July 17 work session, Councilmembers Patrick Decker and Jim Smith condemned the District’s actions. At the time, Decker took issue with the PFD’s method of handling the situation and requested an investigation into the matter but also added that “[T]he board thinks Vivian is not woke enough for them.” He followed up with further thoughts at the July 24 business meeting.
“I am not and have not been commenting on the decision made by the PFD. I have been commenting on the manner that the action was taken. I continue to feel the PFD could have managed the situation with Miss Dong much better. I’m in a tough spot; I have a great deal of respect for members of the PFD board. I also have a great deal of respect for Miss Dong.” Said Decker, who later focused on how the District’s actions were negatively received by Lynnwood’s Asian community members, one of its largest minority groups. “You can feel justified in your decisions and actions, but perception is everything,” Decker said.
Saying that he would also like to learn more about the board’s decision to remove Dong, Hurst spoke to the character of the District’s board members, listing their contributions to nonprofits such as the Latino Educational Training Institute and their own internal diversity including tribal affiliations. Later, Hurst addressed the previous week’s comment made by Decker regarding the term “woke.”
“Labeling someone as woke, I don’t even know what that means. I know what it used to mean for the Black community, they were trying to figure out how to fight racism. But now, woke is a derogatory term of conservative – ultra-conservative – politicians and I think it’s a disservice to this board to even equate them to that word.” Hurst added that while it was desirable to have people serve on Lynnwood’s boards and commissions, there were people already on those bodies that don’t want to come talk to the city council because of the way they’ve been treated, so the council could benefit from self-reflection.
Smith stated that he also respected the District’s board but added it’s possible there was a misunderstanding that led to this conflict. Binda stated he trusted the board’s decision making and stood with individuals condemning hate groups.
Another prominent topic of public and council comment was the NAACP of Snohomish County’s announcement that it believed Binda was discriminated against. During their July 20 press conference, NAACP leaders said their preliminary investigation indicated that City of Lynnwood officials and the news media treated Lynnwood City Councilmember Josh Binda differently from other city councilmembers due to his race and age.
“Josh Binda and I are not enemies,” said Council President Shannon Sessions, who was specifically called out in the NAACP report for her treatment of Binda. Sessions added that she stood by the emails the NAACP cited as evidence for discrimination, describing them as appropriate and in adherence with council rules.
“As the city council president, it is my responsibility to make sure that the council adheres to city and state regulations set in place for its public leaders,” she said. “When anybody steps outside those regulations, it is the duty of the council to address those issues and to take appropriate action, when warranted. The actions taken regarding Councilmember Binda have been in adherence with that due diligence.”
Regarding her relationship with Binda, Sessions said the councilmember “knew her heart” and she has had plenty of private discussions with him in the past. Sessions also said it was important to everyone that Binda had success as a councilmember.
Binda replied that he did not believe Sessions to be a bad person, but added that if she did not see a problem with the emails or things she had stated, he didn’t know what to say to her.
“I publicly stated I did not want to go this route [involving the NAACP],” Binda said. “When I was on Zoom here [when the council was discussing new rules limiting virtual attendance], I said ‘This is discriminatory. The city is watching. Can we not do this performative route that we’re doing?’.”
Resident Eric Clem spoke about the need for a right-turn lane at the intersection of 200th Street Southwest and 64th Avenue West.
“It’s the street vacation on 64th that was given to Harrison Ford to expand their business and we were told at the time this happened that 200th would get a right-turn lane,” Clem said. “Well, the street was vacated one year ago next week and the right-turn lane is nowhere near completion.”
In other business, the council accepted the adoption of new state legislation to replace Lynnwood’s ban on the use of illegal drugs in public. The adoption was confirmed in a 6-0 vote, with Binda abstaining. In addition, Sue Phillips was unanimously confirmed for a position on the Lynnwood Planning Commission and the council read a proclamation acknowledging Disability Awareness Day.
–By Jasmine Contreras-Lewis