Council discusses Diversity Commission, temporarily suspends commission meetings

City-of-Lynnwood-logoLynnwood City Council began its lengthy April 18 work session meeting with an executive session behind closed doors. Mayor Nicola Smith and Lynnwood City Councilmembers opened the Monday evening meeting with full attendance, then moved to an executive session consisting of two interviews of the finalists for the Human Resources Director position. The interviews lasted from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The empty council chambers and dais greeted six members of the public hoping to present comments regarding the ongoing Diversity Commission situation. Rosamaria Graziani, a former chair of the Diversity Commission and currently a commissioner, and 5 supporters  came to attend the council meeting, unaware that an executive session was planned.

“I am concerned at the lack of action from the executive office to fill the vacancies of the Diversity Commission, which will immediately solve the problem of two people taking over control of the commission,” Graziani said in reference of the high vacancies in the Diversity Commission and in regards to fellow commissioner Angel Shimelish and Chair Glenda Powell-Freeman.

Graziani and her supporters’ main concerns centered on the commissions high vacancies in the midst of multiple applications for the positions.

“We know that there are five applications for the commission,” Graziani explained, “and that the mayor has to disclose this information, by municipal code, the number of applications.”

One of the potential new commissioners, Marylou Eckart, shared her application process story with the city.

“I have filled out an application and was told to go to the Diversity Commission’s meetings,” Eckart said, “and I have and have heard nothing.”

“I’m passionate about Lynnwood, I care about my community. Volunteering takes time and effort, and it also takes cooperation from Lynnwood councilmembers and mayor,” Eckart said. “In a nutshell, I am concerned about my community.”

Graziani explained that their main goal is to continue community events that benefit the larger Lynnwood population, and not just “the chosen ones that can attend events from 9 a.m to 5 p.m.”

“We want to be allowed to keep working with the community,” Graziani said. Graziani and five other members of the public left before the continuation of the work session at 8:40 p.m.

The Lynnwood Fire Department took over the now-vacant seats in support of the Fire Department Medical Services Deployment Overview. Fire Chief Scott Cockrum, Assistant Chief of Operations Gregg Sieloff and Captain/Medical Service Officer Larry Hadland joined the mayor and councilmembers at the table.

“We have good coverage in the core of the city,” Sieloff said. “Station 15 is a really well-placed station.”

Even covering a large area, most call times from Station 15 take between four and eight minutes. Sieloff and Cockrum said they believe that their ability to meet a growing number of calls with the increased population is the result of:

  • Improving technology
  • Meeting Standards of Coverage
  • More capabilities at nearby hospitals
  • Better and consistent training
  • Increasing balance between A-15 and M-15 answering calls

However, expected housing projects will increase the number of calls substantially within the next few years. In 2014, there was a total of 6,763 calls for service; in 2015 there were 7,617 calls. Assistant Chief Sieloff notes that already in 2016, they are set to handle over 8,000 calls based on the current call volume.

“Ideally, we’d like to have three medics on duty everyday,” Sieloff said.

Hadland explained that advanced life support (ALS) and basic life support (BLS) calls require different levels of experience and that medics have “more advanced training and clinical knowledge.”

The main goal, Captain Hadland said, is that “we are here to help and make people better.” The current deployment schedule has been in effect since Feb. 1.

Assistant Chief Sieloff attributes the success of their system to “the culture of the fire department” and that “we adjusted, and then we made the change.”

Chief Cockrum advises City Council that while these changes have greatly improved the services they currently offer, these changes won’t “meet the demands going into the future” due to increased housing and high-rise condominiums. “This is our last trick,” Chief Cockrum said.

The City Council ended the work session by addressing the lingering Diversity Commission crisis. Mayor Nicola Smith addressed several of the concerns resulting from a letter submitted by Diversity Commission Chair Powell-Freeman and the legality of the vote to suspend some commission meetings. Mayor Smith assured the councilmembers that the vote to suspend meetings was not a vote to disband the commission.

“The commission would still be in existence,” Mayor Smith said, and reiterated that meetings were just suspended until the matter was resolved. The city’s attorney stated that the Diversity Commission does have the power to cancel a few meetings for a variety of reasons. Some reasons offered for temporary suspension of meetings include low membership, no quorum available or no standing business to address.

“Where should we go from here?” Mayor Smith asked the council. Options offered included a review of Diversity Commission’s mission and structure, proposal of an efficiency study and introducing a mediator.

Councilmember Shirley Sutton offered multiple thoughts about the situation and said she “feels (the Diversity Commission) is still necessary.” Bringing up the Code of Conduct and ethical standards, Sutton calls for more definition for the “role of volunteers.”

“I do not want to see commissions in competition with one another. There is a structure that needs to be maintained,” Councilmember Sutton said.

Councilmember Ian Cotton said he hopes for a “constructive way to move forward,” perhaps using a neutral mediator.

“The Diversity Commission as it is now is dysfunctional,” Councilmember Shannon Sessions said, “and I want a Diversity Commission.”

Sessions recommended holding a summit of community members to see how they can improve it.

“I want to disband this one and start over,” Councilmember Sessions said.

Council President M. Christopher Boyer said to other councilmembers that he is “deeply dubious” about the “capabilities of the current trio” to be brought back together.

“It is vitally important to our city to have a functioning Diversity Commission,” Council President Boyer said. “We need to take time to do this right.”

The meeting concluded without disbanding the Diversity Commission, but its meetings have been temporarily suspended. A review of the commissions’ goals, tasks and responsibilities will be undertaken to determine the next step.

After two time extensions, the meeting finally adjourned at 10:11 p.m.

–By Emily Scott

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