Public comments on an ongoing dispute over appointments to the Lynnwood Public Facilities District (the District) dominated a large portion of the Lynnwood City Council’s business meeting Sept. 11.
During the upcoming weeks, the council must decide whether it will reappoint Board Chair Mike Miller and member Vivian Dong, whose terms expire in October.
In April, the council appointed Dong to a temporary position on the District board. A few months later, during a July 11 meeting, the District board held a vote of no confidence in Dong. It was unclear whether the vote of no confidence by the board was a binding removal, as there was no precedent or guidelines for it. While members are appointed by the city council, the District is not part of the City of Lynnwood, and its purpose is to act in the best interests of its associated local businesses and tenants.
Dong has stated on social media that the action taken against her was racist and that she was being retaliated against because she supported a June protest involving transgender issues.
The District board has said that Dong willingly disregarded the financial interests of its tenants — causing fiscal losses to the District and its constituents — and went against the wishes of the business she claimed to support.
Dong and Miller have both confirmed that they would like to be reappointed to the board for additional terms.
At its last work session Sept. 5, the council decided to postpone the reappointment discussion and decision until Oct. 9. Even the postponement decision itself split the council, with the conversation regarding scheduling lasting about an hour.
The council voted 5-2 to discuss District board appointments on Oct. 9 with Councilmembers Josh Binda and Hurst voting against. The council voted 5-1 to also decide on District board appointments Oct. 9, with Binda abstaining and Hurst voting against.
As anticipated, many public commenters showed up to share their opinion on the matter and so the time limit for comments was shortened from three minutes to two. Six individuals spoke in support of the District’s action, while nine spoke in favor of Dong.
Those supporting Dong focused on her positive impact in Lynnwood’s Asian American community and accused District Executive Director Janet Pope and Board Chair Mike Miller of racism. Some claimed the no-confidence vote regarding Dong was motivated by political ideals and that board members were “social justice warriors.”
Those supporting the District denied accusations of racism, saying that false information had been spread to attack District board members and that their diverse board unanimously decided to remove Dong for causing financial harm to tenants and the district, among other items. Many condemned Dong’s behavior as divisive and hateful.
Individuals on both sides also referred to an incident that occurred at the recent Lynnwood Luau.
The District had a table at the event, which they hosted at the Lynnwood Event Center. Some commenters said that Pope shoved Dong at the Lynnwood Luau. They also credited Dong with making them aware of the Luau so they could attend. Dong herself claimed that she was there to provide translation services and receive input from the public.
Dong’s detractors said that Dong forced her way into the District’s booth without notice, refused to leave the already-staffed area and gave out incorrect information.
Individuals accompanying Dong filmed some events that show both parties arguing.
As a result of the conflict, the District booth had been removed by the afternoon, which the District said disrupted its planning goals and caused a distraction on an otherwise positive event.
“I have a true heart for the community. A true heart, I have the courage to speak up to say the fact and that’s exactly why I’m being attacked,” Dong said. “I have the courage to say no, we don’t want males in womens’ places. We stand up for Asian business and, by the way, I had people calling me thanking me for what I do for Asian businesses.”
Dong said that it took her 51 days to get the recording of the July 11 PFD meeting. Footage of the meeting shows that, following the vote of no-confidence, Dong was muted after three minutes of speaking.
A man identified only by the name Yang advocated against the reappointment of Miller.
“Let’s see how Mike violates the code of ethics within. First, be respectful to of the views of other board members and district employees, even if such views are contrary to the board members personal opinions,” Yang said.
Yang claimed that Miller was “more than disrespectful to Vivian on multiple occasions” during the board meeting and during the luau. He also accused Miller of yelling at Dong.
“Mike along with Janet initiated a vote that was not on the agenda,” Yang said. “He muted Vivian’s mic within two minutes when Vivian was talking and insisted that she was mumbling. What kind of a comment is this?”
Local Tea business owner Glen Bowers decried the use of social justice within the district.
“Mike Miller, in letter to the city council dated Aug. 30, made public as part of the agenda packet for last week’s meeting wrote, and I quote, ‘the Lynnwood Public Facility District embraces social and racial justice across all platforms since we are not a political board,’ ” Bowers said.
Bowers said that social justice is mob rule.
“Social justice activists frequently use violence and the threat of violence to get what they want. They use coercion and cancel culture tactics to silence those who disagree with them,” Bowers said.
“Remember they represent the minority. If their views were truly held by the majority, they would be able to easily accomplish what they want inside of the civil structures the rest of us as a society have chosen to follow.
“If you put it to a vote of the people at this moment in time, the simple question is it right for the government to force a private business to allow entry by a naked man with male genitalia into a safe space for naked women, what do you think the vote would be?” Bowers said. “I’ll tell you right now the will of the people would be overwhelmingly against it.”
Bowers concluded that Miller should not be reinstated due to his “embracing of social justice tactics” and that Dong be reinstated.
Pope and Miller confronted accusations directly.
Miller emphasized his work as the Lynnwood Food Bank’s president, mentioning that he engages in over 750 short conversations in five languages per week and that most of the 126,000 people the food bank has fed this year were people new to the U.S.
“These folks work hard to get to the USA. Most of them are fleeing wars, harsh living conditions but most of all, intolerant vocal, governments,” Miller said. “I’m doing my best to ensure these folks aren’t going to encounter an intolerant local government in Lynnwood or in the PFD.”
Added Pope: “I came from over 20 years working across nonprofit, corporate and government sectors in leadership roles to create community solutions for homelessness, affordable housing, disaster relief, healthcare and expanding Performing Arts access.
“Recently, I have been accused of racism when, in fact, I’ve been advocating for marginalized communities to improve race, social and economic disparities for decades. I’ve even created a program called Dignity and Diversity and work closely with Snohomish County and the City of Everett on many award-winning programs to combat racism.
“I’ve also been accused of wanting to remove board member No. 2 because of her position on protecting safe spaces for women,” Pope said. “Not true; I have led programs to create those safe spaces.”
Pope also listed her involvement in women’s advocacy groups such as domestic violence shelters and safe houses for women who have been sexually trafficked.
“The board’s no-confidence order about regarding board position number two had nothing to do with race and everything to do with behavior,” she said.
Pope then finished her statement by welcoming an investigation into the District’s decision to take a vote of no-confidence in Dong.
Other members of the community joined the conversation to defend the District or decry Dong’s behavior.
Lynnwood Ethics Committee Chair Ty Tufono-Chaussee cited years of experience in advancing Asian-American policy.
“I advised the legislature, the state Legislature, on Asian and Pacific American Affairs for 12 years,” Tufono-Chaussee said. “So when I stand before you today … I can honestly tell you that if there was any form of racism or discrimination, I would be the first woman to stand up against it. I have advocated all my life for Asian-Pacific Americans to have a seat at the table in this country.”
Lynnwood Planning Commission Member Naz Lashgari said she was “bewildered” by Dong’s claim of racism when Dong had promoted hate groups targeting the LGBTQ+ and trans community members.
“Aren’t you expecting them [PFD appointees] to follow the bylaws, their oaths and their code of conduct?” Lashgari asked. “I’m here to ask you then why is it that the council is not supporting the PFD board members, whom you have appointed, that unanimously voted for the removal of Miss Vivian Dong?”
Lashgari asked that the council not allow anyone to use their position as a platform to move their personal agendas.
Councilmembers did not discuss PFD appointments at length, though some lamented the unfortunate situation.
On another note, Zach Bloomfield — who lives in an unincorporated Meadowdale neighborhood — requested that the council revise its plans to annex what is referred to as the “Meadowdale unincorporated area.”
Bloomfield stated that he and his neighbors did not want to change their addresses, which are currently listed as Edmonds residences. Read more in a related My Edmonds News story here.
In other business, the council unanimously passed a resolution that allows the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department to apply for a grant from the Washington State Recreation & Conservation Office. The grant requests $100,000 for improvements to Pioneer Park such as repaving the tennis courts and increasing accessibility to the park for people in wheelchairs.
The council also renewed its interlocal “Urban County Consortium” agreement with Snohomish County, which continues to allow Lynnwood access to grant programs and funding options through the county.
• While the council was scheduled to vote on American Rescue Plan Act fund allocations, Binda and Decker were absent from the meeting. Sessions motioned that the council postpone the discussion, to which other councilmembers unanimously agreed.
Finally, the council read three proclamations acknowledging Patriot’s Day, Hispanic Heritage Month and Alfredo Arreguin Day.
— By Jasmine Contreras-Lewis