Lynnwood City Council candidates discuss business concerns, homelessness at primary election forum

(Left to right) Lynnwood Chamber President Linda Jones moderates the Lynnwood City Council primary election candidate forum with, from left, Position 4 candidates Ashkan Amouzegar, Dio Boucsieguez, Naz Lashgari, James Rutherford and Jim Smith.

A crowd of about 80 people attended the July 10 Lynnwood City Council primary election candidate forum, hosted by Lynnwood Today and the Lynnwood Chamber of Commerce. 

Held in the Community Life Center gymnasium, the forum include Position 4, 5 and 7 candidates who will appear on the Aug. 6 primary ballot. Moderating the forum was Lynnwood Chamber President Linda Jones, who asked the candidates a range of questions that addressed perceived waste in the city’s budget, concerns of local businesses and mental health. Candidates were also asked how they would spend $1 million to improve city.

(Note that we have included highlights from candidate responses below. You will able able to hear all candidate responses to all questions in a full video to be posted soon.)

First on stage were the five candidates campaigning for the council’s Position 4 seat — Ashkan Amouzegar, Dio Boucsieguez, Naz Lashgari, James Rutherford and Jim Smith. Van AuBuchon is also running for the position, but he did not participate in the panel. 

During his opening statement, Ashkan Amouzegar said one of the reasons he is running is to bring more diversity to the predominantly white city council dais. 

“Currently, city council has only one person of color,” he said. “We need a place at the table and I will be that fresh voice.”

After moving to Lynnwood in 2015, Dio Boucsieguez said he fell in love with the city’s “family-oriented” community. However, Boucsieguez said some residents have told him they feel the city is losing that sense of community and he wants to help preserve it.

“As a member of the city council I will ensure that we do just that,” he said.

While serving as vice chair on the city’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion commission, Naz Lashgari said she developed a love for Lynnwood and a commitment to the city. Lashgari said she is running for office because she wants to help the city as it grows.

“I want to be proactive in managing that growth, so we can continue to be a safe, livable and welcoming city,” she said.

James Rutherford, who has lived in Lynnwood since 1968, said he is concerned that there is too much growth is on the horizon.

“I’m committed to this city — because I’ve lived here for so long — and I’m committed to you,” he said.

A previous Lynnwood City Councilmember who is still active on multiple boards and commissions, Jim Smith said he wants to make Lynnwood an inclusive and welcoming community.

“That’s where my background comes in,” he said. “We welcome everyone.”

Taking the first question during the forum was Boucsieguez who was asked what he would do with $1 million for the city. He responded he would use the money to prepare the city’s infrastructure for pending growth and would also add more green spaces to the city.

“What I’d like to do — just to make sure our community is livable — is to have these green spaces and these infrastructure improvements,” Boucsieguez said.

In response to the same question, Lashgari said she would first consult with city officials to determine how the money would best be spent. However, she said the money should go to the Lynnwood Police Department and South County Fire.

“I would help in hiring another social worker for the police department to help with issues we are facing in our city with the homeless and the drug issues,” she said. “Also, maybe I would help the fire department with that fund so we make sure the residents of our city are safer.” 

Addressing the question of how the city could help residents suffering from mental illness, Rutherford said he would like to see a facility in the city where they could receive treatment.

“I’d invite as many (people) as I possibly could to get to this facility and get them the treatment they need,” he said.

In response to the same question, Amouzegar offered a three-point plan that included community engagement, providing emergency medical responders with the tools to prevent drug overdoses, and working to remove housing barriers.

“This is a tremendous issue that is impacting not just our community, but communities across our country,” he said.

Addressing a question regarding the top concerns for city business owners, Smith – like his fellow candidates – said high taxes are a major issue. Smith added that he believes the city’s homelessness issue and traffic related to the arrival of the Lynnwood Link light rail are also bad for business.

“Lynnwood is going to have gridlock like we’ve never seen before,” Smith said.

From left, Griselda Guevara-Cruz joined the Position 5 candidates David “Doc” Schirle and Rosamaria Graziani to read a prepared statement on behalf of Julieta Altamirano-Cruz, who was unable to attend the forum.

Up next were two candidates campaigning for Position 5 — David “Doc” Schirle and Rosamaria Graziani. During their opening statements, the candidates were joined by the community outreach coordinator for candidate Julieta Altamirano-Crosby’s campaign, Griselda Guevara-Cruz.

Reading a prepared statement, Guevara-Cruz said Altamirano-Crosby was unable to attend the forum because she was at a meeting to plan the 2019 People of Color Legislative Summit.

“Building relationships and finding regional solutions is Julieta’s strength,” she said. “She is running for city council because the challenges facing Lynnwood cannot be solved by the city by itself.”

During his opening statement, Schirle said he would rely on work during his military career and as a medical doctor to reduce taxes, prepare for the city’s pending population increase and help those without homes. 

“I would like to take those (experiences) and apply those to the problems that we’re facing here in Lynnwood,” he said.

Graziani began her statement by speaking about her work as an educator at Yale University and the 30-40 hours per week she said she spends providing free tutoring to low-income families. After learning from her students how many of their families were being pushed out of the city due to the high cost of living, Graziani said she wanted to work to keep living in Lynnwood affordable for residents.

“If you vote for me — and like-minded candidates — I will lower your taxes and utilities and provide affordable housing,” she said.

Moderator Jones asked Schirle if he believed there were parts of the city budget he thought were wasteful and how he would address the waste. Schirle said he would consider making cuts to city staff. According to the city’s 2019-20 biennium budget, city employee salaries account for $51 million — a $22 million increase over the 2017-18 budget, he said.

“I’m not sitting on the city council so I’m not able to ask questions on the specifics of that,” he said. “But as a taxpayer I’m looking at that and saying I think we can cut there.”

Graziani was asked how she would help those suffering from mental health issues in Lynnwood. She proposed creating an urban rest stop to provide storage spaces, showers and mail service for the city’s homeless population. Also, she proposed hiring a full-time social worker based at the rest stop to help people navigate the resources to work toward improving their mental health.

“The problem is that these are transients, so these urban rest stops will gather them all in one place and we will be able to help them in a better way,” Graziani said.

Lynnwood City Council Position 7 incumbent Shannon Sessions (left) and opponent Shirley Sutton (right). Sutton currently holds Council Position 4 but instead chose to file for Position 7 against Sessions.  A third Position 7 candidate, Maggie Mae, did not attend.

The final round of questions involved two of the candidates for Position 7 — incumbent Shannon Session and Shirley Sutton, who currently holds Council Position 4 but instead chose to file for Position 7 against Sessions. The third Position 7 candidate, business owner Maggie Mae, did not attend.

In her opening statement, Sessions said she has the integrity and deep ties to the community that will help move the city in a direction to improve the lives of its residents. During her statement, Sessions spoke about her service in the 30 years she and her family have lived in the city — including parent volunteering in the Edmonds School District and with the Rotary Club of Lynnwood.

“I believe that leaders need to have a servant’s heart,” she said.

Sutton said in her statement that while growing up, she had to learn responsibility at an early age to care for younger siblings. As a child, she said her family taught her it is important to listen to people and help them when she can.

“Leadership comes in all forms and it looks different to everybody,” she said. “I am very happy to say that I will put your needs ahead of anything else.”

When asked how she would spend a $1 million grant for the city, Sutton suggested creating portable bathroom units for the city’s homeless residents. The units could be attached to vehicles and moved around the city to help the most people, she said.

“That’s one thing I think I would like to see happen,” she said.

Answering a question regarding top concerns of the city’s business community, Sessions said safety has been mentioned by many business owners. They also want to ensure accessibility to their businesses during the city’s period of growth and find ways to bring in new customers, she added. If re-elected, Sessions said she would reach out to additional regional and state partners to attract new business to Lynnwood.

“I’m advocating for business and developments that want to enhance and be part of a robust and vibrant community,” she said.

A full video of the Lynnwood City Council primary election candidate forum will be posted soon on Lynnwood Today.

–Story and photos by Cody Sexton

  1. My most important comment on waste by the City was left out: the Trip to Korea by the Mayor, the ballooning of the Mayor’s discretional budget (from the previous Mayor’s 11,000 to Mayor Smith’s 240,000) to almost a quarter of a million dollars!!!, the staff lunches, the 180,000+ salaries paid to several City directors, the donations to national charities (because if Mayor Smith feels charitable, she should pay from her own pocket, not the taxpayers’ money), etc.

  2. I could not agree more with the comments above by Rosamaria Graziani! I was a city councilmember from 2010-2013, during the dark days of the Great Recession. The city was put in a treacherous position by previous councils who supported wasteful and questionable spending year after year, while also failing to soak away a sound level of surplus funds into the city’s rainy day reserves.

    When the rainy days returned, the reserve fund was dry, and the council was forced to drastically cut services, (especially to police and fire) while also raising taxes. This was a terrible combination that was painful to enact, but necessary to keep the city afloat. When the council majority took such action, a pledge was made to reduce tax increases as soon as the eventual economic recovery allowed. In December of 2013, the council voted to reduce taxes.

    Subsequent to Mayor Smith taking office, and the departure of myself and several other councilmembers, tax increases and reckless spending became the norm. In addition, Mayor Smith and the current council majority rejected the lessons from the great recession, and rescinded fiscal policies requiring certain levels of reserve funds to protect the city stakeholders against an economic downturn. Rescinding such policies put into place by the council in 2011, opened the flood gates to more aggressive spending.

    Thank you to Council members Ian Cotton, Shirley Sutton and George Hurst for standing up to Mayor Smith and the four other councilmembers who have consistently raised taxes on hard working residents and seniors on fixed incomes, while putting the city in a fiscally vulnerable position when the next downturn appears. We need more councilmembers willing to do the same!

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