The Lynnwood City Council Monday discussed plans for a future roundtable to hear from business owners how the city can help those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
During its Feb. 22 business meeting, the council outlined an effort to invite up to 14 local business owners to a March 17 roundtable. During similar past roundtable discussions, each council member invited two local business owners to join them during a council work session. The roundtable meeting is scheduled for the council’s March 17 work session.
Council President George Hurst said the council would be looking to invite local, non-corporate business owners to learn what the city can do to provide assistance.
“The reason we’re having this roundtable is to find out from these businesses how the COVID(-19) pandemic has affected (them),” he said. “Then what can the city council do as far as policies to help them recover quickly.”
While supportive of the idea, councilmembers were divided on whether they should re-invite those who participated in the previous roundtable discussion, or if all the invitees should be new representatives of local businesses .
Council Vice President Jim Smith suggested that up to half of those invited be business owners who attended the previous roundtable. This would allow the council to learn what has improved since then, instead of starting from the beginning, Smith said.
Additionally, Councilmember Ruth Ross said she was in favor of re-inviting business owners since many invited last time could not attend.
Conversely, Councilmember Christine Frizzell said the council needed to “make the table bigger” by inviting those who have been less involved, instead of those they regularly hear from.
“I think we need more people feeling invited to come speak to us,” she said. “I think that will continue to widen our information pool and make more businesses feel that they’re a part of what’s going on in city hall, even if it’s via Zoom.”
Frizzell also suggested the council invite a representative from the Lynnwood Chamber of Commerce, since that person would be able to speak for many local business owners.
Councilmember Ian Cotton said he would be interested in hearing from anyone who had experienced the city’s new Department of Development and Business Services permitting process.
“It’d be interesting to hear their take on their interaction with us and the services we provide,” he said.
According to Hurst, one business owner has already expressed interest in attending. Following the discussion, the council agreed to have their recommendations for the roundtable submitted by March 8.
Councilmember Ruth Ross said it would be good to hear from any businesses affected by construction from Sound Transit’s Lynnwood Link light rail.
“It’s kind of early, but still there are some people that are impacted by it,” Ross said.
In other business, the council reviewed a draft letter addressed to Gov. Jay Inslee, encouraging him to prioritize communities of color when distributing the COVID-19 vaccine.
Drafted by Councilmember Julieta Altamirano-Crosby, the letter included a statement that the state has “severely neglected” communities of color since the start of the pandemic last year.
“We (have) mentioned the disparities in race and ethnicities (and) we talk about how COVID(-19) impacts the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities,” Altamirano-Crosby said. “I invite you to join me in supporting this letter.”
In Washington state, Latinos make up 13.2% of the population but constitute 32% of the COVID-19 cases.
The letter received general support from the council, but some took issue with a statement that Snohomish County also has done nothing to help communities of color. As a result, some council members – along with Mayor Nicola Smith — said they would not sign the letter as drafted and requested that the language about the county’s work be softened.
“I don’t think that’s a good message because there’s a lot going on,” Mayor Smith said.
Councilmember Frizzell agreed that the letter didn’t accurately represent work done in the county. After reading multiple reports, Frizzell said she did not see any mention about vaccines being disproportionately distributed in Snohomish County and therefore would not support the letter’s claim that was the case.
Frizzell also asked if Altamirano-Crosby had any suggestions for solutions that could be included in the letter instead of just pointing out perceived problems.
“If we could have a solution in (the letter) I think that would go a long way as well,” she said.
Councilmember Shannon Sessions also said she would prefer the language regarding the county’s work be softened before endorsing the letter but agreed with its message.
“Anything we can do to encourage faster (distribution) and more focus on these communities would be helpful,” she said.
Council Vice President Jim Smith was supportive of the letter, saying it’s important to get the message across that communities of color should be prioritized. Since there are higher rates of infection in those populations, it makes sense they should be prioritized during vaccine distribution, he added.
“We have seen where the high infection rates are,” he said. “This particular letter is just trying to keep this front and center to the governor’s office.”
Following the discussion, Altamirano-Crosby agreed to make the recommended changes before sending the letter to the governor’s office.
Also during the meeting, the council unanimously confirmed Mayor Smith’s appointment of Michelle Meyer to serve as the City’s next finance director. Meyer’s first official day on the job will be March 29.
With more than 20 years in local government finance, Smith said Meyer’s strengths include creating diverse and adaptable teams and being able to provide enhanced service delivery in spite of limited resources.
“I think Director Meyer’s wide range of financial leadership skills and experience will keep our finance team moving forward as we continue to strive for greater accountability and transparency in city finance,” she said.
Speaking briefly to her appointment, Meyer thanked the mayor and council and said she looks forward to working in Lynnwood.
“The city has so much going on right now,” she said. “I’m excited to step in and be a part of all that.”
–By Cody Sexton