Meeting in person, Lynnwood City Council debates rules regarding virtual attendance

City Council members salute the flag before beginning their in-person meeting Monday. 

While Lynnwood city councilmembers voiced their enthusiasm for being able to once again meet in person, they were unable to find consensus during their Monday night business meeting on how often councilmembers could choose to participate remotely.

New council rules regarding the return of in-person meetings were a major focus of Monday’s discussion, along with other agenda items.

Council President George Hurst moved to adopt an ordinance allowing councilmembers to attend virtually. However, his motion did not include a limit of three call-ins annually, which had been discussed at last week’s meeting. As a result, the motion failed for lack of a second.

Councilmember Shannon Sessions immediately made a new motion, stating that councilmembers would be allowed to virtually attend meetings, at a limit of three times per year. 

Councilmember Josh Binda then moved to amend Sessions’ motion by adding a clause stating that councilmembers did not need permission from council leaders to virtually attend. Councilmembers would be allowed to attend virtually whenever they saw fit, as long as they did not exceed the limit of three call-ins.

Speaking to Sessions’ motion, Hurst said he disagreed with limiting the number of virtual attendances allowed, adding he was unsure if the council even legally could under Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t think you can limit a councilmember … from being able to attend a meeting, no matter how they do it,” Hurst said. “Whether it’s remote, or in person, the governor’s proclamation … allows for remote attendance [for government officials]. So for us to now limit it to a number, I’m not sure if we can even do that.”

Councilmember Jim Smith said he believes councilmembers should have a limit on virtual attendance.

“If we have a councilmember that just decides they want to just stay on their couch and don’t bother meeting in person without any other reason for that, I don’t want to say I’m insulted, but it bothers me that someone would want to be doing that as opposed to being in person,” Smith said. “We’ve already seen how important it is. We want to do everything we can to encourage councilmembers to be in person.”

Councilmember Binda then weighed in, stating that the council should not be limited on their number of virtual meetings.

“I kind of agree with what Councilmember Hurst was saying in terms of if the proclamation still exists … that remote access is allowed, I don’t think it’s in our jurisdiction to not allow that,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re capable of that.”

Binda’s amendment to Sessions’ motion regarding permission for meeting attendance failed 2-4, with Councilmembers Hurst, Smith, Sutton and Decker voting against it. Councilmember Altamirano-Crosby was absent from Monday’s meeting and therefore could not vote on the matter.

Then, before Sessions’ original motion could be voted on, Smith proposed an amendment stating that councilmembers would not be allowed to virtually attend any executive sessions. 

Before councilmembers could vote on Smith’s amendment, he made yet another motion to postpone this discussion for two weeks so the council could learn whether it can limit remote meeting attendance.

The motion passed unanimously.

In other business, the council heard from Deputy Chief of Police Chuck Steichen regarding proposed fees for redacting body camera footage.

State law provides that certain body-worn camera recordings, or portions thereof, are exempt from disclosure in certain circumstances. That same statute allows a law enforcement agency to require reasonable payment for the costs of redacting, altering, distorting, pixelating, suppressing or otherwise obscuring any portion of a body-worn camera recording. 

The Lynnwood Police Department has proposed a fee of 98 cents per minute, or $58.94 an hour. 

This fee, according to Steichen, would only cover the cost of labor for the individual redacting the video. In addition, the cost would reflect the length of time it takes an employee to redact the video – not the redacted video length itself. 

Steichen pointed out that since there are usually multiple officers on the scene of any crime, the cost of redacting each body camera video can get quite high, and the agency would like to recover the base cost of employment for the individual doing the redacting – nothing more.

“I’d like to say it’s a minute for a minute of video, but that’s not the case at all,” Steichen said. “You actually have to go through frame by frame of the video that’s captured. There’s a whole host of things that we have to pull out of that. If there’s juveniles involved in the crime, certain victims in the crime, parties that are uninvolved in the event: That all has to be redacted out of the video before we can release it to the public.”

Steichen went on to say that these fees would not be imposed on certain parties, such as defense attorneys or any other direct parties that were involved in the incident. 

A public hearing will be held on the matter in two weeks at the council’s regularly scheduled meeting. 

Deputy Chief of Police Chuck Steichen speaks regarding proposed body camera redaction fees.

The council also heard a presentation from Association of Washington Cities (AWC) Government Relations Deputy Director Carl Schroeder, who discussed the 2022 state Legislature’s consideration of multifamily housing bills – which did not pass – aimed at providing “missing middle” housing statewide. 

Each year, a delegation of city leaders and elected officials travel to Olympia for the AWC annual City Action Days conference. While there, they attend conferences and workshops and meet with state lawmakers to lobby on behalf of Lynnwood’s priorities.

Schroeder said that leaders discussed the proposed housing legislation, known as “missing middle bill,” and how it relates to Lynnwood’s housing situation.

“The concept there was we have a fairly robust single-family, detached white picket fence housing market,” he said. “Then we also have a lot of building going on in some communities for larger, multi-family … large apartment buildings. And we haven’t seen the delivery of that sort of middle of that housing spectrum. So things like duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, et cetera, which can provide a really important housing opportunity for folks who want to live in that kind of environment or can’t afford what is available in some of the other housing types.”

While some cities have looked forward to having more “middle ground” housing built, many don’t see positive outcomes regarding the bill, according to Schroeder. This has caused problems.

According to Schroeder, Gov. Jay Inslee – who supported the “missing middle” legislation – said the only reason housing like this is not being built is because cities “had their head in the sand and only wanted to protect the status quo, or were listening too intently to the existing homeowners.” However, Schroeder sees the issue as far more complicated than that.

The rising cost of land and limited availability are just two of the many challenges cities are facing with the state’s current housing crisis.

The “missing middle bill” received a negative reaction from Councilmember Patrick Decker.

“[Schroeder] characterized state action related to forcing cities to allow multi-family housing in single-family neighborhoods as far reaching,” Decker said. “I would characterize it as overreaching, far beyond just far reaching. Olympia feels we are listening too much to local homeowners? Listening to local homeowners and residents is exactly what I was elected to do. Does Olympia believe that this council should not be listening to the residents of this city and instead be listening to our state legislators for what is best for our city? I recognize that Olympia does not like to listen to their voters, as evidenced by their recent actions. But this councilmember is always going to listen to the folks living in this city. That’s my job. Preserving single-family neighborhoods in this city is smart, it’s safe and it’s important.”

Decker went on to say that pushing multi-family housing into single-family neighborhoods is going to make parking issues even worse. There is already a lack of on-street parking in many of Lynnwood’s neighborhoods, but bringing in twice, or four times, the amount of traffic will be catastrophic, he said.

“That’s not what Lynnwood wants,” Decker said. “That’s not our culture. It may be Olympia’s culture … but it is definitely not our culture.”

In other business, the council held a public hearing regarding the proposed Harris Ford expansion project on Highway 99. The project includes demolishing the existing satellite showroom, constructing a new single-story, 4,300-square-foot showroom, and expanding the sales lot around the new showroom. For the expansion to take place, Harris Ford will need to purchase a small portion of 64th Avenue West from the city.

In return, Harris Ford has offered to use some of their existing property to add a dedicated right-turn lane on 200th Street Southwest to mitigate traffic issues. 

Lynnwood’s Economic Development Manager Ben Wolters said the block of 64th Avenue West was appraised at approximately $1.2 million. In addition, construction of the right-turn lane was estimated at $145,000. 

One public commenter said the city should not make the deal with Harris Ford if the monetary rewards are skewed toward benefiting the dealership.

“I think you’re not getting the fair value for the city, and that’s your duty,” he said. 

He also raised concerns about vacating a portion of city property merely for the expansion of a car lot. The commenter said the city should be more cautious about how much land it willingly vacates for small matters like this.

“I’m concerned every time you vacate property because then it’s gone forever,” he said.

Another commenter said Harris Ford seems to be making promises they don’t know if they can keep. According to the speaker, the dedicated right-hand turn lane can only be constructed with the state’s approval, and so far, he hasn’t seen anything from the state regarding this matter. 

He also raised concern about the amount of foot traffic that frequents the intersection. With Edmonds College just a few blocks away, he is worried the turn lane could increase the potential for fatal accidents.

“You’re going to create a racetrack,” he said. “[Cars are] going to come through there like you wouldn’t believe.”

The commenter cautioned the council to consider these things before approving the expansion.

The council also unanimously authorized a grant application for the Parks, Recreation & Cultural Arts Department to complete projects regarding the Town Square Park acquisition, Sprague’s Pond Park addition, Scriber Lake Park Boardwalk Trail and Scriber Creek trail improvements.

— By Lauren Reichenbach

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