With no one offering comments during a public hearing and no council discussion, the Mountlake Terrace City Council at its Monday, Nov. 21 business meeting unanimously approved a staff recommendation to increase both the city’s general fund property tax and EMS (Emergency Medical Services) levies by 1% in 2023.
The vote was 5-0, with Councilmembers Doug McCardle and Laura Sonmore absent.
Under the 1% tax hike approved Monday night, the total increase will be $33 per year for the average tax bill — a $26 increase for the general fund levy and additional $7 annually for EMS levy.
You can read more details about the tax proposals in our story summarizing the council’s Nov. 17 work/study ssession here.
Most of Monday night’s meeting, however, was devoted to a proposal that would allow police to issue a trespass notice to individuals who exhibit disruptive, abusive or criminal behavior while in city buildings or on city property.
This is the second time the council has discussed the matter in the past month. On Nov. 3, Mountlake Terrace Police Chief Pete Caw explained that the proposed ordinance was drafted with the idea of balancing both the need to protect city staff and an individual’s constitutional rights and rights to due process.
Under the draft ordinance, an individual receiving a trespass warning would be banned from the premises where the violation occurred for up to seven days for a first offense, and for a longer duration for multiple offenses. The ordinance wouldn’t apply to parks property, as the city already has legislation on the books allowing trespass warnings and/or exclusion from city parks for such behavior. The trespass ordinance also does not apply to members of the public attending city council meetings.
But during that Nov. 3 meeting, Councilmember Erin Murray said she had concerns about the portion of the draft ordinance that addresses disruptive behavior, adding she was particularly worried about the subjectivity of “what is unreasonably disruptive, who is unreasonably disruptive, are certain groups of people considered to be unreasonably disruptive to others for the same behavior.” She also said she believes it’s important to view such a policy “through an equity lens.”
As a result, Caw agreed to discuss those concerns with City Attorney Hillary Evans to see if the language could be adjusted. In his followup to the council Monday night, Caw said he met with Evans, the city manager and members of the city’s executive leadership team to discuss the points raised Nov. 3, adding “it was the general consensus that proposed language in the ordinance was appropriately specific and did not create any equity concerns.”
Murray said she was disappointed with that response. “My concerns remain because unfortunately we are still seeing the same draft of the resolution that was put before us several weeks ago,” Murray said, adding that she had hoped that the city “could get to a better solution.”
She also pointed to public comments offered Monday night by William Paige Jr., chair of the city’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission (DEIC), suggesting that the draft tresspassing ordinance needed additional work. During his comments, Paige said he believed the ordinance “deserves further conversation because there’s too much ambiguity in this language and at least too much open to interpretation.”
Murray said that while she wants to ensure “that our staff have what they need in order to feel safe and be safe,” she added that “it feels really hard to move forward with this given that we didn’t make the adjustments that we could have.”
City Attorney Evans said that the group did take a look at what could be changed, and “we are stuck. One of the problems inherent in policing is that you are relying on a police officer to make a reasoned judgment based on their training and experience. We would love to make adjustments to language, I just couldn’t think of any. Our team couldn’t think of any.”
Both Evans and Caw noted there was some urgency in the matter, with Caw citing recent incidents that have made city employees feel unsafe. “This is something that needs to be done for the safety of staff,” Evans said.
Murray replied that while she appreciated the effort, she noted that “city staff does not represent the demographics of our community.” She asked that the ordinance be brought before Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission “and give them an opportunity to get to a place where this is less likely to have unintentional consequences in the execution.”
Mayor Pro Tem Bryan Wahl said he would also like to have the ordinance go before the DEIC for their feedback, but noted the concerns that the ordinance be approved quickly to address staff safety concerns.
Then Councilmember Steve Woodard weighed in, noting that he read the ordinance “as a Black man,” adding “I want to be as clear as possible we did have an equity lens on this — at least Steve Woodard did — and I would encourage some of you to own the equity lens that you have, and that’s acceptable as well.
“What I don’t want to do is have our staff remaining in some sense of fear…while we figure out how to be comfortable with it,” Woodard continued. “We are doing as good as we can do, I do think we can do better, but I don’t want to stall this any further.”
Woodward then asked if the council could pass an ordinance Monday night, then possibly amend it after the DEIC has an opportunity to weigh in — noting that the group was likely to meet next in December.
” I do want to support that the DEIC would absolutely bring a solid lens to this. I just don’t know that we can’t do both,” Woodard said.
City Attorney Evans replied that the ordinance could be amended at any time if the council chose to do so.
Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright noted that she is also a person of color on the council and doesn’t have a problem with the ordinance. “We all have our own lenses and we all have our one vote,” she said.
The council approved the ordinance as written by a 4-1 vote, with Councilmembers Matsumoto Wright, Rick Ryan, Wahl and Woodard voting yes.
In casting the “no” vote, Councilmember Murray stressed that while she supported the safety of staff, “we had two and a half weeks to go about having this conversation and could have come before the DEIC (at its last meeting), and I do think that if it was an urgent of an issue as we are being told it is, then we had ample opportunity to have those conversations and do that work before it came back to us tonight.”
In his report to the council Monday night, interim City Manager Andrew Neiditz said that the city last week launched its process for recruiting a new city manager to replace former City Manager Scott Hugill, who announced his resignation Oct. 3. Advertising for the position will begin in December, with a list of finalists likely in early February and interviews with candidates in early March, Neiditz said.
The city is also prepared to launch the application process to fill the council vacancy that will occur with the resignation of Position 3 Councilmember Doug McCardle, who is leaving Dec. 19.
Finally, Neiditz noted that Veterans Park will be closed for safety reasons from Nov. 30-Dec. 2 because Sound Transit will be conducted geotechnical work as part of the Link light rail extension.
— By Teresa Wippel