By Noel Pai-Young | Lynnwood Times Staff
Lynnwood, Wash., February 27, 2021 – A motion to delay the Race and Social Justice (RSJ) Coordinator position passed at Monday’s city council meeting. Majority of the council stated that the work scope for the position was ambiguous and that the timing for the creation of a new position as the city is recovering from last year’s financial hardship wasn’t prudent.
From Monday’s meeting, there appears to be some confusion on whether the city ever carried through with a hiring freeze the Mayor stated she implemented in a May 8, 2020 memorandum.
RSJ Coordinator discussion and vote
The city council voted 4-3 to delay the hiring of an RSJ Coordinator until the outcome measures based on the city’s Budgeting for Outcomes model is defined and the results of the Lynnwood Community Equity Survey be presented to the council. Councilmembers Christine Frizzell, Ruth Ross, and Shannon Sessions were the dissenting votes.
Council President Hurst expressed that presentations by various parties in the council’s work session on Feb 16 lacked a defined job description and outcome measures based on the city’s Budgeting for Outcomes model. He further added that the research presented at the work session was the same information on the table before the council at its November 23 meeting last year when a motion to delay hiring for the position passed by a 4-3 vote.
Hurst clarified that he is not against the position but simply wants to make sure it is set up for success.
Councilmembers Frizzell, Ross and Sessions expressed their disagreement, asserting that the position is needed, ready for hiring, and wanted by the community.
Jim Smith shared his support of more research, data and structure around the RSJ Coordinator position and added that the city was in a hiring freeze.
“On March 31 the Mayor implemented some initial remedial steps to address fiscal adjustments necessitated by underperforming revenues and instructed department directors to address the following policies that include a temporary hiring freeze as described in A and B below,” Smith read from an April 9, 2020 report sent to all city council members and the Council Finance Committee by former Finance Director Sonja Springer.
Smith continued, “No new employee positions will be considered” and that “hiring to fill vacant positions is discouraged. Filling vacant positions will be considered on a case-by-case basis.”
Smith added that hiring is only permissible when “operationally essential” according to the report from the previous finance director. He also shared that to his recollection, the city laid off 30 persons because of the pandemic.
“The word games don’t work with me. This is a brand-new position. If you look at what was on the city council or on the books for the city three years ago, there was no position that was called this. So, I agree that there may be a time to add this position but now is not the time.”
In a statement to the Lynnwood Times regarding the Mayor’s hiring freeze and when it was lifted, Lynnwood Communications and Public Affairs Officer Julie Moore stated, “We never had a hiring freeze. The Mayor refilled vacant positions on a case-by-case basis. She delayed refilling certain positions as a cost savings measure, critical positions were rehired as needed.”
Yet a memorandum dated May 8 of last year from Mayor Smith, listed implementing a “hiring freeze” and that “only critical vacancies were being filled” as one of several cost-saving measures that were applied to mitigate the effects of lost revenues because of the pandemic’s impact on Lynnwood’s budget.
Click here to view May 8, 2020 memorandum.
Councilmember Dr. Julieta Altamirano-Crosby, during Monday’s council meeting, expressed discontentment with the city council for not listening to the Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) community and for not considering the 200-person survey she facilitated that supported the need of a Social Worker and not an RSJ Coordinator.
In December of last year, Dr. Altamirano-Crosby shared a random survey she conducted that received 200 responses from families, business owners and students in the Lynnwood area. The purpose of the survey was to give Lynnwood residents a voice by asking what they think should be a priority for the city Dr. Altamirano-Crosby told the Lynnwood Times. The survey question asked was:
During this time, with the COVID-19 crisis present, do you believe that the City of Lynnwood should hire:
- Social Worker and Community Outreach
- Race and Social Equity Coordinator/Advisor of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Out of a random sample of 200 responses, 167 (or 83.5%) advocated for a Social Worker, 18 (or 9%) considered neither one, 12 (or 6%) selected Diversity and Inclusion/Social Justice coordinator and three chose other.
In December, Dr. Altamirano-Crosby provided a statement to the Lynnwood Times when asked why she supports the delay of hiring an RSJ Coordinator.
“The recent decision to halt the hire of a Diversity and Inclusion Director/Social Justice Coordinator for the City of Lynnwood, must be understood not as a decision against the very urgent and pressing matter of social justice, but in its favor.”
She shared that the original intent back in 2018 was to fulfill an administrative need but after last summer and the Black Lives Matter movement, such a position is now antiquated.
“The demands coming out of our social realities demand that we re-imagine such position to serve our communities in meaningful, on-the-ground initiatives and not only at the administrative level,” wrote Dr. Altamirano-Crosby.
“The current economic challenges caused by the pandemic may point out to first dedicate our efforts to make sure our communities can access whatever resources our city can offer to alleviate their situations,” Dr. Altamirano-Crosby added referring back to the 200-person survey she facilitated last December.
“The results make clear to me that our scarce resources at the city should focus on hiring a social worker that can help our communities access services. Also, that the Diversity and Inclusion position, while also a priority, must be re-design first to meet the social demands of 2020.”
Dr. Altamirano-Crosby, the first and only Latina to serve on the Lynnwood City Council, clearly expressed in her statement that her actions are unequivocally congruent with the needs and the well-being of Lynnwood residents.
“I will never speak for anybody”, she wrote. “For two years, when I came to this country, I didn’t have a voice; so, I respect the voices of the community.”
Public Affairs Officer Julie Moore clarified with the Lynnwood Times that the purpose of the survey was not to justify the need for the RSJ Coordinator but to help shape the scope of work for the position.
“The survey is going to inform and shape the work of the RSJ Coordinator,” Moore wrote to the Lynnwood Times. “The position is not contingent on the outcomes of the survey.”
However, contrary to Moore’s statement, DEI Chair Naz Lashgari in her February 16 statement to the Lynnwood Times after the council’s work session indicated that the RSJ Coordinator position was contingent on the community’s support.
“The City of Lynwood is going to be conducting a thorough survey that will be considering Lynnwood’s population and the BIPOC communities,” wrote Lashgari. “To determine the need for a Race and Social Justice position I believe we need more than 0.54% of the population’s opinion to determine the DEI direction of the City.”
When asked by the Lynnwood Times if Mayor Smith has made the decision to move forward with filling the RSJ Coordinator position despite a vote by the council to delay it, Moore wrote, “At this point I do not know what the next steps are after Monday night’s council meeting.”
Confirmation of new Finance Director and DEI Commissioner
The council unanimously voted Michelle Meyer as Lynnwood’s new finance director effective March 29. Meyer replaces the city’s previous Finance Director, Sonja Springer, who retired in December of 2020.
Mayor Smith requested the confirmation of Meyer calling her, “progressively responsible.”
“Her strengths include building diverse, adaptable teams, and enhancing service delivery despite limited resources,” said Mayor Smith. “She strives to embody servant leadership in all of her actions and values transparency, collaboration and integrity.”
Meyer was the former finance director for the City of Mukilteo from 2017 to September of 2020. Prior to her tenure in Mukilteo, Meyer worked in finance for the City of Bel Aire, Kansas.
In another appointment, Selam Habte was confirmed unanimously to the DEI Commission. Council Vice President Smith shared that Habte will be a good addition to the DEI Commission. Habte thanked the group and shared her eagerness to collaborate with others to better Lynnwood.
Mayor Nicola Smith addressed concerns by residents of vaccine shortages by sharing that next week residents should see an increase in vaccine availability. She added that the threshold to receive a second dose is 42 days.