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Stuck in the middle: Deputy mayor acts as swing vote

  • Written by Briana Gerdeman

The first time some Woodinville citizens might have heard of now-Deputy Mayor James Evans was a letter sent last summer by Councilmember Susan Boundy-Sanders that reached the wrong hands.

Even that letter, in which Boundy-Sanders supported Evans as a candidate for City Council, mentioned getting Evans to pick a side. (Evans wasn’t involved in writing the letter.)

“James seems to understand that Liz is The Mean Cafeteria Lady, and I’ve told James that Lucy DeYoung is The Evil Bitch-Queen, but Liz and Lucy will be starting NOW to try to pull him over to the Dark Side,” Boundy-Sanders wrote.
Evans, now more than halfway through his first year on the City Council, acknowledges that he hasn’t picked a side.
“There are those that think I regret being seen as a swing vote, but that’s not accurate,” he said. “...I’m proud that people see me as someone who’s going to make up my mind on each issue, rather than voting in a block.”

He added, “I think there were two sides that were both disappointed because they thought I would vote in lockstep like some kind of junior member.”

Most recently, Evans acted as a swing vote at the five-hour council meeting to appoint a new council member.
The council was split 3-3 after several rounds of votes, and it seemed that the voting would continue at the next meeting.

“Deputy Mayor Evans and I have had some conversations about these text messages, anonymous letters left on his doorstep and anonymous phone calls — the enormous pressure that he is under as the perceived swing vote, and so I am very sympathetic to that,” Boundy-Sanders said at the meeting.

Evans, who said both candidates were well-qualified, ultimately changed his vote, and Hank Stecker became the newest council member.

“It was clear that all I was going to do was make a point by leaving town and let them vote Hank [Stecker] in next week,” Evans said.

Evans confirmed later that he often receives lots of feedback from citizens, although he couldn’t say whether other council members received as much pressure.

“Anything that involves appointment of people” is a hot topic, he said, and he’s gotten about 35 comments regarding appointments the council has made, including the mayoral vote at the beginning of the year, the appointment of Stecker to the planning commission in March and the recent appointment of Stecker to the council.

Those three votes show the lines along which the council is divided. Paula Waters, Evans, Bernie Talmas and Boundy-Sanders voted the same way, as did Les Rubstello, Liz Aspen and (former Councilmember) Scott Hageman.
Evans also got lots of feedback from citizens on the recent zoning changes that will make it easier for Apple Farm Village to build a hotel in the Hollywood District; on Woodinville’s efforts to stop construction of Wellington Hills County Park in Snohomish County; and on the council’s decision in May to increase its authority to amend the zoning code.
Especially in a “homogeneous community like Woodinville,” Evans said, “most people want to get to the same place. Usually the disagreement is how we get there.”

He added that he agrees with “every single council member up there” 80 percent of the time.

In the case of Wellington Hills County Park, there was broad opposition to the park, but disagreement about whether the city should use its political resources to try to stop the park and a lack of knowledge about how much power the city had, Evans said.

When it came to the issue of hotel development, he said, everybody liked the idea of small cottage-style hotel rooms and reasonable zoning requirements in the Hollywood District, but there was disagreement about development in the Sammamish Valley.

“I like hearing from people, so I don’t regret getting these calls,” Evans said.

However, he hopes those citizens call all the other council members too, and he wishes more other council members were willing to act as swing votes. He wants to make moderateness and “being willing to have a discussion” big issues in the next election.

“The misunderstanding is, ‘Woe is me, I’m a swing vote,’” he said. “I wish there were more of us in that situation.”
Tom Quigley — who regularly attends council meetings, owns a business in Woodinville and applied for the vacant council member position — also said council members should be willing to change their minds, and that the public can “bring some balance back” to the often-divided council if it wishes.

“It’s really weird that there’s those alignments. They’re obviously not voting on merit, they’re voting on groupthink,” Quigley said, adding, “Woodinville has a long history of divisiveness on the council. I don’t know why that is.”

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