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“Building bridges” effort aims to repair post-election divide

SNOHOMISH — Nearly 50 people came to learn about local government, and to heal a community divided by a contentious mayoral election at an inaugural event hosted by Snohomish Building Bridges on Thursday night, Feb. 1.
Co-organizer Lya Badgley said the event wasn’t to complain about potholes, water bills or barking dogs, but to start the healing process and weave the separate strands of the citizenry into a warm, comfy sweater.
Before turning the floor over to presenter Steve Schuller, the city’s interim administrator, Badgley laid out Building Bridges two rules: no politics and no social media.
Schuller then took the stage at Looking Glass Coffee to provide a humorous overview of 10 key points about Snohomish city operations.
He began with a quote by Franklin Roosevelt: “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us.” After reminding the crowd that they were servant leaders, Schuller spoke about the role of elected leaders.
His second point was that politicians expect Monday morning analysis, just like football players after a Sunday game, but they’re still charged with making bold decisions.
Those decisions are limited to a specific service area the city administrator defined in point three. That area includes utilities, law enforcement, transportation, parks and planning which the city manages using less than $18 million annually.
Given government’s responsibilities and limits, there is still room for the city to get creative per Schuller’s fourth point. He credited the generous community for inspiring that creativity in projects like hosting the privately funded Snohomish Senior Center on city land.
Schuller focused on the importance of shopping locally, for pants to be specific, in his fifth point, that at times, there is no direct tie between the service and the tax. But by buying pants locally, Schuller highlighted the opportunity for residents to increase sales tax revenue, the city’s number one general fund source.
The importance of economic development, another essential element of city funding, was point six. Schuller shared how economic development including business retention and expansion, new business growth and development, and tourism were critical to services from maintaining parks to maintaining bathrooms.
Schuller shared just how competitive the city’s limited funds pool was in point seven: non-essential services such as the food bank utility bill and Economic Alliance of Snohomish County were funded from a tiny total yearly pool of $38,850.
The conversation was punctuated with questions from the crowd about how the city raised money and paid its bills. And the crowd scrupulously kept to the rule against discussing politics.
That helped the group steer clear of issue number eight on Schuller’s list, that the city is continually asked to solve problems that are not its to unravel. Schuller took a soft line on that point though, saying that while sometimes the city could tackle problems outside it’s five main services, administrators would at least refer people to the right place for help if the city wasn’t that place.
Those partnerships were the second to last point in Schuller’s presentation. He spoke to the importance of synchronizing with non-government groups for the city to thrive, from the farmers market to the Snohomish Health District and Kla Ha Ya Days organizers.
Snohomish is a ship in a large ocean was the 10th point the city administrator opted to share with the civic minded crowd. As he discussed how Snohomish and neighboring communities straddled the balance between urban growth and preserving the area’s natural beauty, he segued into a secret bonus topic.
The forward-looking topic was phrased as a question: “What innovation will have a major transformative impact in 2021?” The answer: autonomous vehicles.


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