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Volunteer commission may take on Snohomish social issues

SNOHOMISH — As drug addiction, homelessness and mental illness take a growing toll on the community, it is time to craft a comprehensive plan to address them according to City Councilman Tom Merrill.
Merrill and Councilwoman Linda Redmon attended the January Public Safety Commission (PSC) meeting with a proposition: though the PSC would be without a budget, they would have a big voice in shaping city policy on important social issues.
Merrill said he would like to see the PSC sponsoring community conversations, working with other agencies to learn about their programs and needs, and bringing recommendations to the City Council. The council set a goal in 2017 to define the city’s role and strategy on those issues, and after reviewing the various commissions’ charters, Merrill said he found the PSC was best match for that goal.
Merrill has floated the idea at council meetings and with colleagues. He said the mood has been supportive. He plans to discuss the PSC project again during the council comments period at Tuesday’s City Council meeting which happened after press time.
In the meantime, the PSC took up the charge at its Feb. 13 meeting, collaborating with Merrill and Redmon on a town hall, tentatively scheduled for May 1.
Commission members, including Chair Ty Hammond, Police Chief Keith Rogers, and neighborhood block watch organizer Donna Ray brainstormed about the format, structure, and partner agencies for a town hall.
Commissioner B.J. Meyer and Fire Board Commission Jim Schomker* agreed to spearhead the town hall planning.
“Talk to your neighbors (first), have a town hall in miniature,” Simmons said. Others recommended research online and calling local agencies to gather facts and form relationships.
Merrill was inspired to assign the commissioners the new duties after learning more about the issues at
local forums and confronting the city’s lack of a comprehensive plan head-on at a City Council meeting.
“Last year I was at a forum at (Snohomish High School) … dealing with various agencies, a food bank and several others, saying here’s what we’re doing, and I talked to some city people who said, ‘yeah, we don’t have a place at that table.’
“This is a serious problem and we need to be at the table working on it,” Merrill said.
A citizen-led plan to hold a series of homelessness forums fell apart last year as the initial key organizers drifted away.
After the Jan. 2 City Council meeting where sanctioned drug injection sites were discussed, Merrill said he saw there was no framework or philosophy guiding decisions.
“The planning commission isn’t the place to start, it’s a one-off, we need a more comprehensive look at what we’re going to do, not what we’re not going to do,” Merrill said in an interview.
 “I don’t want that to happen again,” Merrill told the PSC in January. He referred to the council opting for a six-month moratorium banning drug injection sites in Snohomish. The moratorium closed a land use code loophole, but did not solve the larger issues surrounding opioid addiction.
 “Gee, real work? That’s something we’ve been looking for for 10 years,” Schmoker* said. He wasn’t alone in his enthusiasm for the project: PSC members committed to the undertaking unanimously. Long-time commissioners have often discussed seeking a higher purpose as a City Council advisory board.
One change the group will contend with during the town hall planning process is the departure of its chair. Hammond said at the Feb. 13 meeting that he did not plan to retain his seat after his term expired in April.
The PSC is also engaging with the city on its neighborhood block watch coalition plans, which feature a web page on the city site. Ray will lead a presentation on the block watch at a City Council workshop at 5 p.m. on March 20.
The Public Safety Commission meets on the second Tuesday of the month at 5 p.m. in the Fire District 4 Training Annex,1525 Ave. D.
Commission opening
The city of Snohomish is seeking applicants to fill the vacancy on the Public Safety Commission board.
Applications may be completed online or picked up and submitted at City Hall. Applications will be accepted into March. The specific Mid-March deadline will be announced soon.
Applications are available at City Hall at 116 Union Ave. or online at www.snohomishwa.gov
The commission acts in an advisory capacity to the Chief of Police, among other roles.
The commission also reviews law enforcement priorities, the Neighborhood Block Watch program, and coordinates with the Snohomish County Fire Protection District No. 4 on public safety priorities.
A public safety commission member’s term runs for four years. The commission’s membership consists of city residents and business owners who operate businesses within city limits.
All city board and commission members are volunteers who serve without compensation.



* - CORRECTION Feb. 28
In two stories that included reporting from January’s Public Safety Commission meeting, published Jan. 24 titled “Snohomish block watch efforts may soon go digital” and published Feb. 21 titled “Volunteer commission may take on social issues,” Fire District No. 4 Fire Chief Ron Simmons was incorrectly attributed in quotes. The correct attribution is to Fire Board Commissioner Jim Schmoker.
The Tribune regrets the errors.

  

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