Bellevue City Council selects Ernie Simas to fill vacancy

Ernie Simas will join the Bellevue City Council until November. Courtesy of Facebook

After more than two months without a complete dais, the Bellevue City Council voted 5-1 Monday night to approve Ernie Simas as a temporary council member.

The council has been down a member since Vandana Slatter accepted the 48th Legislative District’s state representative position in early January, and the council spent time fielding interested candidates and conducting interviews. Several times in the last month, council members were asked to vote but had reached an impasse.

The council received 43 letters of interest and narrowed it down to eight qualified candidates who had experience on city commissions and committees. Simas has experience on the Civil Service Commission, as past chair of the Transportation Commission, on the Bellevue Downtown Livability Committee as co-chair and the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce.

“I’m just thrilled to be given the opportunity,” he said in a press release. “After four weeks of deciding, I was kind of wondering when they would choose. I think the other seven candidates were highly qualified and any one of them would have done a superb job in the position.”

Simas will be sworn in at the April 3 council meeting and will serve until the November general election. He said he is already planning to run for a council position that month.

At Monday’s council meeting, council members were given a chance to speak about their choices before the vote.

Most reaffirmed their support for their first-choice candidate. Deputy Mayor John Chelminiak spoke favorably of candidate and former Mayor John Degginger’s civic experience.

Mayor John Stokes gave support to candidate Janice Zahn, while Councilmember Jennifer Robertson urged her fellow council members to think of geographic diversity on the council.

No current council member lives in the northeast half of the city, she claimed, leaving neighborhoods like Bridle Trails, Crossroads, Lake Hills and Overlake unrepresented on the council.

Simas, the ultimate choice, lives near Odle Middle School and Sammamish High School, representing the northeastern-most of the council members. Councilmember Conrad Lee cast the only nay vote, choosing Jared Nieuwenhuis.

Simas said he was facing a lot of upcoming challenges on the council, and was ready for the opportunity.

“For example, Fire Station 10,” he said. “I don’t know all the details yet, but I know it’s a sensitive issue that needs to be addressed, and I know I’m not going to make everyone happy.”

Each council member was allowed to vote for one candidate per round of voting, and — because no secret ballots were allowed — each member of the council voted publicly for a candidate.

Candidate John deVadoss withdrew his interest Monday morning.

With six voting council members and seven finalist candidates, only four votes were needed for one candidate to fill the interim position until November, when it goes up for re-election along with Positions 2, 4 and 6.

Simas is the vice president and chief operating and financial officer at a location management business. He served as long-time chair on the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce’s transportation committee and has served on the city of Bellevue’s Transportation Commission for eight years.

He has cited his business and transportation knowledge as keys to his tenure on the council.

“One of the conflicts out there is how we can preserve the nature of neighborhoods while strengthening our economic cores,” Simas said. “As well as light rail. I know not everyone loves it, but that’s going to carry a lot of people to and from work every day.”

He said focusing on all methods of transportation, from mass transit to self-driving vehicles, to ridesharing, biking and walking should be the council’s major priority.

In his letter to the city expressing interest, Simas pinpointed modernized transportation and improving neighborhood connections as some of his main goals.

“Diversity will continue to be our strength,” he wrote. “Our reputation for being a ‘best place to live’ will be even stronger. Our neighborhoods will continue to have their own identities, be vibrant, safe and well maintained. Our smaller neighborhood retail centers will reflect their neighborhood. Our major retail centers that provide a robust commercial and retail environment will make Bellevue the Eastside anchor city. Our transportation needs will continue to grow, evolve and be more diverse in methods of movement. Our city will have a robust light rail system that moves thousands of people per day. Yet, we will still be very reliant on personal vehicles for fulfilling our daily activities.”

Simas, a “Hispanic immigrant,” said he will bring a unique point of view to the council as someone raised in another culture and with little money.

Also in council news:

• The council was briefed last week on the initial success of the Utilities Department’s recently-deployed mobile devices program. The program is part of the Utilities Mobile Workforce initiative the council adopted in the 2015-16 budget. Staff can now diagnose issues in real time, avoid cumbersome paper maps and logs, reduce the number of miles they have to drive and communicate with non-English speakers via a translation program.

The preliminary batch of 65 iPad Pro tablets were deployed to field staff in December. Based on the last three months of user feedback, the city has already identified areas of improvement including more interactive maps and access to past inspection data.

• The council heard a progress report on the city’s 2015 Pedestrian and Bicycle Implementation Initiative. The initiative identifies strategies to carry out projects and programs identified in a plan approved in 2009.

In the 2017-2018 capital budget, these projects are eligible for $1.73 million in pedestrian and bicycle-related funding from the Neighborhood Safety, Connectivity and Congestion levy, approved by voters in November. That revenue is expected to add 16.7 miles of new or upgraded bicycle facilities citywide by 2019.

• The council heard presentations on potential rezoning and code amendments in Eastgate and Interstate 90. A council directive to “build on” that area’s strengths could change how it is zoned. Non-motorized transportation, affordable housing, a proposed homeless shelter and continuing growth of Bellevue College are all considerations.

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