Mercer Island City Council, top from left, Jake Jacobson, Salim Nice, Craig Reynolds and David Rosenbaum; bottom from left, Deputy Mayor Wendy Weiker, Mayor Benson Wong and Lisa Anderl. Photo courtesy of the city of Mercer Island

Mercer Island City Council, top from left, Jake Jacobson, Salim Nice, Craig Reynolds and David Rosenbaum; bottom from left, Deputy Mayor Wendy Weiker, Mayor Benson Wong and Lisa Anderl. Photo courtesy of the city of Mercer Island

Mercer Island City Council steps into the spotlight

Reporter asks members questions to get a feel for council life.

They went from meeting in person to moving their robust and vital discussions about Mercer Island matters into the virtual realm when the pandemic hit.

The Mercer Island City Council’s relationship building is not the same as it was when they met face to face, but the seven members are working together as hard as ever to accomplish what’s best for Islanders. They may not always agree on each issue — seven people in one room (or on seven screens) rarely do — but they are putting the Island in the spotlight when important decisions are made.

The Reporter sent a series of questions to the council to get a glimpse into the members’ lives when they’re studying city issues and when their screens light up come meeting time. We received answers from Mayor Benson Wong, Deputy Mayor Wendy Weiker and councilmembers Craig Reynolds, David Rosenbaum, Jake Jacobson, Salim Nice and Lisa Anderl.

Benson Wong

Benson Wong

Mayor Benson Wong

* What prompted you to want to be a member of city council?

Serving on the Mercer Island City Council is the perfect way to marry my passion for public service with my love of this community. It’s a wonderful place to raise a family and we have enjoyed living here for 36 years. I have served on Island-based organizations, e.g. Mercer Island Rotary Club, Mercer Island Community Fund and Mercer Island Schools Foundation, and on the boards of regional civic organizations, e.g. Washington State Public Affairs Network and the Washington State Public Stadium Authority. Giving back to the community is something I want to live every day.

* What’s the most satisfying part of being involved with city council?

Being on the city council has made me appreciate the complexities of running Mercer Island and the dedication and hard work of our city manager and the entire city staff. Addressing and trying to resolve issues facing this community, especially during these unprecedented times caused by the pandemic, is personally satisfying along with the constant need to study and learn how to improve city operations. I have found there is a never a dull moment on the city council and I hope that my involvement makes me a better corporate resident of our community.

* What’s the biggest challenge you face as a member of the city council?

Without question, the adverse impact to the city’s finances that were caused by the pandemic, and the city’s corresponding reduction of services that the public has historically enjoyed, created the biggest challenge as your mayor. The cost-cutting decisions that the city council had to make to mitigate against the pandemic’s impact were especially difficult. However, the challenge created by the pandemic has fostered new opportunities for the city council. These opportunities require us to re-think how we can best serve our community and utilize our limited resources as we emerge together on the other side of this pandemic.

* What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned during your time on city council?

The greatest lesson that I have learned while on the city council is the importance of listening to the public and to my fellow city councilmembers in order to develop more thoughtful and strategic decisions that better serve the community. I knew before joining the city council that I would not have all of the answers, so having a listening ear is crucial. Since no one has or will ever have a monopoly on good ideas for this community, I believe that whoever serves on the city council needs to be humble enough to realize this truth.

Wendy Weiker

Wendy Weiker

Deputy Mayor Wendy Weiker

* What prompted you to want to be a member of city council?

I ran for MI city council in 2015 and continue to serve because I wanted to have a voice and positive impact on the issues I cared about then and continue to care about now: stewarding our environment, supporting MI families, and sustaining our essential public services.

* What’s the most satisfying part of being involved with city council?

The best part of serving my community is bringing people with diverse perspectives together to solve problems.

* What’s the biggest challenge you face as a member of the city council?

Beyond having limited resources to meet our city’s service level expectations, I believe a bigger challenge is the decline of public trust and civil discourse to address our growing community needs.

* What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned during your time on city council?

I’m honored, grateful, and humbled to have learned so much in serving the MI community. The greatest lesson I’ve learned so far is that not one of us is smarter than all of us. By working together collaboratively with a shared goal we can all accomplish so much for our families, friends, and neighbors on MI. We need to do that now, more than ever, as we look to 2021 and rebuild our post-pandemic lives. #GoMI

Craig Reynolds

Craig Reynolds

Craig Reynolds

* What prompted you to want to be a member of city council?

The city is facing financial, operational, and strategic challenges that I believe my education, professional background, and temperament have prepared me to address. Mercer Island is a wonderful community, with a quality of life that is the envy of the region, and I want to preserve city services that contribute materially to our lives.

In particular, I see the city facing significant long-term financial sustainability challenges. I want the city to have a plan to meet those challenges, so that we can deliver on our commitments to Island residents and remain a full-service city.

* What’s the most satisfying part of being involved with city council?

I welcome the opportunity to make a difference for the community. Islanders value parks and recreation, public safety, social services, sustainability, mobility, and diversity and inclusion. I bring thoughtful analysis and objectivity to ensure that the city does the best it can with the resources that it has. I enjoy having a seat at the table and a voice when difficult decisions are being made.

Residents have a voice as well. I always appreciate hearing from other Islanders.

* What’s the biggest challenge you face as a member of the city council?

Without a doubt, the biggest challenge is to maintain focus. COVID-19 has impacted all of us, and it has changed city operations and priorities in significant ways. It has made council service into something fundamentally different than what I expected. In such an environment, it is easy to let the urgent crowd out the important. I need to continue to work to ensure the council remains focused on long-term priorities and does not overreach. Balancing competing priorities with limited resources will be an ever-present challenge.

* What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned during your time on city council

Local politics make for strange bedfellows. City issues do not always line up with traditional ideologies. I have been surprised by the extent to which, on some issues, I have found myself aligned with the views of community members, or other councilmembers, who share little of my political philosophy. I evaluate each issue on its own merits, and sometimes this leads to unusual alignments. I am saddened when community members write to only a subset of council members that they view as their allies. If you have an opinion about city goals and priorities, I want to hear from you.

David Rosenbaum

David Rosenbaum

David Rosenbaum

* What prompted you to want to be a member of city council?

The importance of public service was instilled in me at a very young age. My father was a member of the clergy for 40 years and my mother has been a teacher and librarian even longer. Prior to moving home to Mercer Island, I spent 14 years in various roles in the United States Congress. I saw an opportunity to utilize the experience and skills I gained in Washington, D.C. to benefit our community. As the parent of two young children, I want to make sure that Mercer Island continues to be the best place to live, work, and raise a family.

* What’s the most satisfying part of being involved with city council?

We have an opportunity to be directly responsive to the current needs and concerns of the community while helping guide our city towards the future. I am inspired when I receive notes from constituents with suggestions about ways to improve our community or sharing their perspective on specific council topics or actions.

* What’s the biggest challenge you face as a member of the city council?

Our work plan for this year was robust prior to the COVID-19 pandemic requiring the council, and especially the city staff, to re-prioritize and focus on the safety and well-being of our residents. At the same time, we continued to invest time and energy against our existing priorities.

* What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned during your time on city council?

Many issues can be complex, and we need to understand every aspect of the topic, discuss potential action plans, and work together to achieve positive results for the community. While the seven of us do not agree on every issue, our north star is always what we think is best for Mercer Island.

Jake Jacobson

Jake Jacobson

Jake Jacobson

* What prompted you to want to be a member of city council?

The opportunity to apply my experience as a leader of military, nonprofit and corporate entities, as a practicing lawyer, a construction manager and executive to the issues and problems challenging a city which I love and in which I have resided for 30 years. The previous city council appeared to many to be not only tone deaf but also much more focused on pleasing our “regional partners” than acting in our best interests. My goal for my city council service is to act in Mercer Island’s best interests and to leave our city a better place than I found it.

* What’s the most satisfying part of being involved with city council?

Interacting with constituents to learn their concerns and wishes for the city and teaming with my city council colleagues to address and resolve the many challenges our city faces. I have come to have both respect and affection for my council colleagues — none of whom I knew well prior to beginning my service. We are all working on the ability to disagree on issues without being disagreeable. I have learned that we have a superb and principled city manager and a very skilled and dedicated city staff for both of which we are truly blessed.

* What’s the biggest challenge you face as a member of the city council?

Figuring out how to enable the city to continue to deliver the superior services to which our residents have become accustomed within available revenues. The pandemic has required painful decisions about staff and service cuts, in order to be able to fulfill the statutory requirement for a balanced budget. Another challenge is reaching out for and absorbing the extensive information necessary to make principled and wise decisions. The sage who said that “City Council service will consume all of the time that you can give it” was spot on!

* What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned during your time on city council?

As recently illustrated by the Illuminate MI project, Mercer Island residents are incredibly generous with both time and treasure. By harnessing the spirited volunteerism of our community, we can and will make Mercer Island a better and more welcoming place for both residents and those who work, visit or otherwise experience Mercer Island. And for me, that is an exciting challenge! Another old lesson that has been reinforced by my service is that preconceived notions must always be subject to rigorous reality testing. After all, the most deadly form of b.s. is the b.s. you feed yourself!

Salim Nice

Salim Nice

Salim Nice

*What prompted you to want to be a member of city council?

I grew up on Mercer Island. My first job was delivering newspapers for the Seattle Times. I had the childhood that most of us dream of providing our kids. Mercer Island has given me and my family so much — I wanted to give back.

* What’s the most satisfying part of being involved with city council?

I see how my contributions to council consensus-based decision making, at least majority consensus-based decision making, have positively impacted outcomes that will benefit Islanders for many years to come. Implementing new residential building and design standards that stopped abusive development while protecting our native tree canopies and softscapes is one example.

* What’s the biggest challenge you face as a member of the city council?

COVID-19 has changed how the council meets. Not having in-person meetings has stripped the council of the face-to-face discussions and relationship building that all previous councils have taken for granted. Not enough has been done to mitigate this loss.

* What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned during your time on city council?

To never give up and to not define success as having to achieve your original intent.

Lisa Anderl

Lisa Anderl

Lisa Anderl

* What prompted you to want to be a member of city council?

I was inspired to apply for a vacant position on the city council after my involvement in 2018 in the Community Advisory Group (CAG). The CAG consisted of approximately 23 citizens who formulated recommendations to the city with regard to Proposition 1, a property tax increase that was sent to the voters in 2018. I was in the minority, recommending that the city first look for efficiencies and cost-saving measures before asking citizens for more tax revenues. The city put the measure on the ballot, but it was soundly defeated. This made me think that I might be a voice for a majority of citizens in the community

* What’s the most satisfying part of being involved with city council?

The most satisfying thing is representing citizens’ views. I hope all the members of our community feel as though they have some voice or representation in some or all of the councilmembers. I think I sometimes speak for a large number who have not felt like their voices have been heard in the past — those who support fiscally prudent management and our unique single-family neighborhoods.

* What’s the biggest challenge you face as a member of the city council?

The biggest challenge is reading and absorbing vast amounts of information before every meeting, trying to analyze complex questions on relatively short notice. It’s a huge time commitment. And there is the fact that on all of the contentious/divisive issues you will likely be wrong to about half of your constituents.

* What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned during your time on city council?

I think I would say that community involvement is the most important thing if you want good city government. The council only hears the voices of those who speak up and otherwise are left guessing about what the citizens want. Citizen input during council meetings, via emails, at the grocery store, is critically important to making sure councilmembers represent the community.


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