Council institution faces 'movement for change'
June 13, 2008 · Updated 11:22 AM
Gates: Federal Way 'has been a lucky city'
By ERICA HALL
Mary Gates considers herself a goal-oriented person, and she doesnt like to waste time. Shes been known to start at the end of a book and read her way forward.
This month marked more than a decade of service on the Federal Way City Council for Gates, and shes seeking another re-election in the Nov. 4 general election, along with three of her colleagues. Shes the only one opposed, running against Jim Ferrell, a King County deputy prosecutor.
Gates is a long-time supporter of a vision of Federal Way that includes a bustling downtown city center, with apartments and condos next to and above cafes and restaurants, shops to visit and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks.
During her tenure as a council member, she has supported the purchase and development of Celebration Park, putting a new city hall-municipal facility downtown, boosting the number of police officers on the streets, building a Sound Transit-run transit center and parking garage downtown and building a city-operated community center, senior center and pool on land the city owns at Celebration Park.
This has been a lucky city, she said. We owned nothing when we incorporated.
It hasnt been easy weighing the competing interests and viewpoints among citizens, but she said finding balance is key to building the community.
Were learning to be a city, she said. Community is not the majority liking every single thing, but you have to have something for everybody. Its the tapestry we weave as we grow into a community.
The daughter of a German immigrant, Gates had a strong work ethic instilled in her from a young age. Her mother died when she was 21, the same year riots broke out in Chicago near the apartment where she lived during college.
She grew anemic from eating only bread during those lean years. Still, she worked hard, took graduate classes while an undergrad and got her masters degree in nine months.
From there, she taught at several public schools and colleges, started her own business and served on several civic committees.
Whenever she saw a need in the community, like civic organizations not admitting women, for example, shed organize and address it herself. She said her husband, Bill, learned the danger of her saying, I have an idea.
Though the civic group eventually started accepting women and her group dissolved, she found ample avenues for her energy, the most recent of which are the Puget Sound Regional Council Executive Board, the Transportation Improvement Board, the Sound Transit Board, the Regional Transit Committee and the National League of Cities.
Gates co-chaired the first city incorporation effort in 1985. It failed, but around that time, she was part of the committee that updated the King County community development plan.
In 1986, the county amended the plan so much that committee members, including former state representative Maryann Mitchell of Federal Way, said dont put our names on it, Gates said.
As bulldozers began to move toward the area, developing it into clustered multi-family housing developments, Gates said committee members realized they had to incorporate to save local control.
They tried again in 1989 and residents voted in favor of it. An interim City Council all would have to run again in two years was sworn in Nov. 27, 1989, and Gates was on it.
She and her colleagues had just over a year to draft a comprehensive plan for the city and all the codes for parks, police and city finances. King County had lower standards of service than the council adopted, so city officials worked hard to bring roads and parks up to standard while learning the ropes of governance, she said.
Though the city initially concentrated on controlling growth and development, Gates said leaders are learning to balance different interests.
Clearly, the goal is to make sure were a vibrant, growing society, but growing with the infrastructure and services in place, she said. Its growth so you can handle it.
The council has worked to dispel the belief that its hard to do business in Federal Way up to and including making it easier to do business here, Gates claimed.
Sometimes its a matter of talking reasonably and listening carefully, she said. By and large, were on the upswing.
She said she envisions the city growing up, not out, working through the pains of annexation and still paying a lot of attention to its finances. She anticipates residential space and more restaurants and a theater complex or two downtown and near Celebration Park.
Ferrell wants everyday people to come first
Hanging in Jim Ferrells office was a framed black and white photo of the Kennedy brothers, Jack and Bobby, seated before a window, gazing at each others shoes, lost in contemplation. The humanity and closeness of that moment in time, captured on film, struck a chord with him.
That same chord resonated within Ferrell when he prosecuted domestic violence offenders and taught citizenship classes to immigrants. It hums when he reads the histories of U.S. presidents.
He finds it remarkable that momentous, historic events have occurred from the efforts of everyday people working in ordinary places.
A deputy prosecutor for King County, Ferrell decided to run for the Federal Way City Council he faces Councilwoman Mary Gates in next months general election after a council member at a meeting said he was tired of talking about the city hall project and wanted to vote on it.
I thought, Are you kidding? How in the world could you not include the public in a $20 million project? Ferrell said. Thats what kind of stirred me to action. Ive been interested in the (city) issues for a long time, but never thought of running.
Ferrell decided to run against council incumbent Gates after taking a long walk and thinking it over.
I didnt take running for City Council lightly, he said. Mary Gates has served on the council 14 years. The first words out of my mouth (to her) should be thank you.
But, he said, he disagrees with Gates vision for the future of Federal Way, and with some of the fiscal decisions the council has made.
In their pursuit of the vision, he said, council members have lost sight of the people who work in the businesses and raise their families and pay taxes.
As a councilperson, you need to be a good steward of the citys money, he said.
As a start, Ferrell said, the city needs to foster an environment and culture to encourage businesses to stay.
I walked up and down Pacific Highway and heard horror story after horror story, he said. Theres a great deal of frustration from business. The Master Builders of King County laugh and say they wont build in Federal Way. Good Guys should be taught in civic planning for what not to do. Its a case study in mismanagement, he said, referring to the vacant, windowless, taupe building on the corner of Pacific Highway South and South 320th Street that formerly housed the home electronics store. They threw their arms up and said, Were out of here.
We need to take a fundamental look at the regulatory structure to attract and keep business. Baskets and banners are the epitome of whats wrong with Federal Way. Its literally like were watering the lawn while the house is on fire.
Ferrell said it seems the council makes up its mind about a position and then weathers the storm of public opinion, rather than gathering public opinion prior to making big decisions.
There is merit to looking to the future, but be reasonable, he said.
Ferrells dad, a manager at the Bon Marche (now Bon-Macys), died when he was 9, and his mom raised him and his brothers alone.
After graduating from high school, he attended the University of Washington, where he studied political science and played for the football team. During practice one day, a teammate smashed into him, tearing the ligaments in Ferrells knee. He was out for the rest of the season and, after surgery, couldnt walk for three months.
Still, he returned to the team the next season. I knew if I didnt go back, my leg would never be the same, he said. Ive never been more proud of anything in my entire life than going back.
Ferrell went on to get a law degree from Gonzaga (he spent his last year at the University of Puget Sound) and took a job with a trial lawyers association that receives a large amount of its funding from the Democratic Party. Ferrell, who lost a race last year for the Legislature, is a Republican.
Working for the trial lawyers was a political epiphany, he said. There will always be entities that exist with opposing viewpoints.
If rejoining the UW football team was the proudest day of his life, getting a job with the King County prosecutors office was the happiest.
I applied every six months for three years, he said.
Ferrell worked in the domestic violence unit for two and a half years. During the first half of 1999, there were 18 domestic violence homicides in King County, which led Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng to launch the domestic violence unit to proactively prosecute offenders.
Maleng made Ferrell the head of the Regional Justice Centers domestic violence court, where he wrote the protocols for no-contact orders, sentencing recommendations and plea negotiations, among other things.
Its gritty and ugly and you see the worst side of people, Ferrell said. But theres no greater thing than someone saying thank you for handling a case.
In 2001, he switched to the special assault unit before taking a leave of absence to run against state Rep. Mark Miloscia last fall. Miloscia beat him, but Ferrell didnt let the defeat keep him down.
If hes elected to the City Council, Ferrell wants to bring the interests of everyday people back into focus.
One of the biggest things I learned from being a prosecutor is understanding the frailty of people and protecting their dignity, he said.
Since he announced his candidacy, he said, hes received an outpouring of support.
Theres a movement in town for change, he said. This wasnt about me. This was a movement that was already afoot.
Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, email@example.com