ELECTION: Mayoral and council candidates tackle top issues

Mayor Skip Priest (left) and Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell (right) speak to the audience at Wednesday’s forum. - Andy Hobbs/Federal Way Mirror
Mayor Skip Priest (left) and Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell (right) speak to the audience at Wednesday’s forum.
— image credit: Andy Hobbs/Federal Way Mirror

The Federal Way Mirror hosted a public forum for mayoral and city council candidates on Oct. 9 at Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club.

General election ballots will be mailed Oct. 16. Deadline for voter registration is Oct. 28. The election is Nov. 5.

Mayoral candidates

Skip Priest is the city’s first elected mayor, which is a position Jim Ferrell (the city’s deputy mayor) created through a ballot initiative in 2009. Priest is a former state representative. Ferrell is a King County prosecutor.

At Wednesday’s forum, Priest and Ferrell clashed over the direction of the city, both in terms of public safety and economic development.

Priest consistently said that he presided over the city during a recession and had to make difficult cuts. When a city allows its parks and roads to go downhill, he said, it starts a “downward spiral” from which recovery can be impossible.

“I make no apologies for our commitment to frugal innovation,” said Priest, noting a mantra he adopted upon his election. “I didn’t get us into (the recession). I was the one who got us out of it.”

Ferrell said Priest’s “frugal innovation” came at the expense of a properly staffed police department, and said the city can do a better job of addressing crime. One example Ferrell cited was that on Sunday, seven officers were on duty for a city of 90,000 when that number should be 10 officers.

“Frugal innovation is a cruel hoax,” Ferrell said. “We are cutting to the bone and calling it innovation.”

Priest said a lot of positive things are happening in Federal Way, such as the reduction of empty office space by nearly half, and a reinvestment in The Commons mall by its corporate owner. Ferrell said the current administration lacks a sense of urgency and is “running in place,” and that the city is missing opportunities for economic development due to a reactive approach.

Here are highlights from questions that showed differences in the candidates.

Q: Would you send the proposed Performing Arts and Conference Center (PACC) to the voters?

Ferrell said that at nearly $32 million, an investment this large deserves a public vote. He also expressed reservations with the cost and the potential loan against Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding. Ferrell likened the project to a risk that “puts all the chips at the center of the table” and leaves the city “on the hook for millions.” If the city does move forward with the project, “we better do it right.”

Priest did not answer yes or no, but said there’s no project to vote on. The project is in the design phases, and the city has taken a pragmatic “step-by-step approach.” He noted that the city would owe the state $5 million if the project doesn’t move forward. Through continued public involvement, the city can craft a “thoughtful plan,” and Priest said he is committed to a “thoughtful vote.”

Later in the forum, an audience member asked if there were any viable alternatives to the PACC. Ferrell said a better project would be a development similar to Kent Station, featuring restaurants and retail, at the former AMC Theatres site. Priest said the PACC will bring businesses and associations to the city, and as a former business owner, questioned why Ferrell would advocate for bringing more retail businesses when there are already enough in the city.

Q: How would you improve public safety in FW?

In his tenure, Priest points to the expansion of the Safe City surveillance program to neighborhoods as one success. He said the city needs to be “aggressive legislative leaders,” and noted legislative initiatives that addressed metal theft and cash-for-gold sales. He wants to collaborate with a group that opposes human trafficking and said he will ensure that police resources are used wisely.

Ferrell reiterated that the Federal Way Police Officers Guild’s endorsement of his candidacy should send a message that all is not well. He promised to solve the crime problem in Federal Way and address the understaffed police department, which has dropped from 132 officers to 123 officers. Ferrell noted that Priest glossed over the rise in burglaries and auto theft when announcing his bid for re-election in the spring.

Q: How can Sound Transit get light rail to Federal Way sooner than 2032?

Both candidates presented opposing views on the city’s relationship with Sound Transit and the action taken to address light rail. Priest said he had “direct conversations” and made demands of Sound Transit that resulted in a $24 million plan to get Federal Way “shovel ready” for light rail. Ferrell said Priest falsely took credit, and that it was King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer and State Sen. Tracey Eide who made the “shovel ready” plan a reality.

According to a city spokesman, Priest and city council members were unaware of the shovel ready plan until it was announced at a press conference in February 2012. Priest also pushed for failed legislation that attempted to dismantle Sound Transit. Ferrell said this showed Priest was not a good partner on this issue.

Q: Would you hire a city administrator to run the day-to-day operations?

Ferrell said he is growing concerned that the city needs the mayor to recruit capital and jobs. The city should make sure the day-to-day operations don’t bog down the chief executive, he said, adding that hiring a city administrator was “highly possible.”

Priest said the mayor of the city is elected to manage operations, and that’s what he is doing. He also touted past experience in the corporate world (real estate and finance) and also as a former business owner (dry cleaning and garment manufacturing companies).

(Pictured: Mirror publisher Rudi Alcott introduces the Federal Way City Council candidates at Wednesday's forum. From left to right: Diana Noble-Gulliford, Martin Moore, John Fairbanks, Jeanne Burbidge, Kelly Maloney, Mark Koppang.)

Council candidates

The forum featured a specific question for each council race, along with questions from the audience. Below are highlights from the candidates’ answers.

Question for position 2: Kelly Maloney and Mark Koppang both say that job creation and economic development are their priorities. Why is your plan better than your opponent’s plan, and better for the community?

Koppang said that he would look for more immediate solutions to recruit businesses on the regional and national level. He said Maloney’s “college initiative” wasn’t a short-term answer to Federal Way’s economic issues. Federal Way has the inventory (office space, undeveloped land) to present a solution to companies today.

Maloney said bringing a college campus to the downtown core is a long-term solution. She said the city should continue recruiting businesses as Koppang suggests, but that there needs to be a long-term plan. A college, she said, will attract businesses while helping the businesses that are already here.

Question for position 4: One strength of Jeanne Burbidge is her experience as a public servant in the city and region, while one strength of John Fairbanks is his experience of owning and running a small business. Why is your particular strength more beneficial to the council and the community?

Burbidge said she owned a small business for 12 years, which complements her experiences at the city and regional levels. She has served on a variety of boards at these levels, from PTA to transportation to economic development, all of which are pertinent to the daily operations of the city.

Fairbanks said he doesn’t see the city council as a career, and said his business experience includes dealing with multiple government agencies alongside a wide variety of customers. Through this business experience, he learned a lot about sign codes. Fairbanks also has experience serving on boards such as the Civil Service Commission.

Question for position 6: Diana Noble-Gulliford says she brings experience to the table, while Martin Moore says he brings a fresh voice. Why are your strengths better than your opponent’s, and better for the community?

Moore said that by working in Olympia as a legislative assistant, he discovered that it’s critical to have relationships there. He will ensure Federal Way is represented properly, and said there’s a disconnect between the council and citizens. He said the council needs someone new who will represent the future and bring voters’ voices to City Hall.

Noble-Gulliford said she is “fresh and new enough” to know the concerns of citizens, and not to label her as an old-timer. She said her experience with the city’s history, budget and planning gives her a fresh perspective. She said “if you don’t know where you’ve been, you don’t know where you’re going.”

Q: Did the candidates review the PACC budget pro forma (a detailed analysis of a project and its anticipated costs from construction to maintenance and operations), and do they think it’s fair and accurate?

• Maloney: She said the numbers are not accurate. She feels the initial proposal lacks perspective on financial solvency for the project. She said that comparisons to similar projects in other cities include mismatched data related to demographics and socioeconomics.

• Koppang: He said a pro forma represents a best guess, and said “you’ve got to start somewhere.” He said there are obstacles to any project, but that the city must see the end goal and make it happen.

• Noble-Gulliford: She said there is more work to be done to fine-tune the cost of the PACC, along with questions such as “can we afford it in the long run?” She said the proposal to have a non-profit organization run the facility is worrisome, especially if the  city wants to “create that spark” downtown.

• Moore: He has read the pro forma and supports the PACC as an opportunity to generate excitement downtown. He said the project is an investment in the city’s future. “Something has got to change,” he said, adding that he will listen to the professionals who did the pro forma.

• Fairbanks: He said the pro forma was put together by the seller/developer, and noted the comparison to the Edmonds arts center, which still requires a subsidy. He feels the pro forma is not accurate.

• Burbidge: She has trust in the pro forma, which was put together by the Edmonds facility manager who has a lot of experience with similar facilities. She noted the demographics of Federal Way, in regards to households with incomes over $100,000, for example, are comparable to the demographics of the other cities with arts centers.

Q: How can Federal Way change its perception?

• Burbidge: She would promote the natural beauty of Federal Way, she said, noting the waterfront, parks, lakes and West Hylebos Wetlands. “We need to share this with the public to a greater degree,” she said, and that there needs to be more of a “cheerleading process for our city.”

• Fairbanks: He would build a sense of community by focusing on block watches, for example. Block watches would result in criminals moving away.

• Moore: He would be proactive and encourages the city to elect someone new who would get the positive messages out to schools and newspapers, and also create partnerships.

• Noble-Gulliford: “We are all ambassadors,” she said, noting that the city needs to promote its beauty and positive elements. She relayed a story in which she corrected a car salesman who referred to the city as “Dreadful Way.”

• Koppang: He would promote more pride in the city and its amenities. He supports developing consensus around ideas “when doing big things,” and that things will get done with more consensus and two-way communication.

• Maloney: She said the city needs to focus on branding and taking control of its image. There’s a process under way at City Hall, and she wants to see a survey of residents to determine the branding message that the city will promote.


Due to limited print space, all letters supporting local political candidates can be found on the Federal Way Mirror's website.


The Federal Way Chamber of Commerce hosted the mayoral and council candidates at a forum Oct. 2. Click here to read the report.

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