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VIDEO: Mayor candidates Jim Ferrell and Skip Priest at Federal Way Chamber debate
The Federal Way Chamber of Commerce hosted a debate for the city’s mayoral candidates Oct. 6 at Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club. State Rep. Skip Priest and Federal Way City Councilman Jim Ferrell answered audience questions, many related to business, at the Chamber’s monthly luncheon.
Below are excerpts from the candidates’ answers. In addition, in an informal exit poll of participating audience members, 28 voted for Ferrell and 36 voted for Priest, with one still undecided. The video above includes the candidates' opening statements as well as the following questions: How are you going to create jobs in Federal Way? Do you support city funding for human services? Do you plan on loosening the sign restrictions for businesses, especially on Pacific Highway?
How are you going to create jobs in Federal Way?
Ferrell: “We need to create a culture and a reputation that Federal Way is not only open for business, but to keep business here.” The mayor will be an ambassador for the region and country to attract employers.
Priest: “You have to have a city that responds to small businesses and new businesses that are reaching out and saying we need help.” He vows to recruit some of those jobs that were outsourced like Capital One, support the medical device incubator, reach out to associations like SEIU and WTA, and work with South Sound chambers. “If the jobs are there in South King County, we’ll be able to take advantage of those as well.”
Do you plan on loosening the sign restrictions for businesses, especially on Pacific Highway?
Priest: “That has not been an issue that has been brought up to me. I authored the sign code 15 years ago. We worked very closely with businesses and loosened restrictions. I’m always open to promoting new business.” “Compared to what it looked like 20 years ago, it was a forest of huge signs.”
Ferrell: “The sign code, in many respects, did a lot of damage to the business community. It was done in a manner that really harmed a lot of businesses.” “There actually has been a lot of movement at the city about the sign code.” The city revamped its sign code last year on A-frame signs for real estate agents. “This is an issue that we need to make sure businesses have the ability to advertise effectively.”
Why do you believe the (downtown high-rise tower) project would not create taxes, jobs, etc.?
Ferrell: There has been very little discussion about infrastructure and traffic impacts of this four-acre spot, he said. “It hasn’t been well thought out.” The city needs synergy downtown. “There’s a real problem if this process goes forward... these buildings could sit empty” like the empty parking garage in downtown Kent. “That is a real danger if we keep going down this path.” He voted against the seventh extension for the developer “because it is just not good business.” “We need to have a town plaza or square in that location and use that location for the benefit our city and citizens.”
Priest: Stressed the importance of addressing every issue in a positive and proactive way. “If you don’t, the message isn’t about that downtown project...The message goes out” to other developers that “by the way, that city doesn’t like development and will fight you at every turn.” This is a major issue (45-story towers) and affects “our reputation as a city as to whether we care about development.” He would have voted against the extension for the developer.
A number of longtime business have vacated their premises along Pacific Highway. What incentives would you offer small businesses to attract them to Federal Way?
Priest: We have to be a business-friendly environment with the permit process, he said. The city needs to do everything to help make a business successful. The city needs to be aggressive in terms of helping smaller business and attracting that anchor for downtown that brings in people.
Ferrell: “It’s often said a relationship dies with a thousand cuts... When business owners are frustrated, the last time we hear from them is when they shut their doors and walk away. We cannot allow that to happen.” “I will make sure that when people have a concern and contact the city about an issue, it gets addressed and their concerns are met.”
Businesses, churches and other organizations continue to have unreasonable difficulties and delays in obtaining building permits. Specifically, what can you do to fix this problem?
Priest: “Apparently this stuff has been going on, and it gets very frustrating for those of us who are now being asked to solve the problem.” “It’s an attitude thing” in how permit process is approached. “You have to set a clear goal,” for example: Approving a permit in 24 hours, period, and if that goal is not reached, an explanation is needed.
Ferrell: “It’s all about the culture and the kind of attitude you have at City Hall.” As mayor, he will spend a day with each department and do a performance audit to get an idea of how each department is doing.
Beyond safety and traffic issues, what is your vision for Federal Way — quality of life, etc. — in the next five to 10 years?
Priest: A primary goal is to “figure out how we can revitalize that downtown core” and keep businesses there. A successful downtown core helps pay for police, green space and infrastructure without raising taxes. Revitalization of the city center is “based on a plan I created 15 years ago.”
Ferrell: “It’s all about the future” and what the community is going to look like. “The issue that we face right now is we have an underdeveloped downtown.” “If we build those 45-story towers, it will not be a step in the right direction.” Proposes lifestyle amenities and retail, opening a college campus downtown and bringing people into downtown. “They’ll talk about the miracle in Federal Way when this is over.”
Do you support city funding for human services?
Ferrell: Supports it. Human services affect people all across the spectrum. "There's a great deal of need in our community. We need to make sure that we're there to meet that need." "We need to make sure the money we have is spent effectively and creatively."
Priest: "I absolutely believe in protecting the safety net. We need to continue the safety net, that's part of quality of life."
What should be the number one priority for the new mayor?
Ferrell: "To make sure that there's a culture at City Hall that we work for the people. It's not the other way around." Help those who come to the city: How can we meet your interests? "How can we make sure that you are safe, your business is prosperous, that we're not getting in the way?" If there is an issue about a code or regulation that is harming a business or home, then the city will try to get down to the bottom of it.
Priest: "The mayor specifically is managing a $40 million a year, 330-employee operation. The question is...who in fact has had that experience to do that management?" "This isn't the time for on-the-job training."
Your city manager has submitted a budget to the council recommending personnel cuts of over 40 positions, including close to 20 police officers? Do you support this budget? If not, why?
Priest: "I happen to believe in a priorities of government approach." Police is his top priority and would be funded first. Then you look at what else is necessary to be funded. It may not always be a question about what the numbers are. For me personally, it's the approach. It's also about putting a sustainable budget together that allows us to not have to make these decisions in the future.
Ferrell: "We actually got the funding for four police officers via the COPS grant." "A core priority of any city government is to provide for the safety of its people. There will be, as your mayor, no layoff of police officers. There are programs in the city that we need to essentially do a performance audit. There are certain capital projects that can wait."
Please explain what you perceive are the primary difference between you and your opponent.
Ferrell: "My opponent keeps talking about his business experience he had. I've known Skip for 18 years and I only know of one business that is no longer in business." He cited his supervisory and negotiation strengths through his experience as a prosecuting attorney. "The key difference in my opinion is leadership, leadership, leadership. Who has the courage to stand up?" In regards to the proposed 45-story towers downtown, Ferrell said Priest sidestepped the issue when given an opportunity to explain, and that Priest has had four positions on having a city administrator. "We need someone in City Hall who doesn't give a different answer depending on the audience."
Priest: "So, I'm not a leader, after 20 years?" Priest cited his experience working for Burlington Northern, American Express, helping to start the Federal Way Police Department, working on the Boeing Task Force while in Olympia, sponsoring auto theft legislation and sex predator laws. "For those who have been involved in business, I was the legislator of the year five years in a row for the Washington Association of Career and Technical Education because of my reaching out to all the business not only in this community but around the state."
Please be specific about your position on using EB-5 visas for investing in Federal Way real estate.
Priest: Supports it. When you talk about vision, you have to look for ways, creative ways, I supported the EB-5 program because I thought it was Federal Way a competitive advantage gave us a chance to reignited create some excitement and create a vision for our downtown.
Ferrell: Supports it. "EB-5 is a tool. The marriage of EB-5 with the downtown program was a mistake. That's not the way we're going to develop out downtown." "Our city will go vertical at some point."
How are you going to help bring more tourism to Federal Way?
Priest: "I'm not sure it's necessarily our strength." World Championship of Sand Sculpting is a good idea that creates something different and new. Celebration Park provides the opportunity for kids to play soccer and softball, bringing people into the community to spend money. Hylebos Park is a place for people to come and visit.
Ferrell: World Championship of Sand Sculpting was a gamble he supported but a wise course to take, he said. The city needs to explore untapped resources in Dumas Bay, King County Aquatic Center and Wild Waves and create an atmosphere where Federal Way is more of a destination.
Over the last 20 years, the city has spent millions on the Dumas Bay Centre, which is used by less than 5 percent of the population. Would you be willing to shut it down to save police positions?
Ferrell: "It wouldn't save police positions. Dumas Bay is a jewel of this community." It's a beautiful facility that it isn't marketed well, and people don't know about it, he said. He wants to turn Dumas Bay into an area that will be a destination for the city, not "lop it off" for the short term.
Priest: He was a member of the city council that helped bring Dumas Bay Centre to Federal Way, he said. "It's also a question of having the foresight to make those decisions."
What do you see as the city's role in partnering with Federal Way Public Schools to ensure quality education in Federal Way?
Ferrell: There are obvious and not-so-obvious ways to partner. First priority is to provide police protection. City can help with maintenance issues in regard to use of facilities. "It also puts the performing arts center within reach if we work and partner with the school district." A partnership with the city and schools can help provide resources to create such a venue.
Priest: Public safety and maintenance work are two ways to partner. He cited how the city council worked with the school district to build a park and fields at Saghalie Middle School. He looks forward to continue advocating for the school district as he did in Olympia.