Federal Way City Council candidates vying for three contested seats on the council this November addressed public safety, the city’s strong mayor form of government and ways to reduce permitting challenges in the city during the Greater Federal Way Chamber of Commerce’s forum on Wednesday at the Federal Way Performing Arts and Event Center.
The candidates included incumbent Mark Koppang who is vying for the Pos. 5 seat against Jamila Taylor; incumbent Susan Honda, running for Pos. 3 against Sharry Edwards; and Linda Kochmar versus Tony Pagliocco for Pos. 7.
Here are the candidates’ responses to some of the questions:
Q: The vision statement contained in the February 2018 City Strategic Planning Report reads: “Federal Way will be the most inclusive, responsive and safe city in the region.” What is the most significant contribution you will make to that vision, if elected?
Koppang: “When I look at what we can do as a council and what I can do specifically, public safety has got to be the number one thing.”
Koppang would like to see the city continue to add police officers to the department because “adding officers really creates a sense of safety [and that] we’re keeping up with the growth our city’s experiencing.”
That growth has also brought diversity to the city.
“I think for us to make sure that we have a community that continues to be welcoming and inclusive is essential for our future.”
Service is also another branch that brings people together and creates bonds between community members, he said.
“I’ll continue to promote those kinds of activities, but also continue to look at and listen to the community …”
Taylor: Her experience is rooted in building collaboration, engaging community and finding ways to bring all voices to the table.
“That’s how you become inclusive. When folks feel that they are invested in and heard by our leadership, they will participate in the solutions that we want to see for our community.”
To make reflective changes in support of opportunities for the community, it takes someone willing to hear different opinions, experiences unlike their own and become comfortable with the critiques of the job you’re doing, she said.
“I’m going to continue to do that.”
Honda: The most important part in the vision statement is about safety.
“If you don’t feel safe in your community, you don’t have inclusiveness and you don’t have responsiveness.”
In order to feel safe, more police officers would be necessary, as well as other staff members such as for the IT Department who help support the police department.
Honda also said this community is diverse, and residents are lucky to live in a community where it’s so easy to learn about other’s walks of life.
She emphasized the importance of officers being able to respond quickly when 911 is called.
Edwards: The No. 1 most important thing she hears from people in the community is they want to feel safe.
“They want to see the police staffed so that they can respond when they call for help,” she said. “Businesses don’t want to continue to lose money in retail situations because we don’t have a good strong police force out there.”
Edwards said overall people want to feel safe and they want to know those elected have their best interests in mind.
Pagliocco: He will use his ability to collaborate and his experience working in the technology industry to address public safety and policing. He currently works in computer science at the Boeing Co., and has worked at Hasbro, which builds products that serve 30 million players. The company’s goal is to give the best user experience to those players, he said.
“That’s the exact same thing that we need to look at here in the city, is we need to deliver the best user experience to our businesses, we need to deliver that to our residents. In my opinion, public safety is the way we need to go because the numbers don’t lie.”
Coming from a data background, Pagliocco thrives on data-driven decisions and models. He noted that Federal Way’s policing levels are too low compared to cities with similar population across the country.
“So we need to … be very cognizant of that fact as we move forward because if not, we’re going to keep backing ourselves into a corner.”
Kochmar: She said Federal Way is a very inclusive city, but needs to work on that a little more. She recognized the city for their “wonderful” Diversity Commission.
“We speak over 110 dialects in our schools. The schools have also been very good at working on diversity. And why is that important? That’s because we are a global economy. That’s important to you for your businesses.”
Regarding public safety, Kochmar wants to start a navigation team with the Federal Way Police Department, wherein the city can deploy someone with a human services background to help the homeless on the streets.
Federal Way has a strong mayor and council organizational structure. Would you propose a different structure? Why or why not?
Taylor: “I don’t have any answer to the question specifically what I want right now, I want to explore it further. But what I would want to know is whether it would increase our capacity to attract businesses to this community – whatever structure that we particularly go with.”
Taylor questions how to attract more residents to the community that are invested in the schools, how to attract more opportunities for young people to participate in the process of the city leadership system.
“If our mayor has more capacity to be out there in the community to support what our needs our and be responsive, as well as our City Council being out in the community by going to a hybrid system, I would favor that.”
Taylor believes the city needs to explore the options, which would increase the capacity of electeds and city staff to do more for the community with the limited resources available.
Koppang: Having lived in the city at the time when residents considered switching from city manager to a mayoral form of government, Koppang voted in favor of the strong mayor form of government.
“The argument that resonated with me was accountability.” When there are seven council members who have to consult with a city manager, Koppang said, it’s easier to pass off the responsibility. “The administrator … can be unaccountable because he’s working for the council, he’s not necessarily working for the people of Federal Way.”
Electing a strong mayor of Federal Way has provided citizens with the direct connection to the leader of the Federal Way government, he said.
While this form has slightly diminished the role of the council, Koppang said Federal Way’s council remains a body of seven.
“I’m a strong believer that we need accountability,” he said. “And if you don’t like the mayor, you can recall him or re-elect him, that’s OK, we have that control … ”
Honda: She appreciates the Tacoma form of government, where there is an elected mayor and council with a hired city manager.
“The reason I like that form is government is because we need someone to run the day-to-day operations of the city. A city is a business.”
Honda said that anyone who has lived in Federal Way for 12 consecutive months and is a registered voter can become mayor, but that doesn’t mean they know the ins and outs of how to run a city.
“We are a very large city, we have a lot of businesses, we need someone who has the experience and the knowledge that a city manager would bring.”
Edwards: “I know that it took a lot of work to get to this system, and I think that we should be able to elect our mayor.”
Edwards said she would not change the system, because she doesn’t see anything that is not working about it.
“I think that our citizens should be able to elect their leaders and that’s about all I can say on that.”
Kochmar: When Federal Way was becoming a city, Kochmar was on the incorporation committee and they discussed the issue extensively.
“We chose the city-manager form of government, simply because of the idea of continuity. What we need is ongoing continuity with either a city administrator or a city manager.”
She favors Honda’s idea about a hybrid form of government with an elected mayor as well as a hired city manager.
“I like the hybrid system. I think this is something we should talk about in our community and have another discussion on …”
Kochmar believes the city needs a responsive city manager who watches the city’s budget, knows all of the regulations and state laws.
Pagliocco: “My opinion revolves around, what do the people that I would represent want to see? How do we make that happen? What can we look at for the pros and cons of having a strong mayor or not.”
Federal Way is still relatively young, and the city has not had a long time to be able to see how the strong mayor model plays out over time.
“You can iterate and you can make changes to a process as you go along; you’re not married to one set model. But you need to give it time to mature and understand because in the big picture … Federal Way in my eyes is like a start-up company that’s becoming bigger and now growing into its own shell … And for us to do this we need to just have a lot of community input and we need to get rid of the apathy. We need to get people excited to get involved and we need to do that by leading by example.”
Businesses continue to experience challenges with city zoning and permitting. As policy makers for the city of Federal Way, how would you work to reduce the challenges faced by businesses related to zoning and permitting?
Koppang: Although permitting does present challenges, Koppang highlighted a recent Mirror article featuring JP’s Tavern, a new business in Federal Way, which noted the business’s ease coming to the city and going through the city’s permitting processes.
“There are good stories, too. But I don’t hang my hat on the good story and more on,” Koppang said. “I listen to everybody.”
Koppang said the city needs to improve its permitting process, but the city also has a hard-working staff who is analyzing how to streamline and improve these systems.
Taylor: She agreed that permitting is a challenge in the city – but not something that is unique to Federal Way. As an attorney, Taylor wants to look at the situation as clearly and carefully as possible.
“It might mean we need to make some recommendations to our land use [or] zoning laws, that we have to amend our permitting process.”
The city should also consider the ongoing feedback from the business community and potential business owners in the community.
“Let’s make sure that we’re responsive to the potential customers, potential owners, and make some recommendations.”
Honda: “We are, as a city instituting a computer program where you don’t have to bring your plans into the city.”
She said they are bringing in new technology that other cities are already using to help streamline the process of permitting for incoming businesses.
Honda has heard stories of businesses having a hard time getting through the process. She has worked with Mayor Jim Ferrell and city staff as much as she could, but recognizes more improvements need to be made.
“We need businesses to come here, we don’t want them to be afraid to come here,” she said. “If we don’t fix something that’s not going to happen, so we are working on it and it should happen fairly soon, sometime this year.”
Edwards: She recalled an experience where a man told her he wanted to open a business here, but was so frustrated with the city’s permitting process he ended up taking his business to Auburn.
So she started talking to other people in the city, and said she found out one of the biggest issues people perceived was an outdated permitting system.
The process could be simplified with a new computer system, and she is very supportive of that.
Kochmar: Permitting has been an ongoing issue in the city and she believes the solution has to do with “empowering the individual.”
“My dad’s era would have said, ‘Make a decision by the seat of your pants.’ In other words, don’t kick it up the command. If you can make a decision, just make it.”
She helped a business that had to build a fence around his retention pond, and then the city told him he had to put privacy slats in the fence.
“Not only did he not need the privacy slats, he didn’t need the fence at all. So one of the things that we need to talk about is how to hire more people, and that goes back to making sure that we take care of our budget deficit, and then empowering the individual to make a decision and just not kick it up the command because you’re afraid to make a decision.”
Pagliocco: He asked the audience if they had a mobile phone to hold it up.
“This is exactly what I’m talking about is that this is where we live now – we live on our phones.”
The city needs to move to this platform for its permitting and zoning, utilitizing technology to drive more efficient process throughout the city.
Programs such as City Grows, which does zoning, permitting, ticketing and scheduling, would cost the city $15,000 per year. Pagliocco would “gamble on” that program for a year to see how that it out for the city.
“I mean, we can talk about making decisions by the seat of our pants; I’d rather make them from the palm of my hand. I think that would be much better for us, and much better for the business owners as well.”