Opinion

Council draws stiff competition for vacancies | Bob Roegner

Diana Noble-Gulliford was sworn-in as one of two new members of the Federal Way City Council last weekend at City Hall. - Mirror staff photo
Diana Noble-Gulliford was sworn-in as one of two new members of the Federal Way City Council last weekend at City Hall.
— image credit: Mirror staff photo

The city council selected Diana Noble-Gulliford and Kelly Maloney to fill the seats vacated by Linda Kochmar and Roger Freeman after their election to the state Legislature.

Going into the process, both appeared to be among the front-runners, which also included school board member Ed Barney, former councilmember Hope Elder, planning commission member Tom Medhurst, former council candidate Mark Koppang, who had run for the council last city election, and Jack Stanford, a local businessman.

The council takes seriously the opportunity to select a new member. Important issues will come before the council, and having members with similar views will make shaping city policy easier. But policy is frequently determined by political viewpoints and personal relationships. The chance to appoint two new members will affect the balance of the council.

Entering the selection process, the five seated council members did not represent a broad spectrum of political views, but jointly have a fiscally conservative tilt. While not consistent, or clearly defined, the remaining council members tend to be split 3-2.

The alignment is not always the same, but there is a trust and working relationship that frequently comes into play.

Jim Ferrell is a Democrat, Susan Honda seems to lean Democratic, Bob Celski is a Republican but is close to Honda. Dini Duclos and Jeanne Burbidge are independent and have some areas of commonality.

Lines were somewhat drawn over Ferrell’s appointment as deputy mayor and further cemented when a former council member raised the question of whether Ferrell’s position could be reconsidered at some point.

The council’s public vote for Ferrell as deputy mayor was 7-0. The real vote was 4-3. When the three council members realized Ferrell had four votes, they made it unanimous to avoid a split vote in public.

But those movements set the tone for the council’s relationship.

The behind-the-scene movements of selecting two council members were set by the candidates’ skills and abilities. Those talents, to some degree, were considered against the shadow of this year’s mayoral race and future working relationships.

When the dust settled, would there be enough votes to reconsider the deputy mayor position? Who would a majority of the council favor in the mayor’s race if Ferrell runs as speculated, and what would the future economic policy be?

The vote to watch was Celski. While close to Honda, he is a conservative businessman who also favored appointing another conservative business person. Tom Medhurst along with a couple of others would appeal to him.

Knowledgeable observers’ guess was that Ferrell, Honda and Celski would lean toward Noble-Gulliford and Maloney as likely winners. They did, but not in the predicted order and not without some suspense.

They were joined by Medhurst as finalists.

In the first round of voting, no one could get a majority of votes, as Celski switched on predictions and went with Medhurst rather than Noble-Gulliford or Maloney. In the next round, Maloney got a majority, as an unusual combination of Ferrell, Burbidge and Duclos voted together. A couple of more rounds produced a tied vote with Maloney voting as a new council member.

After a break, new appointee Maloney played kingmaker and switched her vote from Medhurst — and joined Ferrell, Honda and Burbidge to give the seat to Noble-Gulliford.

The addition of Maloney and Noble-Gulliford changes the dynamics on the council.

Ferrell’s hand is strengthened and likely ensures there won’t be a reconsideration of his deputy mayor position. It also suggests that if Ferrell does decide to run for mayor, he may have the backing of a majority of the city council.

Observers will watch to see how the new council members relate to Mayor Skip Priest and his staff. The council now becomes more conservative, more female, and less diverse in a town where more than 100 different languages are spoken. They replaced a Republican with a Republican, and a Democrat with an independent who leans to the right.

City direction on economic development may also change. Several council members appear to be growing impatient, and Maloney works for Orion, which has announced it is moving to Auburn after being unable to find suitable alternatives in Federal Way.

Both Maloney and Noble-Gulliford will have to run this year to retain their new positions. And they may have company as Stanford, Koppang and businessman Mark Walsh sound like they plan to run. Their comments about running were strong enough that they may need to check into filing paperwork as announced candidates. Medhurst isn’t likely to join the field, even though he emerged as an impressive candidate.

It was a good field of candidates and several could be competitive if they decide to run. However, many are not as well known to the general public as the front-runners. This latter group made good presentations, including Eltrina Rose, Robert Danielle, Leslie Sessoms, Robyn Ritchins and Keith Livingston.

This starts the political season and filing isn’t far away.

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