Opinion

Oops! City council cleans up self-inflicted mess | Roegner

Both candidates for Federal Way mayor had a difficult few weeks.

You would have thought that while Mayor Skip Priest was playing defense over a complaint by a councilmember about his behavior, his opponent Jim Ferrell would have had an open field to make up some ground.

But Ferrell, as deputy mayor and leader of the city council, had his hands full getting the council out of a self-inflicted mess over an appointment.

In a strong mayor form of government, as part of the checks and balances system, the mayor usually appoints citizens to boards and commissions, and the council confirms or rejects them.

However, in Federal Way, the council has retained both the appointment and confirmation authority. City staff, who actually work for the mayor, compile the applications and background information on candidates for council review. The mayor, in deference to the council, stays away from the process.

The city council was considering the appointment of Greg Summers to the North Lake advisory committee. According to councilmembers, Summers was very impressive in his interview. There was nothing in his very brief application that caught anyone’s attention.

The staff apparently hadn’t advised the council of any concerns. The council voted 7-0 to appoint him.

Oops. As the council found out later, there was a reason Summers’ application was short. He is the same Greg Summers who was a chiropractor and was arrested in late 2012 for “indecent liberties” with his clients. The story was major local news for several weeks. He has not gone to trial yet.

Summers isn’t just another newspaper story. He is a well known personality. He has been active in town, has attended many community events, and ran large ads in the newspaper with his photo to promote his business. He was connected to Olympic caliber athletes.

How could the staff and city council have possibly missed the connection? Most of the council reads The Mirror regularly to stay current on local news. Many of the city staff read the paper as well. Information regarding Summers is easily available on your computer.

Even the regional media picked up the story of the controversial appointment. One Seattle television station came out to South King County to film comments from Mayor Skip Priest and Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell. Priest wisely didn’t take the interview, but since it was a council issue, Ferrell didn’t have much choice.

Ferrell then started to put the pieces back together and scheduled an emergency meeting to rescind the appointment — which the council did on a 5-0 vote. Councilmembers Dini Duclos and Bob Celski were unable to attend.

The general reason for rescinding the appointment is that Summers’ application left out significant parts of his background and work history.

Summers has not gone to trial yet and is presumed innocent until proven otherwise. We don’t know what will happen in the future, but for now, the council felt misled.

The whole episode was embarrassing to everyone involved, particularly the city council. Yes, the city staff should have caught the issue and looked deeper. And the mayor should be a little embarrassed by the staff work. But the council owns this one. It shouldn’t have happened.

Ferrell plans to work with the mayor to improve the process. But just asking for more through paperwork isn’t enough. What they really need to do is implement a change in policy that further ingrains the strong mayor system that voters directed them to implement three years ago.

The city needs a separation of powers with true checks and balances. Give the mayor the power to make appointments to boards and commissions and hold him accountable for those appointments.

This isn’t about Skip Priest or Jim Ferrell, or who will be mayor in January. It’s about history and fulfilling what the voters instructed you to do. The council should only retain the role of confirming or rejecting the appointments.

Accountability would be much clearer.

 

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