Opinion

If I were Czar: Public deserves better communication | Jarvis

When was the last time the City of Federal Way, Federal Way School District, Federal Way Police Department, South King Fire and Rescue and/or Lakehaven Utility proactively asked for your feedback?

When was the last time a local government agency asked you if you felt they were doing a good job with your tax dollars, or if you agreed with a new policy or program?

Having been a citizen, property owner and business owner in Federal Way for more than 15 years (which has included millions of dollars of business revenue and real estate deals), to the best of my memory, the school district is the only agency that has directly asked for my feedback. In fairness to our other government agencies, I do, on occasion, see notices for community meetings and open houses on various topics.

Now let’s contrast this to my experience with private businesses. Almost every business I visit — from my $5 purchase at Taco Bell to my $50,000 purchase at Nissan of Auburn — asks for my feedback. In the weeks following the recent purchase of my new car, I was asked to participate in no fewer than five surveys regarding my buying experience and my satisfaction with my new car. When I answered one of the questions negatively, I promptly received a call from a service team asking how they could correct my dissatisfaction (thank you Costco new car program).

Unfortunately, we seem to have elected leaders — and a few relatively high paid government employees — who seem to think they have all the answers (which is only marginally worse than people claiming they would make a good Czar).

This attitude persists despite having recently lost several major employers, having a large amount of vacant real estate, significantly overpaying for various real estate purchases, and producing below-average results in many areas. This is not to say our community isn’t served by wonderful government employees, but rather that there exists a disconnect between the public and the government.

If I were Czar, I would start a comprehensive survey/feedback program that was coordinated between all of our local government agencies. This survey would go to every family who buys or sells a home, every buyer or seller of commercial real estate, and every business who signs a new lease, or lets their current lease expire. In addition, every five years or so, I would send the survey to every citizen and business owner in town.

This survey would include questions such as: Why did you choose Federal Way? What is your impression of FWPD, SKFR, City Hall, FWPS and/or Lakehaven Utility? What can your government do to make Federal Way a better place? What would (or did) cause you to leave Federal Way? When does your lease expire? Are the taxes you pay in Federal Way, relative to the services you receive, too high, too low or just right?

Once a quarter, the various government agencies would get together to review the results of these surveys. Together, they would identify action steps that are needed to maintain/improve satisfaction in Federal Way. Every major employer whose lease expires in the next 24 months would also receive personal visits from our top government officials in an effort to encourage them to stay in Federal Way.

Acting on this information might have kept us from losing companies like Orion Industries, Baden Sports, Big Lots and others.

Once established, this program should be expanded to include a list of employers we would like to see in Federal Way. For such prospective employers, we would ask just one question: What would it take for you to move your company to Federal Way?

Such a system would tell us exactly what needs to be done to attract and retain families and employers. Until such as system is implemented, we are left with our current system of making policy decisions based on guesses, hopes, dreams and the recommendations of overpaid consultants.

Now there are many who will say that our form of government has no need to survey its citizens because we have elected leaders to make essentially all of the decisions on our behalf. There are others who will claim that the cost of such surveying is too high.

Both groups make legitimate arguments, but as the old saying goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

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