Opinion

The new mayor of Federal Way must live up to slogan | Keith Livingston

The election results are known and it is important to thank all who sought elected office, congratulate those who were elected, and thank those who served but are not returning.

Skip Priest deserves additional accolades for his years of service as a city council member, state legislator and as Federal Way's first elected mayor. He became mayor at a time when Federal Way’s operating expenses were greater than its revenues, and he worked diligently to manage costs. He was willing to make tough decisions, and sometimes those decisions were under-appreciated or misunderstood.

But let’s be honest, while Federal Way is a decent place to live, it is a city with lots of challenges going forward. Mayor-elect Jim Ferrell now has the responsibility of living up to his campaign slogan of “We can do better.”

Running for office is different than governing and leading. As a voter, I believe all elected officials believe they can do better. I’d like to believe their efforts are on behalf of the community rather than themselves or specific interests, but the reality is both aspects intertwine.

A Mark Twain quote is often applied to the art of politics: “It is easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled.”

Frankly, Federal Way got off to a late start at being a city. Much of this city’s growth occurred before it incorporated in 1990. Developers conceived it as a bedroom community in an unincorporated part of King County. It was loosely planned without any real governance. The promise of low-cost homes was attractive to individuals or families not focused on the elements necessary to build a sustainable and exciting city.

Now at 90,000 residents, Federal Way is being challenged to become more than a bedroom suburb. Bedroom communities generally have a solid base of middle to upper income residents living in quality homes that retain and grow in property valuation. In turn, this generates tax revenue to cover services, build and maintain infrastructure, and establish a basic to high quality of life for its residents.

Federal Way is attractive to entry-level homebuyers and considered by many — because property values are perceived as reasonable — as a good opportunity.

This can be an advantage for attracting new residents. But if they come with low expectations and a desire to keep values low because of their means, this is a negative, and this city will fail in its efforts in attracting businesses that are able to support next-generation jobs and economic sustainability.

Every council and mayor since incorporating believed they could do better. If one takes the time to look at the progression of this city since 1990, they have. It has not been a straight line, nor has it always happened with a clear vision. Also, it has often been done over the objections of this city’s old core of regressive thinkers who did not support incorporation or the school initiatives that would have put this city on the fast track to being the premier city in the South Puget Sound.

If "we can do better” means we will be progressive in our thinking, let’s do it. Let’s invest in cultural resources, focus on supporting our schools, improve neighborhoods and existing housing stock, upgrade our visual infrastructure with an aesthetic flourish, and find developers who are interested in building a quality product with an eye toward creating an economically sustainable community.

If we establish high expectations for ourselves as a city, we will succeed in becoming a high-energy attractive city built to support the needs of its residents and businesses. If we don’t do better, please re-read Mark Twain’s quote.

Federal Way resident Keith Livingston: keithlivingstondesign@gmail.com

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