Opinion

Federal Way's direction, PACC at stake with new council | Roegner

Bob Roegner - Contributed
Bob Roegner
— image credit: Contributed

Let the games begin!

Usually that phrase is reserved for the opening of the Olympic Games. However, it may have a new meaning as the Federal Way City Council and Mayor-elect Jim Ferrell try to figure out how to work together.

At stake is not only the future of the Performing Arts and Conference Center (PACC), but the direction of the city. Beneath the surface these relationships may determine where the power on the Council lies by the selection of a replacement for Council member Jim Ferrell when he resigns to become Mayor.

Recently, Council members Jeanne Burbidge, Dini Duclos and Bob Celski worked with Mayor Skip Priest to pull an expenditure for the PACC scheduled by city staff for the first council meeting in January and place it on the council agenda for Dec. 3.

The four elected officials apparently saw the move as a way to avoid a possible veto from new Mayor Ferrell who will be wielding the gavel come the first of January. The three council members were joined by new Council member Martin Moore in approving the $65,000 expenditure. Voting no were Ferrell and Council members Kelly Maloney and Susan Honda.

The PACC was one of the more controversial items of disagreement between Ferrell and incumbent Mayor Skip Priest. Ferrell won, in part, by suggesting the public vote on the PACC. Supporters of the PACC appear reluctant to agree as the PACC could be defeated. But there has been a lot of behind-the-scenes speculation about how the new mayor and the Council will handle this high profile topic.

Since the makeup of the Council in January will be the same as it is now, why would it make much difference if there are still four votes? Because if Ferrell were to veto the expenditure in January before his replacement is named, there wouldn’t be five votes to override the veto. However, if the four person bloc holds together they could select a pro-PACC person to replace Ferrell and make any expenditure for the PACC veto-proof by February.

Ferrell was restrained in his comments in an apparent effort to downplay the disagreement. But the PACC will come up again. And again.

Ferrell has been reaching out to Council members since the election to try and find some common ground on other issues, so the PACC doesn’t overshadow all other issues and undermine his first year in office.

The move by the Council is relatively small on the chess board of local politics. But it does send a message and doesn’t help build the kind of trust that would be helpful in a new administration. Ferrell was clear in his view during the election that he would make several policy changes and some members like the current direction.

But if the maneuvering continues without resolution, Ferrell has options as well. As mayor, he decides what staff priorities are. And members of the City Council each have interests other than the PACC and will need Ferrell’s cooperation to achieve them. Also, positions held by Celski and Duclos are up for election in two years. Duclos isn’t likely to run again but Celski might want support from Ferrell. It is possible for Ferrell to turn a 5-2 disadvantage into a 4-3 advantage in two years if the current council majority overplays its hand. Something they appear willing to do.

Suggesting a public vote on the PACC in the election was a good political move. But it is generally a poor way to set public policy. That’s what elected officials are supposed to do.

But if the eight are unable to find a compromise and waiting two years for the next round of elections is undesirable, then a public vote may be the only way to settle the matter.

In that case, schedule it soon and consider putting all PACC expenditures on hold. At $6 million and counting, the risk is too great without unified leadership.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner, a former mayor of Auburn: bjroegner@comcast.net.

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