Will Federal Way mayor's agenda align with community's priorities? | Inside Politics

Bob Roegner - Contributed
Bob Roegner
— image credit: Contributed

It has already been an interesting year at City Hall and we are only in the first week of February. New Mayor Jim Ferrell has been careful not to ruffle any feathers.

But he wants to keep his campaign promises and really lead, so it is only a matter of time.

He got a break, and was cast well as “cheerleader in chief” when the Seahawks went to and won the Super Bowl. City Hall and the parking lot were full of excitement.

But the setting also highlighted a major community need and another challenge for Ferrell. Federal Way’s City Hall is in the wrong location to serve as the central gathering place for community events. It should be moved downtown. What do you suppose the economic and community impact would be if City Hall, the Police Department and Municipal Court, along with a new park were located downtown?

That idea should fit into the discussion of the community’s priorities and Ferrell’s agenda.

One of Ferrell’s biggest challenges will be how to get his agenda supported by the Council and a broader array of voters.

Currently, the City Council and Ferrell appear to have different priorities. And that will become more noticeable as the year unfolds.

Ferrell’s priorities are financial stability, as it is with all mayors; public safety, where he has stated he wants to add 10-12 police officers, which will be expensive; and economic development, which means establishing a better game plan for recruitment of businesses and jobs, and deciding where he wants Patrick Doherty to focus his time.

Right now, Doherty has three full-time jobs with the Performing Arts and Conference Center (PACC), planning, and economic development. And the PACC likely wouldn’t even be in Ferrell’s top 10 priorities. But with the majority of the Council, it might be No. 1.

While the Council wouldn’t necessarily disagree with Ferrell’s priorities in a public setting,  all their movements suggest that the PACC is their highest priority. And that has the mayor and Council headed down a path where common ground may prove elusive.

From a political perspective, many PACC leaders weren’t Ferrell voters in the last election. And if he doesn’t fully embrace the PACC, they may not be his voters next election either. But that is four years away and Ferrell needs to build support for other priorities that he wants. As a result, he has been cautious to avoid an outright confrontation.

Ferrell made a strategic move to add a city administrator position to help manage the daily affairs of the city and start to establish control of City Hall. But he sidestepped  a confrontation with the Council by calling it a chief of staff position, which avoided a Council confirmation process. And he picked former police Chief Brian Wilson for the job. Wilson is well liked by the council, so he again avoided a confrontation. Possibly a good move in the short-term, we’ll see.

Long-term benefit to Ferrell is unclear as he hasn’t moved to put his own team in place yet or put his mark on anything major. He also made cautious movements to spread out the decision making time frame on the PACC, which again avoids confrontation with a Council that is 4-2 in favor of the PACC.

Each side hopes the process works to their advantage to get the other side to back down or look for common ground. The only common ground may be “let the voters decide” through a public advisory ballot.

Ferrell has the most to lose if he doesn’t find a way through the PACC pitfalls, and supporting the PACC might strain his credibility with the public.

Another area to watch is the budget. Ferrell inherited this one. But watch how he engages the neighborhoods in a series of public participation meetings during the summer to start building his own four-year agenda through his first budget later this fall.

A key decision coming up for Ferrell is filling the finance director position. The choice will be crucial to Ferrell’s success. It should be someone with executive level financial experience in a strong mayor form of government. Parallel to that is the regional jail, SCORE, and its financial costs. And, of course, filling Ferrell’s seat on the City Council.

Additionally, Ferrell led the fight to create a strong mayor form of government. What is his plan for follow through? With public safety being a major part of his election platform, how will Ferrell address domestic violence and guns in the aftermath of the Pinewood murders? Will he try and raise the minimum wage issue for discussion? Ferrell wants to be an activist mayor and he believes he can accomplish significant improvements. But that means pushing an aggressive agenda and confrontation can’t be avoided.

How would you decide to handle these issues if you were the mayor, or a Council member? Building the PACC or not, building a park and moving City Hall downtown, recruiting a college or other assets for downtown, or police officers, domestic violence, gun control, strong mayor form of government, minimum wage increase, City Hall-neighborhood connection, new Council member, new finance director, a more aggressive move on jobs recruitment, increased tourism, review of the city permit system, SCORE, the 2015 budget. What are your priorities?

Not an easy agenda, and Ferrell needs to be the one to set it. Watch what he does, and watch how the Council and community respond.

Should be a fun year.

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


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