The purpose of the mayor’s state of the city address is to give the populace a report card on the city’s accomplishments.
Mayors want the public to know what is going on, although admittedly slanted to only good things, it gives the voters a barometer. It is important to show progress, but at the same time, not to raise the bar so high that public expectations are unreal.
Typically, mayors focus not only on the people in the room, but the people who will read the newspaper accounts later. But when it is your first major speech as mayor, the tone almost carries as much weight as the message and the people in the room take on more importance as they will repeat what they saw and heard. Everyone, friends and enemies, want to see how the new mayor comports himself. After a few years, the drama will wear off.
But not this year.
This was Jim Ferrell’s first state of the city address as mayor.
When the public leaves the room to go back to work, they will remember three to five items of importance. But what they will remember most is the tone. Did they feel comfortable and confident about what the mayor and city were doing? And more importantly, did they feel the right decision was made in electing Ferrell?
For his first state of the city address during the recent Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Ferrell did well. He set a good tone with humor and had the advantage of the economy being in much better shape than it was a year ago. Former Mayor Skip Priest had been plagued by a down economy and his speeches were necessarily more about cutbacks. Hardly fun topics.
Ferrell’s intent was to convey action and a sense of urgency in moving the city forward. He understands that in politics, symbols have meaning and he reminded attendees of his efforts to recognize the Seahawks, establish a Key to the City, change the color of the police cars and add new programming for the city-held channel 21. He referenced new ideas that his administration already has put in place, such as reconnecting City Hall with its neighborhoods and the previously announced addition of a downtown police substation. In the long run, the neighborhood program will pay the biggest political dividends.
But he also had substance. He announced that a new town square city park would be open by July, although it would be closer to $200,000, rather than the $100,000 that was discussed at the city retreat. The park will start the effort to refocus on economic development by establishing a separate position to concentrate completely on job growth.
But the well-timed highlight of the day was the unveiling of a picture found at Brooklake. Hundreds of people have been trying to get that property into public ownership for years. To finally achieve that goal was a significant success for Ferrell as it provides the community’s link between past and present. It is a notable accomplishment.
In addition to the higher cost on the downtown park, adding two new highly paid director positions, and another permit staff, he also announced plans to potentially add six to eight police officers.
Some in the room were pleased with his follow through on campaign issues; others were busy totaling the cost of all the new programs and people.
Ferrell announced that the economy was strong and had provided approximately $1.6 million additional income.
That is close to the amount of new spending he outlined. And while the city’s economic picture is improving, suggesting it is “strong” may have been a little premature and overly enthusiastic, given Ferrell’s 91 days in office.
Also included in Ferrell’s emphasis on the city’s economic strength were several businesses that located in Federal Way during Priest’s tenure as mayor. It was only a few months ago Ferrell downgraded those same economic efforts.
Those were small errors in an otherwise very good performance. But political opponents keep track of things like this.
In his short time in office, Ferrell has made several improvements. Some were easy because of the improved economy. Some were harder and deserve more credit.
But it should also be noted that the city he inherited was much stronger financially than he expected.
He has done well so far, but these are the fun days for any new mayor.
Ferrell’s success will be decided by the hard decisions that still lie ahead.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn: firstname.lastname@example.org.