With the announcement the city attorney is retiring, the exodus from Federal Way City Hall continues and provides Mayor Jim Ferrell with an opportunity to recruit his own team and start to shape the city’s future.
With vacancies in the city attorney’s office, Public Works, Parks and Recreation, Economic Development departments and other key positions, Ferrell can bring new ideas and a renewed energy. That is not to say that the departing officials haven’t been significant contributors to the city’s growth, because they have.
But they were all recruited to a city manager form of government and have been together for many years. They, along with some members of the City Council, have grown accustomed to doing things a certain way and don’t seem to recognize that the public voted to change to a strong mayor form of government.
Ferrell himself is not particularly knowledgeable about how the new form is supposed to function. But that is why this opportunity is so important to his long-term success. Ferrell’s instincts are much more in tune with a strong executive than his predecessor. While he should not ignore talented candidates just because they come from a city manager form of government, special attention should be given to candidates who have experience in a strong mayor system.
That is particularly true in the city attorney’s office. Because they interpret the law, the city attorney can have more influence on decisions in City Hall than anyone other than the mayor.
Most mayors will tell you that their success is partially in the hands of the city attorney, police chief and finance director. Ferrell has already filled two of the three with candidates, though skilled, who don’t have experience in a strong mayor system.
If Ferrell can fill the remaining positions with staff more knowledgeable with the new system, they can help train not only Ferrell but the remaining staff.
Why is this important? First, because the public made it important by voting to change the government. Secondly, some Council members and some staff do not want to change, despite the public vote. And lastly, the strong mayor system is more suited to the current mayor and the changing economic climate that will need more creative thinking and decision making.
And think about what can be accomplished.
We desperately need economic activity in our downtown core to go along with the planned park. But that’s not all we need.
We need a central plaza, a parade route for events and downtown art, sculptures and murals. We need to move City Hall, the courts and the Police department downtown. Then we need to move the Historical Society downtown.
We need summer concerts, with outdoor food vendors and a “stars walk of fame” for our historical contributors who have made a difference in the growth and maturation of Federal Way. We need a focus on making Federal Way a “kid friendly place,” a place with activities that cater to children and families.
We need additional neighborhood parks. We need new modern entryway signs that highlight the city we are and can become. And we should start with the sign at 320th. We need to think creatively about where mass transit will go when it gets here. How can we use this new asset to increase economic development, while making it convenient to the people who will actually use it by combining it with at-grade shops, restaurants and stores?
This is a short list and more can be added. But we have missed too many opportunities and we can’t afford to miss any more. Think of the energy we can unleash! We have an active mayor, a form of government that can move quickly, an opportunity to hire the new creative staff, an economy on the rebound and a perfect geographic location.
Now, do we have the leadership, vision and will to make it happen?
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn: firstname.lastname@example.org.