Will Federal Way mayor keep his PACC promise? | Inside Politics

Bob Roegner - Contributed
Bob Roegner
— image credit: Contributed

What a difference a few months make. Mayor Jim Ferrell was for many years the feared enemy of those who wanted the Performing Arts and Conference Center (PACC) built.

But as the debate on the PACC heats up, opponents of the PACC wonder where their leader went?

Some residents voted for Ferrell as mayor in part because they believed he would either stop the Council from “pushing through” the PACC or at least get the issue placed on the ballot so the citizens could vote on it, even if it was only an advisory ballot.

There are several reasons that Ferrell was elected mayor over incumbent Skip Priest, but Priest’s support for the PACC and Ferrell’s perceived opposition was a main point of difference between the candidates.

Many voters felt the city misled them with the Federal Way Community Center and its need for subsidy. Ferrell tapped into that vein of fiscal conservatism and suspicion in the voting public for support.

After Ferrell’s election, some pro-PACC Council members were concerned that Ferrell would fire PACC staff lead Patrick Doherty. They were also so fearful of Ferrell potentially providing a veto on some part of the project that when they selected Ferrell’s replacement, their primary consideration appeared to be whether or not the candidates supported the PACC.

To his credit, Ferrell has been a “can do” mayor, already implementing many of his campaign promises from the 2010 and 2013 elections. His mid-year report card will look pretty good. But to many citizens, he has also appeared to switch sides on the future of the  PACC. His  language became noticeably more vague and lacked any of the fiery rhetoric of the campaign debates. He didn’t challenge the Council on the issue, nor try to lead them in a different direction. He has not put a resolution before the Council to vote on placing the issue in front of the voters this fall. This is particularly angering to many voters as they want their say on the most expensive project in city history and they feel Ferrell promised them that opportunity.

In fact, Ferrell has become very supportive of going ahead with the project. A majority of Council members support the PACC, and actually stopping the project with the force of the mayor’s office is unlikely to be successful.

But some voters believe they may have been misled by what Ferrell’s position actually was. Recently, Ferrell said, “I never said I was opposed to the PACC.” And his communications manager finds nothing inconsistent with years of perceived opposition and the mayor’s current position. They feel the Blue Ribbon Panel’s report has made the project more fiscally sound and that’s what Ferrell wanted all along.

Really? PACC opponents point out that Ferrell’s own new financing approach contains both a temporary bridge loan and a longer term gap loan, while still relying on use of Community Development Block Grant (CBDG) funds. Last August, Ferrell called the CBDG approach “a credit card for the PACC” and voted against it. Isn’t adding two loans just adding to the credit card?

And in an odd circular funding option, Ferrell’s new finance director wants to rely on “savings” from the Community Center to help pay for the loans. If there is savings, couldn’t that money be used for other city needs? In January, Ferrell wanted to add 10-12 police officers in next year’s budget. Last week, he announced he would ask for only five.

And still complete silence on a vote of the people.

One PACC supporter says a public vote isn’t necessary because of the 279 people who participated in the Mirror poll, 55 percent supported the PACC. However, we have almost 90,000 people living here, and in that same poll 55 percent said it should be subject to a public vote.

And Ferrell’s comment of saying he “never said he was opposed to the PACC” sounds like an attorney trying to bifurcate his words into revisionist history.

In 2013, Ferrell’s campaign brochure said he “fully supports giving the people a vote on this $32 million project,” in contrast to Priest. In another call for a public vote, Ferrell said, “People only support what they help create.” He also again expressed his opposition to “wasteful projects.” Then, of course, the credit card approach he voted against and now has adopted and increased.

In 2010, Ferrell stressed fiscal accountability and opposition to unnecessary construction projects. When all four candidates for mayor were asked at a debate if they supported the PACC, Ferrell said “no” and he was appalled that his fellow colleagues were in favor of the development.

He said if elected he would always ask two questions: “Is it the role of government and is it necessary?”

Ferrell said city government should not substitute for the private sector. Many people who oppose the PACC have argued that if the PACC was such a good idea, the private sector would have already built it. Ferrell also said, “I do not believe the role of government is to act as a private enterprise by buying and developing land.”

Did he hold the same view in 2013? Does he now? Did he change vie points and forget to tell us?

Ferrell’s 2010 campaign brochure says “In 2009, Jim stood alone against a $50 million PACC” and “We cannot spend taxpayer funds on projects that do not help ordinary people.” That is now an issue as many “ordinary people” say the PACC is for rich people and they won’t get much use out of it.

At $32-$37 per ticket, a family of four might not be able to afford it.

At his 2010 campaign kick-off, Ferrell had three priorities, one of which was “protecting taxpayers from unnecessary projects” and cited his past opposition to taxpayers funding part of the PACC.

From 2010 to 2013 and now, Ferrell has built an image of opposition to the PACC that voters relied upon. And while opposing the PACC may not be the only reason many people voted for him, reversing course on the biggest project in city history does need some explaining to retain his credibility.

Ferrell has a chance to be a really good mayor. But his credibility is important. Many members of the public feel misled about his position on the PACC and his support for putting the issue on the ballot.

Just changing how the PACC gets funded isn’t a substitute for what he told the public as a candidate.


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