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Council owed public a recusal over Proposition One | Jacinda Howard
Federal Way's city council members are elected to act in the best interests of their constituents. They are expected to be honest, forthright, forward-thinking and objective role models in the community. All of the council's seven members — Mayor Jack Dovey, deputy mayor Eric Faison, Linda Kochmar, Jeanne Burbidge, Dini Duclos, Mike Park and Jim Ferrell — typically live up to these standards and cast their votes in the way that they feel will best benefit the residents of Federal Way.
However, on Sept. 15, the council was not objective. It voted on an issue that each council member feels strongly about.
During the city council meeting, the group voted 6-to-1 to oppose Proposition One — a citizen's initiative to appear on the November general election ballot. If approved, residents will have the opportunity to elect their mayor.
The council may have meant well by taking a stance on the measure, but it was not in a position to objectively vote on the issue. An elected mayor would greatly affect each council member's position. Instead of the city council having the final say in a given matter, an elected mayor would be the deciding factor. He or she would hold veto power over the city council. Furthermore, a well-liked and well-respected council member, Ferrell, is the public face leading the campaign pushing for an elected mayor. Ferrell has readily admitted he will run for the position, if residents pass the initiative. This too appears to be a conflict of interest.
The public expects its city council members to recognize when their opinion on an issue may be biased. The public expects council members to recuse themselves from any vote regarding the corresponding issue. Council members usually keep this in mind and willingly refrain from voting on a issue that is, or appears to be, a conflict of interest.
For example, during an Aug. 4 city council meeting, Ferrell recused himself from voting on whether the city should close its own court and instead contract for services with the county court. Ferrell works as a King County prosecutor.
During the same meeting, Duclos recused herself from voting to establish a Local Revitalization Area at South 336th Street and Pacific Highway South. A portion of sales and property taxes in that LRA are matched by the state, and Federal Way will use the money to help provide infrastructure to private developments. Duclos is the CEO of Federal Way's Multi-Service Center. The MSC, among other services, is involved with constructing and maintaining privately developed low-income housing in the city.
During a Sept. 1 city council meeting, Kochmar recused herself from voting on a settlement agreement with Lakehaven Utility District to relinquish easements in the right-of-way. Kochmar is employed as a risk manager at Lakehaven.
Given each council member's history of forfeiting his or her vote during times in which he or she feels a vote may be influenced by personal opinion, it is surprising and disappointing that the council felt the need to publicly oppose Proposition One. Whether the measure is needed, and whether it is in the best interest of Federal Way, is for residents to decide.