As we look to local elections this year, the chaos in the other Washington reminds us we need accountability more than ever. We just passed a significant tax on ourselves for the next step in Sound Transit 3, our mass transit plan, but we have many more financial challenges in front of us. Full funding for schools, upgrading college facilities and huge challenges in our roads, bridges and ferry network. At the same time, here in Federal Way, city government is committed to the Performing Arts and Event Center at $33 million while the school district is preparing a plan to repair or replace many of our older schools at a cost of several millions of dollars. What are our priorities?
Candidates for local office this year must do their homework and be prepared with facts, figures and thoughtful solutions. It is not a time for bombast or ill-considered pandering to get elected. It is time for serious candidates with serious ideas.
Listen to what the candidates have to say and then ask them to explain why their idea is a good one. Then hold them accountable for what they say. Candidates are learning that it is alright to make a commitment to do something and then change their minds once they get in office. If a candidate does that, it means they didn’t take running for office seriously and didn’t understand the implications of what they were promoting as a platform.
Don’t let the candidates off easy. Make them explain what their ideas mean and how they will affect other issues. For example, it is easy to say the city and the school district should work closer together, but how? In what ways should they work closer? How should our elected leaders approach the big picture of fiscal needs, or even the daily challenges of needing additional resource officers on campus in the lower grades?
The school district is addressing the diversity of their students, but where is the city? What needs to change or improve to ensure a culture of inclusion among our residents, and how will success be measured?
As the taxpayer, what’s most important to you? Federal Way has fairly low taxes. Does that justify raising them? Have you read crime statistics of the last five years? Have the candidates?
The mayor and council want nine new police officers but can’t agree on how to pay for them. The mayor would prefer to pass the tax along to the water and sewer district, but it would still come out of your pocket. The city says police caught the person who committed last year’s murders.
Do you still want more police officers ? If so, how do you want to pay for them? Or do you want to follow Police Chief Andy Hwang’s original recommendation and hire two? Do the candidates understand the budget well enough to know what the implications of the decision options are?
Residents are just feeling the impact of the ST3 vote, and they don’t seem very happy about it. But the school district has already announced it needs millions of dollars to upgrade several old schools.
If the city adds more taxes for police after ST3 and then adds more taxes in 2019-20 as planned to sustain them, what is the impact on voters’ pocketbooks? Will they then vote no when school improvements are on the ballot? Again, think priorities. If necessary, what would you cut?
The PAEC will need to be subsidized for the next few years by about $300,000 per year. Where will that money come from in 2019-20? Naming rights have not been sold yet, and the city is using some block grant money on the PAEC. What if President Trump eliminates block grants as has been mentioned? What if some other source of income doesn’t come through?
It sounds good to have a candidate say the public should vote on all tax increases, but what does that mean? It is neither practical nor smart. The candidate is trying to abdicate responsibility and have the voters take him or her off the hook and escape accountability. Candidates should be willing to make difficult choices. That’s what leadership is about. Make them tell you what their priorities are, and see if they align with yours.
Homelessness has been a major issue in the community, but it seems elected officials have spent more time at council meetings debating whether or not to spend money on a branding program or new logo. Should the city keep up its “give the homeless a list of services available and then try and get them to leave town” policy, or do candidates have better ideas? Two candidates who are running this year are working on a program for mothers and children. When will that be part of the debate? The mayor gave them that assignment, but what is his plan? And is it finally time to have a serious discussion about guns? How many people died in our town last year due to guns? Should marijuana be sold in the city? Does that question need to be revisited?
Are our services to seniors adequate? Their senior center appears to need city and county support.
And what ideas do you have to improve the community? Maybe you should run for office. Not all positions have two candidates yet, and wouldn’t several candidates for each office bring out the best discussions?
Soon candidates will be knocking on your door asking for your vote. Do your homework and be prepared.
What kind of city do you want Federal Way to be?
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn and retired public official. He can be reached at email@example.com.