Armchair critics point at ‘old boys network’

By Chris Carrel, Thinking Locally

  • Friday, March 21, 2008 10:01am
  • Opinion

By Chris Carrel, Thinking Locally

There’s something bugging me. OK, a lot of things are bugging me: The Iraq War, global warming, poverty, the ridiculous calls the ref was making in my daughter’s soccer game last week.

I understand that with writing, as with life, you have to prioritize and focus. After all, who wants to read a column about that danged referee? Although the ref’s call probably deserve an investigative news series, and perhaps a judicial inquiry! But I digress.

So, here’s what’s been bugging me. In the recent campaign to change city government, and in various letters to the editor and the occasional quote in news articles, there have been people who’ve talked about an “old boys network” running Federal Way. There have even been references to an elite that “rub elbows” with those in the old boys network.

I guess this could keep expanding to include those that are on a first-name basis with the old boys and those within shouting distance, but we’ve only got 83,500 citizens.

This characterization of how things get done in this community is a self-serving description and plain wrong. What’s more, it’s unfair to the hundreds of Federal Way-ers who are involved in community life through elected positions, city commissions and volunteering through the many fine nonprofit organizations operating in Federal Way.

When I was a younger man, before I got involved in community activities, I also used to think that there was an old boys network that somehow influenced and even controlled community affairs. I suppose they may have even existed at some point in the past.

But when I began to get more closely involved in community affairs, I found something quite different. I found people who care about the community around them and are committed to making it better. These are the people making the Federal Way of today and the future.

You find them serving on the Parks Commission and the Diversity Commission, helping craft and guide city policy. You find them working at the Multi-Service Center’s food bank or planting trees at the West Hylebos Wetlands. You find them volunteering with Citizens for Federal Way Schools, working to pass school levies. You find them volunteering at Federal Way schools, helping kids learn to read or mentoring at-risk youth through the Heritage Leadership Program.

You will also find them making nonprofit programs possible by attending the FUSION fundraiser, the Boys and Girls Club breakfast, the Literacy Breakfaast, the Chamber of Commerce auction, and yes, the Friends of the Hylebos’ Ruby Dance.

The truth is that the community isn’t run like some old-fashioned political machine; it’s built, like a house. And the people who show up for the work will shape what that house looks like.

City government is bound by its own laws and regulations, as well as by state and federal statutes. For example, the city council can’t just decide to permit an aluminum smelter in Twin Lakes — it would violate existing zoning. Federal and state regulations would also prevent the council from enacting a Chinook salmon fishing derby in the Hylebos Creek.

The same is true for the school district, Lakehaven and the fire department — agencies must operate within certain parameters. But within the legal framework, the volunteers and community activists shape the direction of these agencies.

The Symphony development downtown, for example, isn’t the result of an impromptu city council decision or a city manager suddenly bent on having a high-rise downtown. It’s the culmination of years of discussion and goal-setting in council discussions, economic development committees and at the Chamber of Commerce, and is found within the city’s comprehensive plan (which itself utilizes citizen input).

I realize there is a group of perpetually dissatisfied individuals that will never be convinced that some mythic old boys network does not run Federal Way. The democratic process recognizes their right to dissent. However, much to their continued frustration, community can’t be shaped by harping and yelling the loudest. The best you can achieve with that is disruption. It’s the positive forces of participation that bring the crucial energy for change and forward progress.

I was thinking about this while watching my daughters’ soccer game. Unlike a community, a game is a dictatorship. I could’ve started yelling at the ref (as some parents chose to do), but I wasn’t interested in disrupting the game or embarrassing my daughter.

If I wanted to influence the calls, I knew I needed to put up and shut up, get referee’s training and get out there myself. Needless to say, this time I kept my opinions to myself.

Chris Carrel is a lifelong Federal Way resident and executive director of the Friends of the Hylebos. Contact: chinook@hylebos.org.

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