Ferrell: the next four years

With Mayor Jim Ferrell serving another term, will he change his goals?

With his victory in last fall’s election, Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell will continue at the helm of city government for another four years. Will there be any changes in his goals?

Since his first election, Ferrell has focused on three primary goals: police staffing, the Performing Arts and Event Center and the downtown. Not surprisingly, those remain his top priorities. He wants to ensure the city fills its authorized police staffing levels at 136 officers while also making the PAEC the economic anchor for a new downtown.

Although crime is down, residents always want more police. Although that isn’t always the best solution, it will remain a Ferrell priority. The PAEC is now a reality, and even opponents want it to succeed and become an income source rather than a subsidy drain. Crime rates and the financial position of the PAEC will be watched closely by residents and continue to be political factors over the next two years leading to the next municipal election cycle in 2019.

Ferrell hopes to sell the naming rights to the PAEC and sell the adjacent property and use the money to pay off the inter-fund loan, which is due in three years.

Money will continue to be a challenge for city government and is reflected in the city’s legislative priorities. The city is asking for additional financial help of $1 million for the PAEC, $100,000 toward establishing an emergency shelter for the homeless and $800,000 for the university initiative from the Washington state Legislature.

Ferrell views the addition of a University of Washington and Highline College campus in downtown as a critical feature to attracting other economic development interests. A new hotel and grand staircase at the PAEC, followed by Sound Transit light rail, will also provide the opportunity for transit-related development and completely change the character of the central business district.

Other areas of interest for Ferrell are keeping the North Lake property near the old Weyerhaeuser property as open space. He has requested additional financial support from the state Legislature for that effort as well.

Ferrell isn’t enthusiastic about the plans for the old Weyerhaeuser, now Green Line, property but feels he can do little to affect the type of change he would prefer given legal issues on the property. He notes that the addition of DaVita to the area is positive.

Ferrell isn’t planning major changes to his administration, although he does anticipate some retirements and wants to hire a new communications manager. Ferrell’s comfort level seems to be in exterior relationships and talking to citizen groups about community needs. Many City Hall watchers believe Ferrell would be more effective if he were to hire a city administrator to manage the daily affairs of city government, which is not perceived to be his particular strength.

With Ferrell’s full plate of carryover challenges, it isn’t expected that he will have the financial latitude to undertake many new projects. An area to watch is the policy relationship with the City Council.

A majority of the new City Council has less than four years experience and is likely to look at policy with a more critical eye as they learn. The previous council was willing to go along with Ferrell on most issues as long as he supported the PAEC. However, this council, while recognizing the PAEC is not reversible, may have different priorities, and is likely to want to work on the homeless challenge and bringing family-wage jobs to the city to help the poor rather than the service level jobs that have been more visible in economic development efforts. Especially since some relationships may be strained in the election aftermath.

Ferrell’s new, though tenuous, interest in the homeless may provide an opportunity to find common ground.

With the retirement of Jeanne Burbidge from the council, only council member Dini Duclos remains from the group that was more comfortable with the council-manager form of government. Some City Hall watchers hope Ferrell will try and acquire more executive authority from the council, while others are fearful of such a move. Would the council trade giving him more power for his agreement to hire a trained professional administrator? Or will the council take on more of a check and balance role and exert a stronger hand in policy development?

The projects may look the same, but the road to results may be different.

The next few two years will be interesting to watch as Ferrell tries to cement his legacy with a council that may be more willing to challenge him. And in the background will be political interests.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn and retired public official. He can be reached at bjroegner@comcast.net.

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