Letters to the Editor

Letters to the editor: Feb. 16, 2008

City already works fine

After attending and participating in last Saturday’s caucus, I feel really enthusiastic about our community and the people who make it work.

For starters, while there were important political differences between the people in attendance, the common goal of representative, quality government dominated the discussions. We were all able to leave the caucuses satisfied with the decisions reached and confident in the intelligence of our neighbors.

I hope we will experience that same confidence and satisfaction when the votes are counted the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 19.

We have just days to assure the continuation of the good government we have in place. Please be sure to mark your absentee ballot or go to the polls to cast your vote against changing our system. We have the city government our voters approved 18 years ago when we incorporated to take charge of our own civic affairs. A casual look in the rearview mirror shows us that we have done very well with the leadership we chose along the way.

On Tuesday, please vote no because the city of Federal Way is working just fine. Let’s keep it that way.

Barbara Reid, Federal Way resident and Federal Way Works chair

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Scare tactics by ‘no’ crowd

Several editorials have commented that a yes vote to change our form of government will eliminate professional management in the city and replace it with a mayor who might not be able to read or balance a checkbook.

Looking beyond the obvious that someone like this could never get elected, I want to challenge this fallacy that a mayor would replace professional management in the city. I see this as a scare tactic from the vote no crowd.

Federal Way has several hundred employees with at least 25 who could be considered managers. The mayor would not replace all 25 managers, only the one person at the top. This person at the top really isn’t what you would consider a traditional manager. In a city of our size, this person really functions as a coordinator of city activities.

Let’s be realistic. No one person at the top could single-handedly manage a city of this size like the opponents of this ballot question are implying. Running Federal Way is a team effort, and the ballot proposal asks the people of Federal Way to make a directly elected mayor the leader and coordinator of this management team.

I will be voting yes, in order to retain professional management in this city and to have a directly elected mayor lead this team and be directly responsible to the people.

Roy Parke, Federal Way resident and Accountability Comes to Town president

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So offensive, it’s nauseating

I’m still steaming over the insulting letter Feb. 13 written by Bill Walker charging that the Federal Way Works people were taking down the ACT signs.

It probably didn’t occur to him that the city had removed all signs along Dash Point Road as well as most other main streets because they weren’t in compliance. Almost all of the signs were gone — we lost some the same day we put them up, but then put them up according to the city’s ordinance, and then they stayed.

We have lost many of our signs, and probably not all were collected by the city. Someone might want the stakes for kindling, who knows? We called the city code compliance department and were instructed on what the positioning of signs needed to be after we’d lost so many.

To compare the Federal Way Works group to the KKK or Crystal Night in Germany is so offensive it’s nauseating. How dare he?

While I’m certain we won’t get it, Mr. Walker owes the Federal Way Works group an

apology. We are citizens interested in good government who try to work in a positive way, many through volunteer efforts for the city, on committees or commissions. We certainly haven’t banded together as a posse, running around taking down signs.

Next time, Mr. Walker should check for the facts before making such serious accusations.

Joann Piquette, Federal Way Works steering committee

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Don’t step backward

The only people who will benefit from a strong mayor form of government are those with political ambition to hold that office.

I don’t want our chief administrator’s primary concern to be getting re-elected. I want them fully devoted to the professional administration of our city under the direction of the Federal Way City Council. Exactly what we have today.

The accountability argument for switching holds no water. The city manager/city council form of government is the best practice in municipal government, which allows us to get more done for our city and citizens.

While I appreciate the thoughtful dedication of people on both sides of this question, it is clear to me that changing will waste time, energy and money only to be a step backward.

Please vote no to changing our form of city government.

Brett Thomas, Federal Way

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Seeking a change in FW

It all started with one determined Federal Way citizen getting more than 3,000 people to sign a petition.

It has since become a bitter fight, with folks on both sides of the issue making every claim and accusation imaginable. It’s been the little guy against the power brokers. Victims of bureaucracy against the privileged inner core. We’ve seen some business owners who want change — and others who are angry at the idea of change. We’ve seen the issue spin from philosophical principle to childish name calling. Yes, the “us vs. them” mentality is alive and well.

It’s hard to see where caution ends and fear begins. It’s hard to see where common sense breaks down and becomes complacency or worse. There will always be the group that proclaims, “Everything’s wonderful.” And we can be sure that those who say “Wait just a minute” will be called “disgruntled citizens.”

Both sides claim that this is not a partisan issue. However, there are partisan elected representatives on the board of one of the two sides. We’ve even seen money come in from a Washington, D.C., lobbying association (International City Manager Association) and pay for some of those mail pieces and new signs.

I would be remiss if I didn’t say a bit more about the ICMA. This story hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. There is an impression that this Washington, D.C., lobbying association is an independent non-political group that exists to serve the betterment of society. The fact is that this lobbying association has spent over $100,000 influencing local city elections in support of creating more jobs for their members in dozens of cities over the past few years. (Recent examples are found in Florida, Ohio, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New York.) Their Web site even boasts that they have influenced over 68 local elections from their offices in Washington, D.C., over the last 20 years. The only reason lobbyists from Washington, D.C., would donate $8,000 to convince us to vote no in this election is because they have something to personally gain.

Well, I for one plan on sending a message to these Washington, D.C., lobbyists that I don’t appreciate their interference in our election, and I plan on voting yes.

For so many reasons, it’s difficult to find an opportunity to bring about change. And by change, I mean positive change. Progressive change. Change that raises our potential. To deny change means that one is happy with things as they are. Remember that. Happy with the way things are. If that’s how you feel, vote no. If, on the other hand, you’re ready for a mayor who (gasp!) is there as an advocate for the people, vote yes.

Regardless of the outcome of this vote, it won’t be the end of the argument. In fact, a “hybrid” form of city government was being talked about almost as soon as this proposition came into being. So, some of those who think we don’t need to make the leap to an elected mayor have decided that an intermediary step is worth looking at.

Well, let’s look at that. The people would elect position 1 on the city council. That council member would be, in effect, the mayor. Or should I say, chairman of the council. OK, that may be a step forward. But make no mistake, this is about compromise. The city manager, accountable to the council, would basically still run the city. That’s the bottom line and the problem with the hybrid approach. If we’re talking about direct accountability to the people — from the top — compromise tends to weaken the entire effort.

Well, it’s your decision now. Whatever you decide, make your voices heard.

David McKenzie, Federal Way

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Drastic change is not justified

“Don’t you think we should elect our own mayor?”

Sounds like an attractive idea, on the surface. But dig deeper. I attended ACT’s “forum” on Nov. 18, and heard city council member Jim Ferrell argue in favor of a strong mayor. I attended the debate on Jan. 16, and I’ve read practically every article and every letter about this issue. I believe that passing this initiative would be wrong for our city.

It’s interesting to note that our district’s two state representatives, Skip Priest and Mark Miloscia, agree with me. They’ve signed up with Federal Way Works (the “no” campaign). These are two people who conceivably would be interested in running for mayor, should the initiative succeed. We would pay our “strong mayor” an annual salary of $100,000 or more, far more than a state representative makes. So why are they against the initiative? I think it’s because of the following.

With seven elected city council members, with a majority of four needed to make a decision, one bad city council member can’t do much harm. But if we elect a strong mayor, most of the power in city government would shift to the mayor’s office — one person. Remember, the mayoral election would be a popularity contest, won by the best campaigner. No city administrative experience required. Elect the wrong person as mayor, and our city would be in trouble for years. By politicizing our city government, we would be opening the door to incompetency, corruption, favoritism, cronyism, political infighting, special interest groups, decision gridlock, etc. — all the ugly political crap people hate about government. This risk is real. And what do we really stand to gain?

It’s easy to take good government for granted. I heard Mayor Jack Dovey’s “State of the City” speech, and came away with the impression that our city is running quite well. Not perfect, mind you. There will always be people with a beef against the city, and there are always areas where city government could improve. Every decision the city council makes is not perfect. But such a drastic change is not justified. There is tremendous risk with the “strong mayor” proposal, and not much reward.

Because of that, I’m voting no.

Russell R. Wolf, Federal Way

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Rage against the machine

In the many years that I have lived in Federal Way, I have gone before the City Council and the Land Use Committee (who also are council members), many times. Residents who speak before the council only get three minutes to say what their problem or question is. The council never answers that resident. Are they afraid to? I am told that they do not always agree. The only council member that I have ever gotten a good response from is Jim Ferrell.

Residents who have voted for our council members through the years have soon found out that there is no way to unelect them once they are in, no matter how unhappy the residents are.

About one year ago residents on 21st Ave. S.W. and within 600 feet of proposed speed bumps were sent ballots and told to vote. The tally was two bumps and two tables which are much lower. At the next City Council meeting, they actually changed our votes and made it down to just four tables. I called the mayor on the council and asked why. He said “Oh, others complained.” Obviously, that is how the council is run now.

At a Land Use Committee meeting not long ago, I started to say “Other communities are going green, while Federal Way is going brown.” I was told that I could only say positive things, once again they have taken our rights of “free speech” away. Residents have a right to know what is going on in Federal Way.

Look what they (four members of the council) have done. They have voted to put in the big high-rises plus roads in the middle of Federal Way with our tax money (millions). There are about 87,000 residents in Federal Way but we were not allowed to vote. Obviously they knew we are smart enough to say no. Why would we vote for the high-rises when we don’t even have a mall to shop at?

Also we had to vote for higher taxes on our utilities because Federal Way didn’t budget for police and safety. No one I know voted for it. How did it get passed?

What about the Federal Way Community Center that very few people can afford to use? It costs a family of four $203 every three months. When residents are losing homes, and working two or three jobs, they can’t afford to play hard.

Let’s vote for a mayor who cares about our residents.

Nancy Combs, Federal Way

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In favor of elected mayor

The Federal Way Chamber and The Mirror have taken sides with Federal Way Works on the elected mayor issue. I am therefore compelled to address some of the tactics being used to try to convince voters why “yes” on electing our mayor is not the right choice.

1. The “inexperienced mayor” tactic. This claim has been made by several commentators in The Mirror. This absolutely confuses the real issue of a person’s right to vote on a mayor that represents the will of Federal Way residents. I would think that each voter in Federal Way would be insulted by the suggestion that voters would elect an inexperienced mayor. In Federal Way, voters vote on city council vacancies, senators, congressmen and women, and the list goes on. We voters aren’t stupid. Voters look for experience, leadership, voting records, personal convictions, etc.

2. The issue of being “stuck with a mayor for four years.” Note that The Mirror stated that a city manager is fired when the council votes to do so. And Chamber board chair Merle Pfeifer stated that the city manager would be held accountable to the council. But what they failed to mention is the fact that it takes four or more to make that happen. As columnist Bob Roegner said, a city manager only needs to count to four. But isn’t the real point here that a full-time mayor has full-time oversight and could reign in a runaway city manager? Roegner also asked this what if: What if a group

of Federal Way residents wanted change on an issue, the city council agrees, and yet the manager disagrees with the people? Politics are at work. In this case voters would have to vote out four council members who did not stand by them. Do all council seats end and start at the same time? No, the fact is it can take more than four years to get representation if the majority of four share the same view regardless of voter input. See what I mean?

3. The cost issue. Some letter writers, Chamber members and Mirror personnel state that having an elected mayor is going to increase costs. In addition, the Federal Way Works campaign stated in a handout at the State of the City Address on Feb. 6 that the changes would cost us up to $250,000 a year. This is another scare tactic, telling the voters that their taxes will go up and/or there will be a reduction in services. Well, let’s put that into dollars and sense. City council member Jim Ferrell stated in the Feb. 2 edition of The Mirror that the city has a $34 million operating budget. The salary for a mayor we’ll estimate at being $125,000. This is a fraction of 1 percent of that budget. And a small cost to pay for an elected city mayor. The question is, can we afford not to? The statement from city council members Jack Dovey, Linda Kochmar and Eric Faison basically put most of the heat on the city manager by stating, “Right now if you don’t like the city manager, you only need to convince four council members to fire him/her at the next council meeting.” The key word here is “only.” Look, if the voters don’t want to have a park, community center, new City Hall or whatever, and four on the council do, the manager’s job is to make it happen. If the voters must wait until those four come up for re-election and vote them off one by one, that could take longer than four years. Meanwhile the cost of bad decisions continues.

4. Hybrid system. Both the Federal Way Chamber and The Mirror have suggested exploring a “hybrid system” instead of strong mayor. That seems to me they also want change. Yet both failed to elaborate. I asked about this idea, and got no good answers. Could it be that the hybrid is simply more of the same? (And by the way, wouldn’t this also be a “costly change?”) At least ACT asked an unbiased guest speaker to come and share pros and cons on the strong mayor vs. our current system.

I see a yes vote meaning this: More accountability to the people, with healthy campaigning to bring “voter will” to the council. I see no significant added costs — and maybe less in the long run. To the Chamber and The Mirror, I say convince the voters otherwise. But please present the facts — all the facts. If you don’t, you’re doing a great disservice to the people of Federal Way costing us another campaign on another ballot.

John Wilde, Federal Way

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