Prop. 1 and Jim Ferrell's political behavior | Federal Way letters
October 30, 2009 · Updated 1:07 PM
I recently received a phone call from a very angry woman wanting to know why I was so opposed to the elected mayor proposition and why I don't support Jim Ferrell. It is a fair question, although it became clear nothing I could say would be acceptable to her. I finally told her on this matter we should probably just agree to disagree and let it go at that.
I am opposed to a strong mayor form based on my own personal experiences and observations, which led me to believe the council-city manager form provides a superior structure of government over the elected mayor-council form. My experience spans 28 years in government service, 18 of which were spent working at the local level in both a council-city manager and strong mayor forms, and seeing the good, the bad and the ugly of each. I spent 10 years at the national and international level, and for a period of time, oversaw a unit charged with responsibility of going into local government agencies that were experiencing serious problems and carefully analyzing the root causes of those problems.
Recommendations for corrective measures to help resolve many of these issues were developed and presented. In a disproportionately high number of these cities and counties, many of the problems stemmed from a highly politicized environment and by political appointees who were serving in positions for which they were either marginally or outright unqualified for. This resulted in a subsequent breakdown of competent leadership and direction, which undermined the discipline and good order of the agencies involved. Other problems were generated from political cronyism, blatant favoritism and unequal treatment within the community, inappropriate interference in operational matters by politicians who tended to play both ends against the middle, and a host of other factors that were a direct product of the politicized atmosphere in City Hall. Over-responding to special interests groups at times had negative consequences for the larger community, and in many cases were substantially unfair to city employees who were cast in a negative light for political purposes. That is not to say these problems were exclusively in mayor-council forms, but rather just a higher number of them.
In addition to firsthand work experience in each form, my educational background includes a master's degree in public administration. My undergraduate degrees were in the administration of justice and organizational administration and supervision. I attended the Public Policy Institute at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and participated in an extensive number of technical training programs in public management and administration at leading institutions. This provided a conceptual framework to help understand the history and differences in government structure and processes. While none of this makes me an expert, it does provide a perspective that is more than just an emotional reaction to the proposed change.
While both forms can work, the probability of a better result is much higher in the council-city manager form. That's why I am advocating the retention of our current system and recommending a vote against Proposition 1.
With respect to Federal Way City Council member Jim Ferrell, he is a likable and articulate individual. For me however, it is a pattern of political behavior that I find troubling. I have grown weary of politicians who have served in office and attempt to distance themselves from other lawmakers to make it appear they are the problem and he's not. Branding others as "career politicians" is disingenuous and dishonest. Ferrell has served on the city council since being elected in November 2003 and good, bad or indifferent, he has ownership in the successes and failures of the city. He appears to be the consummate politician.
I am especially wary of politically ambitious people who will say or do anything to get what they want. As the chief advocate and spokesperson for Accountability Comes to Town (ACT), he bears responsibility for the fear mongering and misleading statements made in the mailings that have gone out in ACT's name. Using fear, manipulation and making false claims of what will be done with an elected mayor is simply not acceptable. Making promises like that assumes he will be the mayor and that may not be the case at all. He is quick to say this is not about Jim Ferrell. It has always been about Jim Ferrell and the small group of angry people he seems to pander to and who have promoted him consistently in this initiative effort and the last. Step one of the Palace Coup is to change the form of government. Step two is to get Ferrell elected mayor. The coup d`état will then be complete. Ferrell's self-serving interest in the outcome of this measure with its six-figure salary, liberal fringe benefits package and hand-picked staff represents a conflict of interest in my opinion and is ethically stretched. Politicians who crave power and control seldom yield long term benefits to constituents. His comments clearly reflect that as a strong mayor he would allow or reverse things the city council's collectively and professional city staff have not allowed over a period of many years. I don't believe they were all wrong and he is right. The council and staff may have had very good reasons for the actions they took, even if it displeased some who didn't get what they wanted.
In the end, every citizen has to decide what kind of government they want. Hopefully, enough people will see the value in having well qualified city management that leads Federal Way into a bright future that is fiscally sound, esthetically pleasing and offers strong cultural, recreational and social opportunities for its citizens. Please join us and vote against Proposition 1, the strong mayor initiative.
Jerry Vaughn, co-chair, Federal Way Works