An old joke has it that some people went to a fight and a hockey game broke out! Fights happen a lot at hockey games. Attendees at last week’s council meeting were expecting a discussion on the city branding effort that has become a debate about a new city logo, city priorities and spending.
But through their surrogates of former City Council member Kelly Maloney and Senior Adviser to the Mayor Steve McNey, visitors were instead treated to the first mayoral debate of the season between incumbent Mayor Jim Ferrell and council member and mayoral challenger Susan Honda. When on the council, Maloney and Honda had frequently been allies in opposition to Ferrell.
A few years ago, Maloney had proposed the branding effort and was supported by Honda and council member Dini Duclos who formed a council committee.
Ferrell had never seen the project as a priority and had put it on hold on two occasions. The council can appropriate money for a project but cannot force the mayor to spend it.
The budget of $100,000 was to fund a city effort at creating a new “brand” for the city, which in some council members’ eyes suffers from a poor image regionally.
At the mayor-council retreat earlier this year, the council appeared ready to follow McNey’s view that the city drop the project and stay with the current logo.
While some data was also delivered, the public saw three new logos it didn’t particularly like, at a time when the mayor and council were debating what tax to pass to fund new police officers. Public reaction seemed to support Ferrell’s view that the time and the cost for this project was too much.
But the council had pressed ahead and appeared to want more public input before making a final decision.
But then, last month, members voted 5-2 to approve a new red, white and blue logo. Honda joined council member Mark Koppang in voting no. She had supported the branding effort but did not want to move further without the additional public input the council had declared it wanted.
After hearing several negative comments throughout the community, the council moved to reconsider its prior action and stay with the current logo at its March 21 meeting.
Maloney had resigned from the council at the beginning of the year and was not in attendance, but she made her presence felt with a letter the clerk read for inclusion.
While she urged the council to reconsider its unpopular choice, she was highly critical of the city administration suggesting that McNey had influenced the poor product. In a follow up story in the Mirror, McNey denied the allegation and said Maloney and Honda had been the ones pushing the issue over the mayor’s belief that other issues were more important.
Behind the scenes, the issue had become polarizing, but Maloney’s letter moved it to a front-and-center political issue.
Ferrell had seemingly tried to politically neutralize Maloney by giving her the Key to the City upon her departure from the council. He had also invited her to be in the recent newspaper photo announcing the memorandum of understanding for the college initiative.
Some City Hall watchers had expected those two actions to result in Maloney remaining neutral in the mayor’s race despite her friendship with Honda and clashes with Ferrell. There is a view that Maloney still harbors her own political aspirations and may have been more open to neutrality than usual. Maloney said there were no discussions about her supporting Ferrell or staying neutral. She said she has not endorsed anybody in the mayor’s race and has not decided yet if she will endorse at all. Her actions suggest, however, she still significantly disagrees with Ferrell and McNey on several fronts.
As a part of the new, and now public, declaration that both sides have taken off the gloves, a mayoral proclamation took on more interest at the same meeting. Ferrell, using the advantage of the incumbency, read a mayoral proclamation about Federal Way being a “welcoming city” and expressing support to immigrants in the community at a time when the topic is national front page news. The proclamation doesn’t do anything dramatic, but it gives Ferrell something to appeal to voters.
Ferrell has usually retained the old council-manager format of letting the council also sign his proclamations. In this election year, however, there were no additional signature blocks for council members — subtle, but most assuredly a message to Honda that Ferrell was claiming the issue and trying to show leadership.
The fun has started, and it is only April.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn and retired public official. He can be reached at email@example.com.