Mayors focus on the positive actions occurring in the city when giving a State of the City address, and always tell you the city’s state is “strong.” Mayor Jim Ferrell’s address followed that model and was a fun trip down memory lane through the movie “Back to the Future,” and Ferrell’s belief that for Federal Way, “the future is now.”
The marketing for the event was so over-the-top with campaign signs, newspaper ads, five portable message boards, and over 3,000 email invitations, I thought the circus was coming to town. No circus, just a political rally that cost the taxpayers $6,585, not including the videographer and other staff time intended to benefit Ferrell. A couple of insiders said it sounded like last year’s speech, and the Performing Art and Events Center, Town Square Park, a college campus with Highline and the University of Washington, and light rail are not new at this point.
But some important details were omitted from his speech. Ferrell mentioned that the college initiative grew out of the needs assessment the city did a few years ago. Actually the idea came from Kelly Maloney when she was on the City Council; Ferrell adopted it and then asked the council to approve the needs assessment.
Ferrell noted a decrease in crime of 11 percent, with no gun-related murders in 2018, which is good news, and Mama Stortini’s will be a good restaurant replacement for the departed McGrath’s. Ferrell brought up the homeless issue and that he was pleased to sign a letter along with other mayors in support of the homeless, and Microsoft’s $500 million affordable housing pledge.
Ferrell emphasized the PAEC is 80 percent paid, but he didn’t mention the other 20 percent, which is several million dollars, and the city refinanced a portion recently and will be paying it off for several more years. Or that the sale of the former Target property for a hotel, which was supposed to be used to help reduce the debt on the PAEC, fell through and is now back in city hands. He also said the PAEC will have a new sign so people will know what it is, and that is great. But wasn’t selling the naming rights supposed to help give us a new name for the PAEC, and also help with the debt? The naming rights have not been sold.
Ferrell is proud of the new grand staircase that will be built near the PAEC this year. The money being used can only be used for capital projects, but the optics of the expenditure will be lost on many who will see waste to benefit the few rich people who can actually afford to go to a show or play, and who will also question if that is really the best use of that money.
Ferrell mentioned a program for panhandlers, but that idea was discussed in 2017 and not implemented. He brought up the award of $26,000 to South King County Housing and Homeless Partners, which is a good idea. However, Ferrell actually opposed it, and the council had to overrule him to get it in the budget. He wants to recognize our veterans, but according to city staff that committee has laid dormant for the last few years, and Ferrell’s most recent attempt to honor our veterans was his ill-advised effort to rename 320th Street as Veterans Way.
He said he was starting a senior committee, which is long overdue to many who have wanted a city senior center for years.
Our veterans should be recognized and our seniors should have a city-sponsored center, but these ideas have been talked about before, and once the headline wares off are forgotten. Ferrell talked about his homeless committee, and has said recently “we need to do better.” He is right, but he opposed City Council efforts to include general fund money in the budget for solutions, and made two efforts to send homeless people out of town.
He also repeated his position that homeless people could not stay on public or private property, which continues his “run them out of town” policy. But that line drew applause, and now we know why Ferrell keeps saying it. It appeals to his base of support, and his staff and some social service attendees who work with the homeless took note of it.
Ferrell made much of the need to compensate city employees, which is also overdue, and said they only received a 2 percent raise this year. But Ferrell’s trust among non-uniform city employees appears weak. They recall the Independent Salary Commission awarded Ferrell two 7.5 percent pay raises last year and this year, for an $18,000 pay increase. And I suspect they could have found a better use for the $6,585 Ferrell spent on this event and a better use for 1.5 positions he added in his office last year for communications and videographer.
Regarding the Microsoft plan for the homeless and affordable housing, and the commitment Ferrell made with other mayors, Ferrell said: “I’m pleased the statement also includes support for a broad range and variety of housing for people at various salary ranges-not just those facing homelessness or low –income individuals.” That statement completely undermines the letter he signed, and is code that the homeless and the poor should not look to him for housing assistance.
Frankly, I was looking for Ferrell’s vision of our future and how we were going to get there. I had hoped to hear a visionary plan that seeks to eradicate homelessness and how he would go about it. I wanted to hear a commitment that he would move heaven, earth and the state Legislature to ensure the safety at our children’s schools from gun violence. Since Federal Way is the 24th most diversified city in the nation, I wanted to hear that he was aware of our demographics and would lay out a plan committed to building an inclusive community, or speak out against the rising tide of white nationalism that is just beneath the surface in our community.
But none of that was mentioned.
Ferrell made some good points, and much good is happening in Federal Way, but what he didn’t say spoke just as loudly as what he did say.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.