With his former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen in Washington D.C. calling him a cheat, liar and a con man to Congress, allegations of interference for a security clearance for his son in law, followed by his summit with North Korea collapsing, I thought President Donald Trump had a very bad week.
But Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell may have had a worse one.
Coming off a losing battle with the council over his ill-advised plan to send our homeless citizens to Burien, I invited Ferrell to join me and the Mirror staff in serving dinner to a group of homeless men. It gave Ferrell the opportunity to demonstrate a previously unseen compassion for those in need, and gain a positive bounce to his image. Instead, as the snowstorms hit, he picked a fight with Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan over his Facebook post of sending our homeless to Seattle, then denied it, appeared to call Durkan a liar, then blamed his communications staffer for the error. When his temper tantrum finally cooled, and he had adopted a more rational diplomatic strategy, two of his allies on the council, Mark Koppang and Martin Moore, reduced his State of the City address to a second-tier story by reopening the Durkan fight with name-calling. Durkan acted like the adult in the room and declined to respond to Koppang and Moore, but if they haven’t apologized to Durkan by now, they better hurry, or she will think Ferrell put them up to it. How did this mess occur?
Lets go back to Feb. 8 when the snowstorms started. Ferrell posted on Facebook: “I have authorized up to $1,000 in emergency spending on bus passes to help get people to Seattle, the only place in King County that has guaranteed not to turn people away.” The post told people to pick up the passes at the police station. In the past Federal Way officials have inaccurately criticized Seattle for giving bus tickets to the homeless to come to Federal Way.
Ferrell’s post may have been well intended, but it was inaccurate and premature, as there was space available at the time, according to county emergency management staff. In an interview with media on Feb. 24, Durkan was critical of Federal Way and said, “We should be pulling together, where people can be served in the communities where they live.” Which is the same message Ferrell’s own council, among others, had tried to give him about Burien.
Rather than apologize, and offer future cooperation, or even apparently understand that Durkan likely had a copy of his quote in her hand, Ferrell reverted to Donald Trump-style with a deny and attack strategy, and appeared to call Durkan a liar in interviews with KOMO and KIRO. He said: “That’s just not accurate, we didn’t tell people to go the Seattle.”
But he did.
And regarding Durkan’s comments, Ferrell said: “I think it is grossly inaccurate, unfair and untrue.” Ferrell later said the bus offer was humanitarian, and no one told homeless to use the bus pass to go Seattle, they could have gone anywhere. However, that is not accurate either, as his quote, though also inaccurate, said, “Seattle was the only place in King County that has guaranteed not to turn people away.” He did tell people to go to Seattle as he wrongly thought, there was no place else to go.
By the third day of the political drama Ferrell’s temper was cooling and he was trying to explain that what had actually happened was different. The city only bought a few Orca cards and none of the police had told anyone to go to Seattle. Although a police report shows at least one person was put on a bus to Seattle, although it didn’t sound like she had much choice about her destination.
With only two days before his State of the City address, and possibly recognizing that he was losing the regional public relations battle, or that he may need Durkan’s support in the future, Ferrell finally turned to diplomacy and said he and Durkan had talked and that it was a “misunderstanding.” And in another Trumpian moment he blamed his own appointed communications person for the Facebook post.
He said he agreed with Durkan, and in the Seattle Times said, “She hit the nail on the head,” and that communities needed to hold up their end. Something many in Federal Way have accused Ferrell of not doing on this issue. But Ferrell also used the opportunity in a Mirror interview to criticize his council’s decision to deny his recommendation to send homeless to Burien. Ferrell forgets that his request to the Legislature was for the money to be spent in Federal Way, and the council was trying to keep the city’s word to local state legislators. Burien was Ferrell’s idea.
Just as Ferrell appeared to put the issue behind him, the two council allies undercut his state of the city address and turned it into a secondary story as Koppang called Durkan “petty,” and accused her of “grandstanding,” while Moore said Durkan was building a wall around Seattle after opposing Trump’s wall with Mexico.
Ferrell’s Facebook post caused this embarrassment, but the problem is deeper. Ferrell has not been a leader on obtaining a homeless shelter or we would have one. Reach Out and FUSION have taken on that role.
Ferrell could have been prepared for the storm, and had an agreement in place with an organization with trained staff to use the Federal Way Community Center as a temporary overnight shelter, as members of the council, including Deputy Mayor Susan Honda have been asking for years. The city staff have known for a long time that the New Hope Church would not be available this year, that is why they got interested in Burien. Ferrell overreacted to Durkan’s comment, which is the same one Federal Way has made in reverse. And he has set back regional relations with Seattle, and other suburban jurisdictions that have stepped up and are aware Federal Way has not. He used his own error as a means to insult and attack the majority of his own council for wanting to take care of our homeless locally after he wanted Burien.
And he followed another Trumpian move of blaming others, which undermined his leadership with city employees, by blaming a staff person for making the Facebook error. Ferrell says he was shown the language but didn’t look closely. This is not the first time Ferrell has blamed others for an error over something that is his responsibility. The buck stops at Ferrell’s desk, not somewhere else. And Mr. Mayor, you can’t bully the mayor of Seattle the same way you do many people in Federal Way. She can fight back, and did, and as the states’ most influential mayor you will need her help at some point.
Ferrell’s participation and comments after the dinner with homeless men gave me hope that Ferrell will learn and lead on the homeless issue. But in his state of the city he revisited his policy of driving them out of the town, repeating that they cannot be on either public or private property and must move.
As bad as Trump’s week was, I think Ferrell’s was worse and we really need Ferrell to learn from his mistakes — not repeat them.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.