The last Federal Way City Council meeting of the year took a turn when the public comment period was hijacked by remote speakers who made racist and antisemitic comments.
Mayor Jim Ferrell and the city attorney worked together to cut off the hijackers at the Dec. 5 meeting as soon as their comments could be determined to constitute hate speech.
The mayor reiterated that this type of speech was unacceptable after public comment had closed: “We did not allow those comments because they were essentially hate speech and hate speech is not protected speech.”
According to standard procedure, public commenters must sign up before the meeting in order to speak, but that rule hasn’t been enforced much in the past. In this instance, several viewers of the livestream virtually raised their hands at the end of public comment and were then allowed to speak. After four commenters in a row made disparaging comments about Jewish people and mentioned white supremacist views, the mayor declined to allow the next four waiting in the cue who had also bypassed public comment procedure.
The comments began with a repetition of common public comment themes around homelessness, then turned into a rant about animal abuse. It became clear that the comments were stemming from antisemitism when they shifted to misleading remarks about religious traditions and holidays. The next commenter also attempted to ease into their hate speech, mentioning themes of free speech before descending into xenophobic and racist statements about how America was created for the white man.
The room was full of audible reactions from the assembled audience in city council chambers. None of the interlopers identified what geographic community they were coming from, so it is unknown whether they were Federal Way residents.
Other public comments from Federal Way community members in-person centered on homelessness, with many sharing passionate calls for compassion.
“I think we need to do better as a community to make sure these people don’t die on the streets from hypothermia,” Kina Smith shared. She is part of a community group called Contagious Christian that does outreach.
George Bannon also does outreach of his own accord: “We gotta do something different, we gotta be brave and courageous, to help someone, not push them further out into the woods,” he said, urging the audience to “have some compassion in your heart. They are human beings, they are not animals.”
Stand Up Federal Way member Jeffrey Tancready said that in the outreach he and the group have done, they have found a majority of the people they interact with are suffering from substance use disorder and are not interested in help: “They need to be in a treatment facility or in jail, otherwise you are trespassing,” he said.
Mayor Ferrell brought up serious concerns about pedestrian safety in Federal Way. Last week, a high school student was struck in front of Federal Way High School at 6:53 a.m. and was severely injured, according to Ferrell.
Ferrell also shared that he spoke with Federal Way Public Schools Superintendent Dani Pfeiffer and said there are some different ideas going around about how to address this. One challenge at Federal Way High School in particular is that Pacific Highway is a state highway, and so the city has limited control on what it can do for pedestrians, Ferrell said.
Diversity Commission member Trenise Rogers suggested finding an “opportunity to engage the youth and empower them,” when it comes to pedestrian safety, finding ways to partner with youth to find solutions and engage with their peers.
Several committees and commissions had new members confirmed including the Management District Advisory Committees for both North Lake and Steel Lake. The Diversity Commission gained two new members after months of vacant seats.
The city council originally stated that they would not be able to complete these appointments until after the new year due to packed agendas, according to updates from members at November’s Diversity Commission meeting. Members of the Diversity Commission also spoke up at public comment to ask for the council to make time to confirm additional appointments before the new year due to their heavy workload planning a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in January.
• The mayor said he met with the Japanese Consul General Makoto Iyori recently, sharing a tidbit from the conversation: “The next century will be marked by our friends and allies in the Pacific theater.” He also had a virtual visit with Yuichi Kumagai, who is the mayor of Federal Way’s sister city in Hachinohe, Japan. “We have a special relationship with the South Korean government and also our friends in Japan,” the mayor said, celebrating Federal Way’s international partnerships.
• Council President Linda Kochmar added an item to the agenda regarding shelters in Federal Way. Sarah Bridgeford presented the item, which was a request to apply for a recently announced grant from King County to secure funds for the FUSION family shelter to fill a budget shortfall.
• In the second reading of the Wild Waves rezoning ordinance, the city council voted to approve it. The Wild Waves property can now be used for purposes including warehouses or hotels, but there are no plans to do so at this time.
• The council also approved their choice for the architect of the Federal Way Community Center locker room. The revitalization of the Community Center has been in progress for some time now and the reopening of the pool was the last big success.