Federal Way leaders talk budget, shopping cart theft, TikTok video

The Federal Way City Council handled a packed night of budget talks and public comments Tuesday night (Sept. 20), including concerns from citizens about shopping cart theft and renewed scrutiny over a Federal Way police officer’s TikTok video.

Budget season

It’s budget season in Federal Way.

The city council took its first official look at Mayor Jim Ferrell’s proposed 2023-2024 balanced biennial budget during the council meeting.

According to the budget schedule, city officials will continue poring over the details in four more study sessions this month and next. The matter will return to city council meetings on Oct. 18 for a preliminary public hearing, and on the following meeting Nov. 1 for a final public hearing.

Assuming no surprises interrupt that process, the council then will have an opportunity to enact the budget, property tax rate and city fee schedules during their Nov. 15 meeting.

The budget process is also a chance for city leaders to take stock of the city’s financial health, plans for growth and concerns.

On balance, Ferrell is optimistic. Federal Way is emerging strongly from the initial years of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, with city revenues higher than expected thanks to high sales tax collections and investment of city money.

“Over the course of the two years, we are expecting an increase of $1.8 million total, $900,000 per year, because we have reinvested money that was literally sitting in the bank,” Ferrell said.

Ferrell identified four big sources of an ongoing financial squeeze to the city: the limitations imposed by Washington’s constitutional 1% property tax cap; the expense of replacing city vehicles under inflation; the ongoing need to repair and maintain key infrastructure; and the specter of other problems caused by inflation or an economic recession, which must be built into the budget.

Highlights of the budget include a new staff position to handle public records requests and added staffing and equipment for the city’s winter weather operations. Ferrell said he also plans to propose a $50,000 budget item to help fund an executive director at the Federal Way Historical Society.

Police chief responds to TikTok video

During the meeting’s public comment period, Federal Way Police Chief Andy Hwang responded to renewed scrutiny of a FWPD officer’s controversial TikTok video from this summer.

In the video, officer Breanna Straus urges motorists to move out of the way for officers: “If we’re driving on the freeway in our police car, get the f—- out of the way,” Straus said in uniform and in the TikTok video. “I can go 90 miles an hour. You can’t. You can’t do that. So get the f—- out of the way. If us officers stay behind you long enough, we can find a reason to pull you over.”

“I’m speaking for myself, but I’m probably speaking for a large majority of other officers out there,” Straus claimed near the start of the video.

FWPD determined Straus violated the agency’s code of conduct, and at the decision of Chief Hwang, Straus received a 10-hour suspension without pay for the violations, according to police records. A 10-hour suspension is one shift. Straus was sworn into the department on Aug. 9, 2021.

The Mirror reported on the incident in early July, but the event has regained broader attention after recently making the rounds again over social media. One person during public comment Sept. 20 brought the matter up, calling on city leaders to address the incident, which she said “has become a national embarrassment.”

“I have great respect for police officers,” the commenter said. “My first degree is in criminal justice. I love the field. But when we have bad officers in our community that (are) wreaking havoc, and saying unjust, unfair, fearful words, I think it’s time for our community leaders like Chief Hwang to speak on behalf of the department. It’s not OK to just give her a slap on the hand.”

Hwang’s full reply from that evening, edited lightly for clarity, was as follows. (The exchange begins at minute 44:45 in the council meeting video.)

“Federal Way PD’s mission is to earn the public’s trust. In this incident we failed. As a police chief I had two options. This is a new officer — I could suspend (her) or terminate (her). … There’s an outstanding case in which she helped a rape victim from Tacoma, so there were very good qualities about her. So I weighed all the factors, and it was my decision to give her a second chance. … We have hard-working men and women, every single day, earning the public’s trust. We are not perfect. We seek excellence. But clearly in this incident we made a mistake, and I apologize on behalf of the entire department. When this came about, we made a statement to the local media, (and) the Federal Way Mirror did an article. So I feel that we have spoken about it. And it’s regrettable, and I apologize on behalf of the entire agency. I take full responsibility. Thank you.”

Also on Tuesday

The council heard from several citizens during public comment about local theft of shopping carts, and the re-purposing of those carts by some local transient people to move their belongings. Residents asked for the city to take action on the issue, such as by dedicating city employees to retrieve carts that are not being used for their intended purpose. Council members said they will prepare an ordinance on the matter, so expect to see the issue come up for a vote at city council meeting soon.

The council proclaimed Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, 2022, as National Hispanic Heritage Month in Federal Way.

The council proclaimed Sept. 20, 2022, as National Information Technology Professionals Day.

The council unanimously voted to accept the consent agenda, which streamlines votes on presumably non-controversial items. Those items included correcting the fee schedule for the city’s underground utility work; accepting an $80,000 grant from the Washington Department of Commerce to improve the city’s climate change resiliency; accepting grant funding from the county sheriff to reimburse FWPD for overtime spent verifying addresses of registered sex and kidnapping offenders; accepting a $142,100 grant from the Puget Sound Auto Theft Task Force; accepting a $5,000 grant from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission for distracted driving enforcement; approving an agreement with the Criminal Justice Training Commission to reimburse salary and benefits in exchange for a FWPD officer’s assignment as an instructor at the law enforcement academy; and approving city staff to seek quotes for on-call electrical services.