Federal Way public affairs officer Steve McNey resigns

McNey said he is leaving amicably, but the job had taken its toll.

Federal Way intergovernmental and public affairs officer Steve McNey resigned his post on Feb. 24, citing burnout and a desire to pursue a career in the private sector.

McNey said he’s leaving the city amicably and with “absolute confidence” in Mayor Jim Ferrell’s and city administrator Brian Davis’ selection of his successor. The job had simply taken its toll and he was ready to make his “Irish exit,” McNey said.

“In my estimation, Jim Ferrell is the best mayor in the state of Washington and it’s not even close,” McNey said. “But you gotta know when it is time to exit. I just didn’t feel like I could give it all that I had to give any longer.”

McNey, a disabled veteran, said he suffers from migraine headaches that had become more frequent due to the stress of the job. That was a clue for him that it was “time to move on.”

The city will fill his position, city administrator Brian Davis said, though the job title and some parts of the role will likely change. Davis said the city will likely announce that person this week.

McNey declined to name his new employer but expressed enthusiasm about getting to flex his experience in digital marketing again.

“Working for the city was a tremendous privilege and honor, and I’m really proud of a lot of the things I did,” McNey said. “… It just takes a toll over time. I am tired of it. It was rewarding work, but I need a better work-life balance. I’ve got three boys and a stepson … [and] it’s time to go back into the private sector and step away from government and political service.”

McNey’s role was unique in the city. Though not the head of any specific department, he advised the mayor on high-stakes decisions, communicated between the executive branch, city council and elected officials in the legislature and wrote much of the city’s copy from speeches to press releases. He expressed pride in writing the mayor’s most recent State of the City address.

Prior to working for the city, McNey worked as Ferrell’s campaign manager and ran communications for King County councilmember Pete von Reichbauer.

In 2009, voters approved a change — led politically by Ferrell and McNey — to change Federal Way from a council-manager to a mayor-council system. In the former arrangement, city councils generally elect and can remove the mayor themselves. In the latter, mayors are elected directly by the voters.

Ferrell lost the city’s first mayoral election in 2010, but won his second time around in 2013 and in every race since.

“Look at the transformation of the city over the nine years he’s been mayor,” McNey said. “I’m super proud to have been a part of that, and the city’s in good hands. Jim and Brian are awesome. I’d also like to say … that I really appreciate the service of council president Linda Kochmar as well, [who] has been a joy to work with.”

McNey was first hired at Federal Way in February 2015, joining the city for a temporary stint as a community outreach coordinator. That role included planning for city celebrations and communicating with the public. He was appointed in late 2016 to the role of Ferrell’s senior adviser, drafting speeches, advising on policy matters and working as a legislative liaison.

McNey resigned in July 2017, however, following a police incident resulting in the consideration of charges of fourth-degree domestic violence assault and third-degree domestic violence malicious mischief against him.

Prosecutors considered, but ultimately did not file, criminal charges against McNey. He said at the time while he’d done nothing wrong, resigning was “the respectful thing to do” and that it was clear he would not be able to retain the position.

McNey returned, however, in January 2021 to serve as the communications and government affairs coordinator for the city.

In reflecting on his career with the city, McNey shared a few final thoughts on city hall and advice for his coworkers.

“I think it’s important to remember that the people at City Hall are really trying to do their best,” McNey said. “… My advice to everyone involved is: you work for the people. Be transparent, avoid groupthink and every day, come in and do the best work you can do.”