Greg Baruso appointed to Federal Way City Council following mayor’s controversial tiebreaker

The 34-year firefighter and Diversity Commission chair was selected out of 18 total candidates; council members call out mayor for “betraying” their trust.

After a controversial tiebreaker during a special council meeting on Saturday, the Federal Way City Council voted to appoint Greg Baruso to Pos. 2.

Two council members also took issue with Mayor Jim Ferrell’s swift tiebreak after only one round of a tied vote, calling him out for betraying the council’s trust.

The council interviewed Baruso and 17 other candidates during a lengthy interview process.

During his interview, Baruso said he was encouraged by the diverse candidate pool as a show that the city continues to celebrate diversity in the community.

Baruso has been a member of the Diversity Commission since 2008, and has been the chair for the past six years. He is proud of how the commission continues to work towards advocating for citizens and bringing in diverse community events.

Baruso has been a firefighter for nearly 34 years, currently holds the title of captain, and believes his experience there will translate well into his new role as a council member.

“In 2014, I was a candidate for the state House, and although unsuccessful, I’m smiling at Linda [Kochmar],” he joked, “I enjoyed and learned a lot from the experience.”

Baruso said his background and experiences have given him the necessary skills to bring to council.

“As you can see, [I have] a very diverse set of skills to bring to this council, to help our city to be a place that is not only inclusive, prepared and safe, but most of all a place our citizens can call home.”

Council members asked Baruso several questions regarding different issues facing the city such as the homelessness crisis, the city’s economy and overall public safety.

Baruso said the biggest issue facing the city was homelessness, and concerns around housing and decreasing the issue.

“It comes to more of a root cause …” he said. “Trying to figure out their social services, behavioral health, and things like that.”

He said it is one of the priorities he thinks the city should take care of, along with overall community safety.

While Baruso is aware of the city contemplating buying panhandling signs to place around high-impact areas, he doesn’t think that is a one-stop solution to the larger problem.

“Going back down to, yes it works for some cities but will it work here,” he said.

He thinks the issue is actually two cases: the people who give money to panhandlers, and the panhandlers who need assistance.

“The folks in need … how do we get to the root causes,” he said. “The folks that give, can we have a different avenue for them to give.”

He thinks that first off, they need to look at panhandling in the city before solutions can be made for what would work for Federal Way, particularly.

As for the homelessness issue in the city, Baruso said that he would like to see the city enter into more alliances with other services and organizations, such as Federal Way Public Schools, and other cities to figure out how to best solve the issue.

“Everyone is addressing the same type of thing,” he said.

Transparency is also important to Baruso, and he wants to bring that transparency to the council.

Baruso also wants to see the city continue to work towards increasing inclusion for all residents and celebrating the city’s diversity.

After the interviews for all 18 candidates concluded, the council along with Ferrell convened for about an hour to decide who the appointment would go to.

Before the first vote, the council members nominated Pastor Joe Bowman, Janis Clark, Greg Baruso, Jack Dovey, Katherine Festa and Ron Walker.

After the first deliberation, the council voted two votes for Dovey, two votes for Baruso, and one vote each for Festa and Bowman, eliminating them from final consideration.

After the second deliberation, Dovey and Baruso each got three votes from the six council members, prompting Ferrell to cast his tie-breaking vote for Baruso.

Council members Martin Moore, Lydia Aseffa-Dawson, and Hoang Tran voted for Baruso, while Council President Susan Honda, Mark Koppang and Kochmar voted for Dovey.

While Ferrell has the legal authority to break a tie vote in the case of appointing a new council member, both Koppang and Honda expressed their disappointment in Ferrell for breaking the tie after the first tied vote.

The last time a council appointment happened, Aseffa-Dawson was appointed to her current position after several rounds of a tie vote and without the mayor breaking the tie.

When questioned about his actions, Ferrell said: “It was in the best interest of the community.”

After Baruso’s appointment, city clerk Stephanie Courtney gave him the oath of office, where he then took his place at the dais for the first time.

“Oh wow,” Baruso said, laughing after taking his seat. “I know this has been a long day, but, again, thank you everyone for participating.”

He acknowledged the great candidate pool, and thanked the council for the opportunity.

“I look forward to working with all of you, and mayor and City Council, I’m humbled. I really am,” he said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity, and I won’t squander this opportunity.”

Koppang told Baruso that while he may not have voted for him, he would support and help him in any way he could.

“Thank you for your willingness to serve, I do look forward to serving with you and I’m pleased that you were selected.”

Honda said while she was surprised and disappointed that the mayor cast the tie-breaking vote so quickly, she was also pleased to be working with Baruso.

“I’ve worked with you many times on the Diversity Commision and now you’ve created a huge problem for the Diversity Commission,” she laughed. “Because now they have to find a new chair.”

Controversial tie-breaker

As soon as Honda was done praising Baruso, Ferrell told her he had the right to break the tie.

“Well, council president, I had the legal authority and right and I believed it was in the best interest of this community to exercise that vote.”

Honda tried to speak again, but Ferrell asked: “Does anybody else have anything to say?”

Koppang sided with Honda, and said he believed Ferrell betrayed the council’s trust.

“I think that you did not speak at any one time that you would do it the first round,” Koppang said. “… Mayor, you can shake your head all you want but at no point …”

Ferrell again said he had the legal right to cast a tiebreaking vote, which he believed was the right thing to do.

Koppang agreed that Ferrell had the legal right, but still expressed his disappointment.

“You betrayed our trust,” Koppang said.

“The trust is that I get to do what I’m legally able to do and I did so,” Ferrell said.

He then told the audience, “We are adjourned,” and slammed his gavel down, ending the meeting.

Several community members also expressed their concerns with Ferrell’s actions through the Federal Way Community Facebook page.

“The mayor strong-armed and interjected his will to determine the appointee,” stated Dana Holloway, an outspoken community activist.

Many people commented on her post, agreeing the mayor should have communicated with the council beforehand that he would break a tie vote.

Former council member Kelly Dahl Maloney said she was glad Baruso was appointed, but was disappointed that Ferrell seemed to have broken the tie allegedly for his own agenda.

“… It was at the expense of the council being able to fulfill their duly elected duty in the most appropriate way,” she said.

Allison Fine Taylor, one of the candidates, sent an email to the council about the appointment and discussion afterwards, but took a different approach.

She emailed to express her disappointment in their argument taking away from Baruso’s moment.

“I think the outcome was righteous but I also think because the Mayor exercised his right to break the tie sooner than some of you wanted or expected, emotions took over and created the chaotic finish,” she said. “Regardless of blame, I hope that at the March 17 meeting, all members involved will openly acknowledge their roles in the ‘stealing the moment’ from Greg.”

She said the special meeting was not the place to discuss those concerns, and hopes that all people involved publicly apologize to Baruso for the argument that overshadowed his appointment.

A full video of the eight-hour interview and appointment process can be found on the city’s YouTube channel.