Candidates vying for three open Federal Way City Council seats spoke during a forum on Wednesday night to pressing issues facing local voters: how police can have more positive interactions with youth of color and the best ways to engage a changing community.
All of the candidates running for the open seats were invited to attend, including incumbent Susan Honda, Rose O’Sharon (Sharry) Edwards and Lamont Styles for Position 3; Position 7 candidates Tony Pagliocco, Linda Kochmar and Katherine Festa; and Position 5 candidates incumbent Mark Koppang and Jamila Taylor.
Edwards and Koppang did not attend the event. Some candidates running for the Federal Way Public Schools Board also answered questions during the forum.
Youth leaders started off the forum, which was hosted by Progress Pushers and Northwest Credible Messengers at Open Doors, by asking candidates about community engagement. Here are some of the questions and answers from the council candidates:
What does community engagement mean to you?
Honda: “My parents taught us very young to get out in the community and volunteer, and not expect anything accept to help others, and I expect that from our community.” Federal Way is a large community and we’re growing every day, she said.
Honda agreed with her opponent, Styles, saying that more engagement with the entire community is needed.
“People here don’t speak the same language,” she said, and not having access to the same resources can cause a barrier. Honda said local schools could potentially be used to get to know communities and provide programming and resources. “We have the schools, we have the buildings, we need to use them for community engagement.”
Styles: “Engage the community, it’s not that hard.”
Styles said he has been talking to people around the community in apartments and other housing communities and was told council members never come to those areas. “[The community members] say, I haven’t seen a city council member come to my door in years,” he said. He suggested several different ways for city leaders to engage with the community, such as using the city’s TV channel, social media channels, and ensuring to reach out to all the different communities in the city.
“Go to people you don’t feel comfortable with,” he concluded. “Go to all the communities.”
Festa: Community engagement means bringing in people of all cultures, all races and all languages into the same room and being able to hear from you in their own language. When she goes into the community to do outreach for housing for people with intellectual disabilities, it could be heard in five or six different languages in the same room.
“We have to be able to reach all populations at all times.”
Kochmar: “Community engagement means getting involved with the entire community,” Kochmar said, highlighting the more than 117 dialects spoken in the FWPS district. Although part of the problem in getting all of our children involved in the community is that some parents don’t speak English, therefore the children don’t speak English, Kochmar said. She believes there needs to be more ESL (English as a Second Language) and language immersion programs.
Another part of the solution is to improve community reachout and mentorships for school-aged children. Another part, Kochmar said, is getting people to rally around a topic that is important to them. One topic that is particularly important to kids is being able to eat and have food, while an important topic to parents is having living wage jobs. Kochmar said bringing living wage jobs to Federal Way is something she wants to work on in particular.
Pagliocco: “Community engagement is building a bond of trust between one part of the community and the other, otherwise we are divided and fractionalized.”
He said when you are in a divided community, you are unable to listen to each other and grow. By building a two-way system of trust through community engagement activities, whether it’s community service or volunteering with schools, “it all boils down to being able to listen, to learn and to be able to grow from one another.”
He said city leaders can’t always be reactive and they have to have tough discussions with the community.
“But when we get past those, we’re able to grow ourselves and learn about who we are as a community and where we want to go in the future.”
Taylor: One of the challenges in Federal Way is the community is constantly changing, she said. She said there are natural support areas where the community can naturally go to organize events and activities.
“But I would agree that sometimes you want to be invited in because you don’t want to disrespect those who have gathered for a purpose that does not include you,” she noted. “So being willing to invite those of us who are trying to connect with you into your community group at an appropriate time to give us feedback. But we have to reach out and we have to engage in that dialogue.”
The demographics of Federal Way have changed in the last year. How do you best represent our new Federal Way residents?
Honda: “I’m caucasian, my husband is Japanese-American,” she said. “Our children are biracial, and back when they were born … I let the government choose what race my children were.”
She said that was a wrong move, because she didn’t have children to put them in a box. And she doesn’t want to put Federal Way citizens in boxes either.
“Federal Way is such a diverse city, we welcome everyone here,” she said. Honda said as a council member she represents everyone is this city, and she takes that position very seriously. “You have new ideas to offer us, and we need to listen.”
Styles: Styles said elected leaders need to have some humility.
“Being a barber here for 17 years has allowed me to interact with a lot of different backgrounds,” he said.
So when he looked at the council he looked at it from a standpoint of seeing communities not being engaged. So he says he looks to go out into those communities. “There’s literally no fear,” he said. “Let’s have a conversation and let’s come together.”
Festa: “As a biracial child, I think that I represent very well in Federal Way.”
Festa said she loves the diversity in the city and the diversity is the reason she bought her house in Federal Way 25 years ago. She wanted to be in an area where people look like her and where she could go outside and not worry about people questioning her presence in the neighborhood. She enjoys being able to go into the diverse community. Native Americans are only 7% of the population, she said,“but we are still here.”
Kochmar: The last time Kochmar saw the census, she said, it shows a very diverse group of people, noting the 18% Hispanic and 12% Asian populations. She said she best represents these people because she’s been involved in the community for 40 years. As a female, Kochmar said she understands when people say they have been discriminated against as she has also been discriminated against.
Although growing up she was told she could do anything she wanted, she said she found out she couldn’t. She grew up in an area where people had three options for careers: social worker, engineer, or teacher, and she chose to be a social worker.
“Because they wouldn’t hire me as an engineer, even if I wanted to, because I was female,” she said. We are changing demographically, but we still face the same problems and have the same needs, she said.
Pagliocco: He said there’s an Italian beef stew that reminds him of Federal Way. It’s got a lot of flavor and spice.
“It looks a little different to some people but it tastes delicious. And that’s exactly how I see Federal Way being right now.”
He said he is similar to that situation. He is Mexican and Italian. He’s from Boston, he went to Arizona state and he’s been around the nation and seen many different perspectives.
“That’s something that would be beneficial to Federal Way is to have someone from outside looking in, being able to give new ideas and new perspectives because we live in a changed time and we have to be able to move forward with that perspective.”
Taylor: She said everyone has parts of their identity that are “clear on the face of it. It’s clear that I’m an African-American woman, it’s clear that I’m a woman who’s in her forties, but it may not be clear that my experiences have lent me some privileges.”
She said she’s been able to go to college and to law school, and she’s had the opportunity to access services that she may not have been able to otherwise if she had grown up in a different community.
“There are things about all of us at this table that we can connect. But it takes dialogue. And it takes being willing to dive deeper into each person’s life. My hope is that we have an opportunity to connect and I hope we can use all that connection to move Federal Way forward.”
Our country is in a place where youth — particularly youth of color — are often in adversarial situations with police. How do you recommend that Federal Way police ensure that youth have a positive and safe interaction with police, even if those situations can be heated?
Honda: Honda supports positive and safe interactions between police officers and students.
“There needs to be respect on all sides,” she said. “Without respect, we’re going to have anger and we’re going to have issues.”
Honda said police officers have handed out cards to kids as a type of positive reinforcement, which has been a good program in the community, as well as Coffee with a Cop. She suggested the city should host additional events geared towards children so they can feel more comfortable around police officers.
“We don’t need parents to say, ‘If you do something bad I’m gonna call the police on you,’” she said. “We need to stop that … that’s just not cool.”
The police department is just now starting a mentorship program for college and high school students to show them the ins and outs of the law-enforcement career, and she encouraged interested candidates to reach out if they would like to be considered.
Styles: “I got pulled over in Federal Way and I was in the back seat,” Styles said. “The officer said to put both my hands on the window.”
He did, and noticed the officer had his hand on his gun. Styles asked the officer why his hand was on his gun when he was complying.
“Getting a ticket is the least of our issues,” he said. “We’re talking about not getting shot.”
He said if he has to tell his son to watch his actions around the police, why is the reverse not also true? He said that while it is important to teach kids to be respectful of police officers, it’s just as important that officers receive additional training to ensure safe interactions with the community.
Festa: Festa believes Federal Way needs a more diverse police force. The last time she met with FWPD Chief Andy Hwang, he said one of the problems is that every department wants a more diverse police force right now. Festa said Federal Way is offering new officers “big bonuses.” Overall, the force needs to be more diverse.
Police want community members to say hello and Festa urges people to make friends with one or two of them and invite them to events or bring them to your school. “They are people,” she said.
Kochmar: When Kochmar was on council, this topic was discussed on a regular basis, she said. Part of it is training with the police department, but another part is to be training with the black youth, she said.
“If they feel they are going to be victimized, they need to be very careful … ,” she said.
Kochmar’s daughter, who only has eyesight in one eye, was stopped by an officer who gave her a DUI, she said.
“It turned out, he was a dirty cop,” Kochmar said.
She’s learned to take the youth’s word as well as the police’s word. The training for police and youth also is important to “de-escalate the police, de-escalate the youth as well,” she said.
Pagliocco: There needs to be better relationship-building opportunities, he said. Pagliocco has spoken with Chief of Police Andy Hwang about the department allowing new officers to work at the school level first, which will build those relationships early on for students.
“As those kids get older, they’re going to be able to know the officers they’re working with … and it’s going to make for more trust within the community.”
Pagliocco agrees that diversifying the police department will help it reflect the city, and the city needs to explore better training opportunities for police in emotional and operational areas so they can better understand certain situations.
He said as the only candidate in Position 7 who the Police Guild endorsed, he has a good avenue with the guild and the community organizations he works with to better bridge that gap and build trust.
Taylor: She said that’s a question that’s almost impossible to answer. When you are contacted by the police, it is rarely ever a positive situation unless you’re asking to interact with the police.
“My hope is that we have community-driven solutions where we don’t have to call the police in crisis.”
Watch the video of the forum here.