If you voted no on the last South King Fire and Rescue bond because you were trying to send a message to the leadership, it worked.
Despite their bond having failed by a very small margin, district leadership is really starting to listen to the more than 7,000 people who voted no. Since the bond’s failure, district leadership has made four significant, albeit long overdue improvements.
The first improvement, which received very little fanfare, was Chief Al Church’s voluntary reduction in his severance package. Prior to the bond’s failure, Church had one of the most generous severance packages in the state, potentially giving him 24 months of pay (roughly $350,000) if he was fired.
Claiming that his severance pay “has mistakenly and unfairly become a hot topic in the realm of political bantering,” the chief accepted a severance package equal to that of the other chiefs. Ignoring that the chief waited until after Jerry Galland was knocked out in the primary before making this change, this is a huge step in rebuilding voter confidence in the district.
The second improvement the fire district made since the bond’s failure was offering voters a chance to approve a much smaller bond than what was proposed earlier this year. Trying again with a smaller dollar amount seems like an obvious move, but the leadership had painted themselves into a corner by claiming that the first bond covered only the essentials. By coming back at a lower dollar amount and only the essential essentials, leadership demonstrated that they are willing to swallow their pride and listen to voters.
The third and perhaps best improvement South King Fire made since the bond’s failure is an increased outreach to the community. Both on the district’s website and in the Federal Way Mirror, the district has offered to meet with any interested community groups, which has already included the Chamber of Commerce and others. They have also scheduled a community outreach barbecue on Sept. 19.
Taking a page from Superintendent Tammy Campbell’s playbook, the fire district is leaving the comforts of their Ivory Fire Department to meet with citizens and hear their concerns.
Though not directly related to South King Fire leadership, the fourth improvement since the bond’s failure that I personally experienced was outreach from the local union president and South King Fire emergency responder Layne Winter.
While I had unfounded fears that our meeting would involve one of us getting roughed up, Mr. Winter was very respectful in asking to hear my concerns and requesting my endorsement of the current bond.
We can be fairly certain that not one of these improvements would have been made if the bond had passed.
In other words, by voting no, citizens were finally able to force improvements that should have been made years ago. The question facing voters now is if enough improvements have been made, or if we need to vote no again to force even more changes.
To get my yes vote, the district still needs to make three significant, but easy to implement changes.
The first is to put an end to nepotism in the district, which goes way beyond the chief’s son.
The second is to own up to the fact that more than $6 million of the bond is NOT being used for essentials, but instead this money is being used to pay off debt on a piece of property that will likely sit unused for decades and if sold, the savings would buy a new fire truck every three years.
The third is to offer voters the option of a much less expensive level of service. At great expense, we are one of only a few districts with a level 2 rating, while all of our neighboring cities seem to be getting by just fine at a level 3 rating (a lower number is better).
Despite claims made by the district, they have been unable to produce any evidence that a worse rating would result in higher insurance premiums.
If the district made these changes prior to the general election, not only would I vote yes, I would also hold a vote yes sign every morning for a week on Highway 99.
If these changes are not made, I will eagerly vote no, hoping that it will bring about another round of long overdue improvements.
After all, if the bond money was so “badly needed,” the district would just sell their unused property and use that money to start making improvements.
Contact Federal Way resident Matthew Jarvis at email@example.com.