Federal Way City Council and School Board candidate debate forums can be enlightening or bland. This year’s Federal Way Mirror-hosted forum held on October 11 at Federal Way High School trended toward bland, but there were a few nuggets we may want to discuss.
First, there were no zingers of consequence and both candidate panels answered the questions with the intent of not straying outside their chosen talking points. What I found lacking in the evening’s proceedings was any fire in the belly about what our schools or city should be doing to prepare us for future levels of success. I was looking for heart, passion, ideas, and an understanding of the problems our city and schools face daily as well as a vision of what building for success looks like.
Public safety was the central theme shared by all city council candidates and the common solution was more police. We may need more police, but we as a society have never been able to solve our nation’s crime problem with more police. The police and public fear rabbit hole may help candidates with voters but rarely leads us to the change we need.
Crime is not likely to go away with more police. We need to talk about the justice system we have created for ourselves, our laws, and what we can do to resolve the lack of accountability occurring at all levels in our society. We may learn more about what our community needs when we talk about the “hows and whys” of crime prevention and how to model our human behavior expectations as a way of identifying needed resources and solutions.
Katherine Festa talked about the loss of her daughter to a fentanyl overdose as her purpose for running for council. Yes, by all means, let’s get drugs off the streets. The question is, how? We have had a multiyear war on drugs and it is a game of whack-a-mole that has no clear solution. Maybe her personal experience and passion on the matter may help our community craft a better path forward.
The incumbents for council were steady as you go in their answers and provided no insight as to how they would do anything new or more than what is currently being done. I would have thought they might show some passion for developing a new downtown and Susan Honda did say she was proud of her efforts in that direction.
Roger Flygare advocated for adding a public market within our proposed new downtown. It is worth consideration and needs city council support, a developer, and a provable consumer base willing to embrace the concept. He added that as he campaigned, a topic that got mentioned was our city’s lack of pickleball courts.
The questions for the school board candidates overall were about their background and why they want to be on the board. The defining question the candidates dealt with was their position on book bans. This is an issue affecting school districts across the country and bans are being used as a strategic tactic by some ideologically charged elements within our nation’s politics.
The answers provided by Jennifer Jones, Luckisha Phillips, and Gavin Downing were similar. Basically, book bans are not necessary and librarians are essential in helping guide students in selecting age-appropriate books that match their interests while encouraging reading skills and curiosity to grow. Daniel Kukhar said “it happened before and if a majority of the people want some books banned, he would agree with the people.”
Joan Marie Murphy’s response was nuanced. She does not want books banned, believes responsibility is with the librarian for guiding students to appropriate books, concern was for books that may have “sexualized” material, and if parents object to books they should bring it to the school board. She went on to say that she wants students to read, not feel excluded, and knows that some “marginalized people want to be represented and they can be represented as long as it is not highly sexualized explicit material.”
Ms. Murphy’s answer was carefully crafted. It sounded like she was in favor of parents challenging materials they did not want students reading. It is a clever open-minded response for those who want to close the book of knowledge on resource materials dealing with coming of age, personal identity, and relationships.
This question may have benefited from more insight and clarification on how the district should go about managing reading materials that some parents perceive as sensitive based on their personal philosophy. In talking to a member of the district’s administration on book bans, they stated that the district provides clear guidance on book collections, age-appropriate materials, and that parents are encouraged to share their concerns.
All of the school board candidates believe that their presence on the school board will provide the governance necessary to make our district better. FWPS is the largest employer in Federal Way. As a district we are one of the most diverse in the state, serving over 21,000 students in 37 schools, with 67 percent of our student body receiving free or reduced-cost meal services, and serving a cornucopia of nationalities, and ethnicities with 104 languages spoken by students and families.
Our district is unique and has challenges beyond the talking point of book bans. Like all school districts, we have issues and success stories. Student misbehavior and accountability is a concern and could have been more of a discussion topic. A missed learning opportunity.
A challenge for all the candidates as well as current elected officials, is to become better spokespeople for either the city or school district. The way both of these governmental institutions get better is by electing people with ideas who understand the issues of the day and have an eye focused on our future. Sadly, the forum was short on fresh ideas and any vision for the present or future.
Choose wisely and remember to mail your ballot or place it in a ballot box by November 7.
Keith Livingston is a retired municipal management professional, lifelong artist and Federal Way resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org