City gets a black eye from Steel Lake Park proposal | Livingston

Another day — another black eye for Federal Way. This one we did to ourselves. Elected leadership and senior staff tried to throw a slick pitch to our citizenry to convert a portion of Steel Lake Park into a maintenance facility, but with the help of a newspaper playing umpire, and a few protesting citizens who knew better, our city got thrown out at home plate.

Sadly, it took a news story in the Seattle Times to correct a project path that was not staying inside the lines of good baseball. Yes, the city needs a new maintenance facility, but not showing the community respect or caring about the value of a park that predates the city’s incorporation negatively riled up the fan base.

I, like all who live here, want our city to succeed. Becoming a quality city is a team sport, and I cringe every time our team makes the news or social media for a car chase, robbery, murder or any mishap that negatively shapes the identity of our city.

The reality about residents is that we often do not care too much about what elected officials do as long as the basics are done well. We are supportive of efforts to maintain a quality police force, keeping crime to a minimum, traffic moving, streets maintained, and parks and recreation programs serving the best interest of the community.

Most elected officials have professional backgrounds in professions other than city management. They offer to serve and, if elected, become the community’s sounding board for what we as residents hope will be good governance, proper stewardship of what has been built, and serve as beneficial facilitators of growth for all who live and work here. When they do it well, they rarely hear from the public.

Becoming a better city is a competition in itself. It requires all aspects of what the community needs, to be well thought out and what is in direct control of city staff and elected leadership to be understood. If a professional sports team does not do its due diligence when drafting a player, it means the team will not perform to its highest standard. When our city attorneys, senior staff and elected leadership chose to think that repurposing park land was the path of least resistance and economically efficient, they ended up playing a fool’s game.

No senior staff member or elected official really wants to have their authority questioned, but we the public do not work for them. They are there to serve our best interest. We technically own this team or city. We need to let them know they gave our city a black eye.

However, as residents we need to think like team owners, and appreciate our responsibility to address the reality of this situation. The need still exists for a new public works and parks maintenance facility.

Some of the comments I have heard from our fellow residents deal with expressing their anger at our elected officials, and that may be appropriate. But, expressing anger at the city’s employees who need the maintenance yard and better working conditions is unwarranted.

When city employees do their job well, it blends seamlessly with our daily lives, and we don’t recognize the actual magnitude of what gets done on our behalf. As residents, if we think of ourselves as team owners, we need to ask ourselves, are we always going to go cheap in the service of one another? Or, are we going to take care of our employees, get them the equipment and building resources they need, and assure what we own is secure?

I have heard the question, “why do they need meeting rooms, aren’t they supposed to be out in the field?” Also, “why can’t they fix up what they currently have?” The individuals asking these questions have no clue about the current facility’s condition or the city’s work-day operational needs.

Not understanding the need is one thing. But transferring their anger to public service employees who endeavor to do well by us daily is bogus. Their anger should be reserved for our team managers for mismanaging this endeavor.

A well-trained staff is a team-expander for all of us. We will benefit by having a new facility that may be seen as, ‘just a maintenance facility’, but its meeting rooms give us another tool to facilitate training, resource staging in times of emergency as well as conducting interagency meetings.

As team owners, we need to realize that a multipurpose, quality, and secure maintenance facility is there for our benefit. Our daily lives depend on well-trained personnel capable of responding to multiple tasks that can change daily depending on need. Their efforts expand and control how we live and experience this city.

So, our leadership earned our team a black eye. As a community, we know that to undo the black eye requires us to do our due diligence. That starts with recognizing the need, supporting land acquisition and building a new maintenance facility. Acquiring a proper site located in a part of the city that will enhance service capability is essential, and building on what we have learned from this misguided effort is equally important.

Good intentions done badly generally fail. This failure was on our team’s management. The personnel that go into the field every day to serve us — the residents of Federal Way — rarely miss a pitch that has been thrown.

As residents, or team owners, we may need to draft better leadership. But the ball we need to keep our eye on is building a maintenance facility capable of serving our needs in the present and well into the future. No more bad pitches please.

Keith Livingston is a retired municipal management professional, lifelong artist and Federal Way resident. He can be reached at