If you’re looking for a rollicking good time then a City Council meeting, even with popcorn, may not be your best choice. But if you value knowing more about how our community sees itself then the last meeting would have been illustrative, as it exposed some fissures in the inclusiveness we think we reflect.
The stage was set last June when Mayor Jim Ferrell turned down the 30th District Democrats chair’s request to fly the pride flag in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn riots, which has significant meaning to the LGBTQ community.
It’s rare when a public official gets a second chance to do “the right thing,” as Ferrell said in proposing a resolution that would allow the flag to be flown, subject to a majority of the council supporting a proclamation for each request. But Ferrell will get that chance, after the council voted 6-1 in favor of delegating the decision to fly the pride flag back to him rather than adopt his recommended draft flag policy.
While the confrontation and rejection was pretty mild compared to national policy disagreements, it was clear the council felt Ferrell was trying to put the council in a lose-lose position of being blamed for any flag decision, and put himself in a win-win position. However, the disagreement and discomfort among those residents attending the council meeting was very noticeable.
Last summer several King County cities were approached about flying the pride flag, including Federal Way. In a strong mayor form of government, which we have, Ferrell, as mayor, could make that decision himself. He said no, and Federal Way became the only area city with that answer. Some cities already fly the pride flag and have other forms of recognition.
Deputy Mayor Susan Honda had announced that the council would take up the policy debate in January 2020.
But Ferrell had the city attorney draft a resolution for the council’s December meeting, which would require council members to sign off on each flag request through a proclamation. If the request didn’t have enough signatures then their flag wouldn’t fly. Ferrell said flying the pride flag “was the right thing to do.” When asked if it was “right,” then why not do it last summer? He said it needed time.
Many conservatives thought the debate was a waste of time and that the council should spend their time on more important things. That proved an incorrect view, as attendance and web postings clearly showed significant, and diverse, community views on the topic.
Most people who spoke at the council meeting were opposed to flying the pride flag. Many were Slavic Christians, who believe in man-woman relationships. They were organized and brought signs expressing their opposition. Former 30th District Republican state Sen. Mark Miloscia captured much of their viewpoint on the Mirror Facebook page when he said, “This flag will divide and bring hatred and division to Federal Way,” which was also on some of their signs.
Prior to the meeting their were rumors that the council wasn’t happy with Ferrell’s attempt to box them in politically, even though a majority of council members appeared to support flying the flag at city hall. Even council member Mark Koppang , a conservative, who had spoken against flying the flag at City Hall, now said he would back Ferrell and support the resolution. That may have sounded like support to those in favor of flying the flag, but Koppang didn’t tell us how he would vote on the actual proclamation to fly the flag.
Council member Martin Moore, who is a conservative Republican, may have caused himself some political trouble among his base supporters by speaking in favor of gay rights and flying the flag, but then voting against the motion to delegate the issue to Ferrell.
Ferrell, who says he is a Democrat, but frequently acts like a conservative Republican, had caused some hard feelings among Democrats last summer when he didn’t fly the flag. Many viewed the resolution as an attempt to retain Democratic support by putting the council on the hook. But by letting the issue become a bigger political problem over the last few months, he may have caused himself problems among Democrats and Republicans.
Some agreed with Ferrell’s comment on KIRO that flying the flag was a political statement, although he tried to backpedal on that statement. Who is making the political statement? The residents asking for the pride flag to fly, or the residents who are opposed to the flag?
The true question for the community is “how do we see ourselves?” “What kind of community are we, an inclusive one or not?” If so, then actions speak louder than words.
Ferrell had the rare opportunity to correct an earlier decision and though he lost the vote, and likely some conservative and liberal supporters in the process, he will follow through and fly the pride flag next June. And he will buy the pride flag out of his own pocket.
As he said: “It’s never too late to make the right decision.”
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.