Elections: What compass will Federal Way follow?

Here are some random observations on the candidates.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.

Nothing captures the national divide and local discourse better than two signs next to each other on 21st Street. One says “Yes to Prop 1” (marijuana shops in Federal Way).The other says “Vote no on I-1000, R-800” (which would allow the state to remedy discrimination).

Federal Way is a community struggling with our changing demographics and our priorities, as progressives and conservatives seek political dominance. We have a $32 million Performing Arts and Event Center, with a huge debt, that stands in contrast to our homeless sleeping outside, or police we apparently can’t afford. In a reflection of the national debate, Federal Way is grappling with which compass we want our city and schools to follow.

Over the last few weeks I have observed the candidates at several forums, most recently hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and the Mirror. Individual interviews were also held. The forums gave the candidates the opportunity to tell us what they thought on several different issues. Most have a clear philosophy as a progressive, moderate or conservative and some will even admit to a political party! Unfortunately, some candidates didn’t answer the question they were asked at some forums because they wanted to appear to favor both sides of the question and not alienate any voters. Others gave clear straightforward answers.

Here are some random observations on the candidates.

If you’re keeping score, those leaning toward conservative are Mark Koppang, Tony Pagliocco, Tenya Magruder, and despite her many years as a Democrat, independent Sharry Edwards has adopted some of Mayor Jim Ferrell’s conservative views. Linda Kochmar is concerned about the city permit process and how the city spends taxpayers money. She also voted to legalize marijuana when in the Legislature. She may be a moderate. Jamila Taylor is more progressive as are school board candidates Luckisha Phillips and Jennifer Jones. Susan Honda can show a conservative side with her support for additional police, and shares a concern with Kochmar about city spending and permits, but also wants a more progressive solution to the homeless challenge. Call her moderate as well.

With three recent shootings, public safety has become a major topic, particularly at the Mirror debate. Three years ago there had been three murders and a Violence Prevention Committee was formed by Ferrell. To many it felt more like a photo opportunity. Incumbents Honda and Koppang have actually worked on some of the recommendations, but Koppang’s answer to supporting the VPC recommendations understated his effort. His opponent Taylor has actual hands-on experience as an attorney for Legal Aid and works with victims of crime every day. This is an area of strength for each.

Taylor wants more money allocated to community programs for youth. Candidate Tony Pagliocco, who has talked almost exclusively about public safety and the need for more police, said he had not read the VPC report because three years ago he was concerned about his daughter’s health. Fair enough. But that doesn’t explain why he didn’t read it some time this year, or in the last six months? Pagliocco, who serves on the Human Services Commission, also wants to give more money to fewer nonprofits at a time when all nonprofits need more money. And a possible recession would make services to the poor even more necessary. On the plus side, his knowledge of computers could be an asset. His opponent Kochmar focused on the problems with drugs, and has the experience with government public policy that Pagliocco lacks. Honda supported the VPC report and favors more police officers as do most other candidates. The report had several recommendations but not all have been implemented.

Since police statistics show crime is down, the problems confronting Federal Way may be more complicated than just adding police. The city may need to get serious about options and support for our younger generations.

Another issue has been flying the pride flag at City Hall for a short period of time, which had been requested by a community member. Because Ferrell was one of the few mayors to decline to fly the flag, he turned it into a hot button issue when it didn’t need to be. The mayor and council did come up with some nice words about being inclusive as a substitute. Koppang, Edwards and Pagliocco did not support flying it at City Hall. Pagliocco wanted to fly it and others at the Community Center. Koppang was concerned about only having three flagpoles at City Hall. Taylor countered with, then “add another flagpole.” Honda and Kochmar wanted a policy set by the council, though the council has already had several months to develop a policy and hasn’t. Taylor had the best grasp of why flying the pride flag at City Hall was important. Our city talks about inclusion and City Hall is the symbol of the government. Suggesting alternative locations when other cities were flying the pride flag at their City Hall was an insensitive sidestep and made the words of support feel hollow to those who asked for the flags short-term appearance.

Though a question about a police oversight board (when police use force), was not asked at the Mirror debate, it is a significant issue among many residents of our city, particularly those of color. At a forum prior to the primary, only Honda and Pagliocco opposed the establishment of a police accountability board when asked the yes/no question. Koppang and Edwards did not attend that forum. These two issues tell us that we still have work to do to become the inclusive community we say we are.

Another hot button question was, do you support Prop 1 (pot shops in Federal Way)? Taylor, Kochmar, Pagliocco and Honda supported Prop 1 subject to zoning issues. Edwards opposed. And Koppang wouldn’t give an answer despite a direct question after his non-answer. Even though Honda outpolled Edwards by a large margin in the primary, both candidates have continued to campaign hard.

School board candidate Phillips, who is a college professor, believes her experience and education along with being a parent has prepared her to serve the residents and students. She was appointed to the board a year ago and is aware of the challenges the district faces in homelessness, mental health, academics, and safe schools. With children at all different levels in schools she is knowledgeable about the challenges families face. She wants to explore collaboration with community-based organizations in preparing students for their future. She noted the districts assets, including its diversity.

Her opponent Magruder felt the district could do better, and pointed to areas she thought were under-performing, including academics and attendance. She also wants students to be proficient in English. Though not her first choice, she favors police on campus. Jones, an active parent, and college professor, described her experience in the Peace Corps. The background has prepared her to serve on the board. Her preparation and emphasis on facts was notable. Her opponent declined to participate in the forums.

Voters, now is the time for you to get answers to your questions. And don’t let them off the hook with a weak spin control non-answer. Do your homework before you vote.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.

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