Federal Way’s city manager search and the court’s future | Bob Roegner

The Federal Way City Council is considering two major policy issues that will have a profound effect on how city government works in the future.

They are searching for a new city manager, and they are considering abolishing the municipal court.

Federal Way is one of the top four city jobs in the state, so we should be able to get a “star” as our city leader.

The city council said it wanted a city manager with 7 to 10 years of executive management experience and an advanced degree with experience in public or business management from Washington state. They waived the requirement for residency in Federal Way, which suggested they would concentrate their search on the Puget Sound area within commuting distance.

I contacted a few seasoned government types and asked them who the best city managers are. Here are the names they said we should look for: David Ramsey, Kirkland; Jay Covington, Renton; Rich Conrad, Mercer Island; Steve Hall, Olympia; and Greg Cuoio, Lacey. They also suggested Dick Zais from Yakima and Dave Mercier from Spokane Valley. My sources said, however, the council’s decision not to use a professional search firm would hamper the search as some of the current managers would need the “political cover” with their current employers of both “being asked” to apply and confidentiality.

It appears the council has already cut the original list of 80 to four or five, and has actually done some interviews.

In checking sources, none of the names listed above are included. So, beyond the questionable secrecy and lack of public involvement, who is the council considering? We don’t really know.

We do know that the residency requirement was waived primarily for a former Federal Way employee who is not in the finals. We know former assistant city manager Derek Matheson didn’t apply. Sources outside our community say they have heard two names. One is from outside the region but has a connection to Federal Way. The other is from nearby. Neither would fit the “star” category.

However, the lack of additional names floating around suggests some candidates are from outside city government or more likely, from out of state.

Will we get the “star” Federal Way’s population and salary says we should get? Will the city council make the same process mistake it made three years ago? Or will they abandon the process and leave police chief Brian Wilson as acting city manager and start over? Leaving Chief Wilson in the position for very long hampers strategic planning and the city’s ability to move forward.

The other major issue the city council is considering whether to retain the current two-judge municipal court — or abolish it and contract with King County district court.

Council member Eric Faison brought up the issue recently and the council agreed to discuss it. The city administration will contact the county to assess interest. There are several issues to consider: Costs to the city budget, convenience for scheduling for citizens and police officers, and local control.

Having gone through the process of moving from district court to a municipal court when I was in Auburn, I prefer the municipal court. Most municipal courts pay for themselves and actually return money to benefit the rest of city government.

Judges Michael Morgan and David Larson are probably correct when they say the local court provides a good value to the citizens. But according to council members, this is about both money and controversy.

So here’s what will probably happen. The county would undoubtedly like to get Federal Way into the district court system and will offer a “low ball” financial package. The city council will then have the financial justification it needs to make the deal. But within five to 10 years, the county will start raising the contract costs and the city council will have minimal influence in cost containment. Then the city council will start looking again at the municipal court option to save money. Maybe a better approach would be to drop the idea and hope the council and judges can start working through their differences.

The selection of your new city manager and the future of your municipal court are big issues. What do you think the council should do?