There are 281 cities that belong to the Association of Washington Cities (AWC), and their mayors and councilmembers are articulate representatives of the public they serve.
Over the years, AWC has been among the best at lobbying the Legislature successfully for their needs. In King County, most city leaders develop a legislative request list each year that is shared with AWC. Some cities coordinate with their Chamber of Commerce, school district or special purpose districts.
I would encourage each city resident to obtain a copy of their city’s lobbying targets because it will reveal city priorities, and some may surprise you. Also, this is an election year for local governments, and it may inspire you to run for office. Or it may annoy you into the same conclusion.
With responsibility for their citizens (which include many of color) and police departments, cities will find themselves in the middle of debates on the two biggest issues of the session, COVID-19 and police reform.
That is probably true of government at all levels and the private sector. Included in those two broad topics are developing resources to address housing instability as well as rent assistance to avoid foreclosures and evictions. AWC and most cities understand the obligation to address racial equity, although they emphasize local control of policy decisions. Cities are willing to support a statewide standard for use of force and establish a database to track police officers who have been fired for misconduct. They are also willing to expand the grounds for decertification to include use of force violations and require that officer misconduct investigations be completed, even if the officer resigns.
Local cities such as Auburn and Renton call out their support for many of these changes while Kent is still refining its position with some of its residents. Federal Way appears less committed to equity issues and their legislative list only makes a vague reference to “engaging in meaningful discussions on police reform.” Legislators tend to be more guided by public opinion, so watch who testifies and how legislators react to these major topics. While each city will want to have the final word on what gets implemented locally, statewide standards seem a more likely conclusion. That improves consistency and all departments and officers follow the same rules.
Federal Way wants the state to fund body cameras, but since several cities have already set a high priority on body cameras or dashboard cameras, and have invested local money, it may be a difficult sell to the state budget leaders.
Other AWC goals include maintaining revenue sharing among cities and adopting a new transportation revenue package. Renton, Auburn and Federal Way are interested in local transportation challenges.
Auburn, Renton and Kent have already taken steps to add a new staff position for equity and inclusion. Some cities are elevating the position to the management level as a way to highlight its importance. Federal Way has only approved a part-time position, and there doesn’t seem to be agreement on what the position will do. Kent just hired a person on a temporary basis as they seek to fill the full-time permanent position.
Some Federal Way residents are concerned that the position is not important to the mayor and may be left vacant or not have the administration’s support. Other issues of interest to local cities include expansion of broadband internet, reducing airplane noise, capital improvements in parks, public works, and connections to valley commuter rail and Sound Transit. Kent as a manufacturing and distribution center also wants to improve connections to downtown with its “Meet Me on Meeker” concept, while Auburn wants to update some of its city service infrastructure.
It will be a session like we have never seen before. Try and keep track of as much as you can because everything in this session will be up for debate.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.