Last June, Mayor Jim Ferrell denied a request from the chair of the 30th District Democratic party to fly the pride flag in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn riots, which marked the LGBTQ movement out of the closet and into their search for equality.
It was newsworthy because Ferrell was the only mayor in the area to take that position. Those contacted included Auburn, Redmond, Renton, Kirkland, Mercer Island, Burien, Kent and Covington, among others. Some cities had not been asked, but Federal Way was the only city to say no.
Ferrell’s weak response was that the city might be legally required to fly other flags. Other cities have been confronted with the same question and went ahead anyway, still others have supported recognition programs for the LGBTQ community. Auburn got the request too late, but Mayor Nancy Backus said the city would buy a flag and put it up next June.
In a strong mayor form of government like Federal Way, Ferrell has control of all city facilities and could have used his authority to join other cities and direct the flag be flown.
Now six months later Ferrell is proposing a resolution to the council that would provide policy guidance for residents who want the pride flag, or any other flag, to be flown. Ferrell says “it is the right thing to do.”
Really? Then why didn’t he stand up and take the responsibility six months ago if he truly believes it is the right thing to do? Ferrell also thought coming back to the issue later would be a good approach . It might have seemed more sincere if the policy was adopted last June “as the right thing to do.” Now the LGBTQ community will have to wait another six months for June to arrive.
However, the real reason he is proposing the resolution is undoubtedly politics, as are most things with Ferrell. He claims to be a Democrat, even though many Democrats don’t see much proof of that, including saying no to the pride flag. His conversion from Republican to Democrat was more about political expediency to win the mayor’s position, and he has never changed his personal conservative philosophy.
This was a perfect issue to demonstrate that actions are more important than words, and that inclusion means something in Federal Way. Or, it would have, six months ago. Now it looks like exactly what it is, a grasp for Democratic political support as Ferrell enters the critical 12 month period of preparation for city elections in 2021.
Even now, six months later, Ferrell could give the directive under his own authority to fly the flag and establish precedent for the future. But his proposed resolution hides behind the council’s “recognition,” and “signature” on a proclamation to protect Ferrell’s image with conservative voters.
The proclamation forces the City Council to vote on each request, giving Ferrell political maneuvering room to blame the council to conservative voters, while taking credit for the action with progressive voters, thereby currying favor with both political sides.
The proposed resolution also requires each group to buy a flag and loan it to the city for seven days.
There is no reason for the council to pass a proclamation every time there is a request to fly a flag. Ferrell is using the council for political cover with this unnecessary stunt.
The council should demonstrate that it understands the game he is playing and ask him to take responsibility and use the authority he already has to fly the flag. However, the time for courage may have passed.
Earlier this year when leadership was needed on this issue, council member Mark Koppang, who is conservative, thought the pride flag should be flown at the Community Center, because City Hall only has three flagpoles. Now that he is safely reelected and planning ahead, he says he will support the resolution, even though there are still only three flagpoles at City Hall?
Rather than be out-maneuvered by Ferrell, the council should pass its own resolution supporting flying of the pride flag at City Hall, the Community Center and Celebration Park for the month of June, not just seven days. They should urge Ferrell to use his existing authority to make it happen. They should also include direction to the administration to set up appropriate public recognition as some other cities have already done.
If Ferrell truly believes “it is the right thing to do,” then act like a leader and do it, without political cover.
And spend a few dollars and buy a pride flag. It’s a small price to pay for demonstrating inclusion to a group that has endured far more than most of us will ever understand, and why wait another six months. Pay them back for time lost and put the flag up for a few days to ring in the new year. Then fly it for the whole month of June.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.