Races to watch: Fire district and school board | Inside Politics

Next week is the Mirror’s second debate. Though typically low key, the race for the Federal Way school board between Claire Wilson and Angela Griffin, along with the race for the South King Fire and Rescue board of commissioners between Bill Fuller and Roger Flygare are worth watching.

Bob Roegner

Next week is the Mirror’s second debate. Though typically low key, the race for the Federal Way school board between Claire Wilson and Angela Griffin, along with the race for the South King Fire and Rescue board of commissioners between Bill Fuller and Roger Flygare are worth watching.

The candidates themselves are interesting, but what the winners’ election signals may be even more significant.

Both Wilson and Griffin have chosen to do mini-reporting and will spend no more than $5,000 each on their race.

School board positions are determined by geographic representation, although the election is district-wide. Wilson is the incumbent in this position and Griffin was previously on the board from a different area. Griffin moved into Wilson’s district.

Wilson is finishing her first term, and is the board vice chair. If re-elected, she will be the board’s most senior member with four years of experience.

Professionally, she works in the education field and is knowledgeable about current and historical education issues.

Wilson believes the district needs to improve its graduation-on-time rates and its math scores. She is a strong advocate of early learning programs and family engagement in education. She was recently endorsed by the Federal Way Education Association.

During the challenging days after former board chair Tony Moore’s departure, Wilson served as president for a short period of time.

However, internal board disagreements led to her replacement. Insiders say Wilson has worked hard to move beyond that and build consensus.

She appears to have succeeded, as all her fellow board members, other than Danny Peterson, who is leaving the board, have endorsed her reelection.

When Griffin served on the board she also served as vice chair and brought a community awareness view. She was an articulate spokesperson for the needs of the district’s ethnically diverse population.

Different students may have different needs whether in a vocation or in higher education. She has stayed current on education issues.

Both of these candidates bring knowledge and passion to the educational debate, and both also attended the controversial European trip with former Superintendent Rob Neu. Griffin was leaving the board when the trip occurred and Wilson remained on the board. But the central difference seems to be which candidate will help move the district forward.

Some school board watchers believe that all the controversy has finally settled down and new Superintendent Tammy Campbell seems to have reinvigorated the district.

They question whether now is the time to change the board and superintendent chemistry. Others say Griffin will bring a needed perspective.

Both candidates were part of the Neu tenure but Wilson played a role in hiring Campbell. Watch to see how each candidate handles the chemistry topic. It may make the difference in the race.

The other race that suddenly became hot after the primary election is for a seat on the South King Fire and Rescue board.

Flygare has previously run for the state Legislature and for the City Council. He became controversial in an earlier election when it was discovered that he had embellished his military service.

However, in this race he was easily considered the early front runner. He had the support of the fire district power structure, including the endorsement and donations from three fire board commissioners. One commissioner gave him almost $400.

He was also endorsed by the fire chief and was pictured with several firefighters in campaign literature.

Flygare has good name recognition, is active in democratic politics and could raise the most money. As of early September he had raised almost $20,000 for the race, most of it from labor sources, but also from Democratic friends and a $5,000 loan he made to his campaign. That’s big money for a fire commissioner race.

But something went wrong with all that political wisdom, as newcomer Fuller not only knocked frequent fire district critic Jerry Galland off the ballot, he finished ahead of Flygare.

Fuller is not well-known, is following mini-reporting and will spend only a quarter of what Flygare will spend. Fuller won’t be able to afford much literature, newspaper ads or very many signs.

He is the classic underdog. While he has both fire and business experience, it was his apparent independence from the current board that seemed to catch the voting public’s attention. Fuller was open to taking a closer look at making the board more transparent and reviewing some controversial policies that allow nepotism. The fire chief’s son was the most high profile employment issue.

But we now know that there are three relative duos among the permanent staff and the children of three other current employees were hired for summer jobs.

In addition, current Commissioner John Rickert has a son employed as a firefighter. Fair or not, Flygare’s comfort level with current policies, and support from the commissioners, chief and union doesn’t suggest an independence nor an ability to provide a check and balance that Fuller might provide.

Fuller, despite his low campaign cash, is now a legitimate contender. But there is an overriding issue in this race.

South King Fire has a measure on the ballot for additional funding that was defeated earlier. They are requesting a lower amount this time but the issue to voters is really one of credibility.

The chief and his staff have been reaching out to the public to try and help pass the levy but they haven’t addressed any of the policy and employment issues that have raised concern. Or will simply lowering the amount be enough to get the issue passed?

Things to watch for will Flygare try to distance himself from the fire district power structure and his own “insider” tag to gain ground in his race and help the levy? How would the voters react?

Will Fuller maintain his current voter-supported independence or try and soften his image to establish a relationship with the other commissioners in case he does win?

A potential problem for Fuller might be Galland, who finished third in the primary. Galland is running as a write-in candidate and is urging people to write his name in for both the Fuller-Flygare seat and in the Rickert seat where Rickert is unopposed.

Winning either seat as a write-in is highly unlikely, although Rickert’s lack of an opponent would seem to open the door.

Any votes for Galland in the Fuller-Flygare race will help Flygare, as both Galland and Fuller are seen as candidates for change.

Four very interesting candidates on the ballot, two very important races, along with an early test of the school district’s new direction, and the voter’s view of the need for change at the fire district. Is there a need for change, and how will the candidate races affect the levy?

Attend the Mirror debate and find out.

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


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