State of the City

Elections are next year, and with the high profile marketing for the event, the speech always sounds more like a “please vote for me” campaign kick-off.

Mayor Jim Ferrell made his annual State of the City speech last week one day before the city’s 30th birthday. City elections are next year, and with the high profile marketing for the event, the speech always sounds more like a “please vote for me” campaign kick-off than a report on community accomplishments. But it did have some informative moments. As always the city is “strong!” No mayor is likely to say otherwise?

If you were unable to attend, read Ferrell’s Dec. 27, 2019 city paid half-page ad and you will get most of it.

New areas Ferrell brought up to watch included his putting a focus on cybersecurity to protect the city and its ability to function when needed. Also, creation of a new app that will allow residents to contact city government when they see something that should be reported, be it a shopping cart, graffiti or something else.

He mentioned partnering with local retailers to help them keep track of their assets. That idea is going to need additional detail as many retailers complain about police not showing up when called, or police having an expectation that store employees will tackle shoplifters, or that shops should hire their own security. Business owners are not going to risk their most valuable asset, their employees’ health, when they believe that is the police department’s job. I like the partnership concept, but how that partnership gets built will take some work.

It was also good to hear that the city, along with the school district and other local institutions, is taking the coronavirus seriously, unlike President Donald Trump.

To coincide with the 30th birthday of city government, Ferrell announced a “30 for 30” idea of each citizen contributing 30 minutes of volunteer time, with different ideas available. Federal Way, like many other cities, has great residents who give significant amounts of time to improving the place we live. If highlighting new efforts draws more people to help share the load, it may be worth the staff time it takes.

Ferrell also announced the formation of a 2050 iniative to look at the future of the city. If the plan offers a realistic blueprint for engaging our community institutions in a shared constructive dialog and vision of the future of our city, it could be very helpful. If it becomes just another photo opportunity, or a line in next year’s campaign brochure, it will be a waste of time.

Ferrell mentioned the Federal Way Performing Arts and Event Center, with its the new lettering on the side of the building and the new steps just outside. The PAEC will be a long-term asset, as it provides a community gathering place and Ferrell makes a point of saying it is 85% paid off.

He fails to mention that it is still several million dollars short and having the name on the side is great, but the community was told that the naming rights for the building would be sold to help pay for the building, which has not occurred. And the vacant storefront across the parking lot that was supposed to be sold for a hotel remains a visible reminder of another part of the unrealized funding plan for the PAEC.

Ferrell made mention of a salary study for city employees that is in progress and we heard about some new business, both of which are positive, but we didn’t hear anything about improving the permit system, which those willing to speak continue to complain about.

Ferrell emphasized that crime was down, but recognizes the topic continues to be a difficult sell to many residents. He points to savings from leaving the SCORE jail facility and the hope for additional income from the city’s legal disagreement on the water and sewer tax with Lakehaven Water and Sewer District.

Ferrell likes to point to historical firsts and noted the city had partnered with the Federal Way Day Center and three area churches in a severe weather shelter plan. This was probably the most disappointing part of the evening as the shelter is only open when the temperature drops below freezing, and had only been opened for two nights, housing about 20 people each night. Go outside on a January evening and sleep under a tree when it is 50 degrees. Different criteria is needed, because two nights is not enough.

Ferrell also seemed delighted to announce the city had closed over 100 homeless encampments. However, there was no mention of where all those homeless people went or even how many of them there were, or whether they got assistance. Maybe some of savings from SCORE could be used to provide porta potty’s to the homeless? It would be more humane, and there would be less to clean up.

What I, and many others, have wanted to hear for several years is a plan to end homelessness in Federal Way. The FUSION family shelter will help, but a two night shelter is a short-term political answer to a far more serious problem. And that should be a city goal. End homelessness in Federal Way.

Some things to think about and others to watch as the year unfolds.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact