Strained relationship between legislators, city of Federal Way

Legislators were seeking information and accountability from City Hall and did not appear happy with some city answers.

The legislative delegation from the 30th District — Sen. Claire Wilson, Reps. Kristine Reeves and Mike Pellicciotti — want to bring home state tax dollars to help Federal Way schools, nonprofit service agencies, the Greater Federal Way Chamber of Commerce, city government and respond to other needs within the community.

But in their tense meeting last week with Mayor Jim Ferrell and the City Council, it was clear the city has a long way to go to earn back the legislators’ trust. The legislators were seeking information and accountability from City Hall and did not appear happy with some city answers, or running out the clock on the meeting time.

Recall that Ferrell and the council asked for money to help Federal Way’s homeless, however, Ferrell then tried to spend the money in a different legislative district in Burien.

Recently legislators learned that the million dollars Ferrell requested to upgrade the Performing Arts and Event Center warming kitchen to a full kitchen, in cooperation with the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, to establish a culinary institute, had not even been started, although the kitchen was done. The money from the legislators was intended to support tribal efforts in workforce development for the culinary institute to train chefs on cooking Native American food.

However, according to information the city submitted to the state, it may take a another five years to be fully implemented, even though the initial years only consist of workshops, speakers and an annual seminar. It isn’t until year five that the culinary institute is fully operational with students interning. The PAEC construction started in 2015 and was completed in 2017, according to city documents.

Legislators had only recently learned that due to a delay in passing the capital budget during the last short session two years ago, the city had used the construction loan to complete the kitchen. Reeves said the city then asked the state Commerce Department to repurpose the money toward the construction loan on the PAEC, even though legislative intent was to support the tribe’s workforce development plan, which has still not started as we approach 2020.

Since legislators had already obtained several million toward PAEC construction, Sen. Wilson said she thought “the city should have put in their own money, without the request for reimbursement.” To legislators the money was again spent by the city in an unintended manner, on the loan, rather than in support of the tribal program to train tribal members. At least one city insider questions whether the city ever intended to support the culinary institute.

Then, after school Superintendent Tammy Campbell noted that there had been $8 million in delays on the new schools because of the city permit process, Reeves pointedly asked if a city Business and Occupation tax might be helpful.

The question was not aimed at Campbell, but at Ferrell, for not using their own taxing authority, and asking for more state money, and then costing the school district and taxpayers more money in delays. Staffing and time loss in the Planning Department has long been an issue with local developers.

For the 2020-21 legislative session, the city is asking for $200,000 for staff to coordinate the Mayors Homeless Task Force, and $100,000 for an outreach program, which Reeves thought the city should fund from their own resources if it is truly of importance to Ferrell. The city was also asking for a position to staff youth violence prevention efforts, which had been discussed a few years ago by the Violence Prevention Committee and no staff had been hired through the city budget.

Also, the city wants to reintroduce a panhandlers program that would employ them on city projects. This may be a good idea, but this idea came up three years ago and the city has not funded it. Ferrell frequently asks for state money and then if the legislators are unable to get it, rather than raising fees, taxes or implementing cuts to achieve city goals, blaming the state becomes the easier political option.

Due to some displeasure with accountability on city spending of state money, Reeves had asked for a report for 2016-2019 showing how the city actually spent state money.

The report was odd in that it listed $1 million that El Centro De La Raza received from the capital budget, and the $3 million FUSION received for emergency housing. Neither was a city project and El Centro doesn’t even open in Federal Way until next year, and former House Speaker Frank Chopp, along with King County Council member Pete von Reichbauer, should get credit for FUSION, not the city.

Both Reeves and Wilson were also disappointed with the lack of detail in the report. Wilson, who previously served on the school board and is used to reading detailed reports, said, “The city asks for money without a plan on how to spend it.”

Reeves who had met with Ferrell and the city lobbyist recently said, “If the city wants us to fight for this money, they are going to have to be far more accountable with how they choose to spend it.”

With the city attempting to spend homeless money in Burien, and the culinary institute not even started, even though the kitchen is done, Reeves felt like the city was not spending the money consistent with what it was approved for as legislative intent.

And that was round one.

Round two will have some players changing teams, as Reeves announced her resignation from the Legislature, amid speculation of a run for Congress in the seat being vacated by Denny Heck. Several candidates are expected to be interested in her Legislative seat. Rep. Pellicciotti will run for state treasurer.

But legislative intent and taxpayer expectations will remain the same, and the city needs to show more accountability to the taxpayers.

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