The Federal Way City Council handled a busy evening of budget discussions and public comment Tuesday night (Sept. 20), including citizens’ concerns about shopping cart theft and a renewed review of the TikTok video of a Federal Way police officer.
It’s budget season at Federal Way.
City Council took its first official look at the 2023-2024 balanced biennial budget proposed by Mayor Jim Ferrell during the council meeting.
According to the budget schedule, city officials will continue to work out the details in four more study sessions this month and next. The matter will return to city council meetings on October 18 for a preliminary public hearing, and at the following meeting on November 1 for a final public hearing.
Assuming no surprises interrupt this process, council will then have the opportunity to adopt the budget, property tax rate and municipal fee schedules at its November 15 meeting.
The budget process is also an opportunity for city leaders to take stock of the city’s financial health, growth plans and concerns.
Overall, Ferrell is optimistic. Federal Way is emerging strongly from the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, with city revenues higher than expected thanks to strong sales tax collections and investing the money from the city.
“Over the two years, we expect an increase of $1.8 million in total, or $900,000 per year, as we reinvested money that was literally sitting in the bank,” Ferrell said.
Ferrell identified four major sources of continued financial pressure on the city: the limits imposed by Washington’s constitutional 1% property tax cap; city vehicle replacement costs below inflation; the continued need to repair and maintain key infrastructure; and the specter of other problems caused by inflation or an economic recession, which must be built into the budget.
Budget highlights include a new staff position to handle public records requests and the addition of staff and equipment for the city’s winter weather operations. Ferrell said he also plans to come up with a line item of $50,000 to help fund an executive director of the Federal Way Historical Society.
Police chief responds to TikTok video
During the meeting’s public comment period, Federal Way Police Chief Andy Hwang responded to a further review of an FWPD officer’s controversial TikTok video from this summer.
In the video, Officer Breanna Straus urges motorists to get away from the police: ‘If we’re driving down the highway in our police cruiser, get the f—- out of the way,’ Straus said in uniform and in the Tik Tok Video. “I can go 90 miles an hour. You can not. You can not do this. So get the f—- out of the way. If we officers stay behind you long enough, we may find a reason to arrest you.
“I speak for myself, but I probably speak for a large majority of other officers there,” Straus said at the start of the video.
The FWPD determined that Straus violated the agency’s code of conduct, and by Chief Hwang’s decision, Straus received a 10-hour unpaid suspension for the violations, according to police records. A 10-hour suspension corresponds to one shift. Straus was sworn into the department on August 9, 2021.
The Mirror reported on the incident in early July, but the event has regained greater attention after recently making the rounds on social media. One person during public comments on September 20 raised the issue, calling on city leaders to address the incident, which she said “has become a national embarrassment.”
“I have a lot of respect for the police,” said the commentator. “My first degree is in criminal justice. I like the terrain. But when we have bad officers in our community who wreak havoc and say unfair, unjust and scary words, I think it’s time for our community leaders like Chief Hwang to speak up for the department. It’s not right to slap him on the hand.
Hwang’s full response from that evening, slightly edited for clarity, was as follows.
“Federal Way PD’s mission is to earn the public’s trust. In this incident, we failed. As chief of police, I had two options. She’s a new officer — I could suspend her or fire her. … There is an exceptional case in which she helped a rape victim from Tacoma, so there were very good qualities in her. So I weighed all the factors, and it was my decision to give it a second chance. … We have hard-working men and women, every day, who earn the public’s trust. We are not perfect. We seek excellence. But clearly in this incident, we made a mistake, and I apologize on behalf of the entire department. When this happened, we made a statement to the local media, (and) the Federal Way Mirror did an article. So I feel like we talked about it. And that’s unfortunate, and I apologize on behalf of the entire agency. I take full responsibility. Thanks.”
Council heard from several citizens in public comments about the local theft of shopping carts and the re-use of these carts by some local transients to move their belongings. Residents have called on the city to take action on this, such as dedicating city employees to picking up carts that aren’t being used for their intended purpose. Council members have said they will be preparing an ordinance on the matter, so expect the matter to come to a vote soon at the council meeting.
The council proclaimed September 15 through October 15, 2022 as National Hispanic Heritage Month federally.
The council proclaimed September 20, 2022 as National Information Technology Professionals Day.
The board voted unanimously to accept the consent agenda, which streamlines votes on presumably non-controversial items. These items included the correction of the fee schedule for the city’s underground utility works; accept an $80,000 grant from the Washington Department of Commerce to improve the city’s resilience to climate change; accept a grant from the county sheriff to reimburse FWPD for overtime spent verifying the addresses of registered sex offenders and kidnappers; accepting a $142,100 grant from the Puget Sound Auto Theft Task Force; accept a $5,000 grant from the Washington Highway Safety Commission for Distracted Driving Law Enforcement; approve an agreement with the Criminal Justice Training Commission to reimburse salary and benefits in exchange for assigning an FWPD officer as an instructor at the law enforcement academy; and authorize city staff to request quotes for on-call electrical services.