The city of Federal Way said Tuesday that for the second time during Mayor Skip Priest’s re-election campaign it is asking an outside authority to investigate his behavior.
This time it’s because he picked up campaign materials after hours from the city’s “sign jail” by City Hall, where illegally placed campaign signs are impounded, pending a $5 fine for each one.
A Federal Way police officer saw Priest’s vehicle about 9:30 p.m. Sept. 24, recognized it as the mayor’s and reported the incident to a supervisor because of the time of night and how the vehicle was parked, the Police Department said Tuesday.
Priest said he paid the fine for 24 signs before picking up the materials. A city employee also told police the mayor paid for the seized signs before retrieving them.
Nevertheless, the Police Department asked the Washington State Patrol to review the incident, to “ensure citizen and city employee confidence in the validity and integrity” of the investigation, according to a police release.
Priest on Tuesday gave his account of what happened:
On Sept. 23, he asked his staff what the process was for getting back impounded campaign signs and was told he needed the number of signs and an invoice to pay the penalty. The next day he got an invoice from a staff member, and at 5:15 p.m. wrote a check for the amount to recoup his signs. Because of the hour, the check was deposited the next day.
He had started work at 7 a.m. that day and ended it after a meeting about 12 hours later. Then, after going home — “My wife had the audacity to say she wanted me home for dinner” — he went back for the signs.
“When you’re the mayor of a city as large as we are, it’s more than a full-time job,” he said. “That’s the chance I had to pick up the signs.”
A staff member had set them by the gate, which was unlocked, he said.
He put a few of the signs back up that night, and the rest were still in his car Tuesday, he said.
“I’m quite frankly not sure what the story is,” he said. “This is the political silly season.”
The Federal Way Mirror reported June 4 that the city hired an outside attorney to investigate a May complaint by Councilwoman Kelly Maloney about a meeting during which she said Priest tried to intimidate her. He allegedly swore and pounded his fist on a desk, and also cried.
The attorney interviewed four witnesses, and determined the mayor’s “direct mode” of communicating wasn’t well-received by all, and noted that Priest said he does not use it much, The Mirror reported.
“It is not surprising to find challenging conversations, disagreements and differences in leadership styles in dealing with the difficult business of running a city and planning for the future,” the investigator wrote in a report obtained by The Mirror.
“Mayor Skip Priest may have irritated or upset some of his colleagues, but he’s done nothing that would warrant pursuing this investigation any further.”
Asked by The News Tribune about the investigation, the mayor said Tuesday, “It’s important for us to work well together, and in fact, we do.”
Priest is up against Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell in the Nov. 5 mayoral election.
Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268