Federal Way mayor under investigation over campaign signs

FEDERAL WAY, Wash. -- The Washington State Patrol is investigating Federal Way Mayor Skip Priest for allegedly taking his campaign signs out of "sign jail" without following the rules.

Police surveillance cameras caught it all, and now the Federal Way Police Department has asked the WSP to investigate if Priest broke the law or bent the rules for his own benefit.

Mayor Priest calls this a "rookie mistake," and said he paid to retrieve his signs from lock-up. But picking those signs up late at night raised suspicions.

The surveillance video clearly shows Priest outside the "sign jail," which is the impound area for any signs illegally posted in the city.

If your signs are thrown in jail, you must pay a fine of $5 each to get them back. The video also shows Priest loading campaign signs into the trunk of his car after business hours, at about 9:45 p.m. last Tuesday night.

Priest showed us a check image for $120 he said he gave to the city about 5:15 p.m. that night. He said he then went home about 7:30 p.m.

"And at 9:30 p.m. I came back to the sign jail and the signs been piled up near the gate and I picked up the signs, waved at a police officer happily and went home," Priest said.

But that police officer was suspicious because it's city policy that anyone retrieving signs out of sign jail must meet a code enforcement worker to do so.

An email obtained through public records requests shows the officer reported it that night to his chain of command.

Priest said at that point city workers did what they should.

"I think the chief is doing exactly the right thing," he said. "Once it's been raised, and there's an investigation in order, then we have to act appropriately."

Priest's opponent for Mayor, Jim Ferrell, said he learned about the situation over the weekend and had two concerns.

"Number one that it occurred so late at night, which obviously raises a concern, and that there was no one else there," he said.

Though Priest's hand-written check and invoice are both dated Tuesday the 24th, the machine-issued receipt for the check is dated the next day -- September 25 at 11 a.m. That is after the police chief authorized a preliminary investigation.

Ferrell, whose campaign is endorsed by the Police Guild, said he's surprised and disappointed and that everyone knows what the process is for retrieving campaign signs.

"It would never dawn on me in a million years to go over there and do it myself," he said.

But Priest said this is just politics during what he called the "silly season," referring to the election.