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Vashon’s community council searches for a new path

In a discussion that was at times surreal, at other times charged, 20 Islanders and three King County officials met Monday to explore the direction of Vashon’s community council now that all nine members of its board have resigned.

Did the council still exist without a board, some asked at the meeting of the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council’s (VMICC) governance and policy committee in Vashon Library’s meeting room? (Yes, it turns out.)

Who pays rent for their next meeting room if they don’t have a treasurer authorized to sign checks? (Not certain, those gathered decided.) And how could they put forward an urgent motion to address some of these issues without a board — since, according to their bylaws, such a motion can move forward only if three board members agree? (Perhaps they could call it an “emergency” motion and use Robert’s Rules of Orders to govern, some suggested.)

In the end, the governance committee, at times noting this wasn’t exactly its purview, agreed that the next VMICC meeting should probably take place at the time and date already scheduled — 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 20, at McMurray Middle School.

Islander Gay Rosser volunteered to convene the meeting, opening it up with a request for someone to chair it. Per Hilary Emmer’s suggestion, Rosser plans to then call for a vote, should more than one Islander want to chair the meeting, to determine who will officiate. That person, with help from those in attendance, will create an agenda.

What happens then is anyone’s guess.

Such is the uncharted territory the Island finds itself in now that it no longer has a board helming its community council, the body that comes closest to some form of government on unincorporated Vashon Island.

All nine members of the board resigned two weeks ago over the course of several days, after the King County Prosecutor’s Office said it believes the board has to comply with the sometimes onerous demands of the state’s public disclosure act.

Since then, several Islanders active in community affairs have talked, met and e-mailed each other about the unprecedented turn of events. Monday’s meeting was the first public gathering to try to make sense of the situation’s implications — and at times it only served to underscore the uncertainty many feel as they move forward to rebuild the council or create something new in its wake.

Before the governance committee met on Monday, a few Islanders and county officials held a 30-minute discussion to explore the ramifications of the county’s analysis. And while Kelli Williams, the county’s public records officer, and Lauren Smith, the county’s unincorporated area relations manager, were there to answer questions, they often declined to offer up an opinion, saying answers to some questions were elusive.

When Emmer, a former board member, for instance, asked what kinds of e-mails are subject to disclosure, Williams said only those that pertain to official community council business. But when Emmer then asked how long board members are expected to retain e-mails for potential disclosure to those who seek them, Smith said neither she nor Williams were sure.

“There’s not a lot of case law to instruct us,” Smith said. “We’re in a gray area here.”

Smith and Williams also said they believe that those who chair community council committees as well as active members of those committees must also comply with the public disclosure act. Emmer and former board member Roger Fulton then pointed out that on Vashon, every Islander age 18 or older is a member of the community council.

Would that mean that anyone who participated in a community council meeting is subject to the act, they asked. Williams replied, “That’s difficult.” And Smith added, “We don’t have all the answers.”

The questions are not academic. Bangasser, a business consultant and active Islander, has filed a far-reaching public disclosure request, asking that board members deliver up all community council correspondence pertaining to “VMICC requirements, formation, contracts, King County budgets and/or governance issues.”

Emmer, at the meeting with the three county officials, said Bangasser has 98 percent of what he wants in the form of meeting minutes and other public documents — but not e-mails between and among board members on personal computers.

Craig Belles, a lawyer and a former community council board chair, concurred: “The issue is your personal emails,” he told them.

Roger Fulton, another former board member, noted that their resignations likely did not give them relief from the request. Williams concurred.

The discussions continued when the group moved to the library, where the governance committee was meeting — a gathering already scheduled by the VMICC panel. But in a sign of just how ambiguous the situation is, committee members decided at the end of their meeting not to schedule another one — since, without a board, they don’t have a set of directions or requests to guide them.

“I don’t know that we have any business, until we see what happens on the 20th,” committee chair Melvin Mackey said.

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