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VMICC to lose official status under new bill
King County would no longer recognize Vashon’s community council as a quasi-governmental body with official, representative status under legislation crafted by staff in the County Executive’s office.
The legislation was transmitted to the nine-member King County Council Friday. If passed, it would fundamentally alter the way the county engages citizens in its unincorporated areas, ending the county’s formal relationship with Unincorporated Area Councils (UACs) and broadening its outreach strategies to include engagement with a number of community groups in newly established community service areas.
UACs, such as the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council, would not go away under County Executive Dow Constantine’s proposal, said Lauren Smith, the unincorporated areas relations manager for the executive. County officials, she added, would continue to partner with them, seek their input and inform them about county activities.
But the UACs would no longer have the official recognition that made them quasi-governmental under the county’s previously established citizen participation initiative, nor would they have a contract with the county binding them to operate under the Open Meetings Act or receive annual $10,000 grants.
Rather, Smith said, the county would establish eight to 12 community service areas in its unincorporated regions and work with a number of community-based groups within those areas to ensure it’s engaging a wide range of citizens. It would also establish a grant program for community-based projects that any number of organizations could apply for.
“By broadening our outreach to work with other groups, we feel we’re going to get more representation among the unincorporated areas ... and that will help us better serve those areas,” Smith said.
The UAC structure is flawed, she added, because the six that exist represent only 32 percent of the people who live in unincorporated King County. A new UAC hasn’t been formed in over a decade.
“We could never make it work,” Smith said of the UAC system. “It was never fully realized as a comprehensive way for the county to do engagement.”
Smith came to Vashon Thursday night, where she presented the county’s proposal. She held a similar meeting last week in Skyway with representatives from all six of the UACs.
Many at Thursday’s meeting, however, took issue with her approach, questioning both with the way the county came up with the proposed legislation as well as its impact on the VMICC.
“Who speaks for the Island under this proposal? That’s something that really worries me. ... Who is the Island advocate?” asked Joe Ulatoski, a former VMICC board member who resigned last summer when several other board members stepped down.
Rayna Holtz, another active Islander, agreed, saying that without a UAC, the Island’s voice would become “way too fragmented. ... You have to designate one organization whose job it is to represent the Island. ... In that way, everyone has a fair chance.”
John Runyan, an organization development consultant, said he was frustrated that the county came up with a public engagement strategy that seemed to involve very little input from the UACs. “It seems hypocritical,” he said. “It seems inconsistent.”
But others supported the move, saying it would return the community council to its roots, when it acted as a place for wide-ranging, town-hall-style discussions without the need to comply with Roberts Rules of Order or the state’s far-reaching Public Records Act.
“For decades, this community council acted very effectively, and we weren’t a UAC,” said Frank Jackson, a VMICC board member in the early 1980s. “All this talk about what we’d lose baffles me.”
Hilary Emmer, who recently stepped down as a board member, said she was glad that money that has gone to the VMICC to purchase insurance and run elections could be used for community projects offered by other groups. “A lot of organizations on this Island are doing good work,” she said.
Smith, in an interview with The Beachcomber, said she understood Islanders’ concerns.
“It’s understandable that they’d be nervous about this change,” she said. “It’s our job to convince them that we still care what they think and what their issues are.”
As for the criticism that the county developed the framework with little input from the UACs, Smith said there’s still time for Vashon to shape the new approach.
“This is just the starting point. The dialogue will continue, and I think the people of Vashon can help us bring some resolution to this proposal,” she said.
County Councilman Joe McDermott, meanwhile, who represents Vashon, said he supports the new proposal. He called it “an ingenious way” to get UACs out from under the demands of the Public Records Act, which has become a contentious issue in the last several months.
“I’ll work to make sure Vashon-Maury Island continues to have a strong voice and that county departments listen,” he added.