Some question move to change VMICC’s status

Several Islanders told King County Councilmember Joe McDermott Monday night that Vashon’s status as an unincorporated area council (UAC) has given it an important voice in regional matters and an ability to address a range of Vashon-specific issues.

McDermott, who represents Vashon on the nine-member county council, attended the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council (VMICC) meeting Monday, the first one since last week’s announcement that County Executive Dow Constantine would like to end the county’s formal, contractual relationship with its six regional councils.

In a lively give-and-take, McDermott heard from Islanders who said they weren’t pleased about the proposed changes or the way it came about. Others said they feared it would give Vashon less clout in the county and throughout the region.

Gary Sipple, who has played a lead role in the region-wide Ferry Community Partnership, said Vashon has had a lot of credibility at meetings with the group because of the Island’s “formal relationship with King County.”

“I don’t want to lose that power. ... We benefit from it. Our little community benefits from it,” he said.

Joan Sells, who heads one of the VMICC committees, noted that the money Vashon’s community council received from the county as a recognized UAC enabled it to purchase insurance and hold its meetings, including the one Monday night at McMurray Middle School.

“When this money goes away, the council won’t have money for insurance. We can’t meet in this building without liability insurance,” she said.

Joe Ulatoski, a former VMICC board member, agreed. “It takes something away from us. ... We’re losing something.”

But others, sounding an equally passionate note in favor of Constantine’s proposal, said Vashon’s status as a UAC has made little difference over the years.

Emma Amiad, referring to herself as “an old-timer,” said that the community council had a rich history of effective activism long before it was anointed as a UAC in the 1990s.

“We did some remarkable things. ... We were never ignored. I don’t see that (becoming a UAC) made any difference at all,” she said to applause.

Roger Fulton, another former VMICC board member, also voiced support for the proposal, noting the community council’s official status has little bearing on whether King County officials listen to Vashon or don’t.

“Some of you are thinking the UACs have some sort of legislative or legal authority,” he added. “My understanding is that the UACs are simply advisory.”

McDermott, for his part, voiced support for the proposal, which the county executive’s staff sent to the county council last week. It’s a far better idea, he said, than the one the county council put forward just before he was sworn in last December — a proposal that all six UACs be collapsed into one super-commission that would address the concerns of citizens in King County’s vast swath of unincorporated areas.

“The executive’s plan provides a framework for what might happen and a transition,” he said. But that framework is only a start, he added. “I’ll roll up my sleeves ... and work with you and the other UACs and the people who aren’t represented by a UAC.”

What’s more, he said, Vashon has had little trouble getting heard and a rich history of effective activism. McDermott pointed to the Island’s recent success in getting Glacier Northwest to sell its 250 acre mine site to King County.

“Vashon-Maury Island will make itself heard. Of that, I have no doubt,” he said.

The executive’s proposal would end the contractual arrangement it has with its six UACs, which currently has the effect of making them quasi-governmental bodies that have to comply with the Public Records Act.

According to Constantine’s plan, the UACs could continue to exist as nonprofit organizations that lobby the county. But the county would broaden its outreach to its 284,000 residents in unincorporated King County, only one-third of whom live within the boundaries of a UAC, by establishing eight to 12 community service areas.

The UACs would no longer get $10,000 grants from the county under the plan. Instead, the county would use those funds to create a new grant program for community-based projects that any number of organizations in unincorporated areas could apply for.

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