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Park district contenders share their views

With election season at hand, the races for three seats on the  board of the Vashon Park District — an agency that has had considerable financial trouble and drawn public criticism — is drawing particular attention. The Beachcomber recently asked the six candidates for the park board to answer a few questions each about why they should be elected. We have printed their answers as they sent them to us, with only minor editing.

Incumbent John Hopkins, who is running for position 3, is out of the country and was unable to participate.

Lu-Ann Branch
Incumbent, Position No. 2

What role should the park district play in the community, and how should it work to realize that vision?

VPD should sponsor balancing rural island life with recreation opportunities and facilities. It should ensure that diverse groups and activities are represented on the island, rather than only representing a few narrow interests.

VPD should initiate and preserve nature pursuits (such as hiking, bird watching and beach activities), organized team sports, individual sports, outdoor culture (concerts, plays, art fairs, farmers’ market) and other recreation opportunities. I, and my family, participate in all of these activities.  And I have strived to diversify VPD’s focus by supporting  a variety of funding, such as naturalists for the Low Tide Celebration at Point Robinson, funding for the skatepark (BARC) and keeping our Vashon Pool open.

Describe your management experience and how it would benefit the board.

Having been the former finance and human resources director for the national Pet Partners nonprofit (there is an active group here on the island), a director and manager of information technology (including the Microsoft Office product group, IBM and Group Health), and serving on several nonprofit boards (currently president of my church board of trustees), I bring specific management experience of people and programs. Leveraging that experience, I currently head VPD’s public relations committee and human resources initiatives. I led the hiring process for VPD’s current general manager, organized and helped sponsor the VES Fields moderated public forum held earlier this year and currently am compiling results of a recent VPD survey that I spearheaded sending out.

Fiscally, what have you seen at the park district that should change, and how should the agency get back on firm financial footing?

I am committed to eliminating all of VPD’s financial debt, including debt prior to the VES Fields project. I never wanted this situation (it was in place when I began my term) and do not feel it has ever been a good philosophy to run an organization from the position of deficit spending. My views are not supported by the majority of the current board.

Stephen Evans
Position No. 2

What role should the park district play in the community, and how should it work to realize that vision?

Change without vision is movement without direction. I believe very strongly that VPD should be a foundational element of our community — a common denominator for all.

We are a community of wonderful divergence where people can separate and congregate, but a community also requires places and activities of common interests. VPD has the parks and programs of interest to all. But we all need to feel not just invited to use and participate, but to feel as we are a part of it all, and all is a part of us.  Through participation, we all can achieve this Vision. See www.vashonparksforall.com.

Describe your management experience and how it would benefit the board.

Effective board and district management, as well as leadership, are critical to rebuiling VPD’s good standing in the community and moving forward. I have grown and managed law firms, co-managed a ski school program and sat on a program board for a Seattle athletic club. I’m am a trained mediator and an advocate. Good managers know well with whom they are working. I have already met with VPD’s employees to hear their thoughts about yesterday, today and tomorrow. Good managers are good communicators; they lead by building consensus and fairly addressing criticism.  I use these skills daily. See www.vashonparksforall.com

Fiscally, what have you seen at the park district that should change, and how should the agency get back on firm financial footing?

The district is, based upon present revenues and projected expenses, on viable financial footing. The patient has enough blood only because body parts have been amputated and bleeding stopped.  But that is not how any business (or district) should be run. What must change is the VPD leadership, which will lead to change in fiscal operations. If VPD operates within its mission and does not commit to open-ended spending, then it can, and will, be a shining example of a public benefit and not a public bane.

Finally, we must maintain what we have lest amputation becomes a commonplace fiscal solution.  See www.vashonparksforall.com.

Robin Magonegil
Position No. 4

What role should the park district play in the community, and how should it work to realize that vision?

I believe that the role of the park district should be to continue to maintain the great facilities we currently have and to work to restore the programs that we once administered.

It will take time and a great deal of effort to get the park district back on track, but I believe that I have the foresight and fortitude to see this through. The park district should be for all the residents of Vashon and not just those who use the sports fields. It is also our role as public servants to listen respectfully to the public we serve.

Describe your management experience and how it would benefit the board.

I have several years of leadership experience on boards and non-profit organizations. I served as the treasurer for Home Alive, an organization that was on the brink of bankruptcy when I joined the board. The board managed to realistically look at the financial situation, make the hard decisions and brought that organization back to full function. I currently serve as the treasurer for the Episcopal church. Professionally, I have worked as the financial officer for a number of non-profits. I know my way around a budget sheet. I am highly ethical and believe in complete transparency.

Fiscally, what have you seen at the park district that should change, and how should the agency get back on firm financial footing?

I plan on looking at the financial situation of the park district with a sense of realism. There are permits and grants that must be fulfilled, but beyond that no more monies should be diverted and spent on the VES Fields project. When the economic bust occurred, I believe that the park district commissioners should have adjusted their plans, but did not, and have borrowed their way into a hole that we must now figure out how to climb out of.

On a personal level, I have had to navigate changing financial situations during this time of economic hardship. I hope to apply those lessons.

Doug Ostrom
Position No. 4

What role should the park district play in the community, and how should it work to realize that vision?

All islanders support the parks through property taxes, and our priorities should reflect that. Most Vashon Park District activities are important, but a focus on athletic programs, which serve perhaps 10 percent of the population, to the exclusion of other activities and properties, is inappropriate, especially since the youth population is declining, with further declines likely.

I want the parks to be as welcoming and well funded for those who use the parks to attend a wedding, shop at the Farmers Market, take a class, launch boats and picnic or sunbathe as for those playing a competitive sport.

Describe your management experience and how it would benefit the board.

During the nationally known Maryland Savings and Loan crisis, the state of Maryland hired me as its economist to sort out what went wrong and how to fix it. And we fixed it. My interest in serving at the park district increased when I observed what I knew to be a financial red flag: The district was dealing with a small bank in eastern Washington rather than local banks for important park business.

I have 40 years of college teaching experience and served on boards as a professor and voting member at two colleges where faculty governed the college.

I have served as an officer of two churches, including one where I am currently treasurer and board member. When I worked as an economist for a research arm of Congress in Washington, D.C., I helped hire economic contractors. In these positions, I dealt with big-picture questions facing the organizations, exactly the focus the board needs.

Fiscally, what have you seen at the park district that should change, and how should the agency get back on firm financial footing?

We need to revise contracting procedures to save money, following state and county guidelines. We should carefully and publicly budget major expenditure items such as the fields project and then stick to the budget so that we aren’t hit with surprise after expensive surprise.

Scott Harvey
Position No. 5

What role should the park district play in the community, and how should it work to realize that vision?

Given the time and expense of leaving Vashon, the Vashon Park District plays a pivotal role in the physical and mental health of the island residents by providing local access to inexpensive activities. We must serve the entire community, whether it is the 5-year-old playing soccer, the 95-year-old playing bocci or the couple walking their dog on park trails by assuring all park venues are maintained and developed using our limited resources.

Describe your management experience and how it would benefit the board.

The most important role of a commissioner is to manage the budget. I have over 30 years of experience counseling and lending to small businesses with budgets equal to or greater than the park district’s budget. In addition, I have financed multiple construction projects in the $1 million to $2 million range, so I can help the district avoid the many mistakes that have plagued the VES Fields, while completing this important project.

Fiscally, what have you seen at the park district that should change, and how should the agency get back on firm financial footing?

The district has no reserve and must borrow money to operate. It has wasted tens of thousands of dollars, including $40,000 on an unusable restroom, which was supported by my opponent, by mismanaging the construction process. All of these issues are easily addressed: 1. Never start a project until you know the entire cost of the venture, including a reserve of at least 10 percent. 2. The district must have 100 percent of any project cost available from cash in the bank, grants or funds in the budget before work commences (never depend on promises of future fundraising or volunteer work) 3. Accumulate a reserve of at least $300,000, to avoid the unnecessary cost of borrowing to operate the park district, and more importantly, to address unexpected expenses, which always occur, whether it is a lawsuit from the VES Fields neighbor or the removal of the Tramp Harbor dock.

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