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Community council strives to make meetings more relevant to Islanders

Board members of the Vashon-Maury Island Com-munity Council say they’re going to work to make its town-hall-style meetings more responsive to residents’ needs and more relevant to a larger number of Islanders.

Chris Beck and Hilary Emmer, both of whom serve on the council’s nine-member executive board, say they want to see council meetings engage a wider number of Islanders and hope to do so by inviting residents to step forward with any number of concerns on their mind.

The group will then attempt to prioritize the issues Islanders raise and hold meetings that foster understanding and dialogue rather than polarization and ill-will, they said.

“It’s sort of a club, and we really don’t want that,” Emmer said.

“I just don’t see sufficient participation to say we represent the Island,” Beck added. “We want more people there. ... We want to know what the community wants for itself.”

Vashon’s community council is one of a handful of citizen-run bodies that strives to represent the interests of people living in unincorporated King County. Though the group has no formal power, it often acts as a liason to county officials, and its voice sometimes carries weight in county circles.

For the most part, however, only a few dozen people turn out for the meetings — held on the third Monday of every month. And because every Island resident 18 or older can show up and vote on a matter, it’s easy for people to stack the meetings when an issue they care about comes before the council.

Jean Bosch, who chairs the council, said she thinks the phenomenon of “room-packing” will likely continue, no matter how hard board members work to make meetings more inclusive. But she applauded Beck’s and Emmer’s efforts and the energy they’re bringing to the council.

“We’ve been talking for years about how to improve our outreach and broaden our participation,” she said.

But the council, comprised of volunteers with no official power, can’t solve many of the thorny issues facing the Island, Bosch said. Rather, she said, it’s “a container for discussions” as well as “a place where learders can emerge, if they want to.”

Beck and Emmer agreed that the council’s power to actually solve problems is limited. But the group could become a place where issues are more fully vetted — discussions that could then inform the efforts of other decision-makers on the Island or in the county, they said.

To that end, the board plans to hold a meeting in October to discuss the Chamber of Commerce’s efforts to enhance tourism on the Island, Beck said. And the next meeting, she added, will be given over to the question of other topics Islanders would like to see the council address.

“Residents are going to be asked to identify the issues that are important to them,” Beck said. “Not to the council. To them.”

The community council’s next meeting — 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21, at Courthouse Square — will provide an opportunity for Islanders to identify those issues they want the council to pursue.

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