Vashon's community council board experiences a rash of resignations

Two members of the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council’s nine-member board — Allison Shirk and Ian Burke — have just resigned, the latest to exit a board that has seen a significant amount of turnover in the last two years.

In fact, so great is the turnover that one of them — Shirk — was filling a term vacated by another board member who resigned. Shirk, the board’s newest member, joined the panel in September, after Tom Herring stepped down.

Those still on the board say there’s not a single explanation for the many resignations.

Burke, for instance, quit because he’s moving out of the state. Shirk declined to say why she was stepping down from the board, but others on the board said Shirk, a grant-writer, cited business-related conflicts of interest. Others who recently resigned did so for health reasons or job pressures.

Even so, some board members said they’re troubled by the many resignations from the volunteer-body, which acts as a liaison with King County, provides a town hall-style forum for discussions and attempts to address any number of concerns — from public safety to economic development — that Islanders bring forward.

Of the seven members currently on the board, only two of them — Jean Bosch and Jack Barbash — were actually elected to the posts by Island voters. The others either joined the board last fall, when there weren’t enough contenders for an election, or applied for the spots and, in keeping with the board’s by-laws, were appointed to the board by the other members.

Chris Beck, who was appointed to fill a seat vacated by Melody Woods, said she believes the board is most vibrant and relevant when it’s an elected body — not an appointed one, as it virtually is now.

“I believe the community council board functions best on a fairly regular infusion of fresh energy and fresh perspectives. And to me, that’s best served by elections,” she said. “We can put out a call for board members and have people apply. But what you have then is a board picking a board, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing.”

Board member Hilary Emmer, also an appointee, said she thinks it’s sad that there’s so much turnover. It also gets in the way of the board’s work: Most of that work happens in committees, which are commonly chaired by board members.

“And we have quite a few committees right now that are inactive,” Emmer said.

What’s more, she said, the last three monthly meetings have not had enough people in attendance — 25 — for a quorum, which has meant the organization has not been able to pass its budget. Three other motions are also awaiting passage by the general membership, Emmer said.

She’s hoping they’ll have enough people for a quorum at the Feb. 15 meeting, when newly appointed King County Councilmember Jan Drago will be in attendance.

“As soon as we have 25 people in the meeting, I’m locking the door. I’m not going to let anyone leave,” Emmer said, laughing.

But both Emmer and Beck noted that some meetings are well-attended, especially those that are structured as a forum — with give-and-take among the members — and are focused on an issue that Islanders have expressed interest in. A forum on tourism, for instance, packed the meeting room.

“When we hit certain topics, the place is jammed,” Emmer said.

Other board members said they believed it’s a mistake to write too much into the round of resignations — since each person who stepped down did so for personal and differing reasons.

“I don’t know of anyone who has resigned because of unhappiness with what was going on with the board,” said Bosch, who chairs the board.

Still, at Monday night’s meeting, board members discussed how they’ll work to ensure that the next Islanders who join the board fully understand the commitments and expectations.

“The board is seriously considering that we have not been as clear as we could be about the level of commitment required to be a member of the community council board,” Beck said. “We’re going to be very clear going forward that if you’re filling a term, exactly how long it lasts.”

Those interested in serving on the community council’s executive board should contact Hilary Emmer at 463-7277 or Applications are due Feb. 26. The board plans to select the next two board members at its March 1 meeting.

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