Park district selects new commissioner

Last week, the Vashon Park District board selected islander Hans Van Dusen to be the new commissioner who will serve the remainder of former commissioner Scott Harvey’s term, one of three candidates for the position who will now have a say in some of the district’s most pressing ongoing business.

“I’d like this job because I love this island, and I love what the park district provides on this island,” said Van Dusen at the start of a moderated candidate forum last Monday. Van Dusen quickly set himself apart as having a personal stake in the district as a former coach of “nearly every sport on the island,” and as such is a long-time patron of park district properties.

“I’ve had the opportunity to experience the parks from many angles, which I appreciate, and it gives me that opportunity to try and understand the different interests that are at stake,” he told commissioner Karen Gardner when asked about having potential conflicts of interest related to his sports involvement.

Van Dusen is a contracts manager for the City of Seattle. Touching on his vested interest in the parks, he said his background is “somewhat analogous” to the operation of local tax districts and the services they provide. As contracts manager, Van Dusen said he manages $100 million a year in service contracts and has had significant exposure to high-level finances, service delivery, and contracted services.

Gardner later asked the candidates, including Steve Evans and Kevin O’Rorke, about what they believe the island will become. Van Dusen said he considered expanding access to programs and parks to be among the district’s highest priorities moving forward.

“Things are getting more expensive in this region right now, and it’s hard on budgets, and so I think the park district and public sector just has to make sure that they can continue to provide opportunity and access to everyone,” he said.

In a similar vein, Gardner, together with commissioner Abby Antonelis, have shared in recent meetings that they would like to begin a dialogue about replacing the aging Ober Park playground with equipment that is accessible to elderly people and those with disabilities.

Testing the candidates’ familiarity with the function of the district, commissioner Bob McMahon asked where, in their opinion, should money for a capital project and general operations come from. Calling himself a fiscal conservative, Van Dusen said that it can depend on the level of expense for capital projects, which is often in tension with the importance of scale. He said it was essential to leverage grants and fundraising sources, praising Elaine Ott-Rocheford, executive director of the district, for her attention to those opportunities.

Van Dusen will not be in attendance at the Sept. 11 regular meeting due to a scheduling conflict but will join the board by the end of the month.

On the phone, Van Dusen said his model for working with his fellow commissioners will involve a clear communication channel so concerns can be raised and addressed and the board can productively move forward. But he said he didn’t want to “overpromise” his ability to do that.

“My experience is that it helps to establish strong personal relationships with partners you’re working with,” he said.

Patience and trust in partners was the theme of the Tuesday regular meeting when the topic of the grant-funded VES fields lights project — a familiar agenda item — was met with opposition from Chair Doug Ostrom, who argued that a majority of islanders would not support their installation because of concerns regarding light pollution.

Ostrom referenced the failed bid to found a dog park at Burton Skate Park earlier this year, citing the fierce criticism that the proposal generated. He said he would like to invite public comment before the board proceeded on a vote, which it was poised to do without additional objection.

“There are people that don’t want to see Vashon become Mercer Island or wherever, and they feel that could happen [here],” he said.

David Hackett, the fields coordinator for the Vashon Soccer Club, attended the meeting and maintained that the light infrastructure for the fields was installed in accordance with the will of the public. When the VES Fields were first installed, the infrastructure for the lights was built, but the lights were not completed due to lack of funds. In addition to a King County grant of $250,000 awarded earlier this year to the Vashon Lacrosse Club, in partnership with the soccer club and Vashon Park District, groups on the island have been independently fundraising to finish the work.

Ostrom added that he was led to believe during the last meeting that a subcommittee would soon meet and address some of his concerns and that he was disappointed that one had not convened. In a later email, he said that Darragh Kennan, president of the soccer club, had reached out and they would “possibly schedule a get-together before the next board meeting.”

On the phone, referring to his own prior experience serving on the park district board, Hackett said that he believed Ostrom “was doing his due diligence” and that the lights project would not be gravely delayed.

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