Opinion

Legal analysis weighs heavily on volunteers

Since the Vashon Maury Island (VMICC) board crisis erupted last week regarding the requirement that the VMICC follow the letter of the open public meetings act and the open public records act, many of my friends and acquaintances have asked me why I resigned. Some have even asked me if I was against complying with these laws. My answer to that question is emphatic: I strongly believe in both acts and wish that both our state Legislature and Congress were bound by them as well. If so, our democracy would be better served.

As a member of the VMICC board, I believed all meetings and correspondence should be open to the public. What I strongly objected to and what led to my resignation was my unwillingness, as an unpaid volunteer without any staff, to spend the huge amount of time necessary to conduct required research. For example, almost immediately before the council received official word from the county that the VMICC was subject to the cited laws, a Vashon citizen submitted the following request:

Under the provisions of the Washington State Public Records Act (RCW 42.56), I hereby request copies of all VMICC correspondence and any legal documents between VMICC, King County and/or any other King County Unincorporated Area Council related to any VMICC requirements, formation, contracts, King County budgets and/or governance issues. This request covers the past two years, including, but not limited to, the Attorney General’s November 20, 2009, letter and does not need to be repetitive as long as the initiator and all recipients are clearly identified. If copies are available on the VMICC website, please identify location and date posted.

In addition, please include any and all correspondence related to the King County Department of Community and Human Services letter, dated May 20, 2005.

Should your compliance with this request exceed two file boxes, please so advise as to scope in order that I might further refine the research.

Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter.

Because of the general nature of the request, some of which I did not even understand, plus the fact that if the board could not respond promptly or completely, we could be subjected to financial penalties and/or be sued, I decided that I, as an unpaid volunteer, was unwilling to subject myself to the workload of doing someone else’s research while at the same time possibly incurring a legal or financial liability for doing so.

Without the burdens imposed by such requests, I would have been very pleased to continue as a member of the VMICC board.

— Joseph Ulatoski is a retired Army general active in Vashon’s emergency

preparedness efforts.

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