Editorial: VMICC’s demise creates an opportunity for Vashon

Last week’s implosion of the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council (VMICC) was due not simply to a legal analysis by the King County prosecutor’s office. Nor is it because this current crop of council members — among the best in recent history — had something to hide. They’re not running from the bright light of the public disclosure act.

The council resigned, essentially en masse, because of an unfortunate alignment of forces, a perfect storm, if you will, that created what board members saw as an untenable situation.

In one corner is the public disclosure act, a demanding law that errs (happily so, we might add) on the side of transparency and the public right to know. In the other are a couple of community activists skilled in how to use this law and none too friendly with those who currently run the community council.

For some Unincorporated Area Councils or UACs, as the VMICC is called, the public disclosure act probably seems remote and somewhat academic. On Vashon, it’s real, gritty, fascinating and challenging. And for a volunteer board, it’s also frightening.

One sweeping request for information — and you might as well forget your life for the next few weeks.

The county has someone employed fulltime to handle its public disclosure requests, a person it hired after Islander Armen Yousoufian successfully sued the county over its failure to disclose thousands of pages of documents 14 years ago. (In a complex case that went to the state Supreme Court three times, he won a $371,000 award for the county’s failure.) Now, when faced with a disclosure request, the county’s public disclosure ombudsman will often work with the requester to see if his or her search is as narrow and focused as it can be.

Vashon has no such luxury. And even if the county were to lend some expertise, the onus of compliance would fall largely on the unpaid civic volunteers who comprise the council’s board.

But as others have pointed out in the last few days, a tumultuous week for Vashon Island politics, this turn of events also carries promise and opportunity — a chance to build something new. The VMICC has long been a source of frustation for many. On the one hand, it often seemed free-wheeling and ineffective. On the other, it was burdened by the mantle of the county’s UAC mandate. The nine-member board was hard to fill. Committees would come and go, some running beautifully under the able leadership of a good chair, others limping along

The Beachcomber has nothing but respect for the citizen-volunteers who have kept this council going for years — and especially for this latest board, a seasoned crop of Islanders with a deep commitment to the Island and a passion for civic engagement. We now welcome their ideas, as well as those of others, as the Island explores a new path.

Margot Boyer and Bob Powell got the discussion going with their thoughtful commentary on this very page. We hope others will step forward and envision a new future for Vashon’s ongoing experiment with direct democracy.

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