Editorial: On Vashon, governance depends on who shows up

Vashon, as we all know, does things its own way. Thus, when community members decided to sign a contract with King County establishing our long-standing community council as an Unincorporated Area Council (UAC) in 1996, we did so with a twist: Unlike the other UACs, we decided that every single Vashon resident age 18 or older is a member. All they need to do is show up.

That approach has created problems on occasion. When a motion comes before the council that is particularly controversial, those who are both well-organized and well-connected can easily stack the meeting — and thus dictate the outcome.

But this wide-open approach also underscores the Island’s commitment to a kind of direct democracy that exists in few places anymore.

And now, it offers up an opportunity.

The community council’s next meeting — sans a board to run it — will be held on Monday, Sept. 20. What happens there will depend largely on who shows up.

A chair to run the night’s meeting will be selected on the spot — by a vote of those in attendance. With input from the community, that chairperson will craft an agenda, using the council’s bylaws and Roberts Rules of Order — best he or she can — to guide the process.

And after that, it’s up to us. Do we want to continue as a UAC — a designation that gives us a formal voice in county proceedings but that also sometimes ties our hands? Is there another kind of structure that would serve the Island better?

Is it even possible for a group of people, working collectively but without a shared agenda, to chart a new path?

The gathering will undoubtedly be a free-wheeling and raucous affair, certainly worth the price of admission for those who enjoy a little Vashon-style political theater. But this is also serious stuff.

Islanders are often frustrated by their relationship with the county — a government that can seem, at best, benignly distant, at worst, out of touch and dictatorial. The county sometimes helps us enormously (consider the King County Ferry District, created largely to serve Island commuters); other times, it gets in the way, throwing roadblocks in front of good ideas.

We now have an opportunity to craft a new relationship with the county. Indeed, according to a thoughtful group of engaged Islanders, we might even be able to establish a kind of governance structure that could give us both some autonomy and power — an ability, in other words, to play a greater role in the Island’s future.

If you’ve never gone to a community council meeting, this is one you might want to attend. Besides, you’re a member, whether you like it or not. You might as well show up.

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