Opinion

With some skill, the public disclosure law can be easy to follow

First, let me say that I am writing this as a private individual and not as the King County employee that I am. Second, let me say that as someone who has been working under the public records act for nearly 13 years, I’d like to welcome the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council (VMICC) board members to my world. And I’d like to assure them that it’s not hostile territory.

The public records act requires you to keep your files organized, but it also requires you to be careful with what you write and with whom you communicate. This is good, because it discourages personal agendas and it improves your organization skills, which is precisely what is needed on a community council board.

What we appear to be missing, and what is really the focal point for this dispute, is a clear and easy-to-follow records retention plan. It is hard for me to imagine anyone worrying about a public records request if the files are organized, accessible and free of embarrassing comments. I have a huge amount of respect for all of our current and past community council members, but the infrastructure to support them is not as developed as we need. Tom Bangasser’s action, as ill-advised as it might have been, has served to point out this problem.

This latest controversy has also served to point out that volunteers are not exempt from the standards to which paid government agents are held. It’s not about the money; it’s about the function of what they do. Regardless of the source of funding, our community council has been tasked with representing us as an Island, and for this reason they should rightfully be held to these same standards of accountability and transparency. Any similar agency performing the same function would be in the same boat. It is for this reason that ideas about ending our council’s status as one of the county’s Unincorporated Area Councils (UAC) and establishing it as an “independent” council are flawed.

Another reason to maintain our status as a UAC is to retain our credibility as a community. Distancing ourselves from the county will not engender respect within those agencies we are attempting to engage, nor will it serve the people of Vashon. I see no reason to shoot ourselves in the foot yet again.

So I’d like to propose the following: First, we encourage the board members who have resigned to reinstate themselves, en masse. The horse isn’t dead; let’s ride it some more. Second, we rally around them and thank them for their dedication. We all know they are gems, and it’s time we said so. Third, we petition King County for some aid in redesigning the VMICC website, with archives of meeting minutes and collected e-mail records regularly updated, and formulate a records retention plan that is easy for all volunteers to follow.

We should also ask County Executive Dow Constantine’s office for guidance in how the VMICC and other UACs might handle such issues and request its aid in dealing with such challenges in the future. We’re not the only ones in this fix. After all, it is in the county’s interest to have functioning UACs that both represent the people and are answerable to them. It’s a win-win situation.

— Greg Wessel works for the Department of Development and Environmental Services.

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