Community council needs new direction

As a new board member on the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council, I find myself perplexed and more than a little intimidated by the adversarial environment. So far, my recent experiences at community council meetings have been ones where people cite something like Article 3, Section 4 of the bylaws to cut off discussion, justify opposition or call into question some previously agreed-on action. Apparently we are at a place where the first order of business if one is elected to the community council is the necessary acquisition of Robert’s Rules of Order!

Well, this is not my idea of community council.

A community council is a council of the community in which every voice is important, where disagreement is expected in the diversity of who we are and we use respectful dialogue to find our way. A community council is a place for worthwhile conversation, where there is cross-fertilization with other individuals and groups on the Island to take action on the challenges of the day.

A community council is certainly not the end-all and be-all. It is one possibility for creative, collaborative community action. It appears that we have gotten mired down in rules and form, forgetting the essential connections of respect and trust that are so important to healthy, thriving communities.

Elected to the community council, I surprised myself (and likely others) with my first action: I moved to dissolve the community council board. The motion has been thrown out because it is out of order; it involves a bylaw change and changing the bylaws is a lengthy process.

However, this was not a frivolous move. Nor was it a wide-eyed attempt to go back to the good old days. My intention is to open a path to the possibility that we can move forward to do things differently.

Perhaps it is timely to review our current form and bylaws and/or our status as an unincorporated area council within King County. If these have narrowed our focus and options for open discussion and full participation by all members of the community, perhaps it is time to consider alternatives. I am not suggesting anarchy; agreements and guidelines are necessary and wise. I am sure there are ways to work within the legal requirements of a non-profit and retain the essential character and integrity of community dialogue.

Likely everyone can agree that these are challenging and turbulent times; there is big change coming down the pike. When I look out at the world from Burton Hill, I sense that it is at the community level that our collective well-being may stand the best chance of success as we meet what’s barreling toward us. This is why I agreed to stand as a board member of the community council.

I am passionately committed to this Island community, and I am inspired and delighted by the many ways our community is reaching out to greet change and reaching in to strengthen the important connections that sustain us. We have many lively groups working to develop our capacity to navigate the social and environmental challenges that we face. And the outpouring of love and support to help John and Vicki Browne is just one example of how we reach into our hearts to nurture the connections that matter.

When I look out from Burton Hill, I wonder if the current community council impasse is precisely the challenge we need to meet here in our community as we strengthen our resilience and find new ways to work together.

— Mary Shackelford is newly elected to the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council’s board.

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