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Bill means community council could reclaim its roots
The mass resignation of the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council (VMICC) board late last year was deeply disturbing. Vashon had nine civic-minded people working hard to provide an open, neutral forum for discussion of Island issues. Suddenly, aggressive requests by an Islander citing the Public Records Act, along with a King County opinion that since the VMICC had an Unincorporated Area Council (UAC) contract with the county, the VMICC must comply with the far-reaching Public Records Act, caused the entire board to resign. I understand why the board resigned. No one in their right mind would want to let a lawsuit eat up countless hours of their time, on top of the hundreds of hours they were already volunteering. I’ve been there (in Vashon Village vs. Water District 19.) It’s no fun.
The aftermath has been confusing, contentious and alarming.
To be brief, what has struck me over the last couple of months is the aggressive efforts of the replacement board to redefine the VMICC as a “quasi-governmental body” and to identify the VMICC board as the Island’s spokespeople. That was again apparent at the April 14 meeting with Lauren Smith of the King County Executive’s Office as the VMICC board members vigorously protested any change to the UAC status quo. The board seems to be actively engaged in lobbying the county and changing the VMICC bylaws to give the VMICC board more power.
The executive’s new proposal, which Lauren Smith presented, was developed in response to a unilateral action by King County Council to eliminate UACs in the face of serious budget shortfalls. That’s not too surprising; it makes sense to cut UAC funds, which largely go to paying for liability insurance for the councils, rather than cut funds for public nurses and other more important services. The proposal puts forth a new framework that provides effective lawsuit protection of council volunteers, expanded outreach and wider public engagement — all concepts that we should support.
Unfortunately, the primary thing our UAC status has brought us is an avenue for lawsuits parading under the false banner of “transparency,” which has nearly undone our community council and with it our open, neutral forum to discuss community issues. The council has never acted as a governmental body. For decades before the Vashon community council was a UAC, it was very effective when action was needed. Look at the ASARCO smelter issue, the bridge to the mainland, ferry issues, community planning, ground water protection, the Glacier mine and a host of other issues. Vashon can be effective and has repeatedly demonstrated it doesn’t need to have a quasi-governmental entity to do so.
In “Community and the Politics of Place,” Daniel Kemmis observes how many political situations lead to polarization and stalemates as adversarial parties aggressively pursue their private interests. He describes how each time this happens, a few more citizens walk away from participating. Current national politics fit that description. And Vashon community council politics are morphing into a similar mold. Kemmis advocates for focusing on solving problems at a community level and seeking collaboration through a pattern based on cooperation and mutual trust between those with different interests. That approach is more reminiscent of the history of the Vashon community than the recent adversarial commotion at the VMICC.
The upcoming VMICC meeting on Monday, April 25, will be vital in determining where our community is headed. Bylaw changes can only be voted on at the April and October general meetings.
Will proposed bylaw changes be passed allowing the board to make decisions and take action without the approval of the community body? The bylaws committee has recommended against it, but the current board is clearly seeking more power.
— Frank Jackson was the president of the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council in the 1980s and a is a former commissioner of Water District 19.
To read the proposed bylaw changes, visit http://www.vmicc.org/docs/vmicc_proposed_bylaw_changes.pdf. The community council is expected to vote on these proposals at its next meeting, 7 p.m. Monday, April 25, at McMurray Middle School.