Opinion

The UAC system changes, in part because of one man | Editorial

It was almost a year ago that the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council’s board resigned virtually en masse. Now, 11 months later, the whole structure of our unincorporated area council (UAC) has been called into question, its very existence no longer assured. Such is the nature, it seems, of an institution supported more by goodwill and a shared civic agreement than the rule of law.

What happened that our UAC — long considered quasi-governmental — is now just another Island institution clamoring for attention? 

It has much to do with mounting frustration over the way one Islander, Tom Bangasser, was using the Public Records Act. Bangasser has made use of the law — an extremely powerful one in Washington state — a bit of a hobby, filing requests that force those who receive them to scurry in response. He has every right to do so. But in VMICC’s case, it came at a cost.

When he filed a request of the VMICC board last year, the entire nine-member board — one of the strongest and most active in recent history — decided they’d rather quit than deal with it. When he filed one of Hilary Emmer, VMICC’s only board member for a short stretch last year, a few months later, she cried foul — meeting her obligations under the law but letting many know that she felt bullied by the process.

King County officials, some of whom were getting their own public disclosure requests from Bangasser, were sympathetic to those citizen activists who felt beleaguered by these requests. State Sen. Sharon Nelson, another Islander Bangasser has openly challenged, sponsored legislation that would have exempted UACs from the Public Records Act, a measure King County’s lobbyist testified in favor of. 

The measure failed, but the die was cast. King County was on record that it didn’t like the way the far-reaching law was affecting citizen activists such as those who comprise the UAC boards.

Meanwhile, the county council had its own beef with the UAC system. Some of them apparently didn’t like it because it gave citizens a direct channel to high-ranking county officials, an end-run around those council members elected to represent them. Then there was the county’s budget crisis — and a need to cut wherever possible to save a few bucks.

These various forces all came together over the last few months. And today, nearly a year after Bangasser refused to sit down during a tense VMICC meeting, prompting then-president Jean Bosch to abruptly adjourn the gathering and walk out, Vashon’s community council is in a state of uncertainty, a new group is attempting to gain traction on Vashon, and the county has introduced what it calls “a new model” for community engagement.

It’s unclear if this new system will work. As it stands now, it’s fuzzy, at best. But at the very least, this saga points out something many of us likely already know: One person can have a profound impact, with consequences few can foresee.

 

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