Opinion

The park district and the power of the spoken word | Editorial

It’s time for the commissioners who run the Vashon Park District to comport themselves professionally and honorably. To use words thoughtfully. To show they get it.

Unfortunately, they failed to do so at their retreat on Saturday.

There, when one commissioner suggested they work on their public image, park district Chair Bill Ameling took aim at The Beachcomber. No one from the paper was in attendance, but according to widely circulated notes from the gathering, Ameling suggested The Beachcomber’s reporting has been factually flawed, then went on to refer to the press as a “whore.” David Hackett, another commissioner, amended Ameling’s analogy, saying the press “is more of a pimp. You have no control over the media.”

None of the other three commissioners, according to the notes, spoke up. The Beachcomber talked to those three commissioners — Joe Wald, Lu-Ann Branch and John Hopkins — on Monday. Each confirmed Ameling and Hackett’s comments and their own silence, although Hopkins noted he’d been sworn in to serve on the board only an hour or so before. What’s more, he said, he, too, was troubled by the comments and found them inappropriate and offensive.

For the past year, The Beachcomber has covered the park district’s financial difficulties as well as its efforts to get its house in order. We’ve talked to the park district’s banker and the King County treasurer; to past commissioners and current ones; to its part-time accountant, its former executive director, park district users, champions and critics.

Our coverage has not been salacious. It’s been in-depth, responsible, fair, journalistic. Repeatedly, many of those close to the situation have praised our work.

When facing a public controversy, people and organizations often shoot the messenger. The park district commissioners aren’t the first to blame the press for their problems. But to essentially call a community newspaper, a paper they know well and one that’s staffed primarily by women, a “whore” is crossing a line. It’s sexist. It’s misogynistic. It’s offensive.

Ameling has often made comments we’ve found surprising, even shocking. From our perspective, he’s finally gone too far. It’s time for him to consider the power of his words and to learn to put a lid on it. When he doesn’t, his colleagues need to call him on it. Nothing less than the integrity of the park district he serves is at stake.

The five commissioners are not politicians. They’re our neighbors. They’re community members. They’re people we know well. That’s why we expect better of them and why we’re troubled such an exchange would take place at a meeting on Vashon.

According to the meeting notes, Hackett said he’d like the park district’s new general manager to be someone like Michael Soltman, superintendent of public schools. We also know Soltman well. Were he at the helm, we doubt such comments would ever be tolerated. We hope the new general manager, whoever he or she is, will also insist on a board that comports itself professionally and respectfully. For if that does not happen, this district may very well never get its house in order.

 

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