Editorial: The Vashon Community Council board should conduct its business openly

The Vashon-Maury Island Community Council’s executive board held a discussion Monday night where it delved into some of the harder issues boards of any stripe face. What parts of its deliberations are open to the public? When might those discussions be closed? And what are the rules surrounding e-mailed discussions among the members of the board?

The issue is made more complicated because of the unusual nature of this board.

It’s not simply another Island nonprofit, since the general community elects the board’s nine members, can attend meetings and can vote on motions. In fact, the council can’t approve anything unless a quorum (25 community members) are present and a majority agrees.

At the same time, it’s not a government: Neither the board nor the council’s general members sets policy or acts as a legislature. Its motions are advisory only in nature — an important barometer of Island sentiment but not binding. It acts as a liaison between unincorporated Vashon and King County government.

So must it comply with the state’s far-reaching Public Disclosure and Open Meeting acts? Or can it pick and choose — acting sometimes like a nonprofit board and other times like a city council?

The board held a spirited discussion about this issue on Monday, then punted: It decided to postpone a decision on the issue until its May 2 retreat (which, according to its by-laws, must be open to the public).

In the spirit of full disclosure, this debate was the result of an e-mail thread that one board member forwarded to The Beachcomber — a discussion among all nine board members about the recent closing of the county’s Department of Development and Environmental Services office on Vashon. When other board members found out that the newspaper had received the thread, some were upset. Jean Bosch, the board’s chair, told the board no e-mails could be forwarded to anyone outside of its circle until this issue was resolved. She then put it on the board’s agenda.

The Beachcomber recognizes the board’s conundrum. It’s not a government and thus doesn’t carry the same heavy burden that, for instance, Vashon’s school board does. At the same time, it wants to be taken seriously; it wants to be seen as a meaningful forum for discussion and debate. It also receives $10,000 a year from the county — money that comes with some strings attached, including a promise that it will comply with “the spirit” of the Open Meetings Act, as Bosch told The Beachcomber.

In our opinion, the board can’t have it both ways: It can’t expect to be treated as an Island-wide body of import one day — and the next, act as if it’s just another nonprofit that can close its doors to the public when that suits its interests or withhold board-wide e-mail threads because it’s concerned about the e-mail’s contents.

Based on Monday night’s discussion, the board seems to be leaning towards an open-door policy. We hope it will continue down that path. If it doesn’t, this board, which already struggles to get a quorum, will face a steeper path in its effort to be seen as relevant on Vashon.

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