It has been several years since the island’s former community council collapsed, and lately the lack of a forum — a place to discuss important island issues and communicate directly with one another and with King County — has been starkly evident.
The challenges the island is facing continue to mount: housing that is increasingly out of reach for many, a medical clinic that is financially unstable less than two years after opening, and ferry service that will lead to long lines, longer waits and teeth-gnashing frustration again this summer.
In considering these and other challenges, it is easy to look around and wonder just who is in charge here. It’s an important question.
The story of how the community council folded is a difficult one — and longer than this space allows — but we believe the need for such a forum did not go away with the council itself. No doubt the thought of launching a similar forum causes some to shudder, but we believe many may support such an effort. We would like to see a robust island conversation about the possibility.
At King County, Alan Painter, who manages the Community Service Area (CSA) program, recently voiced support for the idea, saying that officials with the CSA program would be happy to work with Vashon and Maury Island residents to develop new ways to help residents come together on local issues. He also said that the county could assist with bringing in speakers and helping with funding through the annual CSA grant program.
That information is good to know — a promising seed — but for a representative council to take root, much more would be needed, including islanders who would be willing to step forward and serve on such a forum. Quite possibly another important step may be an agreement on issues the council might address initially. There are plenty of issues that are ripe for attention and a full vetting, including the possibility of developing a health taxing district to support Neighborcare’s work, something both Neighborcare and clinic officials have said they are considering. We can think of several others, including expanding on the chamber’s work last year of looking at the economic impact to the island when ferry service bogs down in the summer. And we cannot help but wonder if we’d had a robust community council during the contentious Community Service Area Plan process last year, if the island conversation about affordable housing would have been more productive than the divisive experience that it was.
Next week, several county officials are hosting a town hall/open house forum. This may be an excellent time to begin a conversation — among ourselves and with those county representatives — about starting the council anew. If there are islanders who would like to carry this ball forward, we would applaud the effort.
The forum next week is set for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, June 7, at McMurray Middle School. We hope to see many of you there.