Vashon Community Council committee gears up

The discussion was centered around how a formal island community council could operate.

On Monday night, nearly 30 islanders gathered at The Land Trust Building as part of a committee to form a new Vashon-Maury Island Community Council, joined by King County officials who attended to express their support for the burgeoning effort.

The meeting comes after a similar gathering last month where islander David Vogel, a former council board member and president from 1986 to 1993, made a case for why a new council should exist.

Those in attendance worked through an extensive list of issues prepared by islander Diane Emerson, based on suggestions from community members, that was comprised of questions related to the composition of the council and the process of holding elections.

Even without a formal body or meeting space, by all accounts, the work of a community council was being done. Many in the room were energized and participating in the discussion. By the end of the night, more than a dozen islanders had volunteered to form subcommittees for taking a closer look at the original council’s bylaws around membership and for deciding best practices around communication and outreach. It was all a part of helping to set a foundation for how future formal council meetings could operate.

“I think one of the real strengths of the community council is that it was a deliberative body, and it was not some organization that would rush to judgment on the spur of the moment with no discussion and no thought,” said Vogel. He added later his belief that the bylaws reflect that the council be open and accessible to those who were qualified to vote on issues brought to the community council, which in the original bylaws was limited to 18-year-olds and above.

“For all those years we assumed that 18 is the proper age because that’s when people vote, that’s when people go and serve in the military,” he said. “It has this kind of aura of when you are a responsible adult, but is that entirely true these days?”

He noted that the group in the room skewed older and would benefit from a youth perspective, offering that the bylaws subcommittee consider changing the voting age to 16 and that the group reaches out to Vashon Island High School to invite students to participate in the community council, perhaps even on a designated board seat.

Vogel has been vocal about the ways the island’s community council had participation from a wide breadth of islanders in the past. He noted that at one time there were representatives from Vashon’s political precincts who would attend community council meetings. They were responsible for outreach in those areas and for sourcing potential issues that could be arisen in the council. Vogel suggested the bylaws subcommittee members consider how the duties of the elected board — originally consisting of nine people, according to the old bylaws — may work in tandem with such cooperation from the community.

“People do actually know their neighbors and can reach out to their neighbors and bring ideas back to the meeting,” he said.

Back to other matters, Vogel took a position on the possibility of reestablishing a council as a 501.3c, saying that such a status could be helpful for raising funds. He added that in the past, before the 1990s when the county began providing $10,000 of operating funds to organizations designated as Unincorporated Area Councils, the council was able to raise money for awarding scholarships to graduates and reimburse members for travel expenses. He noted that a 501.3c status could also help cover the cost of hiring an insurance provider if the committee was interested in pursuing that option.

Later in the meeting, islander Jim Diers, who wrote a letter to The Beachcomber last week about the initiative to bring back the council, cautioned that in his experience with other community boards and councils, the island’s own endeavor in creating one should be as inclusive as possible, even if the community council has not in the past acted as a representative body for the island. He added his belief that it would be in the best interest of the island’s community council to be proactive rather than only reactive.

“We have incredible resources on this island, just amazing skills and talents, and people are passionate about this place, and we have so many different associations and ways to work together across those associations to do things that the government can’t do for us,” he said.

King County Councilman Joe McDermott was in attendance and spoke to the group in a brief address, saying that he had come to listen and answer questions that he was able to. He added that it was a part of his role at the county to communicate issues raised by the community council to other representatives in the state legislature and federal government.

McDermott noted that once the county terminated its arrangements with Unincorporated Area Councils there were initial concerns among the members of such groups, worried they would lose ground with King County, but he dismissed any notion that county officials would overlook those voices.

“Anytime I’m invited to come speak on a topic, I’m there. The sheriff is there. So you have elected officials coming in, engaging and being responsive,” he said, noting John Taylor, the director of the King County Department of Local Services, and Bong Santo Domingo, also from the department, both of whom were in attendance.

For his part, Taylor expressed support for the effort to start a new council, reiterating comments made by Diers that the island’s many organizations working on a number of different issues have a lot of power to solve problems facing Vashon. He cited news that the King County Council is contemplating a roads levy to place on the August ballot. Taylor said the measure would restore the roads levy back to its original statutory cap from several years ago — $2.25 per $1,000 of assessed property value — before it eroded due to the increase of property values in King County. Taylor said the levy could increase taxes for a median home by about $220 a year.

The next meeting of the committee to form a new Vashon community council will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, March 16, at The Land Trust Building.