Damage Control

Our newspaper exists to both celebrate our community and hold it accountable.

By the time the print edition of this newspaper has hit newsstands and been tucked inside subscribers’ mailboxes, we’ll all know more about the results of the midterm elections and what impact the vote will have on our community, state and nation.

It’s a tense time, and we don’t expect our divided nation to come together any time soon to agree on how to coexist in our beleaguered democracy.

The damage done to our electoral process, which devolved into violence in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, is almost incalculable, and a deep and constant concern for us all.

But surely, here at home on Vashon, we can agree on a few things — including the need to treat each other with respect and decency, to work through our differences, and insist on systems that honor our community’s common good.

But lest that sound like kumbaya, we only need to read the pages of this week’s Beachcomber to understand what difficult emotional work it can be, as islanders, to work together to ensure that our community’s highest aims are being met.

On this week’s front page, we briefly report on developments at Vashon’s Senior Center that have been taking place for the past 10 months. In that time, the organization has experienced turmoil, with six staff members and four board members departing the organization in one way or another.

Some talented new staff members have stepped in during that time, to take over the important work of the Center.

But last week, the organization’s executive director, Catherine Swearingen, also resigned — just days in advance of the Center’s annual membership meeting, which was attended by approximately 200 islanders.

The meeting was at times celebratory but also, at other times, contentious, with two factions seeming to be at odds — an unsettling thing to witness, because members of both factions are some of Vashon’s most admired, dedicated and long-time supporters of the Senior Center.

Following the meeting, we began to reach out to those on both sides of the divide — past and current staff and board members and presidents, the recently-resigned executive director, and others with knowledge of the Senior Center’s workings in the past year.

In the past few days, we’ve also received and reviewed dozens of documents and emails related to the current impasse between supporters of the Senior Center — too much to quickly digest and report on in this issue. What we need to write about this will take time.

So, we will continue our coverage of what’s happening at the Senior Center — a story we believe deserves to be detailed fully and fairly in our newspaper. We will do so with the highest aim, keeping those who the Senior Center serves — our beloved population of island elders — uppermost in our minds.

This week’s newspaper also reports, sadly, another accusation of serious misconduct made by a teacher at Vashon High School — this time, in 2001 and 2008.

The timeline of this accusation, unrelated to another current investigation of a different teacher for misconduct, stretches back in a way that indicates how long such alleged harm can endure.

While these kinds of stories are difficult to report on, we must — it is critical that our community know as many facts as possible about allegations such as these, and receive clear information about how the district is proceeding with its investigations.

We have all placed great trust in our school district to care for and educate our beloved children and we all need to know they are safe. Superintendent Slade McSheehy has told the community that the district is taking these investigations seriously, and we believe him. It must.

This newspaper exists to both celebrate our community and hold it accountable. Here at The Beachcomber, we will continue to try our best to walk that tightrope, and engage in that work with both compassion and diligence.