Vashon-Maury Island needs its Community Council

The council’s prudent work on behalf of islanders was valuable, and there is more that can be done.

  • Wednesday, January 8, 2020 5:53pm
  • Opinion
David Vogel (Courtesy Photo).

David Vogel (Courtesy Photo).

Since 1933, the Vashon Island Commercial, which became the Vashon-Maury Island Chamber of Commerce and later the Civic Assembly, had communicated with county and state officials to promote the island’s commercial, social and environmental needs.

But during a 1976 picnic at the home of Bill Speidel, the founder of Seattle’s Underground Tour, King County Executive John Spellman told Cliff Weidemann and Von Sewers — presidents of the Chamber of Commerce and Civic Assembly, respectively — that the county was planning a land use and zoning study of the island and that there was the “necessity for a strong organization to represent Vashon.” The Chamber and the Assembly promptly conducted a series of meetings at Ober Park to plan their merger, and on October 25, 1976, the formation of the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council (VMICC) was unanimously approved by members of both organizations.

Over the years, the VMICC resolved many community issues. The council helped to stop illegal developments and an apartment complex rezones; helped establish island local bus service; instigated dock repairs and improved ferry service; and assisted the county in conducting its Comprehensive Land Use and Zoning Study. It also helped update island zoning within the 1981 Vashon Community Plan to protect island water resources; provided initial support for the Park and Recreation District; prompted a county moratorium against microwave towers; helped to limit aircraft noise, and provided a liaison to county, state and federal officials.

The VMICC enabled islanders to express their points of view on matters of concern. It allowed elected officials and agencies to regularly speak to islanders in an open town hall forum. The VMICC’s long history of achievement and cooperation with the county provided credibility to the organization and enabled the island to speak to the county with one voice on land use issues and other important matters. These issues were studied and discussed in standing and ad hoc VMICC committees that were open to the public.

After much deliberation, a consensus was often achieved before matters would be taken to the VMICC for a vote. In this manner, the VMICC helped to name the island’s streets, assign addresses and helped produce the county’s 1996 Vashon Town Plan. Many of the island’s successful nonprofit organizations, including Vashon HouseHold, were started as VMICC committees.

After the mid-1990s, King County tried to create a closer connection to community organizations like the VMICC in unincorporated areas by designating them to be Unincorporated Area Councils (UACs) and by providing them with $10,000 in operating funds. Unfortunately, this funding spawned long and contentious debates over how our “tax dollars” would be spent.

Moreover, the VMICC’s designation as a UAC led to the unintended consequence that the council would be treated as if it were a King County agency and would need to comply with Washington’s Open Meetings and Public Records Acts. The VMICC had always complied with the Open Meetings Act, but the time commitment and resources necessary to produce its records (including emails) upon request under the Public Records Act would have been onerous for an organization without any paid staff.

Even worse was the potential liability on the part of the VMICC and its volunteer officers if these records were not produced according to legal guidelines. Rather than face draconian consequences, the VMICC disbanded.

Many in our community and governments and agencies serving the island have expressed the opinion that the island needs a community council. I have recently returned to the island and plan to start a committee to reorganize the VMICC. All those who would like to participate are welcome. The first meeting will be on Wednesday, Jan. 22, from 7 to 9 p.m., in the McMurray Middle School multipurpose room. Feel free to call me at 206-291-7494.

David Vogel is a Seattle and island attorney who was VMICC president from 1986-1993 and a board member until 2001.

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