Vashon needs a voice in county government
Eleanor Yarkin, Reporter | Oct. 19, 2018
Ever since the dissolving of the Vashon Maury Island Community Council (VMICC) in 2012, Vashon has struggled to provide a definite voice in King County government.
With a multitude of issues facing the island, the community needs a place to discuss their ideas and to win influence in the county. The community council should be reinstated to provide a forum where community members can gather in one place to discuss and debate different island issues.
Currently, various groups on the island are discussing problems separately and coming up with different solutions and agendas. Because of this, the county sees a variety of opinions and proposals as opposed to a strong collective voice, which often prevents Vashon from getting the full assistance and funding it needs.
“If we had a community council, it would be our voice,” former VMICC board member Hillary Emmer said. “Right now everyone is speaking [for] themselves as opposed to [creating] a collective voice.”
In the past this collective voice was both present and effective. VMICC invited county representatives to Vashon when the community had questions about new policies. County departments would also seek out the council in order to present initiatives and get the community’s opinions.
This united agenda solved multiple island issues. The council purchased what is now Maury Marine park to prevent it from becoming a strip mine. They also arranged for the county to fix a road that would have otherwise been the responsibility of the parks district. Even the wheelchair accessible picnic table at Lisabeula was made possible by the council.
Now without a council, Vashon is visited by county representatives once a year. Every department comes at the same time and stays for only two hours. With no central voice, that short amount of time is not enough for the community to have a productive conversation and solve the problems affecting the island.
Most notable among these issues is the ferry system and rising real estate prices. The new ferry schedule will largely affect islanders — especially commuters — due to a decrease in direct routes from Vashon to Fauntleroy. High housing prices are also a dilemma, particularly for Vashon’s low-income residents. In 2017, 77 homeless people were counted by the island group Count Us In, an organization that works to collect data on the homeless communities of King County.
By creating a community council, Vashon would strengthen its voice in county government and be able to take major steps forward in solving these and other issues.
A community council also has the power to change county policies and initiatives that do not apply to or help the island.
Because King County is largely comprised of urban areas, the policies it creates are usually more beneficial for cities than rural communities such as Vashon. For example, issues surrounding zoning laws are going to be different on Vashon compared to Seattle and other urban centers in the county. Without county representation, we do not have the ability to change these policies so that they work for us.
Having a community council not only gives people a place to talk about these issues, but it also makes it easier for the county to learn about and address them when representatives come to the island.
However, there are obstacles that need solving before a community council can be formed. Under the Public Records Act (PRA), state and local governments in Washington are required to create indexes of every document and record that they use, prepare or retain. Such a task takes time, personnel, and money, all elements that the original council lacked, leading to its eventual dissolvement.
In 2010 PRA issued a lawsuit against VMICC, demanding that VMICC board members provide an index of all documents and emails pertaining to the council. Unable to put in the time required and gather the necessary funds, all but one of the board members resigned.
However, many board members, feeling as though their resignation was forced, remain hopeful that the council could return, despite the challenges it may bring.
“If we had another council, we would have to figure out how to not be subject to the Public Records Act, or have the county set out money and process all the emails that go through so it wouldn’t be a burden on the people that are serving,” Emmer said.
Former VMICC President Jake Jacobovitch has proposed creating a Vashon forum to initiate the process of creating a community council, ensuring a smooth transition that would contribute to the council’s success.
Vashon’s council could also be assisted by the Community Service Area (CSA), a program designed to help and communicate with unincorporated areas of King County. They also provide grants for different community groups — including Backbone, VARSA, and the Senior Center — and could potentially help to organize and fund a community council.
A community council would give Vashon its necessary voice in county government and provide a forum in which different organizations and people in the community could talk about issues that directly impact island residents. Creating a council is not only a good idea, but is necessary to solving problems the that affect the island.