I decided on my first viewing that the subject line of the email that circulated after the latest gag-order edition of the Vashon Park District (VPD) board of commissioners meetings that it should definitely be the title of this column. While none of the wanton, physical destruction was in evidence, which this day of September 11th brings to mind, there was still a feeling in the air at Ober Park that something was not quite right, not the least of which was the grim reality that, for some reason, board president Wald decided to sandwich the clambering throng of regulars once again into the smallish, back room of the building, making for tight quarters and air thick enough to slice. As there was to be no public comment at this meeting, the slicing of air and the biting of tongues all made for a less than enticing environment, although the tension was eased a bit by the presence of C.C. Stone’s oatmeal and raisin cookies, available to all.
There was a bit of levity at the start as well, as board member Bill Ameling spoke of his "white board game", and proceeded to list numbers in columns on a large white board at the back of the room. These numbers were there to represent slices of the tax levy pie that were to be doled out to various parts of the VPD domain, and how each of the five commissioners, as well as the general manager, felt those monies should be allotted. The game aspect of this is what caught my particular fancy, as it seemed rather arbitrary as to where these numbers were coming from. In some cases this was clear, as the numbers were similar or the same as what they were for last year’s budget. In other cases, board members said they had no idea what their numbers should be until they had seen more details.
This of course brought to this mind the question as to why, if this was to be a meeting designated as the one in which budget details were to be discussed, these numbers hadn’t been provided and reviewed before hand. The fact that this had not been done came as no surprise, since that’s the way every meeting seems to be here. There were two other things that came to mind while halfway listening to all of this- the camera was running so I could always look back and weep as needed. The first was an image of the Three Stooges flinging spoonfuls of either oatmeal or cow pies around the room in an attempt to see where and to what they would all stick. The second was a flashback to a 2009 episode of South Park about the economy where Stan winds up at the U.S Treasury in an attempt to get a refund on a margarita machine his dad had purchased, only to find that all major and minor financial decisions there are decided by a secret panel of men who chop off a chicken’s head, fling the still ambulatory body out to the center of the floor and then allow it to run around on a circular game board until it flops down dead on one of a number of many colored pie sections. Bailout! If you missed how I got from point A to the other point on that one, then you have a good idea as to how one feels upon leaving most of these commissioners’ meetings.
There was a bit of talk about a change of culture at the Park District. My impression is that this is something that has long been overdue. The culture in question is one the commissioners have characterized as one of waste and over-employment. It seems that these problems at VPD only came to light, or at least were only actively recognized, when the commissioners decided to move ahead with the V.E.S. Fields project in a down economy and a projected construction cost that was double that of the monies available to the Park District from the property tax levy and they had to do a hackett, I mean hatchet, job to the budget in an attempt to make it all work. It is interesting to note that commissioner Hackett just a year ago blamed the reduction in property tax revenues, and resulting budgetary woes at the parks after the VES project had been undertaken, as "unexpected" fallout from the down economy, when at the last board meeting he made a point of predicting that this year he anticipated a 3.5% reduction in the levy. This leads one to speculate whether or not Mr. Hackett has recently added Tax Levy Prognosticator to his list of new skills and expertise on his LinkedIn profile, because this would have been really helpful if he had only known where the taxes were going before he and the rest of the commissioners headed on their premium soccer field spending spree.
Mr. Hackett also went into a brief ode to volunteers at the end of the meeting. He mentioned how the pool was built back in the 1970’s by the King County Forward Thrust initiative, not volunteers. The implication here, I believe, was that the VES fields have had some success with community volunteer support in their construction. My impression of that is three fold. Just a few meetings back there were complaints from this board that volunteerism had slacked off, and the initial spike in recent volunteerism only came about because that was the only way they could get the necessary tasks on the fields project completed in timely fashion. It also seems to me that if the project had been managed and funded correctly, the contractors could have completed it on their own. And the entire Forward Thrust initiative was voter approved, although it took two elections to do it, whereas the VES Project was undertaken without much public input, if any, and with only certain board members’ assertions that it was necessary and that the demand was there. And as was stated here in the last column regarding public desires for actions and projects for the Park District, Mr. Ameling said that in their polling, covering the pool and buying more land had been the public’s main items of interest, which leads one to ask: why is the pool still only a one season facility? It seems that it is not the culture of the parks that needs to be changed, but rather the people driving and perpetuating that culture. Elections are coming up- stay tuned.