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Hearsay

Island Life

 I was going to write this a few weeks ago when things were fresher, but I just had to complete the series on our swimming sojourn to the watery desert before moving along to something less fun. What I am referring to here is of course a return to the hallowed halls of Ober Park to remember all the good times we had there at all those past Park Board meetings and just, you know, let it all just wash over me. To be sure, once I recently walked through the doors and saw the assemblage of personages there to speak at this May 2nd special meeting about the Commons Agreement, it sort of felt like old times, or perhaps even our own version of a Clown College reunion. I say this because there in the audience were former commissioners Hackett and Ameling, just two of the power trio (commissioner Wald was not in attendance) that brought us the debacle that was and is the VES fields mess that continues as the gift that keeps on taking. It was these three who left us with an incomplete set of fields along with a busted Parks budget thanks to their forcing through this multi-purpose field that sits next to the main highway on the site of the old elementary school and the historic old gym that had to be torn down in order to bring this not so visionary field to some semblance of reality at somewhere between double and triple the original cost projection, and was and is-as another audience member pointed out- the reason why the VPD is seeking to opt out of the yearly $100K commons agreement payment from Parks to Schools in order to regain a fiscal footing following the VES mess. They- Parks- simply can’t afford it..

While I have been away from regular Vashon Park District board meetings for some time, I had been attending and recording Vashon School District board of directors meetings up until last December. It was a study in contrasts to compare how the two boards had functioned- relative chaos and authoritarianism in the Hackett-Ameling era, as compared to the comparative calm and democracy evident at the school board. In truth, I was remembering the last VISD meeting I attended and recorded back on December the 8th when I chose to respond to statements being made at this latest VPD meeting regarding a precedent for cash payments between a park district and a school district for shared use of facilities. I quoted my partner who has worked at the Seattle Parks Department for 15 years by saying that she had told me that while Seattle Parks and Schools share facilities, no money is exchanged in the process. I also began to reference my memories of the December 8 VISD meeting by saying that I had recalled hearing something at that meeting about the school board intending to use all or part of the $100K VPD commons payment to the schools as a yearly deposit to a fund that would be held in order to pay the million dollar replacement cost of the turf carpet for the new football field. While I was making this statement I was cut off by another audience member who said that on the TV show Law and Order, my relating this tale would constitute “hearsay”. As I had heard it first hand, I did not see that it was actually hearsay, only an attempt by that audience member, who happened in some way to be associated with Mr. Hackett, to put into question the credibility of what I was saying.

As it turned out, when I got home I went back to my 8 December recording and found that I hadn’t quite remembered it right. In the discussion amongst the board, they were unsure how much of the $100K to set aside, along with possibly also setting something aside from the VISD budget. It was at least half of the VPD commons payment each year though that would go to an eventual replacement of the football turf carpet, which is said to wear out in 8-12 years with somewhere around a million dollar replacement cost. There was also some talk that they could also forgo the commons payment altogether and put forward another bond for the cost of the replacement. You do not have to take my hearsay word for it though. This board meeting has been archived on the Voice of Vashon Website, and you can access it and others by going to www.voiceofvashon.org , clicking on Shows & Hosts section of the menu bar, then go to the left of the dropdown menu to the VoVTV section and to the second entry from the bottom there and click on Vashon School District. This will bring you to the VISD page- scroll down to the 12.8.2016 meeting and click. If you want to watch the whole thing, be my guest. But the commons meat of the matter occurs at around 56:40 on the timeline and carries on for about 8 minutes. What all  this illustrates is a certain dependency on the part of VISD for the funds to replace the football carpet through VPD monies. Without that money, or a passed bond, the 3 million dollar football field becomes worthless in about a decade, whereas a revamped grass field would have been able to keep chugging along with a seed seed here and a water water there. And a little mowing. And a turf specialist friend of mine said he had done some calculating and that the supposed continued over water use and expense of an improved grass field was indeed much less than presented by VISD as a reason that the new plastic gridiron was a more favorable alternative. But I guess that’s now just water under the bridge, or somewhere.

But there’s more. In the spirit of Trumpgate and the Russian roundup of revelations, I recently received an email exchange between David Hackett and Bob Hennessey on the VISD board in which Mr. Hackett was seen (I won’t say heard since I might again be accused of hearsay) arguing against Parks having to pay the $100K commons payment to VISD. I read through a bunch of this with Mr. Hackett continuing:
“I am very ambivalent about whether we should have any sort of agreement with VISD. I have found your district’s buy in and participation to be lackluster, at best.”

This and much more didn’t make any sense, because at the May 2nd meeting Mr. Hackett was in the audience arguing that “it is an agreement (commons) that has worked well- if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Then I looked at the dates of the email exchange, which were in April of 2013 while Mr. Hackett was on the VPD board and was trying to salvage something of the mess they had made of the budget through the escalating cost of the VES fields that in hindsight no one had asked for. To that end, at the recent VPD meeting, Mr. Hackett also scolded the board by saying “do what you’re supposed to do- go for a bond- ask the voters ‘do you want to fund these capital projects?’” This is something we should all be reminded is exactly what Misters Hackett, Ameling and Wald did not do when they pillaged the Parks budget, resulting so far in uncompleted fields in terms of what was promised, and a Parks budget teetering on the brink of collapse. And for those ready to accuse me of hearsay on these quotes, I can supply the audio track from the entire meeting to corroborate everything quoted here, if asked.

From the other side, through these commons squabbles, in 2013 there was talk of VISD withholding permission to gain a water right for the VES fields, something akin to the current talk from the VISD board that they might withhold permission to cover the pool if Parks refuses to pay the $100K for commons. What seems to be lost in all of this is any comprehension of the word commons. All of this seems to be more about power and leverage than serving the common good. There is also something along the lines of truth and trust that we already are being robbed of on the national level- given that the opposite is showing up here in what should be a fairly simple and straightforward negotiation between two public Vashon entities supposedly serving the public good, all of this seems to show that we’re maybe not as special and different as we would like to make ourselves out to be, are we?