Key Peninsula Parks and Recreation District Chair Nancy Lind resigned from the board at the end of January, when a group trying to create a Key Peninsula Metropolitan Park District sought to delay the effort of the Wauna post office restoration — and Park Commissioners Mike Salatino, Jerry Schick, Ross Bischoff and John Glennon agreed to the request. Lind had been outspokenly in favor of the project, and the concern as expressed by the new Parks Commission Chairman Mike Salatino was that, “The chairman of the Metropolitan Park Committee Ben Thompson brought a letter to the board, and because of the contentiousness of the meetings he’d been at, didn’t want it (the Wauna Post office) to be a distraction from the upcoming election.”
Lind was the third park commissioner to resign since last summer before completing a term— raising the question as to whether internal struggles are troubling the board or whether a high turnover rate is natural to a volunteer-based organization that has very little funding.
The answer appears to lie in the middle, and largely depends on the view of each current or former commissioner. While various people interviewed by KP News disagreed on a variety of topics, one subject everyone seemed to agree on: Trying to run a park district on a shoestring budget with all- volunteer members creates burnout, a lack of clear direction, and frequent turnover. That makes progress difficult because there is always someone who is on a learning curve. It seems clear that passions flare at times, and personalities clash, but probably no more than in any other volunteer-run organization that is hampered by a lack of community involvement and consistent funding.
Although people may complain among themselves, members of the public rarely attend board meetings, leaving the five board members to prioritize what few resources they have, and make decisions in a vacuum, all while doing the best they can to get the less than glorious chores done.
“The community should attend board meetings to better understand what’s going on,” Commissioner Schick says. “If you use the park you should at least occasionally participate in the process, and we don’t have that.”
‘You come and snivel’
The citizen complacency may be a recent phenomenon. Former KPPRD Chair Marilyn Tagert—one of the other two commissioners who resigned last year—recalls a time when the board meetings were well attended by the community. The meetings so far this year were attended by a very small handful of residents.
Worse yet, according to Lind, is the lack of respect that some commissioners have shown recently to members of the community. Lind recalls an incident where a representative from Little League raised some issues in front of the board, only to be told by a current commissioner, “You come in and snivel.” Users such as Little League are the park’s primary source of income. Little League representatives did not return Key Peninsula News phone calls.
And, if Lind finds the board’s community relations skills to be somewhat lacking, she finds the management style just as poor. “There is an ongoing failure to get things done in a timely fashion—and to make good judgments,” she says.
Aftershocks from some of those judgments have lingered. An apparent lack of clear understanding between the board and Little League over the new, expensive lights at the KP Sports Center propelled KPPRD to endorse the project and pay $15,000 toward the purchase. But as many of the promises from other parties were not fulfilled, the league was nearly disbanded and some KPPRD board members were left wondering what went wrong. “The lights were a huge issue, and a frustrating process,” Tagert says. KPPRD’s role was only to support the project, the gap in information has created some hard feelings.
A hasty rental of the park to a private party on Labor Day, without clear rules and background checks, left an underage person injured after a supposed family reunion turned into a “beer blast.” Again, the board seemed to make a decision without complete information. The mother of the injured young man reportedly contacted board representatives later asking how they plan to avoid such incidents.
Problems with the concession stand are recurring: The stand, still vacant as of mid- February, was leased then quickly vacated last year, while a prospective occupant pulled out before finalizing a transaction. A real problem, since the income that would otherwise be produced by a resident concessionaire is sorely needed.
‘Not organized enough’
Chris Anderson, the last proprietor to consider operating the concession stand, said changing her mind was mostly influenced by a change in her Lakewood business and she didn’t want to be stretched too thin. Nonetheless, the longtime Key Peninsula resident did notice that board members “didn’t seem to be working as a team” and were slow in making decisions.
“I felt it wasn’t organized enough for me,” she says, adding her regret at Lind’s resignation. “Nancy was wonderful and worked with us really well. The park needs someone who can give their 100 percent…She was giving 125 percent to the district.”
Tagert echoed the sentiment. While acknowledging that she resigned because the time commitment became too great and “at one point I felt that’s all I was doing all day,” she says Lind along with former commissioners Fred Ramsdell—who also resigned last fall—and Dick Grandquist were “three of the hardest working people I’ve ever been around.”
“You’re out there mowing grass and digging ditches. There are no funds. You get tired after awhile. You think hey, it’s time to get something done at home,” Ramsdell says, explaining his decision to leave.
Clear operating policies and procedures became a casualty of the frequent turnovers. Past commissioners said they had spent a tremendous amount of time developing policies, especially with regards to employment and rentals. And while the employment policies appear successful, other issues have been shuffled away. Lind said she went through mounds of paperwork and even found uncashed checks in boxes piled up in the office when she first started — yet the lack of policy still remains one of the board’s weaknesses, one that current commissioners openly acknowledge.
“With all the turnover, procedures and policies tend to get lost,” says Schick, who began his term in January. “That’s something (that) can be addressed now and needs to be.” Indeed, the board has started a process last month for developing policies into one concise document.
‘I want what I want’
Consider the titanic job description, add in tepid citizen participation, the game of musical chairs played by board members, and the nonexistent funding— and the dilemma of the park board becomes simple mathematics.
“We just took any warm body that comes out of the woodwork,” Lind says, adding that attempts were made to bring certain people onto the board because members wanted to work with them. “I did it too,” she admits. Despite those calculated recruitments, personalities clashed, as various commissioners have brought along their own agendas or preferences, along with their passions.
Lind herself says, “I want what I want. Sometimes I p..d people off. But my heart was in the right place. Sometimes things have to get done. I thought I was good at it.” Indeed she was. Rocky Creek Conservation Area and the Home Park were largely due to her pushing and pulling and the ability to get volunteers and resources when needed. That passion for parks and trails may have been her greatest undoing—current and former members openly said sometimes the personal feelings created personality issues.
Now that all the board members are within the first year of their terms, they say disagreements are a thing of the past. “At the present time I know of no rifts on the board,” says Salatino, noting that disagreements don’t imply rifts and are merely part of a democratic process.
“(Our strength is) we’re more united in getting the thing managed correctly and doing things better,” Bischoff says.
Despite the difference of opinions, the personality clashes, unpopular decisions and the sometimes-inefficient management style, the park district through the years has nonetheless brought much-needed recreational opportunities to the local residents. Through their long hours of volunteer work and their desire to give back, the human pillars of the park district have built a foundation for a local park network that the entire community could enjoy. As the park district stands at the crossroads, on the brink of an empty bank account, it would take more than a halfdozen people to build on that foundation.
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS