Almost two years have passed since Snohomish County’s Director of Parks (Tom Teigen) stood in front of a stunned audience and announced his plans for a sports complex at Wellington Hills Park. Perhaps it would have been less shocking if he hadn’t also said, “It’s a done deal” and “You are going to love it.”
Many of us had the same thought – This is the Seattle area – nothing is ever a “done deal” especially when it's initially proposed. Puget Sound residents always question big-ticket projects and then we offer our opinions and alternative perspectives.
It was during the “It’s a done deal” speech that Neighbors to Save Wellington Park (NSWP) was born. Within days of the Teigen Declaration, people began meeting and discussing what the proposed – and radical – makeover of Wellington Hills Park could mean to the area – the residential neighborhoods near Woodinville.
At first, our energy was focused on understanding the so-called “Master Plan” ... a simplified drawing of the proposed sports fields, complete with commercial developments, stadium lights, large parking lots and sizeable buildings. The master plan appeared to be designed by special interest groups. The design was not for the community at large … in essence, the master plan was the opposition’s manifesto.
Next came community organizational meetings, finding supporters to join NSWP, developing an email newsletter list and a door-to-door petition signing campaign. Then, strategies were developed so that our community voices might be heard in Everett – home of the Snohomish County Council and County Executive.
Reaching out to the Council and Executive was complicated and revealed very little.
Council member Dave Somers, who represents this area, came to my house and spoke to 25 people. Council members Stephanie Wright and Brian Sullivan also came to our neighborhood and talked with us. Council members Dave Gossett and John Koster declined to meet with us in our neighborhood.
About this same time I met Aaron Reardon, who was then the County Executive. (The Department of Parks was one of the departments under his authority.) I walked away from that meeting with two tidbits: He said he was unaware of the sports complex plan and that Wellington Hills Golf Course had “ruined his golf game”. Nothing came from that meeting.
What It Takes
In June-July 2012, I began a photo diary of the park and I created this blog. We began writing letters to the Woodinville Weekly, The Woodinville Patch and the Everett Herald. King 5 TV did a small piece on what we were attempting to accomplish.
The progression of our activities included going to various County organizational meetings, as well as attending County Council Operations and General Legislative sessions.
It was at this point we started to grasp both the hard-boiled political disposition and the Byzantine nature of county government.
It’s not easy to have discussions with elected officials, no matter how many times they publically say, “My door is always open”. Unfortunately, appointments usually are for 15 minutes, 30 minutes max.
If you want to say something at a County Council meeting you get three minutes at the beginning of the session – and the Council just listens, they never say anything, unless it’s to tell you, “you can’t say that”. If a department head or project manager speaks to the Council, you, the private citizen, cannot refute or question that person. The added insult is they can speak as long as they want and they can make both objective and subjective comments about whatever a citizen said during the three-minute public comment period.
At this point in the process of a citizen becoming an activist, one needs to assess what’s at stake (saving a park) and then make a personal decision because a fork in the road is reached. Does a person take the common, well-worn path of indifference, apathy and cynicism? Or, is the other path chosen – the one requiring resolve, dedication and hours of hard work?
Citizen Activists, by definition, aren’t professional politicians or bureaucrats - but they are smart, passionate and determined.
Valuable tools are the County’s Organizational Flowchart and the Freedom of Information Act. And, there are accommodating people working within County government willing to explain how bureaucratic processes and methods are meant to be used. Another valuable asset, which may seem obvious, but isn’t - there are elected officials willing to listen to reasonable solutions to complex issues.
But It Ain’t Over
Bureaucratic plans, such as the proposed makeover of Wellington Hills Park, become reference points, even if they haven’t been approved. While Citizen Activists are coming-up to speed with understanding, for example, the details of a proposed master plan … the dudes who proposed the plan aren’t resting … they’re busy crossing ‘t’s, dotting ‘i’s, and convincing their bosses (and everyone else) their plan is the best plan, etc. etc.
The Moment of Truth
A recent viral news article has been noticed by scores of citizen groups and everyone else interested in good government - the article, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens” or, as it is commonly known, “America is No Longer a Democracy”.
The gist of the article is this (in their words, not mine):
“Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.“
Personally, I’m not ready to accept, “America is no longer a democracy”.
It’s now two years since the “It’s a done deal” speech and NSWP has gained insight, won a few skirmishes and continues to prepare for a fight in the legal system.
In my opinion and, in my firm belief in representational government, it is time for the County and people living in the Wellington Hills area to co-create a park that’s in harmony with the rural nature of the surrounding neighborhoods and communities.
May 1, 2014