Seattle parks board nominees signal a new direction
Two neighborhood activists are expected to emphasize public process on a board that got caught in a political crossfire in recent years
By Paul Andrews
Editor's note: As a Phinney Ridge resident, the writer has been active in and written about the fight against the proposed parking garage at Woodland Park Zoo. Readers are encouraged to factor that in and comment below.
Seattle City Council member David Della will nominate two community activists to the parks commission, signaling a new direction for a board caught in a public-process crossfire among the mayor's office, the City Council, and neighborhood groups.
Well-known in Seattle civic circles, John Barber, head of Parks and Open Space Advocates (POSA), and Vera Ing, former president of the Mount Baker Community Council, are expected to bring a new mindset to the embattled board.
Their nomination was immediately hailed by neighborhood activists, including Jim Anderson, president of the Loyal Heights Community Council, and Irene Wall, president of the Phinney Ridge Community Council.
"Is this great or what? Here's to the future!" Anderson wrote in an email posted to the POSA Yahoo! forum. Wall seconded: "This is great news indeed."
Barber and Ing also got high marks from Dewey Potter, public information manager for the Parks Department. "John's been a tremendous volunteer for parks over the years," said Potter, who also has known Ing for 30 years. "She's dedicated to the community and is a fun person as well."
Although it receives little media coverage, the board traditionally has played a strategic role in shaping Seattle grassroots issues. In recent years, however, it came under increasing fire as parks decision-making under Mayor Greg Nickels and recently retired Superintendent Ken Bounds raised the hackles of neighborhood groups. On several issues, including Magnuson Park field lighting, Loyal Heights lighting, and Gas Works Park's cancelled summer concert series, the board was seen as dismissive of public input.
Matters reached a head when Della, chair of the council's parks committee, moved late last year to alter the board's makeup. The result: Instead of Nickels appointing all seven board members, the council and mayor each will appoint three, with the final member selected by the other six.
Following Della's maneuver, four board members resigned, including chair Kate Pflaumer. Ing's and Barber's appointments leave Nickels with one slot to fill, after which the seventh member will be selected by the board. Potter said she did not have a sense of when Nickels would act.
Ing, a Seattle native who in January ended seven years on the State Liquor Control Board, said she will emphasize public input.
"The Gas Works process was a fiasco," she said. "There was not enough public input and involvement. In Seattle, public process is absolutely vital to green spaces and maintaining the urban fabric." Ing also has served on the boards of United Way, the Asian American Management Association, and the University of Washington Women's Center.