Cooper: ‘Dog Days’ of summer for SARC

“During summer’s Dog Days, flies increase in numbers and snakes go blind” … so says an old Farmers’ Almanac calendar to describe the period between July 3 and Aug. 11, known as the “Dog Days.”

“During summer’s Dog Days, flies increase in numbers and snakes go blind” … so says an old Farmers’ Almanac calendar to describe the period between July 3 and Aug. 11, known as the “Dog Days.”

For those of you like me who didn’t know the term’s origin, Dog Days dates from Roman times and refers to the time that the star Sirius occupies the same space as the sun and is brightest on July 23. Sirius is part of the constellation Canis Major or the “Greater Dog” hence “dog days” are defined as 20 days before and 20 days after July 23.

The more common interpretation is that dogs get so overwhelmed by the unrelenting heat they either take a long nap in the shade or go mad. I don’t know about dogs going mad but I do know the hornets around our hummingbird feeders are undoubtedly psychotic and the small frogs leaping into our cat’s outdoor pen are suicidal.

Being inexplicably drawn to unresolved community issues that spawn an environment of mistrust and betrayal, I too can be accused of leaping into hornets’ nests of the human kind. I am compelled to try to make sense of the drama of SARC and the City of Sequim that may have turned SARC, a longstanding beloved and respected public place of recreation, into an enemy of public parks and recreation.

Like many in our community, I was following the events but not in depth so I didn’t really catch on to the significance of some of the detail. The most I did was write a column critical of SARC’s poor planning and puzzling at the lack of cooperation between SARC and the city. My interest grew when I attended the League of Women’s Voters forum on SARC’s effort to become a Metropolitan Park District (MPD) and heard the debate which seemed to center on a MPD’s power to levy taxes and condemn property without voters’ approval.

So it is with unfailing curiosity and a certain sadness that I dive into the nest and write about the controversy surrounding SARC, the city and MPDs.


The prize

To me it was a strange twist of logic that the prize of this contest, that is becoming an MPD, was being denounced since the city’s goal was to become an MPD and could or would only if SARC didn’t become one.

SARC sought the MPD option in order to manage a serious financial shortfall following drawing on its million-dollar reserve over the past 12 years. One SARC supporter told me that one of the reasons they lost the 2002 levy was that the reserve caused the voting public to believe that SARC didn’t need the money.

The supporter admitted that the board didn’t think the shortfall would occur this soon in that the essential SARC facility expensive upgrades and maintenance occurred earlier than expected.

Desperation set in following the February levy failure and the board saw the need to act quickly.

Both the 2002 and 2015 levies failed despite a majority approval because they did not receive the required 60 percent approval. Likely, the SARC board saw an MPD as an option because it offered a chance for the same SARC-saving funding without requiring 60 percent approval.

An MPD is an attractive fundraising mechanism for parks and recreation in a community, a fact not lost on the city. It seems to me that the city was not quite ready to move forward to propose an MPD but acted because it did not want to lose the MPD opportunity to SARC. Accordingly, the city launched its campaign against the SARC initiative. The drama began.


SARC acts, city reacts

SARC quickly retrenched by approving an effort to become an MPD and began a petition drive following the defeat of its levy on Feb. 10. The group Citizens for SARC was formed to raise funds and promote passage of the initiative. The group successfully gathered more than the needed signatures and submitted the petitions to the county auditor on April 29. The signatures had to be validated by June 1.

Two days before on April 27, the Sequim City Council passed a “thoughtful and open process” resolution effectively opposing the SARC’s measure claiming it was too narrowly focused and that a ballot measure to create an MPD under the city’s jurisdiction be placed on a February 2016 ballot.

The council further resolved to work toward some short-term funding to keep SARC alive until it could take SARC under its MPD. In that spirit, the council resolved to encourage SARC to go for a short-term levy in November instead of an MPD in August.

On May 1, in what seemed more of a battle tactic than anything else, the city then filed a lawsuit against the SARC petition. The lawsuit claimed that the petition did not have numbered signature lines and did not sufficiently state something to the effect that if a person signed the petition knowing he/she were ineligible, it was a misdemeanor.

No report on how this fit into the city’s “thoughtful and open process.” No report on the timing of the lawsuit even though the petition had been in front of the public throughout the area for weeks.

My guess is that the city was hoping the petition drive would fail and SARC would accept the April 27 resolution.

But just in case, this tiny bombshell was waiting in the barracks.

Citizens for SARC spent $8,000 in legal fees to defend the petition, a fact that was later publicly criticized by a city council member in a letter to the Gazette as an irresponsible use of money. No report of whether or not the council member was sitting next to the paid city attorney at the time.

On May 15, the court ruled that the petition could go forward. No record on whether the ruling judge rolled his eyes when he tossed the lawsuit out of court and no public comment on the city’s use of taxpayer monies.


‘Dog Days’ campaigning

The city clearly wanted the SARC measure to fail and it did following a campaign in which SARC, the city and MPD did not escape the now squinty eyes of voters.

SARC desperation hovers over the battlefield cluttered with broken bonds, a sense of betrayal and residual anger. The city made an overture to SARC to bring it into the arms of MPD it hopes the voters will approve next February. The value of an MPD lay riddled with the holes of campaign rhetoric.

Coming next: Can SARC and MPDs be saved?

 

Bertha D. Cooper is retired from a 40-plus year career as a health care administrator focusing on the delivery system as a whole. She still does occasional consulting. She is a featured columnist at the Sequim Gazette. Reach her at columnists@sequimgazette.com.

 

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