Council sees a changing of the proverbial guard -- Deborah Vann

Retiring councilor Debbie Vann on Wednesday. - JULIE BUSCH photo
Retiring councilor Debbie Vann on Wednesday.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

...while Debbie Vann goes out swinging, and may go off sailing for a change of pace

Deborah Vann just finished four years on the City Council, but she sounds like she’s gone 10 rounds in the boxing ring.

“It was an incredible experience, but it’s really good to be done,” said Vann, whose council term ended Wednesday evening as new councilors were formally sworn in. “Four years ago, I very naively said ‘Oh, okay, I’ll run.’ Little did I know....”

Vann, a retired social worker, opted out of running for a second term, preferring to let incoming Councilman Kjell Stoknes take her place.

She believes Stoknes will carry on her torch, which burned bright on environmental issues, but feels she can do little more on a council she characterizes as “frustrating” and disorganized to the point “that pretty much nothing can get done.”

But she got a few good shots in, helping to bring high-speed Internet to the island and improved parking.

Vann said replacing some city department heads over the past four years has made a big difference in City Hall’s efficiency, and singled out Planning Director Larry Frazier, Administrator Mary Jo Briggs and Finance Director Elray Konkel for commendation.

She’s also proud of the first draft of the Critical Areas Ordinance, which she said drew upon the input and support of both environmentalists and landowners.

“In February, it was a really good ordinance with support from everybody, even the development community, which is pretty incredible,” she said. “The first draft had incredibly good people participating and it was really fun.”

The draft that finally passed, however, she’s not too thrilled about.

“It’s a really, really bad document,” Vann said. “It’s a much worse CAO.”

The ordinance, which establishes protections for sensitive areas, such as wetlands and streams, underwent a lengthy and contentious update process.

The up­date was approved by the council Wednesday, over Vann’s “no” vote.

“It’s going to be appealed,” she said, hinting that both environmental groups and property rights advocates share her dissatisfaction with the ordinance. “They’re going at it on several grounds.”

Vann is particularly opposed to the inclusion of Habitat Management Plans in the CAO. She echoes many environmentalists who say that HMPs may amount to loopholes for landowners to scale back wildlife protections.

These and other changes Vann opposes don’t so much come from outside forces holding sway over the council, but from the council itself. And she’s not afraid to name names.

“It’s purely political,” she said. “(Councilwoman) Debbie Vancil was really upset that I didn’t want her on the Land Use Committee because she’s really hard to work with. She was really mad about that, which I think is probably why she wanted the (CAO) changes.”

Vancil says Vann’s comments are “not deserving of a response” and that she never wanted a seat on the committee. She added that the CAO had been “run through the gauntlet, and we have a better and stronger document.”

Vann also took aim at two more of her colleagues on the council on a range of objections that she says altered the critical areas draft for the worse.

“And then you have (Nezam) Tooloee and (Bob) Scales who aren’t going to approve anything on the CAO they haven’t done or made up themselves,” she said. “So they redid the whole thing, and it’s a mess.”

She said Tooloee took over the CAO update process and reduced public input.

“Tooloee would talk at meetings like 40 or 50 percent of the time,” she said. “One councilmember was dominating, and nobody else got to do much. We took all our time doing what (Tooloee) wanted to do and that’s wrong.”

Scales could not be reached comment, but Tooloee asserted that “the record is abundantly clear and contrary to the assertions made by Councilwoman Vann and, beyond that, I don’t care to dignify her comments with a response.”

Vann was drawn to run for the council as a community activist hoping to stem development on Ferncliff Avenue. She says she’ll go back to her role as a neighborhood activist, possibly working for affordable housing and taking an active role with the Bainbridge Conservation Voters group.

She said it was hard for her to let go of her council seat when a host of issues important to her are still in process, including the Eagle Harbor Anchoring and Mooring Plan and plans for city-owned agricultural lands, urban trees and city support for low-income housing.

But a rough go at City Hall and a general feeling that the island is growing and changing too fast may soon have Vann heading for the high seas.

“Bainbridge Island was a great place to live, but I’m not happy with what’s going on,” she said. “I know I can’t stop development but it’s getting crowded, and I don’t like the posh, got-to-have-a-million-dollar-house-to-live-here sort of thing,” she said. “So my husband and I are planning on getting a catamaran, one of the ‘RVs of the ocean.’ We’ll just sail for four or five or six years, I don’t know...just cruising.

“It’ll be a nice change.”

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