Michael Pollock, Park District Board Candidate
Candidate Questions posed by Quality Bainbridge
1) What interests inspired you to run for a position as a commissioner of the Parks and Recreation Board?
For me, service for the greater good of the community is a calling, a responsibility and a privilege. Holding political office is an opportunity to put principles into action and to make Bainbridge Island an even better community than it is today. My professional and educational background enables me to help ensure that our Park District reflects the evolving values of our diverse community.
I believe that our parks are the heart and soul of our city; a venue where we can reinvigorate our mind and body. They are a source of inspiration, wonder and beauty. Parks and the recreation they offer encourage us to play, walk, run, swim, ride, swing, recreate and learn. As we expand our open spaces, we expand our potential. When we build playing fields and trails, we also build shared memories and a path to the future. Bainbridge Island Parks are also places of nature, where the biological treasures of the island are to be protected in perpetuity. I am inspired to protect and enhance this great legacy that our community has created.
2) Describe your relevant previous experiences that prepare you for the board role?
I would be honored to represent the residents of Bainbridge Island as a Park Commissioner. My family’s roots in Washington date back to the late 1800’s. I spent my summers enjoying our family’s beach cabin and came to love the rich Puget Sound ecosystem. My family has contributed to the vibrancy of our region as teachers, pilots, professors, musicians, photographers, and small business owners. My Bainbridge Island friendships date back to the “Homerule” days in the early 90s. Shortly thereafter, our family made the Island our home.
I have observed many changes to the local environment which impact the health and spirit of the human community living here. Professionally, I have spent the majority of my career working to provide the scientific basis for conserving and restoring ecosystems. My passion has been to explore the many questions about how to effectively conserve biological resources over the long-term, and how to maintain thriving human communities infused with nature. With attention to detail and careful, objective analyses, my colleagues and I have influenced the direction of conservation in terms of how we manage our waters, forests and farmlands, and how we conserve and restore watersheds.
I obtained a Ph.D. in EcoSystems Analysis from the University of Washington and a B.S. in Biochemistry from Humboldt State University. My desire to help solve human issues lead me to work at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. After graduate school, I combined my leadership and work experiences by starting a consulting business and running a non-profit organization. I have subsequently spent most of my post-graduate career working at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as a scientist focused on watershed restoration and conservation, and as an analyst assessing the likely effects of proposed policies on the health of watersheds.
I was honored to be elected to the Bainbridge Island City Council, where I served from 1999-2003. My contributions included service as the Land Use Chair, the President, and as a member of the Finance Committee. As a councilmember, I was a strong advocate for the purchase of many of the properties that make up our current parks.
I have also worked with a variety of land trusts and other non-governmental organizations to purchase land, conservation easements, development rights and water rights for the purposes of conserving natural resources.
3) What skills, training. resources, and expertise will you bring to the Board?
I will use my skills in collaborative decision-making to lead the Park Board towards more accountable, consensus-based decision-making. I have extensive experience balancing the interests of diverse groups such as farmers, developers, landowners, Non-governmental organizations, loggers, Indian tribes and governments to resolve land use issues pertaining to the conservation of natural resources. Over the decades, I have found that key to consensus is a transparent process that ensures all voices are heard and all concerns acknowledged and addressed. I also believe that important decisions should be evidence-based rather than reactive to the loudest voices of a few. My experience has tought me that by providing (and documenting) the rational basis by which a decision is reached, such decisions better stand the test of time, relative to those that are reached through a more capricious decision-making process. I will work to apply objective assessments of the needs of the larger community so that decisions made by the Park Board better reflect our community values.
I was a Bainbridge Island Councilmember from 1999-2003 and served as President (1 yr); Committees include Land Use (Chair), Finance and Public Works. I was a fiscally responsible advocate for open space, playing fields, public trails and right-of-ways, public access to waterfront. One of my favorite maxims: “The best time to buy open space was 20 years ago, the second best time is today”, as exemplified by the successful 2001 Open Space Bond. I am a founding member of Bainbridge Island Barks and Recreation, a non-profit that advocates for responsible dog ownership. I have 20+ years public service conserving and restoring forests, waterways and open spaces; Ph.D. University of Washington EcoSystems Analysis; B.S. Biochemistry, Humboldt State University. Scientist/Policy Analyst for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (1999-present).
4) What are the most important challenges/projects facing the Park and Recreation District in the next few years?
My general priorities are to assess our recreational programs and open space needs and plan for the future; cost-effectively increase services for underserved and less vocal park users such as seniors, the disabled, picnickers, walkers, boaters, bicyclists, and dog and horse owners, to name a few; expand land and water trails, open spaces, playing fields and active recreation, weighing cost v. number of users benefitting; cooperatively integrate recreational needs with the City and School District to minimize local taxes.
More specifically, our local taxing districts have some big projects coming up, including a new school, a new police station, new park headquarters and possibly a bridge. There may also be additional opportunities to buy open space. Prioritizing, coordinating and staggering the timing of levys and other tax increases needed to fund these projects makes sense to avoid rapid tax increases that may be challenging for members of the community on fixed incomes and lower incomes to pay. As an example, the Sakai property was recently purchased by the Park District for about $5.8 million. Subsequently, the Park District has released development plans for the site that range from about $20 million to $40 million, in part to build new Park District headquarters. We need to think about such expenditures relative to other needs of Park users that may or may not be a higher priority, and relative to the tax revenue needs of our community as a whole.
The above example highlights one of the ongoing challenges for the Park District, which is communication with the public. I do not believe the Park Commisioners did a very good job of communicating to the public their intentions with the Sakai property and how much they want to spend developing it. Personally speaking, I thought it was a good open space acquisition given its’ proximity to the downtown core, but I am not prepared to pay for a $20-$40 million dollar facility without substantially more community input and a much better assessment of its’ importance to the community relative to other potential projects that utilize tax dollars. My sense of the Park Commssioners is that more and more, they are making decisions in isolation, without reaching out and checking in with the greater community. When politicians have held office for a long-time, as is the case with my opponent (14 yrs), they can begin to think that they “know” what is best for the community, and disengage from the community, particularly those that disagree with them. If elected, I will work to substantially improve communication and outreach to the community and to minimize the potential for decisions being made in a vacuum.
I think improving communication and cooperation with the City is also an important issue. There has been some friction between the Park District and the City in the recent past, and this is not conducive to good government.