By Don Nelson

Given that the proposed Methow Valley Recreation District has been trounced — maybe you prefer hammered, thrashed, obliterated, pummeled or, in polite journalism language, soundly defeated — at the polls, it will be instructive to see what rises out of its ashes.

Can the idea be sustained?

In a way, that’s a question for many of the proposal’s opponents — including some who were candidates for the district’s board of commissioners — to answer next. In the weeks leading up to last week’s special election, we heard many of them say that they liked the concept of a recreation district, but not the structure that would have come with it as proposed.

Now that Okanogan County is more active in developing its own parks and recreation program, others said, we should look to the county to see what it intends.

No offense to the county commissioners, but a lot of people in the Methow have low or no expectations that the commissioners will do much for the valley. The commissioners’ recent track record doesn’t suggest that they are paying much attention to what residents here care about. And the alternate state law under which opponents of the rec district said it could or should be formed would put control of such a district in the hands of, you guessed it, the county commissioners.

So it would be fair to say that many valley residents are waiting to see if (1) the proposal’s opponents — who were better organized, more vocal and more visible than its supporters — meant what they said about following through; and (2) if the county commissioners will make good on their assurances.

Right now, both of those possibilities seem like a lot to expect, human nature being what it is. The opponents “won” and have no real obligation to do anything else. And now that the possibility of an independent locally-controlled entity is gone, what incentive is there for the commissioners to put much energy into their recreation plan? Who will reach out to whom to keep the idea alive?

I hope I’m wrong about my pessimism, and if I am I’ll ‘fess up to it and give credit where credit is due. But credit and credibility have to be earned.

A post-mortem assessment would probably indicate that the most effective arguments against the proposed rec district were about increased taxes, lack of control and the threat of eminent domain. The last, I thought, was always a phony issue — it was extremely unlikely to ever be a possibility, and just about every other local jurisdiction has the same power. But it’s a scary bogey man, and opponents propped it up repeatedly.

As for lack of control — some opponents railed as if we would be electing aliens dropped from outer space rather than friends, neighbors and colleagues who would be approachable and subject to re-election. I don’t know where the anger and distrust came from — it’s not typical of the Methow, it wasn’t called for and it wasn’t pretty. The rec district commissioner candidates supported by Friends of the Recreation District are honorable people with good intentions who did not deserve the suspicious sniping they sometimes faced.

That said, the potential for increased taxes would be enough to make many people skeptical, and that skepticism alone could have sunk the rec district proposal absent any other arguments.

The district’s proponents made their case that the valley’s recreational facilities and programs need help to survive and thrive, and it’s likely that assistance will have to well up from within the community. Opponents didn’t disagree but insisted there is a better way. It will be interesting to see if both sides end up being right.



Previous Columns