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The Last Word

It’s incumbent upon me to comment on a guest editorial in the Port Orchard Independent by Mary Colborn, writing as a private citizen, not as her usual community columnist self.

In that piece she noted how the North Kitsap School District, Kitsap County, the City of Poulsbo and the Kitsap Public Facilities District had all partnered on a plan to transform 82 acres of school district property into a recreational sports and cultural hub with the goal of creating some form of economic development. She went on to lament how sad it is the people of South Kitsap have a 200-acre jewel of a park that has fallen into a sad state of disrepair, and how no one in the community cares that it could — and should — be transformed into a recreational showcase.

She talked about how heartbreaking it is that a local fellow named Chuck Jeu has worked tirelessly for most of a decade trying to put together a recreational center at the park, and how the community should support him, but hasn’t. She made it real clear that all this makes her angry, saying, “Chuck tried to get your support. He put in hundreds of hours, made of dozens of presentations with his voice barely a raspy whisper. He hit the schools and churches; he met with civic and county and city leaders. Did anyone give him unilateral support?”

Up to that point I was right there with Mary. But in the very next paragraph, she took a seriously undeserved, low blow, cheap shot at Port Orchard Rotary.

“The Port Orchard Rotary did at first. It planned to seek funding to build the recreational center. Then the group ran into defiance from the South Kitsap Community Park’s board and gave up, just like that.

“All those professional businessman couldn’t figure out how to close the deal. They couldn’t figure out how to convince people to put the needs of the whole ahead of the few.

“Well, we can admire them for the work they do, even if we don’t respect them as much.”

That insult demands a response. Let me be real clear that I’m responding as Lary Coppola, private citizen — not as a Rotarian or on behalf of Port Orchard Rotary.

Rotary’s board voted to make revitalization of the South Kitsap Community Park its Centennial Project. As president-elect and later Centennial President of Rotary, it was my job to put this together.

I wrote a letter to the Park District Board outlining what we wanted to do, and how we hoped to proceed. The letter contained a date for the board to respond. I personally hand delivered a copy to each board member at a board meeting.

Fairness to the park district board dictates disclosure that the proposal asked current board members to voluntarily resign and be replaced with Rotarians. Did we expect they would all agree to that? Of course not. But we did expect some kind of response so negotiations could begin.

To be blunt, Rotary felt park board seats were absolutely mandatory. Considering the district’s long, documented history of fiscal ineptitude and its precarious financial position at the time, we simply weren’t about to open our checkbook without major oversight of how our money would be spent.

We never received any kind of response. Numerous calls from me to Board Chairman Larry Walker during the response period went unreturned. I finally reached him late the day the response was due. It was a short conversation. He told me in no uncertain — and less than polite — terms, there was absolutely nothing to discuss. The board was not interested in even talking to Rotary. End of story.

News of the proposal later became public and Walker had to justify the board’s actions. He blasted our proposal as “arrogant,” saying the park was in competent financial hands and didn’t need any help. When pressed, he offered the lame excuse that we didn’t give the board enough time to respond — because it didn’t have a regularly scheduled meeting between the time the letter was delivered, and the response was due.

The letter was delivered before the board took up new business at its meeting that evening — and I stayed until the meeting ended. Why not discuss it that night? Apparently, calling a special board meeting for something so important never crossed anyone’s mind either.

Behind the scenes, Rotarians had been working with both Chuck Jeu and the Salvation Army. When McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc’s widow died, she bequeathed something like $2 billion to the Salvation Army to be used exclusively for the development of community centers just like Chuck envisioned. Rotary obtained a verbal commitment from the Salvation Army, but the park district’s involvement was required to move forward with what would have been the first such project in the nation.

We were still confident the park board would not squander such a golden opportunity, but would step up and do the right thing for our community. Once the Salvation Army was committed, another approach to the district was attempted. It too, was met with deafening silence.

Every businessperson knows no matter how good any deal is, you can’t close it if people won’t talk to you — and you can’t force them to — especially when big egos running small fiefdoms are threatened. There just comes a time — sometimes with great regret — to move on. So we did.

The Salvation Army took its money to a community that welcomed it. As its Centennial Project, Rotary undertook a major technology initiative that interfaces SKHS with OC and its distance-learning partners.

Mary Colborn mourned the park board’s refusal to respond — but did nothing. At the very least, she could have used her column to keep pressure on the board to act. For her to whine with indignant anger now, insulting Rotarians who regularly give back to her community in ways large and small every single day, is simply unconscionable. She owes them all an apology.

Whenever I pass the park, I shake my head in genuine sadness at what could — and should — have been. So Mary, I can understand your misdirected anger. But after that column, I just don’t respect you as much.

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