King County executive appoints rural outreach adviser

May 8, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

The latest King County strategy to engage rural residents — including more than 16,000 people near Issaquah — earned early praise from a community leader in the unincorporated tract between Issaquah and Renton.

County Executive Dow Constantine appointed a top adviser April 4 to lead the outreach effort from county government to residents in rural and unincorporated areas. The announcement marked the latest step in a long-running effort to change how leaders and residents interact.

Alan Painter — Constantine’s former adviser on human services, health and housing policy — is the manager for the community service areas program. In the past 18 months, county officials carved unincorporated land into designated areas to coordinate on issues, such as crime prevention or potential development.

“We look forward to connecting with the residents and involving groups that heretofore may have wondered, ‘What is this thing called King County and what is it doing for us?’ We hope to answer that question in a very positive way,” Painter said in a recent interview.

Peter Eberle, Four Creeks Unincorporated Area Council president, said the appointment could change the relationship between county government and rural residents, although questions remain.

“I think Alan Painter has the potential for being a very positive influence on this whole discussion,” Eberle said. “I’m not sure that the county has a clear idea of what they’re going to do about this, but I think that Alan has the potential for coming up with a good scenario.”

The 16-year-old Four Creeks Unincorporated Area Council acts as a liaison for unincorporated area residents near Issaquah to the county government based in Seattle.

Census 2010 data identified 16,500 residents in the Four Creeks Unincorporated Area. The community encompasses Maple Hills, May Valley, Mirrormont and other communities in a 38-square-mile stretch between Issaquah and Renton.

Similar groups exist in unincorporated areas across King County, from Vashon Island to urban Highline between Burien and Seattle.

Despite the demographic and geographic diversity, unincorporated area councils do not represent all rural and unincorporated residents. County officials said the community service areas program is meant to improve outreach.

Changes in councils’ role

The county also eliminated the $10,000 each unincorporated council received annually. The decision to cut funding raised questions about the councils’ future.

“Our role is going to be close to what we were doing in the past — providing a conduit for citizens to interact with the county and bringing information from the county to the citizens,” Eberle said.

In addition to liaison functions, Four Creeks Unincorporated Area Council leaders used the county dollars to host a National Night Out event. The council intends to remain active as a community organization, even as the county adopts a different approach.

Under the community service areas program, community organizations in each area can apply for grants of up to $5,000 to promote the engagement of local residents in community or civic activities.

Painter rolled out proposals to unincorporated area residents April 10 at a Vashon Island forum. Most questions centered on what changes residents could expect to see, he said.

Eberle said outreach could pose a challenge for county staffers involved in the community service areas program. Four Creeks Unincorporated Area Council leaders encountered the same problem.

“Residents out in the rural area tend to be out in the rural area because they like to be left alone,” he said.

Plans call for teams of county employees to hold public meetings at least once per year in each community service area.

King County Council members approved the community service areas program last year. Next, Constantine plans to send legislation to the council to set boundaries for the community service areas.

The boundaries should encompass all of unincorporated King County, including areas without any unincorporated area council representation under the existing arrangement, such as Klahanie, Preston and the Snoqualmie Valley.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure that the different parts of the county are aware of what we’re doing, so where it’s possible, we’ll know what’s happening, rather just individual slices of the county being engaged,” Painter said. “We still have a lot to learn, and we’re excited about doing it.”

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