You Want All This Done, In What Order?

Published in the Vashon Beachcomber, May 26, 2015

In a prior life, I spent millions on television advertising and Sunday coupons to convince Americans to dedicate a greater share of their stomach capacity to the consumption of salty snacks, a karmic crime for which I must atone in many future lives.  Remarkably, recent news coverage about fields, pool, vista point and docks brings back a vivid memory.

After day-long discussions, our CEO spent 45 minutes reeling off everything he wanted done — all good ideas, all urgent, all important — but far exceeding our financial or human capabilities.  My boss, upon whom the CEO fixed his expectant gaze, picked up his many notes, tapped them neatly and put them down again.  “You want all these things done,” he said, “in what order?”

This question faces the soon-to-be-elected new Vashon Park District board.  With only a million-dollar budget, not even ONE of the urgent projects could be funded next year.  Refurbishing our well-aged Public Pool would cost several hundred thousand dollars.  Fixing collapsing Tramp Harbor dock could cost up to $5 million.  It turns out the retaining wall at no-longer-inspirational Inspiration Point is failing.  The cost to fix it has not yet been estimated. Re-grassing our playfields — every playfield needs this about every ten years — will cost $60,000.  Each.

Oh, and the Ober Park building needs a new roof.

Elaine Ott, our parks director, rightly believes there are also many small but important upgrades – some repairs, some cosmetic — needed at almost all parks and facilities.  We got a lucky upgrade at Lisabuela thanks to free labor provided by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  We can’t bet on getting lucky again.

My question to Ms. Ott, the Park Board and all us Vashonians is this:  You want all these things done, in what order?

My CEO’s response was “you tell me.”  That forced us to evaluate every item for its impact on key criteria: Quality, brand equity, market share, profitability and employee turnover among them, some purely quantitative, many qualitative.  And to prioritize one project before another, we had to be able to say why.

We Vashonians have tough choices too, but how will we choose?  Every park, facility and program has passionate advocates who will insist that their project must get done.  Tradition, fairness, kids and safety will be invoked.  We’ll hear phrases like “iconic symbol,” “the public good” and “mission critical.”  And should a project get funded based on how many people show up at a Park Board meeting with signs saying “Hooray For Our Side?”  Based on board member perceptions that this or that isn’t necessary or is too expensive?

How many people will raise cheers for a new roof?

I learned a few things in salty snack land.  First, start with mission.  Second, look at facts and data:  cost (short-term and long-term), durability, current and projected users, current and potential revenue, and other funding sources.  Try to make apples to apples comparisons, such as calculating net cost per user, which is total costs less revenue divided by the number of documented users.

Then look at qualitative measures:  impact on public safety and public health, environmental impact, accessibility, teen-friendliness and aesthetic appeal.  And ask what happens if we DON’T do it.

Finally, look at the long-term.  I commend Ms. Ott for starting work on a 5-year strategic plan that will answer the crucial question “If not now, when?”  It’s the best way I can think of to produce a plan the majority of Vashonians will see as fair and reasonable.

And that – fair and reasonable – should be the number one objective of our new Park Board.  So I urge all of you to challenge each other, and I challenge Park Board candidates Karen Gardner, Bob McMahon, Peter Ray, Rick Skillman and Joshua Weil ,along with incumbents Bill Ameling, Lu-Ann Branch, Scott Harvey, Doug Ostrom and Joe Wald, with the same question my boss asked:  “You want all these things done, in what order?”

Then tell us, “Why?”


Mark Nassutti is a writer, rower, swimmer, cyclist, dog-walker and orchardist as well as a repentant former business executive.  Tell him what you think at