Candy Wawro Statement

To the Board of Directors of Pen Met Parks:

My husband and I visit the fishing pier often to walk the paved trail with our pets when it is too muddy to hike anywhere else.  It is one of our two favorite spots on the island; the other being the DeMolay Sandspit (commonly known as Bella Bella to us islanders).

One Sunday morning, we were the second car visiting the Fishing Pier.  Another vehicle was in the lot without occupants when we parked.  We walked down the path to the pier and back up when a young couple with a small baby were heartbroken after a walk to the beach to find their car windows smashed in a car prowl in the 15-20 minutes they walked the beach.  My heart broke as dad tried to clean the glass shards from the baby’s car seat.  Mom was on the phone trying to reach their insurance agent.  Glass was everywhere in and around the car.  Mom was teary and told us this was why they left Seattle.  She never thought she would have to deal with that here as she did in the city. 

I pleaded with her to file a police report and to call PenMet to complain.  At that time there were no cameras for security as well as no park host.  I wrote my own email to PenMet maintenance and PenMet leadership.  I got a quick response from Maintenance who did come out and clean up the next morning and installed a camera on the restroom roof.  Unfortunately, that camera only faced the gate, not the parking lot.  I wrote a subsequent email that their solution was not adequate protection for visitors. They came out and installed a second camera that still does not cover the entire lot.  There are still no signs about the property being under surveillance to deter crime and still the entire parking lot is not under camera surveillance.

I understand that PenMet cannot stop crime, but they certainly can deter it better than just two cameras on top of the restroom that do not adequately capture the parking lot.  Signage is needed both on the gates and in the park.  I still can’t get that picture of the baby’s car seat full of glass out of my head.  And, by the way, there was nothing of value in the car for the prowlers to take.

Also, we have stopped attending PenMet activities.  We have two grandboys that love sports.  However, the chaotic nature of signups, practice, and games etc., and other activities that PenMet opens for children is always in chaos.  Long lines, coaches who have no clue, no background checks to qualify working with children and no experience for their paid employees and volunteers.  Camps are simply out of the question for us.  Some areas where children take in activities have no first aid available and no qualified employees trained to use it.  No CPR training for employees either.  As an educator, I find this lack of regard for children’s safety appalling.  I was told PenMet had bats living at Rosedale Hall.  No extermination, no cleaning of droppings, mold in areas with children’s activities at other locations, etc.  It is heartbreaking to see the disregard for children’s health and safety.

As far as the DeMolay Sandspit, the condemned house still stands.  When asked if it will be removed, again a serious health and safety issue for children, I was told it was “on the schedule”.  It has been “on the schedule” for the last five years if not longer!  With no park host, again there is little intended care of minding the nature preserve in its natural environment.  Driftwood is being used to sculpt forts and such where children may be hurt from falling timber.  The broken seawall is yet another issue that was “on the schedule” for repair.  Again, nothing has occurred since we moved here in 2017.  All in all, I have no confidence in PenMet leadership that these items will be fixed.  The health and safety of children and other visitors, the lack of training and background checks of anyone working with children, the cleanliness of all buildings that house children and lack of organization in children’s activities is paramount as are the safety concerns not adequately addressed in Pen Met Parks (especially on Fox Island where I live).

Candy Wawro

AP Templet Statement

Working For Change

Like many others on the island we love the place we live. We view the sand spit and the fishing pier as assets to our lives.

I live less than a thousand feet from the boat launch. We call it the boat launch, but that’s a stretch. One thing it definitely is, is a nuisance for the people who live near it. Often the meeting place for drunk teens and twenties, car racing, motorcycle racing, egging and paintballing cars driving by, it is not an asset. It is the boat launch that most of the people here use, if they can get to it through the drunk teenagers. 

When PenMet Parks notified us of their decision to remove the resident hosts at two of their properties on the island, I was appalled. The hosts were valuable assets, in making the properties family-friendly, and well maintained.

I wrote several letters asking questions as to why this was being done. The responses all centered around “this is what we are doing because we can do it”, and “we do not have to explain”. Upon asking several questions about expenditures, I was told that if I wanted information I would have to submit a public records request.  It was clear to me that the PenMet administration was not acting in our best interests nor in a transparent fashion.

When it was revealed that  PenMet parks is taxing us a million dollars a year and treating us like underlings, several of us realized that we needed to work for change. It’s clear that PenMet Parks is not interested in answering taxpayers questions or meeting with taxpayers or even explaining what’s going on.

Working for change, 

AP Templet

Glenn Hansen & Peggy Power Statement

How we got involved in the PenMet/Fox Island issue

By Glenn Hansen & Peggy Power

We have lived next to the Fox Island Fishing Pier Park for 12 years now.  Glenn is retired from sales/customer service, and Peggy is a retired veterinarian and small business owner of 37 years. We have lived in the Puget Sound area since childhood, and we raised our families in the Tacoma/University Place area.  We moved to what we consider to be our ‘paradise’ on this special island in 2010. 

Only 3-5 families are close enough neighbors to the Fishing Pier Park to be aware of park activities on a day-to-day basis, particularly after hours when the park is closed.  We can comment from first-hand experience as to how things have been over years, both before and after park hosts were on-site.  We have been involved in locking and unlocking the park gates at dawn and dusk many times on behalf of PenMet and have helped in transferring keys to park hosts as they came and went over the last decade.  Most of the hosts were excellent, although PenMet had difficulty finding hosts who wanted to stay in the non-summer months. 

When Ed and Lynn Lewis started as park hosts roughly 6 years ago, they were clearly committed to taking excellent care of the park.  The gates were promptly opened at sunrise and closed at dusk.  Ed mowed the large lawn himself because he found the maintenance staff mowing less than satisfactory, cleared large sections of blackberry overgrowth, picked up litter, washed the fishing pier every night, cleaned the restrooms—in essence, they treated the property responsibly and with attentive care.  The presence of their RV and knowing they lived there created a sense of security—for times when teens would climb the fence after dark, when people would remove seaweed and other sea-life from the beach, when kids would try to jump from the pier, when dogs were allowed off-leash, occasionally when a distraught/suicidal person would need intervention—it was a safer feeling to have a ‘presence’ living there. (We have heard similar reports about the service that Brett Marlow provided at the DeMolay Sandspit from the neighbors around that park.)

Over the years, we watched with appreciation and respect as Ed & Lynn were faithful stewards of the park, and naturally they became valued neighbors and friends.  In July 2021, we were stunned to hear that they were being kicked out as park hosts by PenMet.  The only reason we even knew this was from reading the letter sent from PenMet to Ed & Lynn—there was no consultation with local residents or discussion at board meetings—the decision was made abruptly without notice. In fact, no one would have realized this had been done until after the park hosts left.

Of course, as neighbors who would be directly affected by this move, we approached PenMet to ask “WHY?”  The obvious questions were:

  1. How does this decision benefit the park patrons and neighbors?
  2. What is the increased cost to have paid park employees replace the duties of volunteer hosts?  (At minimum, now park employees would need to drive out to open and close the gates at dawn and dusk 365 days a year.)
  3. Who made this decision and why?

And then the journey began . . .  We are normal citizens who pay taxes asking a public agency who we elected to explain their actions.  We wrote Emails, made phone calls, and attended every board meeting to voice our questions and concerns.  We started a petition with over 500 signers asking PenMet to postpone the decision and meet with the community to discuss reasons and other solutions, and posted signs around the island at our own expense. 

What was PenMet’s response?  To concerned constituents who were asking about decisions regarding our parks and spending of our tax monies?  One would hope and expect that people who we elected to steward our properties and monies would listen, be able to give rational reasons for what they are doing, to be open to other collaborations and solutions, in short to be responsive and accountable. Instead, what did we get?

  1. Refusal to even meet–our petition request to meet with the community was absolutely ignored and refused.
  2. Refusal to answer repeated direct questions.  Even for ‘simple’ inquiries such as what the additional cost of security cameras would be, we were told to file a ‘Request for Public Information’ (PRR’s).
  3. Then when we filed Requests for Public Information, we were informed that it would be 90-120 days to provide, and actually now some of our PRR’s have not yet been filled after nine months!  Since this is a violation of Washington state law, this may ultimately result in legal action and financial penalties.  Sadly, this stubbornness and incompetence ultimately costs us, the taxpayers.
  4. The few responses we received were vague and ‘political speak’, as illustrated by the FAQ posted on the PenMet site and published by reporters.  When a detailed point-by-point rebuttal to the FAQ was written, it was ignored.  
  5. When FICRA offered to collaborate to find mutually agreeable solutions for the park host issue, PenMet refused their offer without discussion.
  6. Complete lack of dollar figures—we have yet to hear a detailed discussion of the costs before and after the park host decision.  When we ask about the increased cost that we are paying for staff to drive in and out to lock and unlock the park gates every morning and evening (to replace what the volunteer park hosts were doing for free), we are told that it is ‘in the budget’—an example of the vague and frustrating answers we received.    
  7. Personal attacks—as we have asked valid questions and challenged PenMet’s non-answers, we have been called ‘threatening’ by board members, have had vulgarities screamed in our faces by board member Kurt Grimmer outside a board meeting, been falsely accused of both our statements and actions to defame our character.  Instead of being receptive to legitimate concerns, PenMet’s default reaction has been to ‘attack the messenger rather than listen to the message’.
  8. For a while, we felt like ‘lone criers in the wilderness’.  Then in January, PenMet finally met with a larger group from FICRA, and their tactics became more widely observed.  The concern regarding PenMet practices has grown into a community effort to remove Fox Island from their district and draw attention to hold them accountable. 

As we have learned more, PenMet has many reasons to feel defensive.  Below are some of the concerning things we have observed and discovered over the months as we have talked with former employees, past Executive Directors and many other people who are equally disturbed with PenMet’s current management:

  • Multiple areas of ‘deferred maintenance’ (i.e. another term for not doing required maintenance in a timely manner to preserve the condition of the district properties), both in Fox Island parks and throughout the park district.  We see extreme moss accumulation on many roofs, black mold inside buildings, railings repaired with duct tape, sewer control boxes left open and defaced, deteriorating buildings left as ‘attractive nuisances’ for years, etc. etc.  PenMet’s revenues are strong, so this is not a financial issue.
  • Specifically, Fox Island citizens pay roughly $1 million per year in their property taxes designated to PenMet.  In 2020 & 2021, PenMet has spent roughly $35,000 in maintenance on Fox Island properties, largely for utilities, security patrol for DeMolay during the day, and COVID HandyCans when the restrooms were closed.  Most accountants would not even classify utilities as a maintenance cost, but PenMet does.
  • The PenMet board has increased the levy to the maximum allowed and reportedly has had discussions to extend the levy lid for additional years.  This creates a lien on our properties and commits us to further tax dollars—allowed ‘technically’ by law but certainly not acting in good faith as public officials.    
  • The current Executive Director (one in a series of >5 people hired and fired by the board in the last 5 years) was hired in April 2021 without open hiring and public process.  This current Executive Director is known to be a ‘close personal friend’ of the prior Board President.  The construction company that the current Executive Director used to work for has been contracted for current PenMet capital improvement projects.
  • Several employees have resigned/been terminated after years of service and close to their potential retirement dates.  (We believe that separation agreements have been signed assuring some of these employees’ silence in exchange for financial compensation, another cost ultimately paid by taxpayers. This is another area that we are awaiting additional documentation from our PRR’s.)
  • The taxpayer-paid PenMet attorney has been extensively involved in district correspondence, intimidating contact with prior employees, and personnel matters, resulting in his charging the district 262% of the legal budget for 2021.  (A PRR request for the attorney’s invoices has been delayed at least nine months since the first request in August 2021.)
  • Peninsula Gardens has fallen into serious disrepair since its acquisition in 2012.  It was used as a ‘dumpsite’ for large amounts of torn-up asphalt, used turf and other debris, present for many months and seriously overgrown by blackberries. This was reported as a concern to PenMet directly but was ignored, necessitating reporting to Pierce County Code Enforcement.  PenMet’s initial (untrue) claim to Pierce County was that these dumped materials were going to be ‘re-purposed’—only when citizens followed up pointing out the falsehood of these statements to Pierce County was the Peninsula Gardens site cleaned up.
  • PenMet has been aware for years that the Sehmel soccer field does not meet G-Max certification standards for safety.  After exposing children to an unsafe field with increased risk of head and other injury, only this spring has PenMet updated the field conditions to meet standards.  PenMet had been informed years ago that it did not come close to meeting industry standards, yet did not see it as important to notify parents of the risk or make it a priority to update.  
  • Multiple past employees and others have reported serious incidents of health and safety violations in PenMet childrens’ programs, including lack of staff training, use of personal cell phone data to contact underage participants, presence of liquor in program kitchens, and other deeply concerning practices.  More information in this area will be coming soon. 

So why are we involved??  We don’t need this—we have spent considerable time and energy on this issue, and we would much prefer to spend our time with our grandchildren, gardening, dogs and travel.  BUT we have seen too much to walk away from the disregard and incompetence of our publicly elected officials and irresponsible spending of our tax dollars.  Being ‘seasoned seniors’, it would be tempting to become cynical about ‘Big Government’, throw up our hands in despair, and resolve to live our life.  Unfortunately, this is literally in our front yard and involves our locally elected representatives, and we cannot ignore this issue in good conscience.  If we do not call this group to accountability, who will??

PenMet needs serious attention, but the first logical step is to remove Fox Island from its jurisdiction.  We believe that Fox Island groups comprised of our own citizens have demonstrated their willingness and ability to steward their properties well.  Actually any new entity would be an improvement over PenMet’s abject neglect, non-responsiveness and ‘deferred maintenance’.  For a million dollars per year of taxes, it is reasonable to expect much more for our contributions.  Ultimately, it also could give Fox Island residents the option to structure those tax dollars for bigger issues such as the new bridge and fire/emergency services. 

Please join and support us in our efforts!