WHY DID I GET INVOLVED IN THE FOX ISLAND/PENMET ISSUE?
By CRAIG MCLAUGHLIN
In recent months, I became involved with the issues surrounding the Fox Island Bridge and through that involvement I met several Fox Islanders who have donated much of their time to our Fox Island community. Some of the people involved with the bridge issue were also concerned about PenMet’s termination of the Park Host Program—a situation I knew nothing about at the time. This was back in the summer of 2021. I didn’t get actively involved in this issue until a meeting held at the Nichols Community Center on January 11, 2022. I attended that meeting with an open mind, knowing nothing about the issue.
At that meeting, two representatives from PenMet were attempting to explain to those in attendance why the Park Host Program had been terminated. It was quite apparent to me, after listening to the presentation, that PenMet had basically decided to terminate the Park Host Program because, in the case of the Fox Island parks, the properties were just too small and non-revenue generating for PenMet to bother.
Being a member of the FICRA Trust Board of Directors (the Trust is the entity that owns and manages the Nichols Community Center), I offered up a possible solution to PenMet’s situation regarding the Park Host Program. I asked the representatives if PenMet would be open to the Trust operating the Park Host Program through its volunteers in a manner similar to our Citizens’ Patrol Program. I mentioned that we could probably provide the volunteers and PenMet could simply reimburse the Trust for any minor expenses incurred.
In less than 24 hours, the representatives got back to me saying that PenMet was not going to consider my offer because it was “an inappropriate delegation of PenMet’s responsibilities.” This rationale bothered me a great deal as the “responsibilities” they mention are the same responsibilities PenMet was refusing to fulfill on its own. Shortly thereafter, PenMet had the audacity to reach out to me seeking volunteers for the DeMolay Sandspit cleanup day. I had to ask why cleaning duties were a permissible delegation of duties when monitoring the properties was an impermissible one? I received no response. As a courtesy to PenMet, the Trust Board and FICRA agreed to get the word out asking for volunteers, and we let PenMet know that were making that effort. PenMet then had the further audacity to ask the Trust and/or FICRA to bring coffee for the volunteers.
It was at this point, that I began to sense the frustration others who had been dealing with the Park Host Program termination were feeling. I had multiple requests for further information, all of which were totally ignored. I found PenMet to be very non-responsive and opaque—two characteristics an entity that exists on public tax dollars should never be.
I then visited the Fishing Pier, the DeMolay Sandspit, and the Boat Launch only to find all three properties in a serious state of neglect. It was obvious to me that PenMet was paying little or no attention to any of these properties. I then researched how much we were paying on our tax bills to PenMet and found out for the last two years we’ve paid about $1,000,000 annually. I had to ask what, if anything, were we getting for our money?
I’ve done a lot more research and interviewed several former PenMet employees. Both the results of my research and the gist of what I was being told in the interviews were consistent is raising serious concerns about how PenMet was being operated. Fox Island represents two things, in my opinion, to PenMet: (1) A bank account that can be drawn upon as needed without any requirement that any of those funds be spent performing PenMet’s duties as a property owner and (2) an island where three properties exist that are nothing more than an inconvenience to PenMet to own and maintain properly.
That’s why I’m involved.