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Ward meetings spark conversation

What’s on your mind, Bainbridge Island?

That’s what city council members asked during the three ward meetings held Tuesday.

The island’s wards gathered residents with their council representatives and provided them the opportunity to voice concerns, praise or even just to ask, “What is going on around here?”

“One thing that is nice about the ward meetings is that they bring out a few more people beyond the usual suspects, to have a chance to have some dialogue with people who don’t commonly come to city hall,” Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos said afterward.

The meetings, though held at separate locations, proved that residents across the island have similar issues on their minds — and mostly, the topics commonly heard buzzing around island pubs, coffee shops and living rooms.

The Shoreline Master Program is as popular of a topic as ever, especially now as the council is considering the recommendation on the update from the planning commission. The interpretation of non-conforming structures along the shoreline remains a debatable issue, as Councilwoman Anne Blair discovered at the north ward’s meeting.

Though the central ward was also vocal about the program and the philosophy surrounding it, many felt that the discussion on the program has been dominated by shoreline homeowners and that they shouldn’t dictate the outcome of the plan.

Talk from the central ward with Councilman Steve Bonkowski and Mayor Debbi Lester at city hall was wide-ranging.

One minute, it was noise complaints about the firing range on Sportsman Club Road, and the next minute, islanders were simply asking how things work.

One woman asked about the relationship between the police department and the city.

Lester explained the chain of command; the council is in charge of the city manager only, who then is in charge of the police department.

The police department was a common topic at all of the ward meetings. With the trial on the Ostling shooting looming, police relations have been of high interest to residents.

Discussion on the culture of the city’s organization was also prevalent at the south ward, where residents criticized the culture at city hall.

“They want to feel welcome at city hall,” Hytopoulos recalled. “And that people are looking to help them solve problems, and not put up a wall.”

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