BI council changes vote on Hall for racial equity panel

Olivia Hall was named to the Bainbridge Island Racial Equity Advisory Committee Tuesday night.

What makes that noteworthy was she previously had been denied the spot because she was Councilmember Brenda Fantroy-Johnson’s campaign manager, and that was not disclosed during the selection process.

Since then, Fantroy-Johnson disclosed the potential conflict of interest at a council meeting. That’s all the three nay voters needed, as she was unanimously approved Aug. 9.

Deputy mayor Clarence Moriwaki, who had voted against the appointment earlier, said he felt compelled to vote that way because if Hall was appointed then a “fair-minded” person might wonder why the relationship wasn’t revealed. He said faith in government is on the decline, and brushing potential improprieties aside is one of the reasons. Cynical people start to believe all institutions are corrupt, even BI’s government. “It forever colors their trust.”

To change that attitude, Moriwaki said transparency is key. He believes most people aren’t cynical. “They want to believe in their leaders. But trust and faith must be earned,” so government needs to have the highest level of ethics.

Affordable housing

City senior planner Jennifer Sutton talked to the council about changes the Planning Commission made to the Housing Design Demonstration Project.

The commission resolved issues such as: limiting the program to the existing Winslow Sewer Service area, reducing requirements for developments with more-affordable units, clarifying roles of accessory dwelling (mother-in-law) units, reducing parking within the ferry district and removing a sunset date. Different incentives are available depending on the amount of affordable housing.

Police-court facility

The council also approved a budget amendment of $100,000 for the new police-court facility to help pay for recommendations made by REAC. Modifications include opening up the courtroom lobby and access to the courtroom, removing what was called an “obstacle course” to open and brighten up the building. Other future potential REAC changes could include paint colors, lighting and public art.

The addition increases the overall budget to $20.27 million. The council also increased city manager Blair King’s change order from 10% to 25%. The goal is to add more flexibility, and would not necessarily mean added cost to the project, city staff states. “These are great changes for everybody,” Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos said. Mayor Joe Deets said he was glad the project was looked at with an “equity lens.” Councilmember Leslie Schneider said it’s a great example “of putting an equity lens on our construction.”

Shoreline management

The city also is going to review and update its Shoreline Management Program, as community feedback says it’s confusing. The goal is to simplify it, remove redundancies and fix conflicts with established code. The update discussion will start Sept. 1 and include shoreline property owners, recreationists, businesses, other user groups, tribes and environmental groups.

Community Development director Patty Charnas said community outreach will be key to this restart, which has been on hold because of some unresolved issues.

Councilmember Jon Quitslund showed concern about sea level rise causing a loss on shorelines that can’t be changed. Charnas said state law allowing “no net loss” of shoreline can be made up through “enhancers and improvements.”

Councilmember Michael Pollock asked if it could be looked at through a “net gain” instead to encourage pre-emptive actions to protect shorelines. Charnas said that had been discussed but the state legislature did not pass that into law.

In other news

Also at the meeting, the council agreed to allow King to work on a collective bargaining agreement with the BI Police Guild. The agreement is for the 22 members. The pact would add Juneteenth to now have 13 paid holidays. The base pay would go up 6% to make BI competitive with other forces.

The council also agreed to: spend $3,000 on a Poet Laureate program; pass a proclamation supporting women’s reproductive health care and marriage equality; and OK the Consent Agenda: which includes $80,000 for a police canine vehicle; more than $91,000 for solid waste management evaluation; $350,000 for sewer grinder pump construction; and a capital improvement plan amendment of more than $400,000.

In King’s report, he introduced new public information officer Shannon Hays and talked about a 120-foot-long bridge being built on a fish culvert on Highway 305.

Public comments

Amanda Williamson showed support for the Poet Laureate program. She said poets are shy people, and this program would help bring them out of the woodwork to share their artistic quality. She called poetry a fast-growing art form that could help unite and heal the town, along with forming a connection to other artistic communities in the state.

Scott Weller of the Wing Point neighborhood talked about his opposition to a sewer grinder pump construction. He said Public Works has a “clear bias” for such a system. He said a simple gravity site system would be much less expensive in the long term. You put a pipe in the ground, and it lasts 100 years, he said. If power goes out, which it does on BI, the grinder pump is useless. It also has higher maintenance costs, Weller added.

Jim Halbrook again called out the corruption of city government regarding the purchase of the Harrison Medical Center. He questioned why the city never investigated why leaders overpaid for the clinic. He said he never received a response from either Deets or Schneider, who voted on the purchase. He said that’s why the community doesn’t trust city government. He said the council awarded a $7.6 million contract to a company that donated to Deets’ campaign. He said they only care about the environment when it comes to protecting their own neighborhoods.

Lisa Neal complained that King tried to limit free speech at the last meeting, by attacking Halbrook’s talk of corruption in city government. She didn’t want the public to be afraid to voice its concerns. Neal said Halbrook had the right to talk about lack of follow-through by the city regarding possible corruption. She said Halbrook was “polite” and “civil” and did not disrupt the meeting. She said no one with the city should try to censor content or limit free speech during public comments.