BI council election heats up at debates

A couple of the Bainbridge Island City Council races became downright nasty at the online debate hosted by the Bainbridge Island Review Monday night.

In particular, Mayor Rasham Nassar claimed challenger Clarence Moriwaki is trying to hide that he is pro-growth. And both Councilmember Joe Deets and former councilmember Ron Peltier said they were misrepresenting each other’s stances and votes on various issues.

The election is Nov. 2. Voters should start getting their ballots in the mail Oct. 15.

Nassar vs. Moriwaki

Their debate really got heated when Moriwaki said he tried to contact Nassar the weekend before. He said he left all kinds of messages, and she never returned them. “Is this how you treat all of your constituents?” he asked. Nassar said she didn’t get any message, but they have consistently communicated by email so he could have contacted her that way. He chimed in that she must have erased it. “You attack my numbers and my communications style,” she said, adding that was inappropriate.

She then questioned his promise to bring transparency to city government when he won’t even admit he is supported by developers. She asked him if he would join her in banning upzoning. He didn’t answer. Some people want him to take a position, and if they don’t like it, “It’s my way or the highway.” He said he doesn’t think it’s right to have a pre-determined agenda. He wants to be open on issues, listen to information and come up with objective decisions. Nassar said that question deserved a real answer because planning at Island Center and Rolling Bay is on pause now, but could come back if someone pro-growth is elected to council.

The two also were at odds over a question about the former Harrison Medical Center building becoming a police station-courthouse. Moriwaki said he supports it because the city has studied this for 20 years, the building has been purchased, plans have been made, and a new courthouse and police station are badly needed.

Nassar said a police needs assessment needs to be done, which hasn’t been done before. She said there is a growing trend to spend more on health and human services and having them help police. She also said there needs to be an investigation into why so much money was spent on Harrison. She’d rather see a new building put up where the existing station is. When given a chance for rebuttal, she questioned Moriwaki’s ability to do the research needed to be a good councilmember. She said watching out for taxpayer money is a key obligation of the job.

On another question, Moriwaki said one of the main reasons he decided to run for office was to bring trust back to the City Council. “Public service is in my DNA,” he said, adding there has been too much infighting on the council. He said members need to be compatible and collaborative. “We are held to higher standards.” Nassar said her problem with the council is members focus too much on personalities and not enough on policy. She said she has been personally attacked ever since she got on council in 2017, and, “It hasn’t stopped; it’s only increased.” In rebuttal, Moriwaki said personal attacks are “something I don’t do.”

As for climate change, Nassar said the “environment has to come first” otherwise the planet won’t be inhabitable. She’s always stood for preservation, but it’s a problem when people think it has to be human needs vs. conservation. She said businesses can work within climate goals and be successful. Moriwaki said the Climate Action Plan is a good start, and he supports alternative transportation. He said carbon load can be reduced if people live in more urban areas with amenities close by. In rebuttal, Nassar said the Climate Action Plan ignores the near term. She said tertiary treatment at the sewage plant would bring the “most bang for the buck.”

In concluding remarks, Moriwaki said islanders are frustrated and tired of the drama on City Council. He said he wants to move the city forward in a positive way and make it a “place we can be proud of.” Nassar said her voting record shows she stands up to special interests. “I’m not pro-growth. I cannot be bought. I represent all islanders.”

Deets vs. Peltier

Peltier came out swinging from the start, saying of Deets, “My opponent does not get a lot done.”

And it continued until the end when Deets said, “I have the temperament to work with everyone – not just those I agree with.” He added that six former councilmembers are endorsing him. He encouraged everyone to look at the Progressive’s Voters Guide. Peltier responded saying that guide has a ridiculously flattering review of Deets and an absurdly negative review of him.

“He would like to take credit for everything he votes on,” Peltier said, adding much of what Deets says in his campaign is not true – it’s talk but he doesn’t do the actual work. Deets said that comment is a perfect example of Peltier’s behavior of “belittling whoever is in his way” and “bringing up things I didn’t do.”

The pair also disagreed on affordable housing. Deets said too many people who work on BI can’t afford to live here. “These people are our friends. They should be our neighbors.” He said only the rich could afford to live here if Peltier gets back on the council. Peltier said it’s not true that he doesn’t support affordable housing. He said he supports the Wintergreen project, which Deets does not, because it’s in a more urban setting. But he did not favor a previous project that would have built 100 units in a rural area.

They also disagreed on the environment. Deets said climate change is happening now so the council is already trying to reduce carbon emissions and foodservice waste, plus he wants the city to buy a biodigester. Peltier said he doesn’t think the city can reduce its carbon footprint much, but it can manage its forests better and upgrade wastewater treatment to preserve Puget Sound.

No surprise they also disagreed on the police station-courthouse, but they also had some agreements, such as they both voted against buying Harrison.

Deets did because “Harrison wanted to sell very badly,” and the price was too high. Deets said the city needs to evaluate the three sites it owns, decide which one is best, and move on. He does not favor a probe because even though he feels buying Harrison at that price was a mistake there is no proof of wrongdoing.

Peltier said even though he would like to know what happened he doesn’t want that to get in the way of moving forward. But he voted against Harrison because he favored a different site “that my opponent didn’t support.” In rebuttal, Deets said the city already owned three sites, and Peltier favored another that would have just created more delays.

As for improving the workings of city government, Peltier said councilmembers need to be better educated about things like growth management, public records, open meetings, managing the work plan, etc. He said they try to do too much and overestimate what city staff can do, so they don’t get much done.

Deets said the council already has improved how it works together. He said while everyone is entitled to their opinion they are not entitled to their own facts. He said while perfect behavior is unattainable there needs to be a code of conduct and respect.

Earlier, Peltier said he learned a lot from his previous term as a councilmember, when he was often criticized. “It’s not enough to be honest and ethical, you have to be disciplined,” he said, adding the weight of things said is amplified when on council.

Brenda Fantroy-Johnson vs. Chris Smith

In comparison, the other two council race debates were cordial.

Regarding the environment, Fantroy-Johnson said, “We have to take care of people who run businesses downtown,” adding the council must make sure businesses do not hurt waterways, but that conserving natural resources should not be at the expense of businesses.

Smith said the environment is a priority for him. He would like to see people working more online to keep them off the roads to reduce greenhouse gases. He wants to make sure BI manages water better so it doesn’t run out of it like other islands have. And he wants to reduce our pollution in Puget Sound. To rebut, Fantroy-Johnson said recent studies have shown BI does have enough water, and that the council is looking at a water reuse system so it would have even more.

Regarding problems with the council and city government, Smith said everyone is well-intended they just need to do the right thing and show each other respect. Fantroy-Johnson said she’s already helped the council with this, just being there and adding a diverse perspective. She said she doesn’t like when someone knocks down what was just said by another councilmember. “They need to get over that. It’s not about you; it’s about the city.” In his rebuttal, Smith said he’d like to see less colloquialism on the council. He said he can help with that because he’s not homegrown.

The two agreed that Harrison may not be best for a police station-courthouse.

Smith said the city needs to figure out what to do with that building – possibly repurpose it for homeless people. He said the city needs to debrief that entire process and figure out its mistakes, otherwise, “We can’t learn from them.”

Fantroy-Johnson said a new building is needed, but an outside person needs to find out what happened. She does not want another study. “We have so many reports on the shelves it’s ridiculous.” She does not want to point fingers at who made mistakes, but there has to be accountability on the money taxpayers entrust us to spend wisely. Looking at the bigger picture, she talked of the trend to spend more police funds on human services. But that also takes away duties of police, such as responding to a suicide threat, she said.

To close, Smith said he supports high-speed communications that all people on the island can benefit from. Fantroy-Johnson said she wants to continue to work for affordable housing so, “Our kids can come back here to live.”

Jon Quitslund vs. Kent Scott

To open this debate, Scott said the Shoreline Master Plan is too long, and Quitslund said as a former Planning Commission member he felt the council didn’t listen to them, and he would fix that.

As for the environment, Scott said there are many ordinances in place, but some are not specific enough so more needs to be done. Quitslund said preservation is important, but every development is not a threat to natural resources. In his rebuttal, Scott said 907 BI homes are threatened by sea-level rise, and wildlife habitat also has been compromised.

As for council relations, Quitslund said he is civil, amiable and serious. He will not be part of any factions. He said councilmembers should connect more with other parts of government. “We’re the only people that matter here,” is how they act, he said. “That’s a recipe for disaster.” Scott said the council has done better with the help of new city manager Blair King. He did say council sometimes gets involved in things staff should be doing. He said he wouldn’t mind seeing council get professional help so it can be more effective.

Regarding the police station-courthouse, Quitslund said Harrison may be the best place, and there’s nothing to be gained by digging deeper into it. Scott said there needs to be a needs assessment done as he recalls, before BI incorporation, the sheriff coming to BI just twice a week for half a day.

In closing, Quitslund said he has the advantage in the race because of his Planning Commission experience and his involvement with the comprehensive plan and municipal code. “A lot of governance is on paper,” he said. “I have a head for that.” Scott said 75% of homes in the past six years have been built in rural areas, and he will fight that and put growth in Winslow where it belongs. He argued his professional experience qualifies him more for the job.

Joe Deets

Joe Deets