BI may limit online comments due to ‘hate speech’

A couple of “hate speech” public comments about the Middle East made by online participants at a recent Bainbridge Island City Council meeting could ruin it for everyone.

On its agenda Dec. 12, the council will look at limiting or removing public comments made remotely. It will also vote to cancel the Dec. 19, 26 and Jan. 2 meetings.

The agenda summary on public comments says during and post COVID council meetings have been interrupted with verbal communication that expresses hatred, prejudice or hostility toward people or groups based upon race, ethnicity, nationality and other characteristics. All of the communications have occurred remotely over Zoom.

Remote communications are limited in their ability to verify a speaker’s identity. Reseach has shown that anonymity is a factor in uncivil behavior. Other than an accommodation for people with disabilities, there is no legal obligation to accept remote public comment.

City Councils are allowed to provide rules on time, place, and manner of speech during public comment. To address the issue the council may want to take one of the following steps:

1) Eliminate remote public comment, except for the requirements of the law.

2) Limit public comment to items on the agenda. That will require the chair to take action if speakers address items not on the agenda.

3) Verify the identity of the remote speaker.

Meanwhile, under the consent agenda, where items aren’t usually discussed, is a council endorsement of the city’s new Management Employee Housing Policy.

BI employs 142 people, approximately 70% of whom do not live within the city. One factor causing the employees to commute is the lack of affordable housing. When the workforce resides within the city, it gains a deeper understanding of public expectations, and enhances its capacity to respond to local needs with greater effectiveness and creates a heightened sense of unity and shared responsibility among residents. Resident employees can more quickly respond to emergencies and are also more likely to be available during inclement weather conditions.

To support the benefits of employees living on BI, city manager Blair King proposes adoption of an Employee Housing Policy, to be initiated with the purchase of a manufactured home in the Islander Mobile Home Park for city employees, with priority given to full-time first-responders and length of tenure.

City staff is reviewing three-bedroom model units that will fit on the property and will return to council for review. The current cost estimate is $280,000. Rent will be set at about $2,000 a month.

Among other items during the regular business portion of the meeting, the council is scheduled to decide on the design of the Eagle Harbor Drive, Wyatt Way Nonmotorized Improvement Project.

It will review Comprehensive Plan goals and policies related to “hotels” as a land use in Winslow. Hotels have not been allowed in Winslow for three years. That decision was only supposed to be temporary as long-term plans for downtown encourage such usage.

It will authorize King to submit a permit to clear property at 625 Winslow Way, the site of the former police station. The city wants to build affordable housing there.

It also will consider a workplan on new rules regarding Design Review and Permit Processing and consider creating a task force. New state laws require changes in the previous process. The new task force would consist of two members of the previous DRB, two Planning Commission members, two people from the development community and one at-large resident.

To open the meeting, the council will recognize outgoing Councilmember Michael Pollock, who did not seek reelection, and it will also honor longtime city mechanic John Inch. It will declare Jan. 6, 2024 “Protect Democracy in America Day” and review council accomplishments of 2023.

Other items on the consent agenda include fee increases, such as copying charges for city records. Also costs for permits, which are lower than other parts of Kitsap and well below cost of service. And finally water and sewer rates and transportation impact fees.

Also on that agenda are:

  • Authorize King to spend up to $1,500 on community celebration for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January. Funds would come from the $15,000 already approved for Juneteenth events.
  • Agreement with county for juvenile detention services, incarceration of city prisoners, and with Kitsap County Humane Society for animal control services.
  • Adopt state laws for harassment and civil protection orders.
  • Support BI Land Trust to apply to obtain 24.6 acres south of Manzanita Park and 6.2 acres adjacent to Gazzam Nature Complex.