Instead of the expected debate over where to put a new police-court facility, Tuesday night’s Bainbridge City Council meeting heated up over race equity.
Little was said about the previous hot topics of the three potential sites or the city overspending on the Harrison Medical Center building. The council in the end chose to put out to bid the remodel of that site for the police-court building.
But the discussion of race equity got emotional.
“All of you are looking at this completely wrong,” Councilmember Brenda Fantroy-Johnson said. “You don’t have a racial equity lens.”
Obviously upset, Councilmember Clarence Moriwaki replied, “That was personally hurtful.” He said he has been promoting racial equity on the island for decades as a Japanese American. “The building isn’t the discriminatory thing.” Earlier in the discussion he said, “White privilege is real, but it’s got nothing to do with the building.” He said talk of racial equity should have taken place earlier in the process.
To which Fantroy-Johnson responded, “We just got to the table.” She was referring to the city’s Racial Equity Advisory Committee being formed as a task force in 2019.
She said she was “embarrassed” by some of the things being said. “Will this building service everybody or just the white community?” she asked. “From what you see everything is OK.”
Fantroy-Johnson also was concerned that the public had not been a part of the process recently. “Why can’t the community be invited to be engaged in this?” she asked.
Moriwaki said the site of the police-court building really was decided two years ago when the Harrison building was purchased. An old saying goes: you can chew and chew on something and you may not like the taste but you swallow it anyway, and you don’t want to regurgitate it. “We have to move forward,” he said. “Our community has waited far too long. We’ve wasted enough money on delays.”
Councilmember Jon Quitslund said he hasn’t seen systematic racism on BI that resembles problems seen in big cities. Police are not punitive, racially motivated, abusive or violent, he said.
Councilmember Leslie Schneider also saw a difference between policing and a police building. She said BI already has a low officer-to-population ratio. “That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be lower,” she said.
Councilmember Kirsten Hytopolous said 90% of the design for the police-court facility is done, so it would be tough to make changes to the building regarding race equity. But she does want the community involved when it comes to policing. She said we want police to treat us with respect, so we need to treat them with respect, which includes a functional and safe building. “Policing is a different issue. We won’t stop the conversation on policing,” she said.
To summarize, city manager Blair King said the project will go out to bid, but the city will sit down with its Race Equity Advisory Committee and go over the design. That could end up leading to a change order during construction. Using an equity lens, the city wants to come up with a “building design … that is a welcoming space for all.”
Councilmember Michael Pollock recused himself at the start of the discussion because of formal complaints filed earlier that day alleging bribery, fraud and misrepresentation. “I don’t want to be touching this,” he said, adding he needed to consult an attorney.
Hytopolous called the complaints “ridiculous” and another bullying tactic to try to delay the project.
Requests to look at the project with a race-equity lens started with public comments.
Kitsap’s Equity Race and Community Engagement coalition asked for an outside party to look at the project to assess the city’s policing needs and review the three proposals. ERACE has said more funds should be spent on social services and less on policing, especially considering BI’s low crime rate. It also has said BI does not need more police or space for police when more efforts are being made nationwide to help people so they don’t turn to crime.
Ron Peltier also asked for an independent consultant to see if $6 million too much was spent on Harrison. He said the council at the time was not well-advised by city staff, and, “Things should be uncovered.”
Dick Haugan said the cost estimates put out by the city most recently are inaccurate compared with what’s been publicized before. He said the city made a terrible decision securing an $8 million bond to buy Harrison when it already had the money. He said council didn’t want to go to voters for the funds because they defeated an earlier request soundly. Haugan said Harrison is a terrible spot for a police-court facility because it’s next to a church and senior living center. He also informed the council of the formal complaints filed Tuesday.