In a question of process or progress, the debate over which quickly became contentious at Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Bainbridge Island City Council, a 4-3 vote approved and confirmed the initially preferred applicant for the Position 2 spot on the planning commission.
Though Sarah Blossom was comfortably named as the recommended appointment two weeks ago, chosen from among at least six other applicants, the opportunity to instead appoint former city council candidate Ashley Matthews to the position quickly gained support when a motion was put forth by Deputy Mayor Rasham Nassar at the June 23 meeting.
Matthews, a person of color, had not applied for the position and as such was not among those considered for appointment. However, some on the council opined it was more important to include a minority viewpoint on the commission than adhere to the established selection process in this instance.
Blossom is a white woman and, according to Nassar, had Matthews known of the application period she would have applied and her reason for halting the appointment was to address a lack of diversity across the various committees serving city government.
After reviewing applicants for the planning commission’s two open seats, the council had planned to reappoint Kimberly McCormick Osmond and appoint Blossom to the Position 1 and Position 2 seats, respectively, when Nassar opted to pull the agenda item for discussion.
And discuss it the council did.
First, during last week’s meeting, when it was decided the council would allow for public comment and input from the Race Equity Task Force on the matter before moving to final approval.
Then again Tuesday, in an increasingly heated debate that ultimately included insults, allegations of bullying and racism, and the implication by some that Matthews’ appointment was being used by others as a means to deny Blossom the position specifically, rather than as an intentional progressive advancement in representation within local government.
The appointments were broken into separate motions by Mayor Leslie Schneider.
The reappointment of Osmond was unanimous.
The appointment of Blossom, not so much.
During the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting, Matthews spoke, thanking the community for the support she had received in her bid for the position and highlighting her qualifications.
“I volunteered as me, with the skills I have to add not only as some important diversity to the planning commission but also with my unique set of skills,” she said. “I didn’t volunteer as some black woman, I volunteered as this strong black woman who will be a dedicated and valued member of the commission.”
“I think I’ve paid my dues here, you’ve consistently engaged, and I know I’m the best person for this position,” she added.
Matthews also thanked Blossom for stepping aside, a notion quickly refuted by Mayor Leslie Schneider upon the council reaching the appointment item on the agenda.
Blossom, Schneider said, had not stepped aside.
Someone else, however, had.
In the week since the issue was originally raised by Nassar, in an unrelated revelation, planning commission member Don Doman resigned from the Position 3 spot.
Councilman Kol Medina, who had previously said he’d support appointing Matthews over Blossom, said the additional vacancy left room to have the matter both ways and avoid any conflict, as the council could go ahead with Blossom’s appointment as originally planned and then appoint Matthews to the newly vacant spot, or at the very least encourage her to apply for it.
He went on to tout Blossom’s qualifications, insisting she was the “most qualified” person for the position for which she was selected, and also saying the application process is “very clear” and the requirements “widely published.”
Councilman Michael Pollock was outspokenly opposed to Blossom’s appointment, going so far as to raise questions about her character. In a lengthy tirade that drew rebukes from others on the council, Pollock said he was “a little bit stunned” most of the council seemed to be leaning away from appointing Matthews immediately.
“I felt like we had a historic moment on our hands,” he said, later adding “this feels like an example of systemic racism.”
In his remarks Pollock said many of his fellow council members were being “hypocritical,” and “disgusting.”
Councilwoman Christy Carr said she was “deeply offended” by Pollock’s remarks.
“What you just said to your colleagues is unacceptable,” Carr said.
Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos said such accusations were “beyond the pale.” She lamented that the council had faced bullying and harassment from both within and without, in light of many people’s passionate feelings about the issue of Matthews’ potential appointment.
“As a body, we have to put a stop to this bullying,” she said.
Perhaps the most vehement disagreement to Pollock’s accusations, however, came from Councilman Joe Deets, resulting in an argument which eventually obliged the Mayor to intercede.
“I don’t have a gavel but if I had one I would be using it right now,” Schneider said.
Ultimately, Blossom was appointed and confirmed in a 4-3 vote, with Deets, Nassar and Pollock opposed.