Councilwoman Nassar walks out of council meeting after kerfuffle with new mayor

The new leadership team for the Bainbridge Island City Council is off to a rocky start.

Councilwoman Leslie Schneider was appointed mayor at Tuesday’s council meeting, and Councilwoman Rasham Nassar was installed as deputy mayor, but the council’s first meeting of the year was marked by a surprisingly acrimonious end, courtesy of the council’s new leaders.

Nassar — visibly upset after being cut short as Schneider was trying to bring discussion to a close after a four-and-half-hour meeting — stormed out of the council chambers before the meeting was adjourned.

Schneider, and others on the council, had repeatedly urged their colleagues to keep the meeting moving, and debate on several agenda items was pushed forward to future dates as the evening went on and on.

But as the end of the meeting stretched past 10 p.m. and the topic turned to future agendas, Nassar presented a proposed resolution to the council she had sent to her fellow councilmembers earlier in the day.

The resolution would declare a “climate emergency,” and would require city planning and projects be subject to “a Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Certification process.”

That process would ensure future city projects and actions would be consistent with Bainbridge’s adopted climate goals and policies.

The resolution also stated that the city would make no decisions that will have “a net increase in emissions that further contribute to the problem of climate change.”

Nassar said she first wanted the resolution to be placed on an upcoming agenda for a study session, but told her fellow councilmembers she wanted their backing to send it first to the city’s Climate Change Advisory Committee for its feedback.

When Nassar began to go into the details of the resolution, how it would mimic the “Bill of Rights” for nature she had previously proposed, and called for the city’s plans and projects to be evaluated through a “climate lens,” the mayor tried to interrupt.

“Excuse me, I’m almost done,” Nassar said to Schneider. “If I lose my train of thought, I’m going to lose it forever.”

Nassar continued her explanation of the resolution, then said: “So I’m looking for feedback from councilmembers. I know it’s late; and I’m sorry to give this to you at 10:30.”

“But I committed to doing it and so I had to follow through,” she said.

Councilman Joe Deets noted the climate change committee would be meeting in the coming week, and suggested adding the item to its next agenda.

“Let them talk about it,” he said.

“I have a couple of question about this but it’s late,” he added.

“To be honest… Why exactly do we need a resolution when we are coming out with a climate action plan, which is going to have some very concrete, actual items.

“I’m all for resolutions. But haven’t we done enough of these? Seriously,” Deets said.

Talk continued. And when Schneider summarized that the suggestion on the table was to send it to Climate Change Advisory Committee but not yet place it on a future council agenda, Nassar again noted that the resolution was sponsored by a climate committee member.

Nassar then began to explain the significance of the resolution when the mayor cut her off.

“Rasham, I’m so sorry, but we are desperate to get out of here right now,” Schneider said. “Can we not have deliberations on it? We just want to get the process moving forward.”

“Here’s the thing,” Schneider added. “At this point, nobody’s listening. And so you can say whatever you want. But we’re just in reaction mode because we just can’t hear you any more. I just think we’ve got to get out of here.”

Schneider said it would be sent to the committee.

“Can we just leave it at that?” Schneider asked.

“I’m just a little in shock right now,” Nassar responded.

“I may be out of order,” Schneider added, “and I’m happy to have anybody else come in help me here.”

“I’m glad to recognize that you are out of order,” Councilman Michael Pollock said to the new mayor.

Nassar should be allowed to finish speaking, he said. “She has the floor, let’s let her finish.”

Nassar said the significance of the resolution is that it would do something that the climate action plan currently does not do.

“And that was going to be the end of my comment,” Nassar said.

Councilman Matthew Tirman said the council shouldn’t be pushing items toward its committees when they already have a mandate from the council on work to be done.

Tirman also said he had “problems” with the two sections of the resolution, and said he wouldn’t want to take up the resolution again until the council had spent more time with the climate action plan and made progress on it.

“Madame Mayor, I don’t think you were out of line. I get what your approach is,” he added. “I think at 10:30, everything feels out of line. I think all of us need to do a better job of keeping ourselves to the point and pithy on these things.”

Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos then noted, as she had earlier, about an excess of agenda items for each meeting.

“I think we’re experiencing why it’s absolutely critical that these meetings come way down,” added Hytopoulos.

“This is what happens when people stay in a room together too long, trying to make difficult decisions,” she said.

With the council in agreement on sending it to committee, the council then turned to the good of the order, the portion of the meeting for closing comments on items not on the agenda.

Schneider turned to Nassar to apologize again, but Nassar quickly began to pack up her things, her laptop and notepad, and put her jacket on.

“Rasham, I apologize for being out of order. And I would like to have on our agenda with the role and responsibilities, some further discussion on how I can do a better job of helping us all understand when we are being ….

“I will own it. When I don’t hear things anymore, I kind of assume other people don’t hear things anymore,” Schneider continued.

“I think we just need to deal with what we do when we get to that point. All of us are not going to get to that point at the same time,” the mayor continued as Nassar stood up, put her backpack on, grabbed her bag and drink mug and walked to the door.

“But I am very sorry for interrupting you,” Schneider said.

The scene left Tirman shaking his head.

“The councilmember is apologizing and you’re walking away. I’m…” Tirman’s voice trailed off.

“So we are done with good of the order and we are adjourned,” Schneider said.