Ashley Mathews

Emails explain deep divide in BI Council

  • Friday, February 26, 2021 2:58pm
  • News

The City Council meetings were heated when they discussed a replacement for Kol Medina, but they were nothing compared with emails on the topic.

Emails they received from each other and the public only add to the divide on the council, information obtained by a public records request from the Review show. Medina left the council after taking a job in Walla Walla. Jane Lindley and Brenda Fantroy-Johnson were the finalists to replace him. Lindley dropped out, and Fantroy-Johnson was selected.

Topics of heated emails included racism, trust, honesty, resignations, self-promotion, re-election threats and betrayal.

Some of the most divisive emails were exchanged between councilmembers Joe Deets and Kirsten Hytopoulos.

Obviously responding to a previous in-person discussion, Deets said: “You literally begged me to vote a certain way, and then called me ‘unreliable’ for showing independence in my decision making.” After Findley dropped out, Deets said he supported both candidates and experienced how supporters, not the candidates, “played to win – and only win, without attempting to understand that the other side had very legitimate reasons for supporting their candidate.”

That email caught Hytopoulos by surprise: “I am really blown away by this email.” She was upset that comments made in private were made public. “Breaching that trust was off-limits.”

She then wrote that other information could hurt his chance at re-election: “If you continue to make public accusations like those you make in this email, I will indeed follow up with a full detailing of the content of the conversations you are referring to.”

She wrote she has lost trust in Deets. “I would not be able to trust you going forward.” She said that referred to his ability to follow through on making decisions “based on the best interests of the community and the facts before you and not changing your mind in the moment out of fear of political backlash.”

But Hytopoulos said that lack of trust goes beyond that to “affect my willingness to engage in future one on one conversations with you regarding matters of consequence.”

Deets responded that trust is broken for him, too, but he still is willing to work with her on council matters. “The community of Bainbridge Island expects us to work collaboratively together, and I will set aside any and all differences with you to achieve that.”

More on Joe, Kirsten

A couple of citizens also criticized Deets and Hytopoulos.

Of the latter, Cory Munson complained that she did not explain her vote for Lindley. In her reply, Hytopoulos said it was a roll call vote, and, therefore, she wasn’t supposed to explain her vote. She said those who did were “self serving” and “political.” She also did not want to come across as being disrespectful to those who disagreed with her.

Meanwhile, Stephanie Steele and Erika Shiner criticized Deets.

“Who were you trying to kid when you stated that you wanted to hear more from ‘the people’ about the replacement council candidates,” Steele writes in an email to Deets. “How disingenuous…We are already being manipulated in the national political arena, and now I get to tune into your elective process and be lied to again on this local level…I lost so much respect for specific members of this council, and the lengths of manipulation and the trickery you were willing to embrace for your ‘justified’ ends.”

Shiner was also hard on him. “An honest person, once they reviewed the candidates’ credentials, could only conclude that your support of Brenda is primarily based on one qualification and one qualification only. It shows a total lack of commitment to all those issues you have professed to care so deeply about and any denial on your part can only ring hollow to all with an ounce of intelligence.”

In explaining his vote, Deets said of Fantroy-Johnson: “She was calm, measured knowledgeable and insightful – and it struck me that here before us was a valid opportunity to knock down a barrier. So I decided to give my vote to her.”

Pollock attacked

As earlier reported, numerous emails from the public and council chastized Councilmember Michael Pollock for calling out three council members for not voting for Fantroy-Johnson because of her race. Pollock was later admonished for doing so in a widely circulated public email.

Ginny Brewer really took it to him, saying she wanted to “express my anger and dismay at the way you have politicized the selection of our new city council member, especially through the lens of race. I am especially hurt and really somewhat surprised that you would suggest that anyone who doesn’t support the African-American candidate is racist.”

Brewer said Pollock’s email didn’t help Bainbridge Island. “It is true that this country is going through an extremely difficult – and important – consideration of how racist views impact all levels of society, and certainly Bainbridge Island needs to look closely where it finds itself in all of this, but to look at two candidates from a very narrow lens, that of race, simply doesn’t serve our community at all.”

After that incident, fellow Councilmember Christy Carr said she would no longer serve on a subcommittee with Pollock. Kim McCormick, another member of that subcommittee, said the same thing to Carr in an email. “Michael’s views are offensive to women and to people of color, and I do not see a constructive way to work with him,” she said.

Vote for me

Also previously reported was an email Fantroy-Johnson sent out to the public looking for support prior to their vote. Supporters of Lindley criticized that move. What hasn’t been reported was her actual email, urging the public to contact councilmembers asking them to support the first African American council candidate.

“It would be a significant step at the local level towards pursuit of a more just, diverse and racially equitable government,” her email said. “When it comes to race equity and getting exceptionally well-qualified environmental and social justice advocates into our local government, the time to act is now.”

She emphasized her four areas of concerns: Protect the Island’s environment, pursue climate/social justice, keep housing options affordable and restore the local economy. “If you support where I stand on the issues, if you believe in having a council with a greater diversity of perspectives and backgrounds, if you want someone passionate about protecting the environment and pursuing social justice, then please let the City Council know.”

Emails for Brenda

Both Fantroy Johnson and Lindley received emails of support from the public. Many had to do with race.

Cindy Anderson wrote: “In normal times, I think it would (be) hard to choose between the two candidates. These aren’t normal times. We need to focus on what is important today.” She added that after the council’s original 3-3 tie vote that if it went to the county commissioners to decide, they would pick Fantroy-Johnson. She added that the KITSAP ERACE Coalition had already asked that panel to “move race equity forward.” Anderson also wrote that state Rep. Tarra Simmons was tapped by now-President Biden to help shape social justice as part of his platform.

Ashley Mathews said to the council in an email that the NAACP meeting would end early so they could watch the online council meeting and “let you know what your decision will mean to us. I filled them in on which council members seemed to be voting for the usual climate activism versus those voting in favor of racial equity. I am steadfast in my support for Brenda.”

Ann Lovejoy said: “If we truly want to be welcoming of diversity on this island, we need more diverse voices on the council and on every standing committee.” She said Fantroy-Johnson is not a one-issue candidate, with a long history of participation in efforts to promote affordable housing and sustainability. “Please give her your support and help Bainbridge Island become more inclusive and less exclusive.”

Eric Kunher said he supports her as a trailblazer: “When a person with her background, abilities and leadership offers to bring diversity to the council and to serve her community, I believe we must take her up on it. I hope that she will both serve the Island well and push the council and the community to include those who have been excluded and hear voices that have been lost in the past.”

Jeff Powers said Fantroy-Johnson has a stellar background, is a community leader and an active member of the Race Equity Task Force. “Never has the need for attention to race equity been more apparent than today. Bainbridge Island can be a beacon of social justice and a model for greater Kitsap County. I have seen her in action in the recent Kitsap County Human Rights Conference and her ideas can help bridge difficult conversations that need to take place.”

Gretchen Smith said the council had twice chosen white over black candidates. “Vote for Brenda so you don’t look like a group of liberals who want to appear to be not racist and supportive of race equity, but in reality always choose the white candidates over the black candidate.”

Lynn Pippard said in an email: “We are a liberal island of white people who claim to be … supporters of diversity. The council has a leadership opportunity to prove us right.”

Some of the email writers were upset about the process.

Debbie Haase said she was discouraged that public comment was reduced on this issue due to the number of people who wanted to comment, and that Karen Vargas was not allowed to speak. She called Vargas a “hardworking, heart-centered, intelligent, inspiring Black woman who has been working on BI for 30 years moving race equity forward.”

Haase continued that she “felt disturbed, sad, angry, betrayed and confused…because my interpretation is that it restricts the voice of people and is counter to democracy. Most disturbing to me is that it prevented a voice of color from being heard.” She hopes all voices are heard and valued, “especially voices of Black, Indigenous and People of Color because historically their voices have not been heard or valued.”

Others were upset with Leslie Schneider, Carr and Hytopoulos voting for choosing Lindley.

Cory Munson said: “I was very disappointed that the three white women on the council all voted for Jane Lindley rather than Brenda Fantroy-Johnson.”

In an email to the three who voted for Lindley, Bob Russell said he saw with their choice a “good ole boys and girls club.” Russell said, “My vote for Brenda has nothing to do with skin color, but my vote is for her new energy, her desire to lead with possibly new ideas, and because she represents the silent majority on Bainbridge.”

Janna Chan felt much the same way about those three and said it could cost them in their next election: They “selected an applicant that for all intents and purposes mirrored themselves. It does not matter that you bring a unique perspective that has been historically oppressed and muzzled by white supremacy.” They “decided to ignore the will of the people and contribute to the structural racism that persists on Bainbridge Island.”

Chris and Lisa Neal urged the council to not let friendship get in the way of making the right decision: “Please do not let your personal feelings for Jane obscure your view of what so many have told you…It’s not about who you want to have sitting next to you, or who you think will be easier to work with…it’s about who the people want, and they want Brenda.”

Emails for Jane

Of course Lindley had her supporters. They asked the council to look beyond race, and they would see Lindley was better qualified.

Ellen Lockert said Lindley has superior experience with the Comp Plan and Climate Action Plan. “Let’s keep our eyes on the prize and choose expertise over emotion.”

Val Tollofson asked them to pick the best candidate. “Bainbridge Island has taken steps to ‘up its game’ in the area of racial equity, and like the rest of the country it has plenty of room to improve. Selecting the lesser-qualified candidate for this position is not the way to accomplish that.”

Sal DeRosalia emphazied the process needs to be fair: “Do not succumb to political pressure. That is not how real equity is handed out. If you want to be a part of real equity, it starts with a fair process for all. That means educating ourselves about systemic racism, how each of us participate in that system of power and what we can do to dismantle it piece by piece.”

In another email, Tollofson reiterated that Lindley is the better fit. “I know that particularly at this point in our national story you will be criticized if you don’t appoint Brenda Fantroy-Johnson. The fact that you have recently appointed Ashley Matthews to the Planning Commission should take some of the heat off of you. The difficult fact is that regardless of race, you should appoint the best-qualified candidate, and at this point Jane Lindley is in the best position to be a productive and collegial member of this council.”

Brenda Fantroy-Johnson
Christy Carr
Joe Deets
Kirsten Hytopoulos
Michael Pollock
Rasham Nassar
Leslie Schneider

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