‘I was called a racist’

Councilmembers square off over appointment

“Point of order, I was called a racist.”

That’s what Councilmember Clarence Moriwaki said at Tuesday night’s meeting in a heated exchange with deputy mayor Brenda Fantroy-Johnson.

The debate was over the recommendation of Olivia Hall to the Race Equity Advisory Committee. Moriwaki and fellow councilmembers Kirsten Hytopoulos and Leslie Schneider said they could not vote for Hall because she worked on Fantroy-Johnson’s campaign, and the deputy mayor did not disclose that to the selection committee.

Fantroy-Johnson said she would try not to be defensive, but that she was told by the city attorney that she did not have to. “There are 94 Black people on the island. I probably know all of them.

“I’d really like for you guys to consider what you’re saying…You stand yourself above what the attorney has said…You perceive that you know better than what he’s saying…That is, in itself, racist.”

Moriwaki said all she had to do was reveal that the situation existed, and he asked her to do that on more than one occasion. He pointed out that city attorney Joe Levan had told the council previously that there doesn’t have to be a direct conflict of interest – just the appearance of one. Would a fair-minded person think the decision-maker was impartial? These relationships must be disclosed for the council to have the public trust, he said.

“The integrity of the process is really important,” said Hytopoulos, who is a lawyer. “We just have to disclose that we know them.”

Fantroy-Johnson said it’s a small island, and BI is going to have a problem if councilmembers can’t have people they know on volunteer committees.

Moriwaki said he saw other candidates who had better qualifications. “What would they think of us as a body” of government if someone in the deputy mayor’s campaign was picked? “This crosses an ethical line.”

Fantroy-Johnson withdrew the nomination, but said she had nothing to gain by having Hall on the REAC. But she was upset that Moriwaki said Hall was not as qualified as some others. “She’s a black woman who worked at nonprofits to help women who have been abused.

“You people…and I say that with…anger, seem to know better than the city attorney. And that to me says a lot about this council.”

Named to REAC were: Francis Jacobson, Clarissa San Diego and Savanna Rovelstad.

Named to the Planning Commission were: Peter Schaab, Sean Sullivan and Benjamin Deines.

Named to the Climate Action Advisory Committee were: Kevin Thomas, Julie Matthews, Jens Boemer and Deborah Rudnick.

David Mallon was reappointed, but named to the Ethics Board were: Ben Woodruff, Donna Davison, Rafael Escandon and Rosemary Hollinger.

The council also approved almost $500,000 for more work on the Madison Avenue Sidewalk Improvements final design and adopted a resolution for $2 million in federal COVID-relief funds to Housing Resources Bainbridge for 13 affordable housing units on 550 Madison Ave.

In public comments, BI Metro Parks & Recreation District board chair Ken DeWitt said it hopes to work with the city to re-name the trail on the waterfront to the Charles Schmid Waterfront Trail, to honor the “godfather” of the Winslow trail he fought to expand.

Also, Steve Rhoades, a professional cyclist for 29 years, said the city needs to do something about electric bikes in bicycle lanes. “These things move,” he said, adding one passed him on the wrong side, pushing him into traffic. He said he would have been killed if a motorist was there. “E-bikes are coming, and it’s only going to get worse.”

One of many proclamations read at the meeting declared June 14 “Spartronics coach Enrique Chee Day.” He started the club in 2013 at Bainbridge High School, and the team has won awards every year and competed for three world championships. Chee, who is retiring, has had 400 club members in his nine years. “It takes a community to build a robot,” Chee said, adding the many volunteer mentors also deserve thanks.