Two dozen people spoke out in support of Olivia Hall at the Bainbridge Island City Council meeting June 28.
Hall was denied a spot on the city’s Racial Equity Advisory Committee because of the appearance of a conflict of interest last week. Hall worked on Councilmember Brenda Fantroy-Johnson’s campaign, and that was not disclosed.
Karen Vargas said when REAC was formed she was “hoping it was something I could be proud of.” It was one of the first such committees in Kitsap County. But four years later she’s concerned about the practices, policies and procedures of the city’s leaders. She said they still have a lot of work to do to “level the playing field for all citizens to be heard and bring their concerns.”
Others spelled out Hall’s qualifications. Beth Goodwin called Hall a valued member of the community and a tireless volunteer. Daniel Lipinski said as a woman of color Hall would provide an invaluable point of view.
Others were critical of the process.
Cindy Anderson said the process would be improved if the public could be involved. Marsha Cutting said Hall and Fantroy-Johnson may have had a dual relationship, but not a conflict of interest.
Ron Peltier said Fantroy-Johnson asked the city manager and city attorney if there was a conflict of interest, but they have no official role in deciding that. It’s up to the City Council. If Fantroy-Johnson thought there could be a problem then it should have gone to the council for a valid decision. “Disclose the relationships when there’s a question,” he said, adding then all of this could have been avoided.
Others said you can’t blame Hall for problems with the process.
Eric Stahl said: “Whatever you think of the process, it isn’t Olivia’s fault. She deserves the role, and the community deserves for her to have it.” He added it would be an “act of grace and healing for the island” for the council to appoint her.
Laura Van Dyke said she appreciates that the council established REAC to help guide it on racial equity. But in this case the “harm outweighs the procedure issue.” She added that being one member short hurts REAC.
Others said complaints about questions asked of nominees were off the mark. Katie Curtis said: “All questions need to be from an equity lens. It’s time to include new voices. You can’t blame the people who they invite to the table.”
Many others agreed racial bias was the reason Hall wasn’t named to REAC.
Alice Hunting said the community needs to elevate the voices of women of color and stop targeting them with systematic bias. Becky Crook said those who don’t support Hall need to take a “critical look inward.” She said BI can no longer afford to have “gatekeepers who keep out Blacks.”
Ashley Mathews, a member of the Planning Commission, shared an email she received that accused her of bullying and abusing the race card. These are the kinds of things “Black leaders are subjected to,” she said, adding we have “so much work to do. Let’s treat each other a little better.”
Promise Partner said she had a problem with Mayor Joe Deets saying the word “racist” should not be allowed in council meetings. She said the council should model for the community how to handle hard conversations. Partner said by avoiding the issue problems “continue to fester. It silences truth telling.” She said it shows “white fragility” in addressing racism.
Deanna Martinez said instead of supporting racist systems, “We’re not doing enough to dismantle” them. She said Fantroy-Johnson did not call anyone racist, but she did say what was happening was racism. “That’s the truth. I’m sorry you don’t get it,” but that’s the foundation this government was founded on. “That’s real history.”
Most said working together is the key.
Peggi Erickson said many organizations have joined together locally, and she invites the council to connect with that network to fight institutional racism. “We really have to address this,” she said. “The work of equity is everyone’s job.”