A lawsuit filed against the city of Bainbridge Island in Kitsap County Superior Court regarding public records has been dismissed.
Residents David Dunn and Brian Wilkinson filed the lawsuit after City Councilmember Rasham Nassar was unable to produce some text messages in 2018 because her cell phone had been destroyed accidentally by her infant son.
Dunn, an international consultant on cyber security and former member of the Secret Service and Seattle Police Department, said he wanted to find out how a critical areas law came about that increased the cost of developing his property. Even though there were no wetlands, he had to dig a utility trench 400 feet around some trees at “a huge cost.”
The “designation and restrictions were very arbitrary, and I wanted to know why,” he said.
Nassar felt she was “targeted” but Dunn said that is not true because he went after the same information in a records request for all of the council members.
”I wanted to know who or what was driving the council’s decisions on land use. The CAO arbitrarily cost me $30,000 to comply with when I built my home, and I wanted to (know) who and what was pushing that,” he said.
Dunn said the lawsuit was never about Nassar. “This was always about transparency in government,” he said.
He added if you want to use the land as it had been zoned for 40 years “you should be able to do that. The council referring to 90 percent of the island as a conservation zone is plain wrong.”
Nassar said she was singled out because she is a person of color.
“Unfortunately, ours is a government where acts of cronyism, systemic racism, conflicts of interest, and suppression of minority voices are commonplace,” she said.
Dunn denied that.
“My wife and children have middle eastern heritage. The insinuation that this had anything to do with race is incredibly damaging and defamatory,” he said.
But as evidence of it in the community Nassar mentioned Ashley Mathews, a black woman whom the council approved 6-1 to join the Planning Commission recently. Instead, the mayor chose a white former colleague.
“So is this happy coincidence? Or is there a pattern of systemic racism on Bainbridge Island? I believe it is the latter,” Nassar said.
She also mentioned Nezam Tooloee, the only other person of color to ever serve on the council. Tooloee, like Nassar, was turned in for a minor land use violation. Tooloee’s crime was building a treehouse for his kids, while Nassar’s was failing to get a permit to repair an old wellhouse that was damaged in a storm in 2014.
“Is it that people of color don’t understand the complexity of our land use regulations? Or is that people of color who gain access to power are unfairly targeted?” she asked.
Nassar said there are some people in the community who would like to see her off the council because she is an effective advocate for the environment and racial justice.
But she said she actually agrees with the plaintiffs in the lawsuit on some development issues.
“I share the plaintiffs’ concerns that complex land use regulations are crippling local farmers,” she said. “I also support the plaintiffs’ efforts for greater transparency.
“I would like to think that the plaintiffs and I could work together with the community to restore faith in our city’s leadership and protect our island environment – islanders deserve nothing less.”