REAC seeks R-E-S-P-E-C-T from BI council

Like the late comic Rodney Dangerfield, the Bainbridge Island Race Equity Advisory Committee “can’t get no respect.”

Only they’re not joking.

At their meeting Thursday, committee members again complained about the lack of respect they get from the City Council. It’s ironic in that the reason the committee was formed was to improve equity and respect for all people on the island.

The committee was specifically talking about equity consultant Scott Winn’s work with the City Council. Winn, a faculty member at the University of Washington School of Social Work, leads Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative.

REAC members didn’t appreciate that Winn was hired without their input.

Member Deanna Martinez didn’t see how she would benefit from Winn’s training – a white male. She wondered why a woman in the field wasn’t considered.

Martinez said she’s been told by people “of all colors to trust more. To give people the benefit of the doubt. To think people are coming for us when they’re not.” But she said she knows what it looks like when people actually care, and until she sees that she will “proceed with caution.”

Martinez added that she is aware enough that she “takes into consideration her own bias. I know they (City Council) were trying to do something good here.” But even when Winn talked about who the council should talk to, “REAC was always at the bottom of the list.”

James Friday, the REAC co-chair, was confused. “They made us an advisory committee, but do not give us any knowledge about what is going on in City Council,” he said. “I feel like we’ve been denied everything we’ve worked for…to provide meaningful change here on Bainbridge.”

When they went from being a task force to an advisory committee, Friday said he thought that meant the council would look to them for solutions on issues regarding equity. “But we’ve been summarily dismissed,” he said. “We’re not even part of the conversation the majority of the time.”

Friday said when they signed up for the committee, they thought, “We were to be the guiding force.” Instead, they’ve been, “shortchanged, getting lost in the shuffle.”

Committee member Susan Wilmot said even though REAC wasn’t involved in picking Winn, at least the council “is taking it upon themselves to do something” to learn about race equity. “It’s the first step the city has taken to get training,” so there is something positive in this.

Other members did say they are seeing positive signs from new city manager Blair King.

“We’ve said our peace. We’ve got the city manager’s attention,” committee member Eric Stahl said. He said King will “insert us into the process,” and they’ll be “kept in the loop going forward” as BI lays the groundwork for a citywide equity plan.

Stahl said the committee needs to be more demanding to the council about “these things you need to consult us on.” He said they can’t sit back and wait for the council to ask them about things. “If we wait to be consulted it’s pretty clear-cut how that will go,” he said.

REAC member Jing Fong was also encouraged by King, especially that he wants to meet for lunch every other month with Friday and also wants a plan on how REAC and council can work together. “He wants to partner with us to make that happen,” she said, “how council should use us as a resource.”

City Councilmember Brenda Fantroy-Johnson, the liaison to REAC, told their members that it “is the perfect opportunity now that you have the ear of the city manager. Provide him with a plan of action.”

In a related matter, during committee reports, REAC member Renni Bispham talked about a recommendation for the city’s Strategic Plan that would call for an automatic referral process to REAC from the City Council. Issues would include: advice on law enforcement, funds greater than $50,000 and anything that would impact poor people.

In conclusion, Wilmot said: “We have to have input. They (the council) need to come to us for advice.”