Selections show problems with advisory process

I’ve written a couple of pretty tough columns about the Bainbridge Island City Council recently. So I thought this week I’d try a more positive approach.

I’ll start with giving high praise to Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos for standing up for what was right.

One reason I got into journalism so many years ago was to fight injustice. By bringing wrongs to light, I had hoped society would respond and life would improve for all. Boy, was I wrong about that, but that’s another story.

Hytopoulos saw that it was wrong that Planning Commissioner Lisa Macchio was not reappointed. She had been on the panel for 6 1/2 years and has a lot of knowledge about planning on Bainbridge Island that, frankly, newer members don’t have.

While Macchio has a reputation for being “green,” she certainly didn’t always vote just that way. She also is a strong believer in affordable housing, for instance. She was a voice of reason and adept at putting various viewpoints together to help others understand the bigger picture. Her fellow commissioners often thanked her for that during meetings.

However, in all their wisdom, the selection committee did not pick her, even though they did reappoint someone who had only been on the commission for a few months.

As illogical as that seems, Hytopoulos pointed out other flaws, such as rather than general questions about planning as were used in the past, queries this time were more pointed and sometimes not even about planning. Specifically, the final question asked candidates if single-family zoning should be obsolete, something the council itself is against. She criticized council members on the selection committee for even allowing that question to be asked.

She didn’t emphasize it as much as others, but some even questioned the makeup of the committee, saying it did not adhere to municipal code. A judge even said the whole process should be thrown out and started over again because of that.

It appears the deck was stacked on the selection committee, and now the deck is stacked on the Planning Commission.

So, you all must be wondering by now why all of this was allowed to happen? That’s the million-dollar question. Macchio said she certainly deserves to know, and I concur.

However, the elected and appointed members of the selection committee apparently think they don’t have to answer to anybody. They don’t feel they have to be held accountable for their actions. Would they really think that way if they thought their actions were above board?

That is not how government is supposed to work.

Now, to address the other elephant in the room.

Hytopoulos and fellow councilmembers Clarence Moriwaki and Leslie Schneider also deserve praise for standing up for what is right in the selection process regarding the Race Equity Advisory Committee.

They were all concerned that one nominee worked on the election campaign for deputy mayor Brenda Fantroy-Johnson, who was on the selection committee. Moriwaki said he mentioned to her a few times that their relationship should be revealed to keep everything “transparent.”

Sounds simple enough. But Fantroy-Johnson decided not to because the city attorney told her there was no conflict of interest.

While that may be true, in the court of public opinion, an important word was left out there, “appearance.” To a fair-minded person, could it appear that there may be a conflict regarding a nominee who worked on the election campaign of someone on the selection committee?

I’d have to think most people would say yes.

It certainly wouldn’t have hurt anything for Fantroy-Johnson to divulge the information. Revealing that would not necessarily mean she would even have to recuse herself from voting for that nominee. And the candidate was so strong, it’s hard to imagine she wouldn’t have been named anyway.

The deputy mayor said she was going to try not to be defensive, but she certainly was, calling some who opposed the nominee “racist.”

Now, I think that is a terrible word about a horrible situation, tossed around with too much ease in today’s society. To reach that level, one has to ask would this same chain of events occur if the people involved were of another race. In this instance, I think they would. I’m sure Hytopoulos, Moriwaki and Schneider would have objected no matter the race of those involved.

Some say the councilmembers bullied Fantroy-Johnson and the REAC member on the selection committee. Quite the contrary. A unanimous vote decided to put a member of REAC on the panel in the first place, showing how important that is to the city. Plus those same councilmembers approved the other three nominees for REAC. Critics bringing up other smokescreens also are off the mark.

The real issue is this happened only because Fantroy-Johnson received bad advice. Better to err on the side of transparency.

That is how government is supposed to work.

Steve Powell is editor of the Bainbridge Island Review. His column runs periodically in this newspaper.