Brenda Fantroy-Johnson was named to the Bainbridge Island City Council Tuesday night, but that monumental decision was overshawdowed by attacks against Councilmember Michael Pollock and the resignations of Councilmembers Christy Carr and Kirsten Hytopoulos from a planning commission subcommittee.
Attacks against Pollock were about information he sent to Kitsap County commissioners, a state leader and others following last week’s 3-3 council vote between Fantroy-Johnson and Jane Lindley as the person to replace Kol Medina, who resigned and moved to Walla Walla.
In the emails, Pollock said that one of the reasons Carr, Hytopoulos and Mayor Leslie Schneider voted for Lindley rather than Fantroy-Johnson was because of race. Fantroy-Johnson is black. Lindley dropped out of contention after the uproar that followed.
After a long, heated discussion, Carr, Hytopoulos and Schneider voted to remove Pollock from the joint land-use subcommittee. “I don’t want to serve with you,” Carr said. “I’m tired of being lectured by you. And it has nothing to do with racial equity.”
The motion failed, as Pollock voted against, and Deputy Mayor Joe Deets and Councilmember Rasham Nassar recused themselves.
So, Carr and Hytopoulos said they would resign from the subcommittee. They said other members also had said they would resign if Pollock was not removed. Pollock refused to step aside, saying Carr was trying to bully him off the subcommittee.
But the majority of the time the council criticized Pollock for reportedly demeaning other councilmembers and trying on his own to influence others in power.
“I’m dismayed by the circumstances in which Jane (Lindley) dropped out,” Schneider said.
Carr said even though Fantroy-Johnson “one-hundred percent belongs here” the way Pollock went about it was wrong. “Emails I received were personally hurtful,” she said. “That’s not going to move racial equity forward.”
Hytopoulos said because of the uproar, some think the whole process should be thrown out and started over. She disagreed, saying it would be too painful for the community. But she did ask that Fantroy-Johnson be willing to work together with all the council and asked her to distance herself from Pollock’s emails.
Nasaar said she was taken aback by comments made by Carr and Hytopoulos, saying Fantroy-Johnson had nothing to do with the emails.
While Carr and Hytopoulos abstained, Schneider cast the key vote. “I vote for Brenda,” she said. “I encouraged her to run.” But she also said she was upset how Pollock dragged down the process. “That’s not the way you treat someone else.”
Deets said he encouraged both candidates to run and that he received nasty emails from both sides “attacking me.” He asked if the “win at all cost” attitude is what Bainbridge Island wants? “As a community is this how we interact with each other?”
Later, Hytopoulos said she felt harassed by Pollock’s email that reflected that if she didn’t support Fantroy-Johnson she was racist.
“I felt intimidated,” Schneider agreed, adding she felt like Pollock was saying, “It’s time to elect a black woman” so let’s not take into account anything else.
Deets said Pollock’s actions showed a lack of respect. “We need to work as a team, treat ourselves better,” he said.
“The only way to make progress with race is to talk about race,” Nassar said, adding people need to be able to talk about it without fear of retaliation.
When Pollock finally spoke, he said other councilmembers were attacking him just like they said he had attacked them. “You’re doing the exact same thing,” he said, adding they were putting “spin” on his words just as they said he had done to them.
While some may not have liked his methods, he had good intentions. “I want to empower people of color,” he said, and that requires “putting people of color into positions of power.”
As for people feeling insulted, Pollock brought up some nasty campaigns some of them had been part of. He said he knows of a candidate who was attacked so badly that person would never run again. He also mentioned a current councilmember had attacked Nasaar on Facebook. “There’s some nasty sh— that goes on,” he said.
As for racial equality, white people tend to make it about them, and that’s what’s happening on the council. The council “seriously has a lot to learn,” he said. “There’s a shallow understanding of the issue.”
Deets brought up the motion of formally admonishing Pollock for his actions, but it died. “It’s protected speech,” Carr said.
When the discussion moved on to the subcommittee, Pollock said that felt like punitive action, and when it comes to ethics the council had decided recently to make that process more educational. Any form of punishment could send the wrong message to people of color, he added.
While some council members scoffed at that, Nassar said that has merit. She said there are other perspectives in the community they may not know about. She said people of color have told her: “The city is not a safe place to assert themselves. They fear retaliation,” she said, adding that the perceptions Pollock shared are not his own.
Nassar said there are people who believe the three white women on the council voted for another to join them because of race. “We need to justify what others perceive,” she said, adding that’s the only way decisions will be well-informed.
Earlier in the week, Lindley resigned and wished the council and Fantroy-Johnson well.
Nassar said she looked forward to celebrating the day with colleagues and community. “Ms. Fantroy-Johnson’s values are aligned with the values of our island. Her professional qualifications, service on two of our island’s committees, and commitment to race equity will be of tremendous benefit to the council as we work to tackle issues of climate change, sustainable transportation and preservation of island resources.”