Seeking diversity, city council to forego appointment process for planning commission seat

Process or progress? That was the question at least for the members of the Bainbridge Island City Council during a June 23 Zoom meeting, when Councilwoman Rasham Nassar posed the possibility of appointing former city council candidate, Ashley Matthews, to the planning commission’s Position 2 seat.

After reviewing applicants for the planning commission’s two open seats, the council had planned to appoint Kimberly McCormick Osmond and Sarah Blossom to the Position 1 and Position 2 seats respectively. But at the June 23 meeting, Nassar opted to pull the agenda item for discussion.

Nassar explained that Matthews, a person of color, had expressed her interest in the Position 2 seat on the planning commission, but had not been made aware that the council was seeking applicants.

“I want to express my sincere gratitude to her for stepping forward for the role,” Nassar continued. “I also want to express my personal regret for voting to move these recommendations for appointments to the planning commission forward despite the fact that we postponed all other committee member appointments – with exception to the [Design Review Board] – through the end of July.”

“Through Ms. Matthews, I’ve come to realize that even though we do make an effort to try to reach as much of the community as possible,” she added. “We failed to reach the broader community with regard to this really special and important appointment, case and point: Ms. Matthews.”

According to Nassar, had Matthews known of the application period, she would have applied and that the reason for halting the appointments was to address a lack of diversity across the various committees serving city government.

“Comments that we’ve personally stated express and represent our sincere desire and honest commitment to reverse the trend of a lack of diversity on our commissions and important business leadership of the city,” she noted before also citing calls from both the public and city officials at commission meetings calling for more diverse and racially equitable appointments.

At the meeting, Councilman Joe Deets proposed the possibility of extending the application period for the planning commission seats, allowing time for Matthews to apply, something Councilman Kol Medina called a “farce” and would make a mockery of the council’s processes. Instead Medina suggested that the council acknowledge the unusual times, social movements across the nation and the need for increased diversity within city government, and put the appointment of Matthews up to a simple vote.

“I would vote to put Ms. Matthews in the position,” Medina said.

“This is just fundamentally unfair,” said Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos during the meeting. “Honestly, if I were one of the other applicants who had already been passed over by the individuals we chose, I would pull my hat out of the ring if it started to unravel like this.”

“Are we being directed to select Ashley regardless of her qualifications? We made a decision based upon the qualifications of the people in front of us,” she continued. “We had to articulate very firmly … that we thought Sarah [Blossom] rose to the top.”

“This is a very substantive role, this isn’t like serving on a lot of other committees,” Hytopoulos said. “This is a role for which we try … to find people who have specific experience related to this because they’re going to help craft and review code.”

“I’m just trying to understand where this is going, we’ve reviewed these people, I’m not aware of Ashley being involved in architecture or planning, or any of these things. What are we doing here? Because it sounds like directing us to reopen it and then simply appoint Ashley.”

Ultimately, the meeting culminated in Nassar making a motion to appoint Kimberly McCormick Osmond and Ashley Matthews to the planning commission’s Position 1 and Position 2 seats. While the motion was seconded by Medina, the council fell short of voting on the matter, instead opting to allow for public comment and input from the Race Equity Task Force before moving to final approval at the Tuesday, June 30 council meeting.

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