August 15, 2017 Dena Jensen
At last night’s August 14, 2017 Bellingham City Council meeting, there was a brief discussion which touched on a bit longer discussion held earlier that day at Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting regarding renaming Bellingham’s Pickett Bridge. Council Member April Barker said the issue is being raised due to constituent’s concerns that the name of the bridge “is celebrating a man who has a legacy of pro-slavery and had a strong alliance with the Confederate Army.” In the summer 2015 The Bellingham Herald ran a story saying discussion of renaming of the bridge came forward when Community to Community Development and the Racial Justice Coalition, held a protest of crime-mapping software being considered by the Bellingham Police Department. Pickett Bridge was the site of their protest.
I decided to go ahead and transcribe that discussion at the Committee of the Whole meeting so people would be clear on where the process stands with Bellingham City Council members, the administration, and the Historical Preservation Commission.
If you prefer to watch that portion of the Committee of the Whole Meeting, discussion regarding renaming of the Picket Bridge starts right around 2:02:00 on the video. I have transcribed the discussion to the best of my ability and have only omitted pausing sounds, repeat words, and a couple small occurrences of cross talk. Please use the video to verify anything that you might question or have concerns about.
Council Member Barker: So, This is something that we’ve been receiving emails about and have had a few people come and public comment, but in looking at the Historical Preservation Commission that is tasked with raising community awareness of the city’s history and serves as a primary resource in matters of history, the council has been receiving these requests for constituents, from constituents that would like to remove or rename the Pickett Bridge with concerns that naming is celebrating a man who has a legacy of pro-slavery and had a strong alliance with the Confederate Army. And so, therefore I move that the council direct the mayor to task the Historical Preservation Commission to 1. work with the community to understand the concerns and requests to rename Pickett Bridge, 2. research the history of the Pickett Bridge and previous council, because it was a previous council decision to name the bridge after Pickett and 3. bring a presentation to council of findings 1 and 2 as well as the commission’s recommendations on the naming or renaming of the bridge and historical documentation at the bridge.
So I think that this is an opportunity for us to use our commissions to work with the community. It’s been voiced. It continually comes up. I don’t think it’s something for us to dig deep in, but I think it’s an opportunity. I’ve spoken with Marissa who is part of that commission, as well as the Historical Walking Tour and she’s happy to work on that and is already working on that and thinks it would be appropriate for that commission. So that’s my motion.
Council Member Bornemann: Just a point of order, could we, could this come up in the regular session, like we’re supposed to bring up new issues? You know usually, under Old/New Business, if you’re going to bring up something, you let the council know, “I’m going to bring up an issue and we’re going to, at our next meeting, and prepare something so that we can vote on it,” rather than wanting us to vote on something immediately to direct staff under Old/New Business. We’ve talked about our processes, about no surprises so that we, council’s informed on issues and things and it makes a whole lot more sense. And that’s, until recently it’s always been our process to, when I talked about bringing the flag up originally, I announced to the council under Old/New Business “I’m going to want council to know,” or, “I’m going to bring this up next time,” and we prepare something, so that we can think about, and we see it ahead of time. We know what we’re doing instead of just voting immediately.
Council Member Barker: Terry, I think what you’re saying is you would like me to move this into a committee and talk about it then?
Council Member Bornemann: That, or at least put it on the agenda so we can talk about it, instead of us voting on this right now, just out of the blue. That’s not a good process. We end up getting in trouble with, when we done those kind of things quickly in the past.
Council Member Barker: Okay, so, what committee would you like this to go to, or what part of the agenda, Council of the Whole?
Council Member Bornemann: Whatever you and the Chair decide, but just so you do, just, I don’t care.
Council Member Barker: Okay, [turns to Council Chair Lilliquist] is it okay to put it on the agenda for next time? Thank you. All right.
Council Member Lilliquist: Okay, so if I understand the motion now, the motion is to bring forward to the Committee of the Whole the issue of the naming of Pickett Bridge and a suggestion is that the administration actually work with the Historical Preservation Commission first and I guess I would, if there’s no objection, include the fact that, you know there’s already been some informal reaching out to our tribal members that either the administration or the Historic Preservation, and we need to continue to reach out to the affected members if, there’s been one suggestion that the bridge be renamed after someone who’s Native American and has a historical connection, you know, appropriate to consult. But all that would occur, not by the council but with the administration and Historical Preservation Commission. It would come back at some later date. Then there might be a recommendation or might not.
Council Member Barker: I think we’re going to talk about all that on a future agenda.
Council Member Lilliquist: On a future agenda.
Council Member Barker: So I will put this, I will work with you to put this on there.
Council Member Lilliquist: Is there a second, by the way, for-? I hope I don’t need to restate the motion. Do we understand the motion before us? Okay, no problems with this? Okay, thank you very much. The motion before us is to ask the administration and the Historic Preservation Commission to look into the naming of, or renaming of Pickett Bridge and its historical significance. Is that close enough?
Mayor Linville: He’s confused. I’m confused.
Mark Gardner: Is this to put it, is this a motion to put it on the agenda or is this to actually -?
Council Member Barker: To put it on the agenda.
Council Member Knutson: It’s going to be in green and yellow highlights.
Council Member Lilliquist: To bring it back on the agenda but I guess there’s going to be a process before it’s even ready to come back to the Committee of the Whole.
Mayor Linville: To vote on it.
Council Member Lilliquist: Yeah. There may or may not be a recommendation. What will it be? We don’t know. We’ve asked, the motion asks that the Historic Preservation Commission be included in that process.
Mayor Linville: I think if we have, if we would like staff to be researching this, it probably won’t happen by the next meeting or the next meeting because we’re actually working on the budget now. But if, but if you want me to work with the Historic Preservation Committee, we just have to make sure that there is clear direction about what, you’re saying we’re going to do it or you’re saying we’re going to research whether or not we should do it.
Council Member Barker: That’s, so, that’s all I was asking for, but then I was directed by another council member that I need to do that, but in, on an agenda item. So, I’m going to do that on an agenda item, which I think can happen at the next meeting if I work with you [looking to Council Member Lilliquist] but it will be hopefully fairly simple in giving direction if we decide to do this, but in a different time.
Mayor Linville: But not necessarily doing the work right now.
Council Member Barker: No, uh-uh. It’s been brought up and I think it needs to house somewhere. I dont’ think it’s for us to be dealing with, even this much time. So, I’ve just, there you go.
Council Member Murphy: This is going to be very confusing for anybody who is viewing this, so I want to be very, very clear. We are not voting right now about whether we are going to rename the Pickett Bridge. All we are doing is bringing forth a proposal to add this to a discussion at a future council meeting.
Council Member Barker: Yes.
Council Member Murphy: And then we might make determinations or we might not.
Council Member Barker: And probably not determinations, just direct staff to work with another body to come, to bring us back some information. There you go.
Council Member Lilliquist: And I guess my personal take on this is less about research and more about a public discussion that would occur among stake holders, interested parties, knowledgeable people.
Motion passed 6-0 with one excused absence (Council Member Vargas).