Part Two: Notes on the 7/15/19 Bellingham City Council Justice Committee meeting regarding immigration / Noisy Waters Northwest

Click the graphic – of a screen shot of a YouTube video frame showing Bellingham City Council Member Hannah Stone sitting in a chair in Council Chambers with a U.S. flag behind her – to access the video of the 7/15/19 Justice Committee Meeting

August 10, 2019 Dena Jensen

Time is flying and I am finally getting to posting notes on the second 15 minute segment of Bellingham City Council’s July 15, 2019 Justice Committee meeting where they were discussing issues related to immigration.

I feel it is important to provide a detailed accounting of what was said about this issue that is at the center of a crisis being experienced by immigrants in our own community, along with other impacted community members, due to the escalating enforcement of oppressive and damaging federal immigration laws in our country.

Here is a link to Part One of notes on that July 15 meeting which I posted on July 21, 2019: https://noisywatersnw.com/2019/07/21/notes-on-the-7-15-19-bellingham-city-council-justice-committee-meeting-regarding-immigration-part-one-noisy-waters-northwest/

During that segment of their meeting Bellingham City Council Member and Justice Committee Chair Hannah Stone had indicated what things she hoped to accomplish with Justice Committee work regarding immigration:

  • A needs assessment gathered from impacted members of the immigrant community
  • Reviewing the ordinance regarding immigration that the City Council had passed back on February 13, 2019, and any related policies underlying that ordinance
  • Looking at measures for accountability in the City’s responses when action is taken within city limits, and also accountability and transparency for any processes, like the safe spaces contract with the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center, that the City might put in place

Here are my notes from the second third of the meeting, starting at around 00:14:25, up to about 00:30:00 on the video.

Council Member and Justice Committee Member Pinky Vargas: 

She asks for an update from Mayor Linville at some point on where the City is with the contract with the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center [regarding providing a safe space for community members to report issues such as discrimination] so that next time perhaps there could be a progress report. 

Deputy Administrator Brian Heinrich:

He says that sometime that day or the early part of that week the Mayor’s Office would be getting an update from the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center on their progress, to date, on the first phase of that contract with the City of Bellingham. The Mayor’s Office plans on presenting regarding that report from the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center at the Council’s August 26, 2019 meeting.  

Mr. Heinrich says the first phase is nearly complete and they will have that conversation with Council on August 26, and Moonwater will make the presentation.

Council Member and Justice Committee Chair Hannah Stone:  

She confirms that Moonwater and also the administration will be able to report out at that meeting and she knows that the whole community is anxious to hear about some movement there.

Council Member and Justice Committee Member April Barker: 

She says in regard to her initial suggestions about how the committee moves forward, since she has organized a lot of different ways of doing the workgroups, she likes Council Member Vargas’s suggestion and she thinks it comes back around to a needs assessment of what are the things that need to happen in a community, and then what are those things the Council can actually do?

She suggests Council Member Stone keep those as separate moving forward. She would like to keep a focus on the ordinance [regarding immigration] itself and what are those policies that we need to get through that?

The needs assessment piece, whether Council Member Stone might want to partner with Mayor Linville and staff, that’s going to be more arduous and some people might have already done the work. She believes there may have been some of the work on the needs assessment [making sure that information is brought forth from the community that is most impacted by public safety issues related to immigration] that got started. She thinks this may have happened when the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center began work on the contract with the City of Bellingham.

Council Member Stone:

She wants to clarify the things being kept separate as the ordinance related to immigration and the needs assessment.

Council Member Barker:

She confirms she is talking about the ordinance, with the title, using the workgroup outside of the Justice Committee, since some people may not want to talk in Council Chambers, then bringing some of those folks to the Justice Committee meetings to bring those recommendations specifically so that a discussion can occur with staff and have a couple work sessions around what Council Members want to do with the title. 

And then the other piece of what more could the Council do separately, and what do people need in those moments. She knows that the Law Advocates, and Northwest Justice, there’s a lot of folks that have been working on the legal needs. Whatcom Community Foundation and the Unitarian Church have been working on that too. This might be much broader and Council Member Barker would want to get to this one as soon as possible.

Council Member Stone:

She says these are tangible things that Council Members can do sooner rather than later, the policy issues surrounding the ordinance. But the needs assessment is a critical component and may be a heavy lift. She also feels the needs assessment from the community can help define where the Council Members are at and where to go from there.

Council Member Barker:

She says moving backwards from the Keep Washington Working Act, that the Attorney General’s office is going to be working with interested parties and doing a deep dive into finding model policies for the state level.

Council Member Barker suggests that a motion be made by full Council for Mayor Linville to direct her staff to follow that AG policy process and then bring a report back to Council of the Whole on recommendations for policy.

Council Member Stone:

She says this is certainly already in the works.

Mayor Kelli Linville:

She says that Council Members can direct her if they want, but the administration is already doing this because they have to implement state law and is part of the administration’s ongoing job. She says it is fine if Council Members want to make a statement about it. She wanted to reassure Council Members that the Mayor’s office has not lapsed on what they are supposed to be doing.

Council Member Barker:

She says that some of the things are changed procedurally, so it doesn’t really come up to Council’s level of policy. So, getting the report back from the administration is important for Council Members to know what has changed and so the community knows what has changed.

Mayor Linville:

She thinks that this is more high-profile than some of the things she does administratively. She says the administrations does both, bringing forward things when Council Members need to make a motion, and they bring forward administrative changes so that Council Members know what they are because Council Members are going to hear about those also, whether or not Council has to vote on them or the Mayor did them administratively.

Council Member Stone:

She remarks on when she had spoken to Chief Doll and Peter Ruffatto regarding the bill. The senate bill, as well, is going to have a statewide workgroup that is going to be providing recommendations, but in actuality those don’t necessarily filter down to requirements for municipalities. She thinks it’s important recognition that, even though it is not required by the state, that locally they are going above and beyond what the state is recommending, also waiting to see what comes from the Attorney General’s office. She thinks having that recognized would be good.

Council Member Barker: 

She says Council Member Stone had mentioned that communication, and there was direction given from Council to the Mayor to develop a rapid communication response whenever there is ICE activity. She thinks she brought it up again in New and Old Business on the Council. She thinks it was Brian who said they were working on it. She wonders if it could be something that is in place now, so if there was an ICE raid tomorrow the City would know how to get information out to the community.

Mayor Linville:

She says she did start and talk to Chief Doll about it as soon as she got that direction. She thought there were some concerns, so she would not say that they are working on it now. The administration is clarifying what Chief Doll would think would be the appropriate thing to do. She would then bring the information back to Council Members. 

Council Member Barker:

She thanks the mayor.

The part with safe spaces – and this conversation may wait until they see exactly what safe spaces is – her recollection of the last conversation, it was providing a space for folks who weren’t comfortable coming to the place where they felt they were oppressed in some way, or their civil rights were violated or an employee did not follow the City’s policies.

She felt that Moonwater was very clear that they were just shepherding someone through the process and giving them a safe place to report. The other question that was originally brought up and the intention of the Council, she thinks, was understanding what those opportunities are, what the implications are, and how does that change staff when we have a place within the City that allows independent reporting.

Western Washington University has the Equal Opportunity Office.  She says they certainly do not reprimand anybody. All they do is that the complaint is made with them separately, then they do a full investigation themselves, and then they report if there was a feather of a doubt that civil rights or other policies were violated by an employee. That’s reported to the President of the university or the executive and then they determine what they’re going to do with that information.

Council Member Barker does not think they have hit that piece yet. She wonders if it’s best to give a direction to have Mayor and staff bring back some suggestions of what other cities do and what the budget implications would be, because as they are discussing they have it in their Comprehensive Plan, demographic shift, issues around immigration, they have all kinds of things. That was the clearest thing she heard from the community during the ordinance process was wondering how the community could know it was an impartial review if, for example, a complaint is with the Public Works Department and it’s the Public Works Director and the Mayor who are determining if there was any foul play.

She says, of course, this is not saying that they don’t believe that folks are going to be earnest in what they do and that they want the best outcomes too. It’s the perception, just like Council Members talk about the perception of fairness from themselves and it’s the same thing in that case.

She thinks that Committee Members could discuss what that might look like.

Mayor Linville:

She would like to address this. First of all when they have something, they often go to a third party. So it is not done internally. If there’s any concern, they’ve done it in Public Works, they’ve done it in police, in fire, in many of the more sensitive areas. They do not necessarily process those internally.

She appreciates the Committee’s definition of the two different things they are looking at because when she brought up safe spaces, which is different than when Council Members brought it up, it was because she listened to a conversation. 

It wasn’t necessarily that an employee had done something or that someone had been treated poorly, it was more that they said everyone has an opportunity to bring forward their concerns about their water bill, or whatever it is. Some people don’t feel comfortable coming to City Hall either because of their immigration status or another reason. That’s what the safe spaces were for her, just a door, not a problem-solving, not a quasi-ombudsman. Bottom line, everyone should feel comfortable being able to say, “I want to report this,” or “Something happened that I didn’t like,” or whatever it is.

When they did their assessment there were some cross-communications about what everybody wanted to accomplish. She thinks this has delayed the process moving forward as quickly as it could have. 

The Mayor says, for her, saying they want the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center for people who feel uncomfortable coming to City Hall to make their complaint, seems like a simple open-door type of thing to do. And she says it got extremely complicated, extremely fast.

She says it would be good if they could write down exactly what it is that Council Members want or restate it, for the Council to give more direction on the second part they were talking about because they are two separate things: being able to go through a door, and being able to have an objective party determine the validity of a complaint and the action that the City took.

She says if Council Member Stone is going to direct Mark [Gardner] to do some of this work, which is great, she thinks it is important for the City Attorney to be involved. She asks the City Attorneys to write the ordinances because they are the attorneys and they do it in a language that makes it legally defensible and implementable.

As the Committee comes up with policies, Peter or whoever he assigns, should be involved in writing the language. She acknowledges that Council Member Stone is an attorney, so she knows what words are used are important, in order to get what you want to accomplish done.

She says they are talking a lot about immigration and it certainly is reasonable to start with something that is extremely important and on people’s minds right now. But also, her other concern and interest was making sure the City was representing all underserved populations in the City, not just immigration issue, but LBGTQ, women, whatever other unrepresented people they have within the community so that they all feel they have been treated fairly, equally, etc. Every group has a different ramification to what they believe is discrimination. 

She understands all that. But she would like, if they could be real clear about open-door, justice center, or ombudsman, or whatever else the Council could be thinking of because the cost that Council Member Barker was asking for could be different, based on what the direct request is to what Council Members are trying to accomplish.

Council Member Stone:

She thinks a lot of that is going to be dependent upon what is found out from the community about what those needs are. Because the community they are talking about is not represented directly on the Council, as far as she can see, or in the administration.

She thinks the issues Council Member Vargas mentioned are important about needs and whether there’s a hotline or some separate door, apart from the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center. What that’s going to require or what the end-purpose is – she wants to make sure the cart is not put before the horse about what those needs are and to make sure the mechanism that is put in place is going to address those needs.

Mayor Linville:

She says that walking in the door is where she thought there could be another number, and it blossomed into a much more complicated concern and solution.

Council Member Stone:

She says she thinks that’s because it is.

One thought on “Part Two: Notes on the 7/15/19 Bellingham City Council Justice Committee meeting regarding immigration / Noisy Waters Northwest

  1. Pingback: Part 3: Notes on the 7/15/19 Bellingham City Council Justice Committee meeting regarding immigration – new meeting on 8/19/19 / Noisy Waters Northwest | noisy waters northwest

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