Whatcom County Council continues discussion of racism as a public health crisis / Noisy Waters Northwest

Click the graphic to access video of the October 27, 2020 Whatcom County Council Meeting. The discussion of racism as a public health crisis begins at about 04:14:30 on the video

November 1, 2020 Dena Jensen

For those who didn’t get to listen to the discussion of the resolution Affirming Racism is a Public Health Crisis at the October 27, 2020 Whatcom County Council meeting, here is a little information on that.

First, here are some details I am aware of because my partner, Sandy Robson, called Whatcom County staff to find out why notice of discussion of the resolution seemed to not be available on the County website.

According to staff, discussion of the resolution wasn’t added to the agenda until the day before the meeting. The agenda revision showed up on page 5 of the County Council agenda (not on agendas for any of the committees – they did not discuss it), and was listed at the point in the meeting where the discussion would occur.

Notice of the revision did not appear on the Meeting Details page for the October 27, County Council Meeting. For people who are signed up to get email notices about Council meetings, however, they would have received a notice of the revision.

I actually stumbled upon a link to a notice about the agenda revision that is buried on the page linked to for the agenda bill item for the resolution, which is on the Meeting Details page for the 10:45 a.m. October 6, 2020 Council Meeting as the Health Board meeting.

The following highlights from the discussion are from my listening to the County Council meeting:

Council Members Browne’s and Elenbaas’ schedules did not work for the two dates offered by members of the Public Health Advisory Board to come meet to discuss the resolution, so no work to update the resolution had occurred since October 6.

Council Member Donovan moved to approve the resolution as proposed by PHAB, citing urgency. Council Member Frazey concurred. Council Members Browne, Elenbaas, Byrd, and Kershner all gave their reasons for wanting to change the resolution. They all thought it could be improved for various reasons.

Council Member Browne was concerned about the resolution referencing the history of racism in the United States and not referencing racism occurring in other countries. He said he was predominantly interested in making changes to the whereas section. He felt the opioid epidemic being experienced by Lummi Nation should be included in the resolution.

Council Member Elenbaas was concerned about the resolution resolving to take some actions which he claimed the County was already taking, therefore making it seem as if the County wasn’t doing these things already. While he said he recognized there was factual history in the resolution, he also said some things in the ordinance offended him and his peers and he said he would want to make it so the resolution would not be offensive.

Council Member Kershner said she had asked people about examples of local effects of racism on public health and said some had brought up the racially disparate impacts of COVID-19. These are also included in the resolution. She said she does not think we have a significant number of black people residing in Whatcom County, and therefore she feels the references to Black people in the resolution should not be included.  She did not think the resolution made enough references to possible problems experienced by Sikhs and Latino populations in Whatcom County.

Council Member Byrd said he felt the resolution could be improved by digging down deeper into the information. He talked about information included in the PHAB presentation on October 6, that showed graphs where health-related statistics for Asian Americans were close to, or above, statistics for White Americans (he did not point out that Asians were the only peoples featured in the graphs for which this was true), but he and the other Council Members had learned from Chi-Na Stoane, who is a member of PHAB, that Asian Americans experience other types of negative impacts from racism not shown in those particular graphs. He felt like these kinds of details would be important to point out.

Council Member Donovan withdrew his motion to approve the PHAB version of the resolution and stated he just did not want any of the factual references in the resolution removed. He also remarked on how long the process regarding the resolution has already taken.

Council Member Frazey said she did not want any of the action items in the resolution removed.

Council Member Elenbaas talked about how full his schedule was, but that he would work whenever he could on creating a document to present to PHAB and try to work with them to schedule a meeting.

Health Director Erika Lautenbach said she would work to facilitate the meeting (she said her assistant has just recently moved on) between two PHAB members and Council Members Browne and Elenbaas.

It was anticipated that the meeting would take place in the next two weeks.

The full Council meeting that night was six hours. This discussion took place during the final hour of the meeting and lasted over an hour.

Here is a link to the video of the meeting. The discussion of racism as a public health crisis begins at about 04:14:30 on the video: http://whatcom.granicus.com/player/clip/447?view_id=1&redirect=true