November 6, 2021 Dena Jensen
On October 20, I sent an email to Mayor Fleetwood, Bellingham City Council, the Whatcom County Executive, Whatcom County Council, and Bellingham Police Chief Flo Simon, providing links to the completed segments of the review I had written, “Whatcom Barriers to Equity, a review for 2021 candidates.”
I wanted that material to be entered into the public record, since it presents a perspective on our local history that can potentially be of value as our community members in crisis continue to suffer these barriers and seek to have them eliminated.
Last Saturday I received an email back from County Executive Sidhu. He sent it to me, along with the other officials to whom I had addressed my email. He has been the only official to respond, and I appreciated that he made that effort, as it helps to propel community conversation, as we all strive to drive those conversations into effective action that will create community well-being.
Below is my response to him, which I am posting, so that people have an idea what kind of input our officials are receiving, because, often, that remains out of sight in our representatives’s inboxes or voicemails. For additional context, I will provide the Executive’s email to me below the copy of my email to him.
It’s bleak out there for many people right now and we all need to be on alert for ways to lift burdens and provide relief.
To: email@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org>; email@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Council <email@example.com>; Flo Simon <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Satpal Sidhu <email@example.com>
Sent: Tuesday, November 2, 2021, 08:43:20 AM PDT
Subject: Re: Whatcom Barriers to Equity, a review for 2021 candidates
Dear Executive Sidhu:
Thank you for your October 30, 2021 email and your perspective. I believe the instances in which you make yourself accessible to community members are fruitful, regardless of any challenges related to diverse perspectives and communication styles.
Definitely, my examination of public records, very often, is done in an effort to identify barriers to the essential needs being addressed of community members who are marginalized and/or in crisis, and potential actions coming from people and systems of power that appear to contribute to those barriers. My purposes for doing so, are overwhelmingly to support those community members who face those barriers and experience increased trauma as a result; to help them to understand they are being heard by others in the community; and to help explain some of the events related to their government and any others in power that have happened, which have contributed and/or continue to contribute to them facing those barriers.
From my viewpoint, our City of Bellingham and Whatcom County government agencies give and get much positive reinforcement to their proposed and existing daily work, policies, programs, and projects that they support. As members of the public, we hear about the success stories, the time and money invested, and the participating individuals who are encouraged and commended. I recognize that focusing on what is working or what is hoped to be working, and the investment which all the people involved make toward that end is critical to forward movement. To me, there seems to be an ample amount of this being done behind the scenes, in the government agency meetings I have listened to, along with local news media review of that information.
Meanwhile, I believe it is just as important, in light of the fact that there are many cases where policy, programs, and projects are not yet filling all the essential needs of those who haven’t been well-served, or served at all, decade after decade, – for our officials to do more to recognize those critical needs up against the backdrop of what is working and beneficial for some people. I suspect one of the reasons this does not happen more often is that our representatives don’t feel they can take action on those crisis-level needs at a particular moment. The tendency is to just say, we know we need to do more.
Last week I listened to the recent presentation to the Bellingham City Council Committee of the Whole on the latest status of the LEAD and GRACE programs. It was an encouraging picture that was portrayed. And it’s easy to be grateful for the improvements in getting increased numbers of our community housed, into a more consistently stable environment, and provided with the mental and behavioral services they need, rather than continually sending them into our jail and justice system.
At the same time, the programs serve a very limited number of the full amount of people needing services, and there are not yet enough and the right kinds of mental and behavioral health support services and facilities available. From what has been said during presentations, it seems like those needed services and facilities are years away, even though work is being done to fund, gather resources, and bring them to life.
I believe that overlooking, or discouraging, or disparaging community members related to the gaps they point out, and interim, or alternative solutions they propose to fill those gaps comes at great cost to the well-being of the entire community, not to mention those who are the ones falling through existing cracks everyday.
These volunteers and community activists are a significant value and resource because of their street-level and independent view of what is and isn’t working, and of means to address needs while government is waiting years for money, and partners, and staff, and buildings for their proposed solutions. Do volunteers and activists make mistakes along the way? Does their pain come out in an emotional or angry way on some occasions? Do they have their own needs to be served? Yes – as seems obviously the case among those employed by our City and County governments, as well. But as you likely know from your own experiences, when people feel supported and encouraged toward their constructive efforts and goals, they can succeed beyond our expectations, and bring forward solutions we could not have otherwise imagined.
Like you, I understand that I am not always on target with my perspectives. I seek to continue learning and have my perspectives become more well-informed. It’s one reason I so strongly support public engagement and providing increased access, mediums, quality, and ample records of interactions between public officials and community members.
I understand that elected officials have limited time and resources and are faced with an almost unlimited array of potentially needed actions and sources of community voices asking to be heard. It is my observance though, that there are many powerful sources contributing to the tragedy of community voices issuing from those who are experiencing trauma and crisis, getting sidelined and drowned out. Therefore, it is important for community members like me to insist that our elected leaders not allow themselves to be a significant source of discrediting or silencing these voices, and importantly, that our elected leaders do the opposite.
In the public records material I reviewed related to both the disbanding of the Homeless Strategies Workgroup, and the efforts of community volunteers to serve those who were unsheltered and sleeping outside during the pandemic last winter, I feel I did find evidence of substantial efforts to silence, discourage, and discredit community volunteers. Even when people don’t get a chance to see the evidence in print, the effects of doing so breaks trust with community and further erects barriers to solutions. As government communications efforts ramp up, there is basis for concern that this investment and effort will be further used against the help your community could be providing to those with the greatest needs.
I have frequently heard local government agency representatives talking about building on and utilizing existing resources, and I feel that those who have volunteered out on the streets, serving community members in need face-to-face, month after month, year after year; those knocking doors to have conversations about issues impacting side-lined and mistreated members of our community; those coming to your meetings to offer their experiences and insights towards plans and solutions – these are resources you cannot afford to ignore, or worse, target with disparagement and increased barriers.
The ideas that people offer can be brought to life and good use through the powers and resources known to our government representatives and agencies. I call on you and all of our elected and appointed officials to pursue that end.
Birch Bay, WA
Below is Executive Sidhu’s email to which I was responding in my post.
On Saturday, October 30, 2021, 08:04:42 AM PDT, Satpal Sidhu <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
I welcome your diligence and taking time to gather various FOIA emails, papers, meetings, and transcriptions to develop the narrative. I respect your dedication to the community issues. I can grasp your intellectual inferences from the data as you see from your vantage point and perspective.
The community issues are not static but dynamic and happen in real time as continuous communications take place between several players / participants. The community issues are complex with many facets and I have stated in several Council meetings ”perfect is the enemy of good”.
You have gathered as much information reasonably you could to form your inference from the chronology. While the facts are what they are, however, the facts viewed through a kaleidoscope give different pictures to different people. Your inferences about electeds and staff have been mistake-centered rather than success-centered and usually such critiques make a better readable story as public acceptance is focused on what electeds and staff did wrong rather than what they did right. A similar focus on facts by a different observer can present new inferences from the same data. This analysis features on one side of the equation.
Similar common public phenomenon happens every day with thousands of auto accident reports as perceived by the person(s) in the accident, or as perceived by witnesses on the road, or as perceived by insurance companies or as perceived by the deciding judges using the same facts. Another example comes to mind is Johnnie Cochran, attorney for OJ Simpson, an intellectual lawyer developed the narrative from the available data, what he inferred was ‘how everything took place’.
I am not arguing right or wrong with these observations. I keep my attention as County Executive to make useful contributions, not for myself but for the community. In the role of elected administrators, it is a constant challenge to take what is there in front of you and make the best out of it. It has never bothered me to admit my mistakes, and I compete with myself to be better as I go.
Once again, I welcome how you see things, and I have my perspective as active participant in the situation.
Satpal S Sidhu