Bainbridge Island's South Ward Council member Michael Pollock looks to have violated the City of Bainbridge Island's current Manual of City Governance, Policies, Procedures and Guidelines. The apparent violation took place when Council member Pollock sent multiple emails out to the entire council during a campaign to win Brenda Fantory-Johnson the vacant North Ward City Council seat appointment.
In his email thread entitled "How 'Good White People' derail racial progress-no replies please to stay consistent with Open Public Meetings Act", Council member Pollock addressed the entire Bainbridge Island City Council, Kitsap County Board of Commissioners, newly elected state representative for the 23rd legislative district, Tarra Simmons, newly appointed Planning Commissioner Ashley Mathews and a resident of Bainbridge. He tried to make the case that racism was at the core of the deadlocked vote, not civics. He offered examples and even asked that the folks reading entertain a possible public debate of the two remaining candidates as it would "help everyone reach a decision as to which candidate best represents the interests of the Bainbridge Island electorate."
The bad news, Michael Pollock looks to have violated Section 4.8.2(c)(i) of the Manual of City Governance, Policies, Procedures and Guidelines. The specific rule violation is pointed out in the body of the email which pointed out the "clear as day" violation to the Council.
At the very least, it's extremely poor procedural practice to compose an email in a way that allowed for the rules to immediately be broken by anyone hitting "reply all". Common practice for Council wide communications is to send a copy of the email to the City Clerk and the Clerk distributes the email in a way that does not allow for the violation of rules unless a member goes out of their way to include all other council members in the email recipient line. For some reason, Pollock did not follow this very common practice.
"Dear Mayor Schneider,
On July 14, 2020, you signed a resolution approving the City's current Manual of City Governance, Policies, Procedures and Guidelines (Manual). This week, Councilmember Pollock violated the Manual when, on two occasions, he emailed the entire Council regarding the North Ward vacancy.
Section 4.8.2(c)(i) in the Manual states in part: "Any electronic communication sent by a Councilmember that is a public record as defined above shall not be sent or copied to more than two other Councilmembers." RCW 42.56.010(2) defines the term "public record" to include emails and other writings that relate to the "conduct of government" or the "performance of any governmental function." Section 4.8.2 in the Manual adopts the statutory definition.
On December 10, Councilmember Pollock sent his first email to the entire Council. He suggested a debate between the two remaining candidates for the North Ward seat. He said such a debate might "help everyone reach a decision as to which candidate best represents the interests of the Bainbridge Island electorate." These statements made the first email a public record -- because they related to the filling of the Council vacancy, i.e., a governmental function.
On December 13, Councilmember Pollock sent his second email to the entire Council. He said it "seems entirely inappropriate" to have "three white women on our City Council arguing for putting a fourth white woman on the City Council over a black woman." These statements made the second email a public record -- because they, too, related to the filling of the Council vacancy.
The Manual is clear as day -- a Councilmember can't send emails that qualify as public records to the entire Council. But Councilmember Pollock failed to comply with Section 4.8.2(c)(i). I don't know whether he overlooked this section, or whether he intended to circumvent it. Regardless, it's critical that the entire Council -- including Councilmember Pollock -- follow the Manual to the letter. Otherwise, what's the point of having it?
When we reached out to Interim City Manager Ellen Schroer and City Attorney Joe Levan for comment, we received the following statement on the matter.
As an initial note, I am cc’ing the City Council on this response because you cc’d the Council on your messages below and I want the Council to be aware of my response to your inquiries in those emails. I am cc’ing the Council here on an information-only basis, meaning that this email is not intended to invite an exchange of emails between Councilmembers on this topic.
Regarding your inquiry about a separate communication related to Section 4.8.2(c)(i) of the Council’s Governance Manual, if a situation exists in which a Councilmember has acted in a manner that is alleged to be at odds with specific text in the Governance Manual, it is within the Council’s discretion to consider the matter and to determine what, if any, action to take. Although Section 4.8.2(c)(i) of the Governance Manual provides good guidance about a recommended practice, the recommendation goes beyond what is required by state law regarding such communications in the context of the Open Public Meetings Act, Chapter 42.30 RCW. Note that the Governance Manual in Section 1.1 states in part that the manual is “designed to provide guidance for the Council …,” and is “not to be considered restrictions or expansions of Council authority,” and is “not intended to be an amendment or substitute for those statutes, ordinances, court decisions or other authority.”
In short, Michael Pollock does indeed seem to be in violation of the Manual of City Governance, Policies, Procedures and Guidelines for Bainbridge Island, but not the States RCW. Apparently Bainbridge has higher standards than the State. It will be up the to the Bainbridge Island City Council to decide if Council member Michael Pollock will be disciplined in any way.
We have reached out to multiple Bainbridge Island City Council members for comment.
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