The Club Bar incident. Removing the Veterans Memorial from WKFL Park. Nuclear Free Homer. Annexation. Banning commercial cannabis. In the 53-year history of the Homer City Council, civic disputes have often flared up into hours-long public testimony that can test the patience of even the most seasoned citizen.
Monday night, Homer added another such issue to the history books, Resolution 17-019, an inclusivity statement that some read as unnecessary government intrusion, if not the call for outright rebellion, and that others said was a necessary response to hate and intolerance.
After nearly four hours of testimony and about 100 speakers, and before an audience of more than 200 that spilled over into the Planning Department offices, the council, in a 5-1 vote struck down the resolution.
In a rare change of agenda, the council moved action on the resolution to happen right after the “public comments on matters of the agenda” section.
About two-thirds of those who testified spoke against the resolution. Council member Catriona Reynolds, one of the resolution’s sponsors with Donna Aderhold and David Lewis, was the only yes vote.
“This is delightful. It’s winter in Homer,” said lawyer Andy Haas, speaking to what has come to be called the February Controversy, for the frequency of considering potentially divisive issues in mid winter.
City Clerk Jo Johnson said on Tuesday that several citizens have inquired about mounting a recall campaign against Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds. Under city and state rules, petitioners can apply for a recall petition on the grounds of misconduct in office, incompetence or failure to perform prescribed duties.
If the application is approved, the petitioners have 60 days to get 25 percent or 373 of the 1,490 votes cast in the last election. A recall petition must be filed within 180 days before a term of office ends, or April 11. The terms for Lewis and Reynolds end on Oct. 9. Aderhold’s term ends in 2018.
The full title of Resolution 17-019 reads “A resolution of the City Council of Homer, Alaska, Stating That the City of Homer Adheres to the Principle of Inclusion, and Herein Committing This City to Resisting Efforts to Divide This Community With Regard to Race, Religion, Ethnicity, Gender, National Origin, Physical Capabilities, or Sexual Orientation, Regardless of Those Efforts, Including From Local, State or Federal Agencies.”
The resolution had its origin in a draft written by retired reporter Hal Spence, a member of Citizens AKtion Network, an ad-hoc group formed after the election of President Donald Trump. Jeremiah Emmerson, a cannabis consumer advocate, got a hold of a copy of Spence’s draft and posted it on Homer Communications, a Facebook community group page. Political blogs and The Associated Press picked up the story.
Some people testifying said the publicity had already caused some tourists to cancel trips to Homer and that support of the resolution could lead to a national boycott of Homer.
Aderhold and Reynolds revised Spence’s draft, eliminating sections highly critical of Trump. Spence said in public testimony that he never intended the draft to be public, and reiterated that his version had never been officially sponsored by Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds.
“My intent was never to drive a wedge into the community,” Emmerson said at the meeting when he admitted publicizing Spence’s draft. “We could probably have done without the original whereas, anti-Trump statements. I realize that now.”
Although Resolution 17-019 contained no anti-Trump statements, many people testifying said they couldn’t forget that, and spoke against the resolution as if it still had what they called offensive statements.
Wearing a red “Make America Great” hat,” Paul Riedel declared his support for Trump. “I take exception to the tone and attitude, the character and nature of the resolution at hand, and the attitude of anyone in my community who would think of me as a so-called deplorable,” he said.
Some speakers opposed sections that they interpreted as offering sanctuary to undocumented or illegal immigrants or that would direct police and city officials not to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.
One section says that the city “will resist any and all efforts to profile vulnerable populations” and another said the city will “declare itself a safety net for the most vulnerable members of and visitors to our community.” It also said the city would cooperate in detaining undocumented immigrants “when court-issued federal warrants are delivered.”
While he said he supported some parts of the resolution, former council member Gus VanDyke said he feared if the city defied federal law it could lose funding, such as about $1 million it got last year for things like harbor improvements.
It was the inclusivity section of Resolution 17-019 that many people objected to — not because of its intent, but the perceived need.
The resolution declared that the council and the city “rejects expressions of fear and hate wherever they may exist, and specifically rejects harassment of women, immigrants, religious minorities, racial and ethnic minorities, and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer) individuals, and nonviolent political groups.” It all says that the city “embraces all peoples regardless of skin color, country of birth, faith, sex, gender, marital status, political ideology, or abilities.”
Many people said they feel Homer already is a welcoming and inclusive community.
“We may not agree on certain issues, but we still live and play together,” said Krystal Butcher.
At the Committee of the Whole meeting, a Homer man indentifying himself as gay, Muslim and an immigrant said his experience shows otherwise. When he stood on a street corner with a sign saying “Muslim immigrant; Homer local,” Shahmeer Azmat said people made obscene gestures, called him a freak and drove through mud puddles to splash him.
“I’m here to refute anyone who believes we don’t need this kind of resolution because we don’t have these kind of problems in Homer. Let me reassure you that we do,” Azmat said.
Much of the testimony spoke against the divisiveness created by discussion about the draft and official resolutions.
“It states its purpose is to resist efforts to divide the community. Unfortunately it has done the opposite,” said Cristin Funkhauser.
Julian Massey, an immigrant and refugee from Londonderry, Northern Ireland, spoke of how his mother had been injured in a bombing during The Troubles, the era of Catholic vs. Protestant tension last century. He cautioned against that kind of divisiveness.
“You’re doing nothing but polarizing people,” he said.
“We have gotten along very well. Now it’s a cesspool of name calling,” said Mark Cooper.
Homer should be seeking to come together, several people said.
“We have to get over this Trump-Obama, liberals-conservatives. We’re all Americans. We need to unite,” said Joni Wise.
In council discussion, Lewis reiterated his longstanding principle of introducing resolutions at the request of citizens “whether I agree with it or not,” he said. Based on the overwhelming testimony against the resolution, he said he would vote against it. If the city had held a town hall meeting at the college to discuss the issues raised, it would have been poorly attended, he said.
“Now the elephant in the room has been seen. We can move on,” Lewis said.
Reynolds called the situation that had developed “a lose-lose.”
“I regret how this came to be, but I am glad to see people participating,” she said.
Reynolds said while she felt it was easy for people in the room to speak, some people in the community didn’t speak because they didn’t feel it was safe. Others already vulnerable made themselves more vulnerable by speaking, she said.
People spoke about how tolerant they are “when you aren’t on the receiving end because of religion or skin color or sexual orientation,” she said. ”
Council member Shelly Erickson said she felt sad that the state and national news presented a different perspective of Homer.
“While touting inclusiveness, it instead induced division and anger and insult to our community,” she said.
“I am all for inclusivity and acceptance,” council member Heath Smith said. “You cannot fight fear with fear and you cannot fight hate with hate. … So let’s be good neighbors. Let’s love each other.”