At next Monday’s Homer City Council meeting, the council considers a resolution that “calls on all its citizens to stand against intolerance and resist expressions of hate toward any members of the community.”
While that may sound noncontroversial and as Alaskan as rhubarb pie, other parts of a draft resolution have stirred up emotions that make previous February controversies look like a Victorian tea party. Homer has a dubious history of getting embroiled in civic debates during mid-winter.
Council member Heath Smith said he got sandbagged with calls on Monday and has heard from more than 20 people about the draft resolution. Facebook posts have run up to 300 replies in the Homer Communications page.
Citizens can speak on the proposed resolution during the “public comments upon matters already on the agenda” portion, item four on the agenda. Discussion takes place during new business, item 16 on the agenda. People can speak for up to 3 minutes, although the council can vote to restrict the time allotted per person. The regular meeting starts at 6 p.m. Feb. 27 in the Cowles Council Chamber, Homer City Hall. The council also will discuss the issue as far as procedure during its Committee of the Whole meeting at 5 p.m. The public can comment at the end of the meeting as well.
Released last week through social media and political blogs, the draft resolution sponsored by council members Donna Aderold, Catriona Reynolds and David Lewis has since been modified to be less inflammatory in its “whereas” clauses, Reynolds said Monday.
“This is so divisive and inflammatory. I hate it,” Reynolds said of the earlier, unofficial version.
Smith said he opposed the resolution as not being appropriate to council business.
“There’s a way to express people’s displeasure with Trump and his immigration policies, and the city council is not that platform,” he said.
The draft version included several clauses critical of President Donald Trump and was written by Hal Spence, a founding member of Citizens AKtion Network, or CAN, an ad-hoc group started after the election by people concerned about national issues and the Trump administration.
Resolutions or ordinances to be included on the agenda of a council meeting do not get officially published or released until the Thursday before the meeting, so the draft resolution had never been an official document. Reynolds provided the new version to the Homer News, and city clerk Jo Johnson confirmed that the revised version would be the one in the council packet.
Reynolds and Aderhold wrote a new version that advocates inclusivity and removes the anti-Trump rhetoric, eliminating 50 lines and any references to the 45th president by name. In a section that formerly read “Homer embraces all peoples, regardless of skin color, country of birth, faith, sex, gender, marital status or abilities,” Reynolds and Aderhold have added “political ideology.”
Reynolds acknowledged that more than half the voters in Homer supported Trump in the presidential election. That was one of the reasons she wanted to revise the draft resolution.
“I hope to bring one that has an outside chance and would get people thinking,” she said of the new version. “It accomplishes the same thing without belittling or criticizing anyone else.”
Smith criticized the resolution for advocating sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. He called it a “don’t ask, don’t tell” proposal regarding immigrant status.
The latest resolution reads that “the city of Homer will resist any and all efforts to profile vulnerable populations,” “will cooperate with federal agencies in detaining undocumented immigrants when court-issue federal warrants are delivered” and “will declare itself a safety net for the most vulnerable members of and visitors to our community.” It also reads that the city will “continue its staunch support of our local police in their ongoing efforts to enforce law and protect our community and its visitors in a just, unbiased and transparent manner.”
Some so-called sanctuary cities have pledged not to hand over illegal immigrants for deportation. Trump issued an executive order in January threatening to punish local governments that don’t comply with federal officials.
Homer Police Chief Mark Robl said police do not investigate a person’s citizenship during any type of stop or during an arrest. If a person arrested does identify as a foreign national, Robl said U.S. treaty obligates police to notify the detainee’s country.
“All foreign nationals are allowed to call their consulates if they choose,” Robl wrote in an email. “They may request asylum and we have contacts to call for that.”
Robl said in his more than 30 years with Homer Police he recalled only a few cases involving foreign detainees, including a 2013 incident where police arrested a Montreal, Quebec, man for stealing expensive French wines from the Grog Shop.
Alaska State Troopers do not profile people or investigate immigration status, said trooper spokesperson Megan Peters. If during an investigation troopers suspect a person is in the country illegally, they will contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Homer has a small minority population, about 4 percent Native American, 1 percent Asian, .40 percent African American and 4.5 percent multiracial, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Reynolds said her own immigration status once had been dubious, though she had a Social Security card and paid income taxes. Born in the United Kingdom, Reynolds first came to the United States to work as an au pair and then later visited on tourist visas. She gained permanent residency after marrying her first husband and is now a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Originally, Reynolds said she wanted to introduce an equal rights ordinance that would include being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, or LGBTQ, as a protected class. She said she decided to take the approach of the revised resolution and introduce a statement in support of inclusivity. Reynolds said she was in the process of doing that when Aderhold and Lewis proposed the draft written by Spence.
“Here’s what the city should stand for. Here’s what we should stand for,” Spence said of his intent in the draft resolution. “We’re not going to tolerate intolerance that’s dangerous.”
Smith said even with the anti-Trump whereas clauses removed, that intent remains.
“If they cloak it in a whole other guise, it doesn’t change the intent,” he said.
One letter writer to the Homer News, Kesha Etzwiler, called the draft resolution “anti-Homer.”
“It does not speak for me, and the Homer City Council should not be in the business of speaking for the collective on matters such as these that are not problems we experience here in Homer,” she wrote.
Etzwiler’s comment is typical of the response she’s seen, Reynolds said.
“Most of the pushback has been ‘This doesn’t do anything. We don’t need this. Why is the council wasting its time?’” she said. “If there wasn’t pushback, we wouldn’t need to spend time on it.”
The council has a history of weighing in on issues sometimes not directly related to city business. Most recently at the Jan. 9 meeting it considered a resolution supporting the Tutka Bay fish hatchery that had majority support but failed because it did not get the four votes needed for the council to take action. At that meeting, Lewis said he saw resolutions as a way for citizens to participate directly in council business.
“I will bring any resolution someone brings me and let it stand on its own merits,” Lewis said then. “They have a right as a voter to have that resolution brought forward.”
Reynolds said she appreciates the nonpartisanship of the council and how on many issues it works together. She said she hopes to “find the balance for standing up for what we believe in and not being divisive is what I’m seeking — finding our common ground.”
Smith said nothing will be accomplished with the resolution except that people get mad and frustrated.
“You build on common ground and find a way to work together,” he said.
Resolution 17-09 can be found on the city of Homer’s website here:
Michael Armstrong can be reached at email@example.com.