Right after Call to Order, the Pledge of Allegiance and Agenda Approval on the Homer City Council agenda comes the item of “Mayoral Proclamations and Recognitions” — a time to honor new firefighters, medics and police officers, winning sports teams and distinguished citizens, and support causes like breast cancer or domestic violence awareness. On Monday, a proposed mayoral recognition ballooned into controversy that caused the meeting to be canceled for lack of a quorum.
Mayor Bryan Zak had been scheduled to read a mayoral recognition in support of Pride Month at Monday’s regularly scheduled city council meeting. After numerous emails poured in both in support and in opposition of the recognition, council members Heath Smith, Shelly Erickson and Tom Stroozas notified City Clerk Melissa Jacobsen on Monday afternoon to say they could not attend the meeting. With four members of the six members needed for a quorum, the meeting was canceled. Jacobsen said it is unclear if the absences can be counted as excused. Normally, the mayor rules on the validity of an absence, but because the meeting wasn’t held, he couldn’t do that.
The canceled meeting didn’t stop Zak from reading the recognition. At 6 p.m. — the time the meeting would have been held normally — a crowd of about 75 people listened in the Homer City Hall parking lot as Zak recognized June as Homer Pride Month.
“I think we’re making history with the council members not being present with short notice,” Zak said Monday before the regular meeting would have been held. “I can’t really say for sure why they’re not being there. Given the circumstances, I think we can read something into this.”
At the unofficial Monday presentation, council member Rachel Lord criticized Erickson, Smith and Stroozas for not attending. She said council members and staff spend a lot of time preparing for council meetings and arranging their lives to attend. One department head, Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins, came to the meeting not knowing it had been canceled. Council member Donna Aderhold also attended the presentation.
“It feels very wrong to step away from our duty like I feel three of our council members did,” Lord said. “I’m deeply disappointed.”
All three council members said their decision was based on not wanting to promote discord and controversy within the community and within council chambers, rather than an actual opposition to the recognition itself.
Since part of the recognition language refers to the Pride parade happening in Homer on Saturday, June 23, Zak said he decided to read the recognition outside city hall on Monday night regardless of the canceled meeting. Had he waited until the next regular meeting on June 25, the parade would have already passed.
“I’m just happy that we were able to provide the (recognition) in a timely manner,” he said on Tuesday.
Pride Month is part of international celebrations “in which the LGBTQ (community) and supporters come together in various celebrations of Pride,” the mayoral recognition reads. The first Pride marches happened in 1970 on the 1-year anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City in which LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) supporters protested over six days against police raids of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar. Stonewall is considered the catalyst that sparked the American lesbian and gay rights movement.
Right before Zak spoke, a man in a silver pickup truck drove into the lot and yelled “Shame on you, Bryan.” A message to the business listed on the truck seeking to identify the man or seek further comment was not returned. Alaska corporate records list the business as being owned by Jill and Matthew Hockema.
Two Homer Police officers in vehicles attended the presentation.
Catriona Reynolds, former city council member and executive director of Kachemak Bay Family Planning, is the one who requested some form of official recognition for Pride Month from Zak. Reynolds said she sent a draft to Zak, which requested a proclamation in the email subject line, but it wound up being a recognition — a subtle semantic distinction.
While there is no difference between a proclamation and a recognition to be found in Roberts Rules of Order, Jacobsen said the language submitted by the person who wants one determines which it will be. For example, the language Reynolds submitted to the city includes the ending sentence: “Now, therefore, I Bryan Zak, Mayor of Homer, recognize June 2018 as ‘Homer Pride Month…’”
Since the word “recognize” is what she submitted, Jacobsen said, a recognition is what was drafted for the meeting.
Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition, defines “proclaim” as “to announce officially” and “recognize” as “to acknowledge the existence, validity or genuineness of.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, Jacobsen said, the city had received 63 emails in support of the recognition, 47 against and 65 form emails submitted through the Alaska Right to Life website, all in opposition. Many of the emails came from people who do not live in the Homer area.
Council members said they have also been getting comments in their personal email accounts, as well as phone calls and Facebook messages on the subject. Stroozas, Smith and Erickson said they decided to pull out of the Monday council meeting as those divisive comments piled up in order to avoid an atmosphere of confrontation in both city hall and in the community.
All three referenced last June’s recall election and the havoc it wreaked on Homer’s unity. They said their actions in getting the meeting canceled were in hopes of avoiding a similar situation.
“I elected not to attend the meeting last night because the mayor’s (recognition) stirred up a considerable amount of controversy,” Stroozas said on Tuesday. ” … I didn’t feel like the city should subject itself to a possible confrontation in the council chambers, and that’s what I was trying to prevent.”
Stroozas said that, in the wake of the canceled meeting, he has been called a bigot, among other things. He said that “could not be farther from the truth,” that he has several friends and family members who are gay, and that his reason for not attending the meeting had nothing to do with the LGBTQ community.
“The LGBT community has always participated in our annual Fourth of July parade, and they’ve been a wonderful addition to that parade,” Stroozas said.
Stroozas said he thought long and hard about his decision to not attend the meeting before he made it.
“I felt that we prevented some perhaps nasty things from happening last night,” he said.
Erickson said the city shouldn’t be dealing with what she called “social issues.”
“I don’t want another sanctuary city issue,” she said, referring to Resolution 17-019, which supporters called an “inclusivity” resolution. “That’s where we were going. … The resolution was polarizing everyone.”
That issue literally pained her, Erickson said, causing her to clench her teeth so much she had to get some teeth capped.
As a council member, Erickson said her intent is “to do what’s best for the city.”
“Why take something like gay rights and make it so divisive instead of bringing people together in a positive way?” Erickson asked.
Erickson said her phone “had been blowing up since Saturday. It’s all against this resolution.”
The calls came from Homer, she said.
“They’re devastated. It’s not any outside group that is calling,” Erickson said. “This is the local people. They are so distressed that this proclamation (sic) would say ‘This is what Homer is’ and ‘what Homer believes.”
Smith also cited the recall and controversy over the “inclusivity ordinance” as why he was absent from Monday’s council meeting.
“I did not attend that meeting because I did not want to subject this community to any semblance of what happened the last go around,” he wrote in an email.
At the same time, Smith recognized the LGBTQ community “as an integral and important part of our city,” he wrote. “They are wonderful, loving people, and I have no issue with recognizing June as Pride Month or those that wish to celebrate it to do so.”
Of the emails commenting on the recognition that were sent to the city, a large handful of them were identical form emails from Alaska Right to Life, a chapter of the national organization which promotes pro-life rhetoric.
Some may wonder why a statewide organization got involved in a Homer city council matter, with many of the emails coming from those outside the area. Pat Martin, head of outreach for the Alaska organization, said it was Homer area residents that first reached out and asked for Alaska Right to Life to weigh in.
“Supporters from Homer contacted us and were very concerned that this was going on,” Martin said of the mayoral recognition.
The text in the form emails sent through the Alaska Right to Life website reads:
“Dear City Council and Borough Assembly Members,
“I am disturbed by reports that Mayor Bryan Zak is using his role to promote anti-family and pro-abortion fundraising events with his “Homer Pride Month” resolution.
“The City of Homer, Kenai Peninsula Borough, and State of Alaska should not promote events that stand in stark contrast to the majority of Homer, Kenai Borough residents, and all Alaskans. Our local government should not be used by pro-abortion and anti-family advocacy groups to promote their agendas and world views.
“As our elected representatives, we call upon you to put an end to this in Homer and protect our families and children.
“Alaska Right to Life will keep me informed about your actions (or inaction) on this issue.
Martin said the point of the emails was to convince Zak and the council to not read the recognition. When asked how his organization saw a recognition of Pride Month as being related to “pro-abortion fundraising,” he cited the involvement of Kachemak Bay Family Planning.
“You always go back and you look at who’s behind the activity,” he said.
Reynolds, the Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic executive director, said the reproductive health organization organized Pride Month activities as part of a $10,000 grant the clinic got from the Pride Foundation. the purpose of the grant is “to provide support services for LGBTQ youth, adults, and families through clinic, school, and community-based programs on the lower Kenai Peninsula,” KBFPC said in a press release last December.
The Pride Foundation is a regional community foundation that works to expand opportunities and advance full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people across the Northwest.
Martin said Alaska Right to Life considers Kachemak Bay Family Planning to be a pro-abortion facility, even though no abortions are performed there. He cited the fact that practitioners there may refer patients to Planned Parenthood for services. The fact that Kachemak Bay Family Planning will be involved in Homer’s upcoming Pride parade was what Alaska Right to Life used to draw the connection between their organization, the recognition, and abortion, he said.
According to its website at www.kbfpc.org, the Kachemak Bay Family Planning describes itself as “a member-supported organization providing high-quality, low cost reproductive healthcare for women, men and families of the southern Kenai Peninsula” and that “offers a range of confidential clinical services for men and women, as well as youth education programs and community health outreach.”
Asked why Alaska Right to Life found it important to have people from around the state weigh in on a Homer area issue, Martin said it’s because Alaska, though large in size, is a relatively small community.
“What affects people in Homer affects people in Delta Junction,” he said. “… What happens in Homer doesn’t stay in Homer.”
However, Zak deliberately limited the scope of the recognition to the city. In the draft in the council packet, a paragraph read that he “encourages the Homer community to join in celebrating the diversity within the City of Homer, the Kenai Peninsula and the State of Alaska.” Jacobsen said Zak asked to delete the references to the peninsula and Alaska, and if he had read it at the council meeting, it would have included those deletions. The version he read Monday night was the shortened copy.
Speaking at Monday’s presentation, Lord apologized to those who didn’t have the recognition at a council meeting.
“We do mayoral proclamations and recognitions for all sorts of things,” she said. “When it comes to my fellow council members, they don’t have to be on board. They don’t have to agree, but it is our job to sit at the table.”
Lord told the crowd to reach out to all the council members.
“They are all sitting there representing you, and they did not show up tonight, so please make sure they know it is not OK,” she said.
“My intent was not to rob anyone of their voice but simply to spare the drama,” Smith wrote in his email. “It appears that will not be the case.”
The next city council meeting will take place at 6 p.m. Monday, June 25 at Homer City Hall. Homer’s first ever Pride parade is set for Saturday, June 23.