In front of a small crowd of onlookers, Jefferson County commissioners voted unanimously Monday, Feb. 6 to approve a human rights proclamation that is seen as a rebuke to the proposed immigration …
In front of a small crowd of onlookers, Jefferson County commissioners voted unanimously Monday, Feb. 6 to approve a human rights proclamation that is seen as a rebuke to the proposed immigration policies of President Donald Trump.
The proclamation asserts "our unwavering commitment to the inalienable human rights and dignity of all individuals and equality under the law and constitution." It goes on to pledge their goal of making the county "a welcoming place that is safe and healthy for all, free of discrimination and hatred."
The proclamation concludes by inviting "all residents to join us in safeguarding these values and promoting a climate of tolerance, inclusion and civic engagement in our community."
Even though the proclamation met with overwhelming approval from attendees, those present had no shortage of statements they wanted to enter into the public record.
COUNTY RESIDENTS SPEAK OUT
Annie Benson touted state and local governments as a last line of defense against a "devolving" federal government, and cheered Washington state for "leading the way," between Gov. Jay Inslee, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the state Legislature and the Seattle City Council.
"I like that the language of this statement protects everyone, but immigrants are on the
front lines," said Benson, who went on to cite the "lower crime rates and higher economic opportunities" of sanctuary cities.
Martha Trolin likewise lauded "the strength and resolve" of the Seattle City Council, and defended government as a whole from condemnations of it as "a beast" and "a swamp" by "calculated fear-mongers."
"I hold out hope that we'll come out the other side of this stronger," Trolin said. "I hope this will debunk the fallacy that we have to give up our rights to ensure our safety."
Trolin placed current events in a historic context by telling her fellow attendees, "Right now, we're writing the stories that we're going to tell our grandchildren, and I know what story I want to write."
James Fritz accused the Democratic Party of enabling Trump's election by supporting measures such as North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the World Trade Organization and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he sees as corporatist structures that have undermined protections for American workers.
"Instead of being a production-based economy, we're now a financial services economy," Fritz said. "And the only difference between corporatism and fascism is a strong charismatic leader."
Fritz echoed the public support for the proclamation to defend against what he sees as Trump's fascism. Indeed, the strongest point of contention among attendees was what more could be done.
"We know they're going to try and deport illegal immigrants who use social services," Jill Allison said. "We need to know what our on-the-ground action will be. This is getting serious, fast."
Dennis Daneau shared two secondhand accounts, one from a longtime Hispanic resident who was accosted verbally by whites for his ethnicity, and another from the illegal immigrant mother of a child born in America, who is afraid to drive because a single ticket could make her a "criminal."
"The man was a Marine who's lived here several years. This happened here, in our town," Daneau said. "The child is a citizen, but their parent could be deported. We can't just pass this proclamation and call ourselves good people. We have to be vigilant in looking for intolerance. And that's all of us, not just you folks," he added, pointing to the county commissioners.
Ken Bleyer cited his 30 years as an attorney when he condemned Trump's executive order on immigration as "absolutely outrageous." He encouraged the community to support investigative journalism "and each other," while also calling into question where Jefferson County Sheriff Dave Stanko stands on this issue. Stanko was a Republican for 28 years in California, but sought office as a Democrat when he ran for sheriff in 2014. Stanko now considers himself an independent.
Fred Nussbaum compared his own welcoming upbringing in America to the plight of those who could be impacted by Trump's orders.
"I was 5 years old when we emigrated from Germany," Nussbaum said. "By 1964, my entire family was naturalized. I was 12. I am not a Muslim. I come from Europe, not Mexico. But I would like these people to be treated the same way I was treated."
Art Frank, chief criminal deputy with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, deemed the proclamation "consistent" with the policies of the sheriff's office since April of last year.
"I think it's fair," Frank said. "We are not Immigration Services. Our job is to keep the people of Jefferson County safe and to protect their rights. I think we're all on the same page."
County Treasurer Stacie Prada pledged to protect the civil liberties and human rights of county residents "with integrity and kindness," out of the belief that the community "is only as strong as its weakest members."
County Clerk Ruth Gordon called it a "no-brainer" to support the proclamation, to the point that she saw it as part and parcel of the oath of office she'd already sworn, but she warned that there could be consequences.
"If we show our hand on this, federal funds could be withheld," Gordon said. "Services could be at stake. We still have to say no at the first opportunity, though."
Gordon's voice quavered slightly as she said, "We can't let our fears stop us."
Trump has vowed to withhold federal money from cities and counties that are deemed "sanctuary jurisdictions."
County Assessor Jeff Chapman admitted to feeling both heartened and saddened by the proclamation.
"Thirty years ago, what's in this proclamation would have been understood as fundamental human rights," Chapman said. "Weren't these things resolved hundreds of years ago?"
County Administrator Philip Morley praised the county commissioners for their work on the proclamation, particularly Kate Dean, whom he credited with taking the lead on it. For her part, Dean was quick to share that credit with several members of the community, whose "energy and encouragement" she applauded, along with their more substantive input.
"These are unsettling times for a lot of us, but they're downright scary for the most vulnerable among us," said Dean, who pledged that she and her fellow commissioners would work with legal counsel and city officials to honor the attendees' calls to action. "The landscape is shifting every day, and it can be difficult to know how to respond, but this is a statement of shared values. It's not intended to create a further chasm."
Dean noted that every elected official in the county signed the proclamation, except for the Superior Court Judge Keith Harper and District Court Judge Jill Landes, who legally could not do so.
Co-signing the proclamation were Assessor Jeff Chapman, Auditor Rose Ann Carroll, Clerk Ruth Gordon, Prosecuting Attorney Michael Haas, Sheriff David Stanko and Treasurer Stacie Prada.
Commissioner David Sullivan recalled that "this is not our first time around the block" with regard to such issues, and repeated the advice he'd dispensed to student nurses when he was a registered nurse.
"The most important thing is to know what to do when you don't know what to do," said Sullivan, who recommended they "listen, speak and breathe." The other advice he gave them was to follow the Serenity Prayer, to work on what they can change and accept what they cannot.
"This is a time of great uncertainty," Sullivan said.
Kathleen Kler, chair of the board of commissioners, reminded attendees that work on the proclamation began before the start of the year, with a first draft based on a similar proclamation by the Kittitas County Board of Commissioners.
"All three of them were eastern Washington Republicans, so that shows this issue is recognized across party lines," Kler said. "A lot of my constituents are among the hurting people, so let's be gentle with each other."
CITY TO TACKLE ISSUE
The Port Townsend City Council plans to tackle the issues raised by President Trump's executive order on immigration at its next meeting.
At 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 13, the Port Townsend City Council is set to break with its standard workshop meeting practice by inviting the public to offer comment on the first item on its agenda.
City Clerk Joanna Sanders confirmed that the council would be discussing and soliciting public input on a resolution to designate Port Townsend as either a "sanctuary city" or a "human rights city."
"The council might settle on a resolution to designate Port Townsend as a 'welcoming city,'" said Sanders, who credited a citizen proposal with spurring on this discussion. "The council expects to consider one proposal that's already been submitted, along with other input, and the county's human rights resolution from [Feb. 3] is slated to be used as a reference."
Sanders noted that the council should deliberate on the matter and provide direction to city staff, but should not make any decisions during the workshop. The council's next regular meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 21, due to Presidents Day on Feb. 20.
"If we show our hand on this, federal funds could be withheld. Services could be at stake. We still have to say no at the first opportunity, though."
JEFFERSON COUNTY CLERK
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