by Nathan Boddy
The Hamilton City Council meeting on Tuesday, July 6th, started and ended on a topic that has lingered for weeks: the question about the City’s responsibility and reaction toward proposals like the Allyship Crosswalk made by area supporters in May. The topic was front and center during public comment, when multiple citizens expressed their disappointment in the Council’s decision to prohibit painting upon public rights-of-way, and once again as the Councilors discussed their role as supporters of civic art, diversity, and as a responsive governing body.
Kathy Dexter read a letter, previously submitted to both the Bitterroot Star and the Ravalli Republic, wherein more than 30 signatories detailed their desire that the Council rescind its resolution prohibiting painting upon city pavement. Their position detailed six reasons for rescinding the resolution, amongst which they argue that the adoption of said Resolution had shown the City Council to be, “susceptible to intimidation and undue influence.” Their statement goes on to reference the “inflammatory, threatening public comments on June 8th and 15th,” during which a large turnout of citizens speaking mostly against the proposed crosswalk, strongly urged the Council to block it.
The sentiment that the City Council had made the last minute decision to enact a policy to prohibit painting on public rights-of-way primarily in order to avoid the scrutiny of dozens of valley residents who’d spoken out against the Pride Crosswalk proposal, was echoed by many of the speakers. Jennifer Chase of Hamilton, told the Council that, “(Your) actions demonstrate to our youth, that even adults in a position of power can be bullied.”
Amy Fox, speaking on behalf of the advisory board for Bike/Walk/Bitterroot, told the Council that her organization feels as though the Council’s previous decision, “has moved our city in the wrong direction. Particularly with respect of fostering Hamilton’s sense of community, enhancing pedestrian safety, and promoting public art.” The decision made by the City Council will erase efforts made by Bike/Walk/Bitterroot to paint the River-Fish murals on the crosswalks at 4th and State. Fox went on to point out that Bike/Walk/Bitterroot, “obtained an encroachment permit from the city, supplied a traffic control plan and received unanimous approval from the City Council two years in a row.” Visibly upset at their lost efforts, Fox added that Bike/Walk/Bitterroot would like to continue its relationship with the City of Hamilton, but that “we cannot help but feel hesitant to invest our time and limited dollars into projects who’s initial support can be rescinded in the face of negativity from the loudest voices in the room.”
While there was no formal agenda item concerning the Council’s previous decision to disallow painting of rights-of-way, the topic did stir Council’s discussion when considering future agenda items. Councilor Kemp volunteered her efforts to revisit a Public Art policy, citing a substantial body of research previously assembled for such a purpose, by City Deputy Clerk, Cynthia Fleming. Kemp pointed out that, having a Public Art ordinance or established policy, would be beneficial to the City of Hamilton, but that it should be done, “Thoughtfully from the ground up.”
None of the Councilors present disputed the need for an art ordinance, but the conversation that followed was clearly generated from the events of previous meetings. Councilor Jenny West expressed her disappointment upon hearing that LGBTQ people, “don’t feel safe in our community,” and that she would like to see the City of Hamilton make a Proclamation in support of diversity and inclusion at the next Committee of the Whole meeting. Said West, “We love all walks of life, and we want people to feel included and safe.”
Councilor Kristi Bielski supported the idea of a Proclamation, but stated that some physical manifestation of that support is needed. “You can’t just have words,” she said. “Right now we have words in our Vision Statement, and what I’m understanding from the community is, that we broke those words. A lot of people feel like we didn’t follow our Vision Statement.” Bielski went on to suggest that the City Council did not fully express justification for how they’d each voted during the June 15th meeting, and that it would be hard to point to public safety concerns as the primary reason for having killed any Paint the Pavement policy. She then asked Mayor Farrenkopf whether there had been any inquiries into why the River-Fish murals on 4th and State haven’t been removed yet. When the Mayor replied that there had been no such inquiry, Bielski finished her point, saying that, had the true issue been about safety, “there would have been an email out to us by now saying, ‘why isn’t that crosswalk gone?’”
While any Public Art policy or Proclamation in support of diversity are future topics for the Hamilton City Council, one expression of diversity was made on Saturday, June 10th in Legion Park across from City Hall. The Pride Picnic, planned by Frances Carrasco of Hamilton, drew dozens of people who shared several hours visiting and enjoying the pizza and refreshments, provided through donations.
Councilor Bielski was present, and said of the event, “This is a big deal for the community. This isn’t PFLAG or the Human Rights Campaign organizing this event. These are our local kids. These are the same kids who wouldn’t come to the meetings because they felt afraid.”
Dulcie Balanger, who had intended to lend her time to the Pride Crosswalk, indicated that, as an educator, her number one goal is to show children that, “they are supported. I don’t want any child to feel like they’re alone.”
Frances Carrasco, who will be leaving for college at the end of summer, said that she wanted something to develop that would continue after she’s gone. “We have support in the community, we just need to bring them together.” To that end, she and other organizers took the opportunity to launch the Hamilton Inclusion Club, asking interested people to sign up to be a part of meetings and/ or activities.