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Special Interests and OPMA

At a Whatcom County Council meeting last week, Councilmember Byrd asserted that the Riveters Collective is a special interest group and that we don’t care about our neighbors who were devastated by recent flooding. Councilmember Kershner suggested we may have coordinated with other councilmembers in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act. Here is our response.

If we are a special interest group, our interest is empowering our community to act. Immediately following the flooding in November, board members Jennifer Wright of unincorporated Whatcom County and Amanda Zimmerman of Ferndale worked with Riveters member Jennifer Branham of Everson and many local volunteers to raise $8,400 and distribute 2,167 free meals to people impacted by flooding and those working on cleanup. These meals were prepared by a number of local businesses, including Holly’s Meat Pies, Three Flavors Kitchen, Calypso Kitchen, Burnt Ends, Homeskillet, Ovn, Cosmos Bistro, and Erin Baker’s Wholesome Baked Goods and distributed at sites in Sumas, Everson, Deming, and Ferndale. If Councilmember Byrd thinks we haven’t seen the devastation, he doesn’t know that many people directly impacted are themselves Riveters, and many members showed up to do the work that needed to be done. In fact, one of our Board members lives outside of Everson and was cut off from services by the floodwaters.

Flood relief is not our first foray into crisis response; in the spring of 2020, we worked with member Kelly Krieger and hundreds of volunteers and donors to sew over 5,000 masks and gowns for donation to local healthcare and community organizations and deliver lunch to 500 frontline workers. Supporting direct community action — giving everyday people the tools they need to amplify creative ideas — these are our “special interests.”

Councilmember Kershner’s suggestion that we coordinated with other councilmembers in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act is false. We did not speak to a single councilmember when writing our suggested email. Had we known that the Council had planned a fast-tracked and closed appointment process at a last-minute meeting three days before Christmas during a pandemic resurgence and multiple extreme weather events, we would have responded sooner. The Riveters Collective is an all-volunteer, all-local organization comprised of regular people with jobs and children and holiday plans. We do not have paid staff to watch every meeting and read every update. 

Councilmembers Byrd and Kershner appear angered by our request for transparency. We have been contacting the council with requests for transparency, engagement, and access for years. Moving forward, councilmembers should expect to continue  hearing from us often. The 42nd LD senate seat has been a focus of our work since 2017. After years of an often absentee senator who missed more votes than anyone else in the senate’s 2021 session, we are aware of the importance of getting this appointment right, and we welcome Councilmembers Byrd’s and Kershner’s newfound concern for consistent 42nd district representation in Olympia. As constituents, we appreciate the need for swift action, but not at the expense of good process that allows engagement, information and accountability. 

Riveters Collective Board of Directors

Relevant meeting recording:
Kershner at 23:30 and Byrd at 28:20