PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles City Council has adopted a charter of compassion, pledging to embrace compassion as a “key value” for the city.
Council members voted 6-1 Tuesday — with Cherie Kidd opposed — to join local organizations and other cities that have adopted similar charters.
“We resolve to embrace compassion as a key value and support the exploration and development of policies and activities that integrate compassion into the daily life of our community,” the charter reads.
Port Angeles Mayor Sissi Bruch proposed the charter to her fellow council members in a March think tank after hearing a presentation from charter advocates.
“I think it’s important to state what we believe in,” Bruch said in a Thursday interview.
“I hope it reminds us that we may not know what other people are going through, and we can ask, and we can listen, and we can be more caring to everybody.”
The charter had been discussed in several council meetings. It generated copious public testimony, mostly from those who favored the pact.
“I hope all of you will hold us accountable to make sure that we treat everybody with compassion, that we listen,” Bruch told an audience largely comprised of charter supporters Tuesday.
“I think listening is one of the biggest issues to try to understand somebody else and where they’re coming from, and to be able to act with compassion towards that person.”
Kidd said the charter of compassion was outside the council’s purview. She added that the language in the charter was “lovely.”
“As an elected official, I don’t believe that the government should be telling people how to think and act,” Kidd said in the Tuesday meeting.
“I think our fiduciary responsibility is to provide safety and efficient utilities that are affordable for the community.
“I like this,” Kidd added before voting no.
“I will take it home and I will share it.”
Four of the five public speakers who took a position on the charter Tuesday said they favored it.
Marolee Smith of Port Angeles criticized the charter, bombarding the council with examples of how she felt the city had failed to show compassion, particularly to the homeless population.
“There’s no compassion for our citizens,” Smith told the council.
“But our mayor is promoting this embarrassingly conspicuous expression of moral values — virtue signalling, another empty act of public pandering.
“This is more lazy thinking, another broken promise, more lack of action and the same city culture,” Smith added.
“Saying you’re compassionate doesn’t make it so. Show us some real compassion. Stop this nonsense.”
Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin agreed to the extent that the onus falls on the city to “walk our talk.”
“The way that we’re treating homelessness and people experiencing homelessness in this community is not in line with this charter of commission,” Schromen-Wawrin said.
“So if we adopt this, I think we need to walk our talk.”
Schromen-Wawrin took issue with the notion that council should avoid expressions of values.
He noted that the council begins each meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance and that the city’s comprehensive plan contains value statements.
“To say that our job as elected officials is not to talk about values I think is missing the point about what it means to be a leader in this community, or in any community,” Schromen-Wawrin said.
“To say it’s not our role to talk about what values matter in this community I think is not the right way to go.”
The charter includes a statement saying that early interventions with youth using compassion-based policies “show great promise for positive change.”
“Shared responsibility for the safety and well-being of those without a place to call home is an act of compassion,” the charter reads.
Hilary Powers, a member of the Compassion Campaign of Clallam County steering committee, said the charter of compassion holds individuals accountable whether they represent the city or not.
“When the city of Port Angeles signs onto something like this, it’s also saying that we are challenging each other and we’re accepting the challenge to be more compassionate,” Powers said.
“It’s a global initiative, so you have cities all over the world who have signed up for the charter.”
Arleen Jenson of Port Angeles said SisterLand Farms is among a growing number of businesses and organizations that have publicly supported the Port Angeles charter of compassion.
“I think that to be one of the few who are arguing against the compassion charter would put you firmly on the wrong side of history,” Jenson told the council.
“In this case, we might as well err on the side of compassion.”
Council member Mike French said the Port Angeles School District has been a leader in the local effort to promote compassion.
“I’m really impressed by the leadership that Superintendent (Martin) Brewer has given us in this regard, and the School Board,” French said.
“I think they’ve done a great job in saying that equity matters and that we’re going to focus on it.”
Council member Michael Merideth, an early skeptic of the charter, said he spent “a lot of thought on this piece of paper” while working as a truck driver.
“I will thank Sissi for that,” Merideth said before voting to adopt the charter of compassion.
“You drive a truck all day for 12 hours or whatever, you’ve got to occupy your time with something. And I can assure you there’s days go by that I realize I never even turned the radio on.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].