Brenda Fantroy-Johnson – An In-Depth Community Conversation

Bainbridge Island City Council District 2 (North Ward) candidate Brenda Fantroy-Johnson recently sat down to answer 12 issue-and-policy-based questions with Chamber President Stefan Goldby ahead of the 2021 General Election. Recorded via Zoom as an individual 1-on-1 session, this interview is part of a series talking in depth to all eight of the 2021 candidates for Bainbridge City Council.

Each candidate was allotted up to 45 minutes to answer a set of questions written in consultation with Chamber members with expert local knowledge of a specific topic. Each conversation features the same questions being asked of all candidates, and in the interest of fairness, none of the candidates were shown any of the questions ahead of the interview session.

We hope that this format provides a chance for Islanders to see each of the prospective councilmembers share their thoughts and potential solutions to some of the big challenges facing the Bainbridge community in full, without interruption or editing.

Each of the candidate’s unabridged responses are presented here as full transcriptions, and below as an unedited video clip, accompanied by timestamps for each individual question.

Learn more about Brenda Fantroy-Johnson:
In the Chamber’s initial email interview: https://bainbridgechamber.com/questions-for-the-candidates-north-ward/
At the official campaign website: https://www.brendaforcitycouncil.com/
At the official campaign facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BrendaforCityCouncil

Read the full interview here, or if you prefer to watch, simply jump straight to the video interview


Stefan Goldby: Obviously, you’ve been serving on Council for a while here with pretty significant community engagement, including that and outside of that, can you talk about which Island organizations you’ve worked with or volunteered at?

Brenda Fantroy-Johnson: Okay, well, I’ve been involved in quite a bit, I guess. I’ll start from the beginning. When I first moved here, maybe about 12, 15 years ago, I kind of lose track – the first group that I got involved with was Bainbridge Prepares. You know, I had people come out to my house, and I held a neighborhood get-together so that we could map our neighborhood. And it’s amazing to know that all these years later, they’re still mapping neighborhoods. And so I’m glad to see that that’s still in progress.

After that, I got involved with the Race Equity Network, which actually turned into the Race Equity Advisory Council. And I was… one of the first members to to be allowed to participate in that group. And so what we were trying to do was to let Bainbridge know that there were other races on the island, and that there were issues around race equity. So working with them, I actually had a chance to work with the Climate Action Plan to try to put an equity lens on the tool that they were using.

Since I’ve been on Council, I’ve been a liaison to the sustainable transportation actions that are going on. I’m also a Board Commissioner for Housing Kitsap. And I’m still a liaison for the Race Equity Task Force.

You know, I’ve done a lot of things, I’m sure I’m gonna miss some. And then I’m gonna think about it later and say, Wait, wait, I’m part of those groups also. So, but yeah, I try to get involved in as much as I can. Because I think that my perspective, you know, I need to be able to give my perspective on those issues.

SG: So as you’ve been now actively campaigning, talking to islanders for a while – what are the top three concerns you hear from the community?

BFJ: People generally get involved – I’m always saying this – because of something that impacts them. My first involvement with the local politics had to do with the roundabout, because it’s right behind my house. And you know, so you really don’t get involved in unless it’s something that, that really impacts you. And that’s good because that’s the way to get in.

But what, what I, what I was hearing about earlier and we had a chance to address, some of it had to do with affordable housing. It just seemed really hard for us to get some of that off the ground. And I was speaking to someone else the other day and it seems that there are some topics that are taboo that you can’t even talk about, you know, if you’ve mentioned the Suzuki property, people get all up in an uproar. And you know, I don’t pretend to know the history around it and I’m looking forward to learning more about it, but affordable housing and certain properties that you know, are taboo – we really need to get the ball going on them, whatever we’re going to do with it.

So affordable housing, we addressed some of that this week, and that was good. I hear a lot about people who are interested in what we’re doing for sustainable transportation, the businesses, and the economy, and how COVID has impacted everybody, I’m really proud of Bainbridge the way they came together and were able to get the CARES funds out to help the businesses and kind of lessen some of that impact. And it was mainly a lot of community effort to continue visiting the businesses, even if we did it online.

Or, you know, my husband and I, we, we would go to Streamliner and order four meals, you know, for just us two, and, you know, this kind of community activism and action that we have, really kind of outlines the kind of people that live here.

And, you know, so there’s a lot going on that I get emails on – the environment, and just about any issue that’s on our agenda, I get at least five emails from the community. And that to me means that we’re, you know, we’re invested in what’s going on. It didn’t feel like we were invested in it, before I got into it, it was like, people on the outside reading the paper and making judgments, you know, but you have to really get in there to see what we’re doing, and to listen to the meetings and understand how we go through the process. It’s not as simple as it looks.

SG: The recent draft of the county-wide land usage report suggests that, while the island’s growth has is roughly on track to hit the projected 2036 levels, the growth itself hasn’t been happening in line with our community’s stated comp plan. Do you agree with that? And how do you think the islands residential, commercial, and community needs can best be balanced with preservation of our natural resources?

BFJ: Well, you know, I’m a firm believer of reports, stating whatever your intent is for that report to say. And, you know, I think that what we’re doing here is we’re growing at the rate that we think we can sustain.

We can’t be bound by what other people, you know, think we should be doing. And we have to look at our resources, our infrastructure, and how we can sustain people and buildings and you know, and families and the transportation. I mean, there’s a whole wide range of issues like water, that we have to be looking at, we can’t just say, Oh, you know, by this year, we’re going to have that many people. And I think we are growing at the kind of rate that we want to grow at, you know we have to be in control of that.

Sure, they can project what they think we should be doing, but they’re not projecting all of the other items, like how much water do we have? Do we want to turn into a place where that’s a problem?

SG: What do you think requires the most urgent update within the current Winslow master plan?

BFJ: Well, I think for me, you know, I’ve always wondered, why Winslow [Way], the downtown core, it seems to be half finished. A better way to say that – one end of it is thriving, and the other end there’s nothing going on, and there’s never been too much going on. And it seems like to me a waste of prime retail, you know, buildings that could could house, and parking is there and I just don’t know what we’re doing with that. And I guess I need to start asking those questions, because that’s something that’s been on my mind for a while. I think we can stand more retail down in the core, down at that end of Winslow.

SG: COVID has prompted unprecedented shifts in the operations of businesses, nonprofits, and of the city itself. What parts of that pivot do you think will turn out to be permanent changes? And how can the city best support them?

BFJ: Well, I think part of our problems are going to come from what we’re seeing, you know, countrywide. There is a reduction of women in the workforce due to COVID. They won’t be coming back. And it’s due to a variety of reasons. The majority of the reasons are, a lot of the women were black and brown people who have to stay home now and take care of their kids, you know.

And so when we look at that,  there’s a wide range of issues that, that causes for us, you can think about it in terms of some the funding that we get for school children, you know, that’s going to be impacted. Because if if people can’t work, they can’t live here, they can’t send their kids to school, we won’t get the funding from the government.

That’s, you know, one side of it, what can we do to try to help that. You know, I was trying to introduce some action around the ARPA funds that would help home health, not only health, but home care providers, because they weren’t eligible for any of that CARES funding, right? So if you have people who can can find, you know, suitable care for their kids, they can go back to work, and then that would mitigate some of those issues.

And it’s things like that, that we have to as a community, as a Council, we need to dig into you know, how do we help the community? How do we help people? Who do we need to be supporting? It’s all well and good to put a lot of money in our basket for affordable housing. But, you know, we still need to find other baskets of other people that we need to help.

What we did with the hazard pay for the grocery store workers is just another example of that, of trying to support people who are impacted the most by COVID. Sure, you know, I don’t think anybody thought that the federal government would put out as much money as they did for the businesses. And even that wasn’t enough, right. But there were a lot of people that didn’t get any funds at all. And there’s a lot of businesses that didn’t qualify. So we need to look at those that didn’t qualify and find out how do we help them now, because they’re still impacted. You know, just because the CARES funds are running out doesn’t mean that people don’t still need it. So, you know, it’s just a lot of questions around now, who are we missing? You know, who didn’t get help?

SG: One of the biggest current challenges for the business community has been finding new employees over recent months. And I think you’ve already been talking about part of the reason for that, for sure. But one of the other biggest struggles that those potential hires often point to is the lack of affordable workforce housing in our community. Do you agree with that? And if so, what practical steps are you prepared to take to address the island’s need for more affordable housing?

BFJ: Well, I’m a firm believer in the the plan that the Council has to do an inventory of the housing on Bainbridge because we, you know, we can keep throwing out,  yeah, we need this – yeah, we need that. But we really don’t know what we have. So we don’t know what we need to know.

And so what I’d like to see once we get that information back, is the affordable housing that we’re planning on building and partnering with our partners to build, we need to make sure that if it is workforce housing, that we can set some of that affordable housing up to the side for that specific nature.

You know, there’s talks with some of the religious institutions about how they can partner with us to build affordable housing and how we can all partner together with HRB, that, you know, Bethany [Lutheran Church] and whoever else has property to do that. And I’m sure if we determine that, yeah, we can build some housing on some of these properties without, you know, damaging any of our rural character or, you know, people get into a tizzy about that.

It’s like, don’t mess up the rural character, and that’s fine, I get that. But if these businesses and these religious entities want to build we ought to be able to try to help them and you know, maybe set aside some of that affordable housing for workplace housing. Workforce housing, sorry.

SG: How best can equity and diversity being increased on Bainbridge?

BFJ: Well, yeah, I tell everybody this and it’s just such a simple thing. And you know, I don’t say it to offend anybody – I say it because it probably just needs to be said: You can only increase equity and diversity from where you are. Right? You know, as preparing for this, I go on your website, I’m looking, the first thing I’m looking at is, how equitable is, is this group? I don’t see much, you know, and I know I you know, it’s not meant to be harsh or anything, but I know your website is under construction somewhat, and your demographics go back to 2015. Come on Stefan. And let’s update that… because you know, when people look at that, if they work, if they’re thinking about coming to Bainbridge and having a business here, you know, I’m trying to figure out the lay of the land, let’s give them the right picture. But that’s what I tell people: start where you are, wherever you work, wherever you play, wherever you go, look around you, and see how diverse it is, and then look and see what you can do to add to that.

And don’t allow people to tell you those kind of jokes, don’t allow them to tell you things that you know that you don’t believe in, stop them right there at the fort, you know, at the pass, whatever.

Now, what can we do as a city for diversity and equity? We need to let our Race Equity Advisory Council do what their name says. They should be advising the Council on race equity. They’re not doing that right now. They’re trying to, but, you know, they’re still growing and the City has not really gotten in line with with them doing that type of work. And that was the whole purpose – was to look at those policies and projects that we as a City have adopted and to determine whether or not they are equitable for all. So that’s what we can do.

SG: What do you think that the overall trend of falling enrollment in Bainbridge’s highly-rated and well-funded public school district is most indicative?

BFJ: Of why, it’s just too hard to live here. It’s too hard to live here. And if you know, there’s a lot of different reasons. Now, if you’re sticking with equity, there’s been a lot of kids who have been in the Bainbridge school systems over the years, who are black and brown who had problems and who’ve reported those problems and there, you know, there was no action taken. And people have to get involved on the local level and you know, it can get quite dicey.

You know, my son lived here with me for two years. And he really wanted no part of this, you know, and… I joked to people – I said, “It was so bad that he went back to Detroit”. And that’s the truth.

And, you know, so there’s things that we need to change, we need to change how we welcome people, and that was a whole part of the welcoming signs, you know, we, and this goes for all people, we don’t welcome people into the community-  the way that it used to happen.

You know, there’s no welcoming committee coming to tell you where the churches are, you know, where the PTA meetings are, you know, and where the parent groups meet, but that’s a, I think, a part of that Seattle freeze that they told me about when I first moved here.

But what can we do? We can be more neighborly? You know, it’s hard for people to come out of their comfort bubble and to realize that, you know, it just takes a little bit of niceness… and not trying to tear people down. To just make friends with people and welcome into your community so that they can enjoy the same things that you’re enjoying.

SG: Should Bainbridge be taking a leadership position in reducing waste, educating consumers, and promoting reusable items in our communities everyday life? And if so, what do you think the key initiatives should be in that area?

BFJ: I think we already are. I think we are a leader. We are getting rid of our plastics, where we’re doing things that they’re not doing anywhere else.  You know, we’re trying to do it at a systematic level, trying to be in partnership with the businesses that’s gonna have to shoulder the weight of all of this, but it’s a plan and it’s a plan that I think everybody can get behind.

It’s just about how, how are we rolling it out? So the impact isn’t just shouldered on the one group – the restaurants and and, you know, the little things like… if I have a candy store, do I have to… it’s working out all of the details, but I think we already are leaders as far as it goes.

The plastic – some waste that we know here on Bainbridge, what we’re trying to do to save the environment. And there’s so many different groups on Bainbridge that have been trying to do this for years. I’m just coming in on the tail end of it, you know, but you got Sustainable Bainbridge, you got so many groups here that that really have have gotten in front of this thing. And we’re going to show the rest of the country that we’re we are leading the way.

SG: So with only limited time and resources to tackle all of these challenges of Bainbridge life, can you name 1 to 3 specific actions that you would like to define the legacy of this potential four-year term of office?

BFJ: You know, things that are going to come up that I’m going to be… I tell I tell my campaign manager, there are certain hills that I’m willing to die for. Right. I’ll stand on it and, and shout it out to the masses, you know, and affordable housing is one. I think the more that we can make people understand the benefits of it for the community, that it’s not a bad thing, that diversity is what always has made this country great.

You know we’re not endorsing ghettos and things like that. There’s a lot of misconception around affordable housing and tiny homes and ADUs, and, you know, those type of things. So that would be one hill that I’m willing to die for.

And sustainable transportation, networking, all of our… motives, if you will, and helping people feel safe when they’re on the road, you know, that you don’t have to be in a car all the time. And if I had back trails and ways to get downtown to Winslow from the north end, you know, like I said, that’s my ideal of success when it comes to sustainable transportation. How am I getting around? Can I get around on my bike? Or can I just walk, you know, if I want it to?

So that’s my other goal, and, you know, the climate, the environment. I am really pleased that the one thing that that has impressed me the most is what we’re doing with the climate. You know, we have great people on Council who have great expertise in certain things like solar. I mean, they talk about biodiesel, and how we’re going to reuse the water. And, you know, it’s just amazing that I do think that Bainbridge is leading the way in a lot of these areas.

And I am just honored to be a part of it. I don’t, I don’t really plan on leaving a legacy. I just want to push things along to get them going. You know, I don’t have to be the one where they said, you know, Brenda introduced this. No, I don’t have to introduce anything. I just need to be the one that helps you push it along.

SG: What kind of working atmosphere will you strive to create on city council?

BFJ: Well, I’ve always said that the main reason that I wanted to be on Council was because I thought they needed to be a little bit more collaborative, and a little bit… nicer to each other.

I was just talking to somebody yesterday, and I don’t know if maybe it’s because I’m not a politician, but I don’t like the idea that if you say you’re for this, and I say I’m against that, I have to knock you down to say it. Now, I can just say I’m against it. I don’t have to talk about you at all, you know.

It’s a cordial way to work with each other, it’s what I’d like to promote. I mean… there are many people at my day job that I do not like, but I can work with them, because that’s the professional way to be. And I would like to see that happen. And it has – since I’ve been there on the Council, it’s a lot less combative.

And there’s no breaking news that at eight – who told who what and, you know, that’s just ridiculous because at the end of the day, the reason we are all there, is to serve our community. And it’s what the community wants, it’s not my personal opinion and my personal agenda. It’s trying to make sure that there are services for everybody on Bainbridge, and that we’re spending the money wisely, and that we we are aboveboard and we’re transparent, and letting the community know what we’re doing. So that’s the way I feel about that.


NOTE:  Transcript has been edited only to reduce vocal repetition and improve clarity.
The uncut video is also included here, with all questions and answers (and any glitches or technical errors) intact.

Watch The Video:

Question-By-Question Chapter Markers

00:52 Community Engagement

03:10 3 Community Concerns

06:18 Land Usage

08:00 Winslow Master Plan

09:01 COVID Pivot

12:07 Affordable Housing

14:25 Equity & Diversity

16:32 School Enrollment

18:35 Environmental Leadership

20:10 3 Specific Actions

23:00 Working Atmosphere

Note: Infrastructure answers given in Q3, Q4 meant that Q8 was skipped.


To see all eight of the 2021 City Council Candidate Interviews, head back to the Chamber News homepage…