A Letter to Mercer Island City Council from the MI Clergy Association

January 28, 2010

Dear Mayor Pearman and City Council Members,

As leaders of faith communities here on Mercer Island, we write to you to voice our concern about the temporary encampment ordinance that is currently under consideration by the council. In the introductory paragraphs of the proposed ordinance, you acknowledge our constitutional rights to do our ministry with the homeless, but in the details of the ordinance we believe that the city denies us those same rights if it were to be enacted.

We know Mercer Island to be a compassionate, generous, open-hearted place. Yet, we are embarrassed that our government would pass an ordinance that is the most stringent of any community in King County. Restricting the rights of poor people is not something any municipality should strive for and certainly not one with an existing reputation, in some circles, of being elitist. Further, we believe the ordinance creates a hostile environment for poor people, which is contrary to the desires of the vast majority of Mercer Island residents who want to dispel the notion that their community is not a caring, hospitable place. The voices of a few vocal and politically connected citizens are co-opting the open hearts of the majority. As you know, the vast majority of Mercer Island residents supported Tent City 4 on its last visit and will support Tent City residents when it returns.

As we mentioned above, the proposed ordinance would be the most stringent in the county and we believe that is not something this community should be known for. Among the specifics of the ordinance that we disagree with are as follows:

• The 90-day notification of a temporary encampment
• 18-month moratorium within ½ mile of an existing encampment
• Mandated additional background checks for those coming to Mercer Island
• The requirement that the hosting congregation hold the city harmless
• The suggestion that we would have to negotiate with neighborhood groups for our constitutional rights to practice ministry
• Fencing for the purposes of aesthetics
• Blanket permission given to a code officer to require additional conditions to any agreement with the city

In the past, city representatives have expressed to us that Tent City on Mercer Island would be a model of cooperation for King County. It seems to us that the ordinance as it is currently written provides only a model for cooperation between the city government and politically-connected and disproportionately vocal minority.

As faith leaders and citizens, we are fully aware of our constitutional right to do our ministry among the homeless. We prefer to exercise those rights in partnership with the city, but are prepared to move forward without it. We look forward to the council passing an ordinance that lives out the city government’s desire for Mercer Island to be a model of cooperation with the faith community, instead of the current version which restricts and mitigates the constitutional rights acknowledged in the ordinance’s introduction.

Respectfully,

The Rev. Greg Asimakoupoulos
Mercer Island Covenant Church

The Rev. Dale Sewall
Mercer Island Presbyterian Church

The Rev. Leslie Ann Knight
Mercer Island First United Methodist Church

The Rev. Mark Travis
Congregational Church on Mercer Island

The Rev. Hunt Priest
Emmanuel Episcopal Church

Ms. Susan Carol Price
From the Bahai Faith

The Rev. Deanna Wildermuth
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

The Rev. Beverly Hosea
Emmanuel Episcopal Church

The Rev. Susan Wanwig
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Ms. Kristen Jamerson
Mercer Island First Church of Christ, Scientist

The Rev. Eliana Maxim
Mercer Island Presbyterian Church

Mr. Kenneth Tracy
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Mercer Island