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What Foster’s departure says about city’s culture

The recent well-documented and deeply disturbing article in the Kitsap Sun, “Poulsbo prosecutor quits, says she was pressured to cover up officer’s false statement,” throws light on the rather sudden departure of Alexis Foster, Poulsbo’s city prosecutor for over six years, from city government.

I urge readers to get the whole story by reading the article, but my fellow Poulsbo residents concerned with government transparency and community concerns would like to share some observations and comments.

First, Prosecutor Foster, abiding by both legal and ethical obligations, couldn’t sweep Detective Erik Peffer’s misstatements under the rug, despite the pressures on her to do so. The campaign against her by her own mayor and police department left her no alternative but to resign.

Second, according to the reporting, Mayor Becky Erickson argued that since officer Peffer’s misstatement was not intentional, it shouldn’t count. The incident involved the seizure of a gun from a household; Peffer had the resident’s safety and health in mind, and we appreciate him for that. But it has consequences. The misstatements in the affidavit signed by Peffer as a legal document could influence a judge’s decision on the case.

In our opinion, the incident points to larger issues.

Small-town culture vs. law

Poulsbo city government seems to be saying: Peffer means well, he’s one of us, our Poulsbo family — why cause trouble for him? Small-town culture prioritizes friend or family relationships over the impersonal strictness of law. It’s the culture not only of small towns, but sports teams, military platoons, and crime syndicates. It values the cohesive in-group; the outsider might be welcome, but becomes the enemy when conflict arises.

The United States is a nation of laws, and when people start forgetting that, we’re in ever greater trouble.

Where was Poulsbo’s City Council in all this? We have no information.

It would have been so simple for the mayor to be a leader, to firmly tell the police union and police chief to get over it and to live by the law. Poulsbo’s ongoing vacuum of leadership when it comes to difficult issues includes council members: they may be sympathetic, but are equally missing in action.

Unthinking racism

The message of the pressure campaign was: Alexis,

See GORBMAN, Page 5C

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you can be one of us if you try hard and suspend your ethical and legal obligations. According to Foster, as the story reported, Erickson literally told her, “I’m not racist. After all, I hired you before BLM [Black Lives Matter] was a thing!”

The antipathy toward Foster once again shows the lack of understanding of racism and the need to implement the tools the city already has at hand. Two years ago Poulsbo joined GARE, the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, but they have done absolutely nothing to take advantage of GARE’s resources and make change. It is past time for an equity assessment of city government.

How can Foster and her family remain in Poulsbo? Put yourself in her shoes, and imagine needing to call the police some night. Imagine how utterly daunting it is to be a person of color simply trying to live and work in Poulsbo.

What effect will this conflict have on public confidence in policing?

Police are literally law enforcement, and when that idea starts to crumble for any reason, citizens are in trouble. Police and city leaders are public servants whose salaries we pay with our taxes; we expect them to act with integrity, goodwill, and competence.

On the national level we see on a near daily basis the horrors that can result from racism in policing and lapses in ethical standards. We must hold police Chief Ron Harding to maintain the highest standards of policing and of enforcing the law.

We apologize to you, Alexis Foster, for receiving such shameful treatment from the City of Poulsbo. We find it deeply ironic that while Detective Peffer would not have lost his job in any case, you had to forfeit your job because you were harassed for doing it correctly.

Claudia Gorbman writes on behalf of Poulsbo for All, a forum created by city residents to share information about local government and community concerns in Poulsbo that may be found at PoulsboForAll.com.

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