Bellingham’s Immigration Advisory Board being evaluated

City of Bellingham's Committee of the Whole on January 29, 2024. (Credit: Bellingham's YouTube channel)
City of Bellingham's Committee of the Whole on January 29, 2024. (Credit: Bellingham's YouTube channel)



A workgroup in Bellingham will help to make the Immigration Advisory Board, or IAB, work better. The move comes after the Bellingham city council talked about suspending the next advisory board meetings. 

In a 6-1 vote, the Bellingham City Council approved the suspension of the Board and its subcommittees’ meetings. Councilmember Jace Cotton was the only vote against the suspensions.

The workgroup will evaluate the Immigration Advisory Board, looking at its purpose, procedures and processes.

Bellingham City Councilmember Michael Lilliquest introduced the motion that was approved in a 5-2 vote.

“My goal is not to end the IAB or to reduce its role, but rather to accomplish the opposite. I want the IAB to become more effective and more valuable,” said Lilliquiest.

The workgroup will include city staff, IAB members and others.

In recent weeks, the city council has been discussing the future of the IAB. There have been talks about the effectiveness of the board. Its distance from the city government has also been reviewed.

An Ordinance draft on suspending all future meetings of the board and its subcommittees, until the city council adopts an ordinance rescinding the suspension, has been discussed during Council meetings. 

The document notes that “since its creation in 2019, the IAB has not functioned as other City advisory boards and commissions, which assist the Mayor and City Council in the performance of their duties by providing advice, information, insights, and recommendations.”

It also mentions that the board “has sought a co-governance model of advocacy which is inconsistent with the City’s Charter” and Bellingham Municipal Code.

In addition, the inclusion of non-board members in decision-making meetings, as well as board members visiting other governmental facilities outside the city government, are other reasons stated in the ordinance.

Another flashpoint, which has been mentioned during meetings, is the exclusion of Police Chief, Rebecca Mertzig, from the board meetings.

“I agree with the critical importance of the work. I’m unable to support the IAB and its current exclusionary model. I don’t believe this is what the council had in mind when the IAB was created,” said Mertzig. 

Some city staff said there is lack of clarity about the board role and it has caused misinformation and unexpected problems.

Janice Keller, the city of Bellingham’s communications director, said among the aspects that should be reviewed, are the board’s purpose, how will it be managed and resourced, and the recommendations be requested, received and acted upon.

Member appointment is another aspect that should be evaluated, said Keller. The IAB met in mid-January and discussed the issue.

Holly Pai, one of the IAB members, noted in a written statement that she agrees changes have to be made by the IAB and the City. But mentioned “a suspension of the IAB will not address any of the issues and will not move forward any important work.”

In another letter, IAB members oppose the ordinance proposed by the City Council and noted it does not accurately represent all the facts. They also proposed changes  to the Ordi`nance proposed.

Community members and immigration advocates are concerned. A Dignity Dialogue is set on February 10th. The main topic is what would happen If the suspension becomes official.

The City Council will discuss the issue again at its February 12 session, while the next IAB meeting is scheduled for February 20, 2024 at 6:30 p.m.