A Facebook post from Clackamas County Chair-elect Tootie Smith claiming she will defy Gov. Kate Brown's four-week "freeze" order by hosting a large Thanksgiving gathering has sparked national interest and comment from both the members of the public and elected officials alike.
Following multiple posts on her personal and public Facebook pages, Smith's rebuke of the state's guidance on Thanksgiving gatherings during Brown's mandated freeze on social activity and tightening of restrictions on businesses statewide has not only crept into the national headlines, but also triggered hundreds of comments on social media both in support of and chastising Smith's message.
Smith — who will rejoin the board of county commissioners in January following a four-year absence after having defeated outgoing Chair Jim Bernard in the May primary — posted Saturday, Nov. 14 she would be celebrating Thanksgiving with "as many family and friends as I can find. Gov. Brown is wrong to order otherwise."
Clackamas County Commissioner Sonya Fischer, one of Smith's future colleagues, responded with a Facebook post of her own Monday. Fischer shared that she would not be hosting Thanksgiving this year, rather attending a small gathering with her son's girlfriend's family, masks on, six-feet apart with the windows open and fans blowing.
"I'm so happy to have the people that I love in my life. So while it's sad that we cannot all spend this Thanksgiving together, I know we will manage the short-term pain for now," Fischer wrote. "However, my heart could not repair knowing that I could potentially expose vulnerable people to a virus that could kill them."
Bernard also responded Monday, stating that Clackamas County has done a great job saving lives during the pandemic, and that partnerships with Brown's office, the Oregon Health Authority and its metro neighbors continue to benefit the county's response and ability to communicate with its residents about how they can protect themselves and their loved ones.
"This is a crisis that continues to grow and take lives of those we love," Bernard said. "While following the Governor's guidelines is difficult, only you can prevent the spread of this disease."
The topic also came up as the board heard an update on COVID-19 metrics during their meeting Tuesday, Nov. 17.
Commissioner Ken Humberston said he beleives that elected officials have an obligation to follow the follow the law, and that those who believe Gov. Brown doesn't have the authority to impose such restrictions are wrong.
"For an elected official to blantantly and deliberately ignore it and take defiant action as the chair-elect is doing is patently irresponsible and utterly inconsiderate of the health and welfare of the citizen's of this county," Humberston said. "I'm appalled that somebody would behave that way."
Commissioner Martha Schrader also chimed in, stating that she urges all Clackamas County citizens to listen to the county and state's medical experts when they say to limit the size of social gatherings.
Some of the public's responses to Smith's posts have been supportive, thanking her for standing up to what they feel is government overreach on behalf of Brown and the Oregon Health Authority for imposing new restrictions on social activity in response to record breaking case numbers of COVID-19.
"Thank you Tootie, for standing up to our oppressive and inept Governor Brown," wrote Paul Centanni, of Stayton. "You are a true patriot. My family's feelings are the same of yours: Governor Brown, stay out of my house."
But a majority of the more than 2,500 comments on Facebook and several letters to the editor received by Pamplin Media Group have been scornful of Smith's comments.
"I guess turkey dinner is more important to you than saving lives. We all need to make some sacrifices this year until a vaccine is available," said Jenny Weller, of West Linn. "I'm absolutely appalled by your lack of leadership and poor judgement."
Another commenter named Brenda Niedert wrote, "How can you be so selfish? Hospitals are nearly to capacity here in our area of Clackamas, and in Multnomah County as well... You just can't think beyond your own family and self. I am ashamed to have ever voted for you."
Smith has remained engaged on Facebook, replying to hundreds of the comments she's received, both thanking supporters and attempting to converse with her naysayers.
Marge Easley — a Wilsonville resident director of advocacy for the League of Women Voters of Clackamas County — wrote that it's common sense for the state government to respond to an alarming increase in coronavirus cases by listening to the advice of public health experts and implementing new restrictions.
"The League of Women Voters of Clackamas County is dismayed by the recent comments of the newly elected chair of the Clackamas Board of County Commissioners, Tootie Smith, regarding restrictions put in place by Governor Brown to stem the spread of COVID-19," Easley wrote. "We believe this is not the time to score political points. It is a time to recognize that COVID cases are skyrocketing, hospital resources are rapidly dwindling, and all of us need to do our part."
Richard Braun of Lake Oswego wrote that he was deeply disappointed in Smith's attitude toward Thanksgiving gatherings, stating that Smith is displaying her ignorance of how COVID-19 is spread.
"You entirely ignore the fact that seemingly healthy people can infect others. There is unanimity among doctors and epidemiologists that 'family and friends' gatherings are now the main cause of virus spread," Braun wrote. "Your guests cannot possibly have a safe gathering; indoors, unmasked while eating and drinking, in close proximity, sharing food, utensils, and air. They are not safe."
Judy Schrader of Oregon City wrote that she believes it's time for everyone to start thinking about what's best for all citizens, not just what suits the individual.
"First responders are putting themselves at risk every day because it's their job. They are there to help us," Schrader wrote. "Maybe we could help the first responders and our fellow Oregonians by following the governor's mandate and do the right thing to try to slow the spread of COVID. We are all in this together."
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