Clackamas County switches up process for public comment
Starting next week, Clackamas County residents will be required to register with the county using the Zoom application in order to give public testimony at the Board of County Commissioners' Thursday business meetings.
County Chair Tootie Smith announced the extra steps which the county will begin requiring of those seeking to testify before the board in a set of changes aimed at eradicating "partisan" statements from the board's public comment period. The move by the county follows statements last week by Smith, who felt that the wave of callers calling for the resignation of Commissioner Mark Shull following publication of bigoted statements weren't within the purview of the board's business. Until now, members of the public needed only to login while county meetings were live on Zoom and use the "raise hand" function to chime in and give testimony.
Smith said during the board's meeting Thursday, Feb. 11, that statements from members of the public should be limited to items of county business and should not be partisan in nature "as the Board of County Commissioners is a nonpartisan governing body under Oregon Revised Statute."
"I would also like to point out that starting next week, registration to attend Zoom meetings will be taken. This is for your security, as well as ours," Smith said. "If you would like to get public comments, starting next week you will need to register before the meeting starts."
Following Smith's announcement, 17 individuals gave testimony in front of the board, most of whom were callers seeking to express their opinion that Shull should resign, but a few came to his defense as well, or were there talk about other business.
"Tootie, you have a fundamental misunderstanding of why the outcry over Mr. Shull continues, and who is responsible," said Cris Waller, the Jennings Lodge resident and local Democratic Party activist who initially unearthed Shull's statements. "We aren't speaking out week after week because this is political — we are speaking out because this is a great injustice. This man has harmed so many with his actions that over 50 community groups, two newspapers and 150 community leaders have called for him to step down."
Gladstone resident and local Republican Party activist Les Poole also took to the virtual podium to accuse those expressing outrage over statements by Smith and Shull of not paying attention to missteps by former board chair Jim Bernard, suggesting many are picking and choosing when to voice their frustration.
"The reason (Smith and Shull) won is that the people that were here before them were doing a lousy job," Poole said. "I'm a little disturbed by the fact that all of a sudden, people all show up. And they're coming unglued about some things someone probably shouldn't have written or said, and they haven't shown any grace for that person. Instead, it's automatic 'he's got to go.'"
Willie Poinsette — a longtime community organizer, former school administrator and Lake Oswego resident — also called in Thursday evening to express her opinion publicly for the first time since the saga surrounding Shull's Facebook comments began. Poinsette is well-known in the Lake Oswego community for her work around diversity, equity and inclusion, most recently in her efforts starting the group Respond to Racism in 2017.
Poinsette joined the chorus of voices continuing to press for Shull's resignation, but also drew parallels to how some of Shull's statements have mirrored national rhetoric around white supremacy.
"Words matter. These postings reveal the side of Mark Shull that the public, in general, did not know," Poinsette said. " We have seen firsthand how these narratives played out most recently in our country."
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