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Clackamas County commission characterizes chair-elect's 'second-rate slaves' comment as 'divisive and hurtful'

Clackamas County Commissioner Sonya Fischer is publicly denouncing comments made by incoming county chair Tootie Smith in an interview with Fox News last week following her statement that she would defy a statewide mandate restricting in-home gatherings.

FILE PHOTO - Clackamas County Commissioner Sonya FischerDuring the Nov. 24 Board of County Commissioners meeting, Fischer said that she and her colleagues have been inundated with letters, emails and calls in response to Smith's statements — both in support and against — which included comparing being forced to keep social gatherings to no more than six people from outside one's household to being treated as "second-rate slaves."

Fischer already stated last week that she felt Smith's comments on national television were offensive and racist, but this week Fischer explained she felt it was necessary to publicly and officially oppose Smith's statement after one particular email struck a chord. FILE PHOTO - Clackamas County chair-elect Tootie Smith

According to Fischer, the email stated that the current Board of County Commissioners was complicit with accepting racist sentiments from its future leader — who takes office Jan. 1 — if they don't speak up.

"If you allow this statement to pass without publicly speaking out against Chair-elect Smith's views, you and your board of directors are just as guilty of dehumanizing every person of color that lives within your boundaries and beyond," Fischer quoted the email. "Silence is unacceptable."

With that, Fischer read an impassioned statement condemning Smith's language as being divisive and hurtful to members of the community.

"Using reprehensible and inflammatory rhetoric to get attention (is) beneath a public official," Fischer said. "As an elected leader, I condemn statements that are racially insensitive and assure everyone in our community that Clackamas County remains committed to advancing the values and principles of equity and inclusion."

Fischer said that her statement came purely from a need to speak on her own behalf and not necessarily become a resolution from the full board. But three of Fischer's four colleagues were quick to say they'd sign on to her statement.

Fischer then read a second resolution she and Commissioner Martha Schrader worked on together and suggested the board adopt in full at their business meeting Wednesday, Nov. 25.

"As elected leaders, we want to assure everyone in our community that Clackamas County remains committed to advancing the values and principles of equity and inclusion," the statement reads. "These values will continue to inform our policies and our commitment to our citizens, particularly the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) community. We are a diverse county, and our diversity makes our community stronger. Stronger communities make a stronger Clackamas County."

Commissioner Paul Savas responded saying that he feels the board has been consistent in its messaging throughout the civil unrest over social justice issues sparked by the death of George Floyd earlier this year and that the board values inclusivity and opposes racism. Savas said he does support the resolution the board approved in June condemning violence and racism, but did not expressly state whether or not he supports Fischer's statement denouncing Smith's comments.

"I'm not here to defend anyone, at all, but I do say that I do adhere, again, to the resolution," Savas said. "I think that the comments were unfortunate because they can be interpreted in many ways, and some of those ways may not be all so good."

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