Clackamas County leaders weigh in on Mark Shull's comments
Elected officials from across the Portland metro region are weighing in on statements made by County Commissioner Mark Shull on his personal Facebook account representing racist, transphobic, Islamophobic and anti-immigrant views.
Shull — who took office Monday, Jan. 4, and was set to be sworn in Wednesday, Jan. 13 — is facing harsh criticism from the sentiments he's espoused online, as well as calls for his resignation. Clackamas County spokesperson Kimberly Dinwiddie said "recent threats of violence" have led to the decision to cancel the swearing-in ceremony for Shull and newly elected County Board Chair Tootie Smith.
"Make-up plans/dates will be provided once they are determined," Dinwiddie said. "Additionally, the county's Tuesday policy sessions and Thursday Business Meetings will be returned exclusively to Zoom rather than in-person for the foreseeable future."
Clackamas County Chair Tootie Smith called on Shull to resign his seat on the Board of County Commissioners on Wednesday, Jan. 13.
"In support of the greatest good of citizens of Clackamas County, I have asked that Mark Shull resign from the Board of County Commissioners immediately," Smith said.
Her statement followed the publication of a letter carrying the signatures of nearly every department head, deputy director and senior manager employed by Clackamas County which called for the Board of County Commissioners to condemn statements made on social media by Shull and suggested he resign from the group.
After Multnomah County's five commissioners all signed onto a letter calling for Shull's resignation, Smith released a statement:
"I acknowledge the harm and fear that our community members are experiencing as a result of the horrifying statements that were recently revealed from one of our commissioners," Smith wrote.
"I want to assure residents that I in no way condone or agree with these offensive statements. They do not reflect my values. Such statements are an attack on human dignity and have no place in government. Our role as commissioners is to serve residents, build trust and create a safe and thriving community for all residents. Bigoted statements by elected officials undermine that work and trust.
"Last summer, the Board of County Commissioners passed a Resolution Condemning Violence and Racism against Black/African American and all people of color. This Resolution serves as a call to action for the County to address systemic disparities and ensure that all people can feel safe and thrive in our county. I am in full support of the resolution and of the work of the Equity and Inclusion Office and the value the office brings to our county employees and residents."
An email obtained by Pamplin Media Group shows that Clackamas County Commissioner Sonya Fischer first spoke up, directly challenging Shull's judgement and calling out his words as evidence of longstanding bigotry.
"Personally, I was shocked at the Facebook posts. Hate, marginalization, incitement to violence have no place in our community," Fischer wrote Tuesday morning. "The deeply hurtful and racist statements you repeatedly shared over the past year and a half are emblematic of today's politics of hate and division. We cannot move forward as a country or as a community until people are held accountable for their actions."
Elsewhere in Clackamas County, elected officials have been more vocal on the subject Fischer's fellow county board members.
In Happy Valley, second-term City Councilor David Emami — the first Iranian-American city councilor in Oregon's history — was joined by Mayor Tom Ellis in condemning Shull's statements.
Emami said he received text messages from friends and political acquittances last night when the story first broke after two hours of leading a city-sponsored diversity, equity and inclusion task force meeting on which he acts as liaison to the public.
"I did some digging to figure out what the heck was going on, then stumbled across it, and, honestly, I was pretty exhausted seeing that," Emami said.
He said he was previously aware of some of the right-wing ideas — namely, hatred for Kate Brown — that have appeared on Shull's political figure Facebook page, but was shocked to find how much deeper it went on his personal page. Instead of taking to social media in a furor, Emami decided to take a deep breath, write down his thoughts and share them on his official Facebook page.
"As an elected official, my goal has been to represent everyone in our community regardless of their race, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation and political party. It appears that Mark Shull has chosen to lead with a different set of ideals," Emami wrote. "Gaffes happen to the best of us, but the examples cited demonstrate a pattern of misinformed bigotry and hatred towards many different people who call Clackamas County home. I am for freedom of speech, even if I don't agree with what's being said, but actions speak louder than words and an apology that doesn't address the actual content of one's comments is weak and unfortunate."
Emami's statement points out that many will likely be calling for Shull's resignation — to which he's been correct — but doesn't call for his resignation explicitly. In fact, Emami's statement offers a route forward for Shull if he chooses to continue on as a county commissioner.
"Should you choose not to resign, I would encourage you find ways to educate yourself and reach out to the communities you have prejudged and hurt with your conspiratorial words and falsehoods," Emami concluded.
Mayor Tom Ellis also expressed his disgust with Shull's statements, saying that he was appalled and disagrees with every point Shull attempted to make.
On the other side of the river, Lake Oswego Mayor Joe Buck led an effort to have elected officials from Clackamas County cities sign onto a letter calling for Shull's resignation.
"My reaction was one of utter horror. I could not believe what I was reading," Buck told Pamplin Media. "I went through the entire blog post that the resident in Clackamas put together and was disgusted. The damage and the dangerous nature of his rhetoric is inexcusable. I also could not believe this individual went through a primary race and a general election and none of this came to the surface until now. That is shocking."
Newly-sworn Lake Oswego City Councilor Masenne Mboup said that ignorance and bigotry should disqualify one from holding public office, and those in power should be people "love unconditionally their neighbors, their consituents."
"These are racist folks that should be called out, but not to harm them, because I love this guy, and I would love to talk to him," Mboup said. "I would love to have coffee and tell him what an immigrant is. Being called an immigrant is being called an American."
Milwaukie City Councilor Angel Falconer weighed in on Twitter Tuesday afternoon, stating she too was appalled.
"If Mr. Shull refuses to offer his resignation, I ask that my colleagues in Clackamas County consider what options they have to protect their constituents from this vile and dangerous rhetoric," Falconer said.
The Clackamas County chapter of the Democratic Party also tweeted for Shull's immediate resignation on Tuesday, but also commended Cris Waller — the Jennings Lodge resident who compiled the blog post cataloguing Shull's posts on his personal Facebook — for her documentation and bringing these comments to light.
"We are shocked and repelled by the misinformed hatred revealed in his public comments, thoroughly documented by our House District 40 leader," the Democratic Party tweeted.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Clackamas County has also asked for Shull's resignation.
"We condemn this horrifying pattern of bigotry and hate towards many of our friends and neighbors who call Clackamas County home and for whom he was elected to represent," the organization stated in a letter addressed to the Clackamas County commissioners. "Mark Shull's documented racism and ignorance goes against NAMI Clackamas' mission, vision and values of help, hope, acceptance and community."
But not everyone was quick to call for Shull to resign. Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam — who has dealt with his own backlash, as well as support, for statements calling for Oregon businesses to defy COVID-19 restrictions and reopen fully — said he's been too busy dealing with his own situation and therefore has not had time to digest Shull's comments.
"Between our local Main Street business reopening movement and other issues facing us right now I just don't feel I have an adequate understanding of this issue or Commissioner Shull's response to it to comment at this time," Pulliam told Pamplin Media Group.
Steve Bates, one of nearly a dozen candidates seeking the Oregon Senate district 20 seat left by the retiring Sen. Alan Olsen (R-Canby), said that he knows Mark Shull and hasn't found him to be xenophobic "or anything like that."
Bates was seen to have "liked" one of Shull's posts in question.
"He has not demonstrated any characteristic like that to me," Bates said. "I believe everybody has a right to their religion. I don't stand with anyone who doesn't stand for the First Amendment."
Wilsonville Councilor Ben West said he voted for Shull but has only met him once. West didn't say whether he would support Shull's resignation for what he called "disturbing and reckless" comments but said voters could recall him if they choose to. West hoped Shull would make some sort of gesture to "make things right" but wasn't sure exactly what that would be.
"We can look at instances across the board of people making a mistake or inappropriate comments and the first thing we do as a culture is we react by canceling that person or react by not extending grace in those comments or offering the opportunity to learn from those comments," West said.
Wilsonville Mayor Julie Fitzgerald characterized Shull's statements as "callous."
"A person who focuses on spreading hate-speech, divisiveness and rumors is not the kind of person who is suited to lead our county to be a safe, healthy place to live with opportunity for economic prosperity and quality of life for all," Fitzgerald said.
This story will be updated.
Pamplin Media Group reporters Clara Howell, Brittany Allen, Emily Lindstrand and Corey Buchanan contributed to this report.
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