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County commission to meet virtually indefinitely after crowded meeting ends in unrest

PMG SCREENSHOT: @FREEOREGON INSTAGRAM PAGE - A screenshot of a video posted to the Instagram account @freeoregon shows many members of the crowd to be without face masks.Clackamas County Chair Tootie Smith on Tuesday addressed her decision to halt a Jan. 13 in-person meeting after the "boisterous" crowd's refusal to follow county and state requirements, claiming to have later received a security report of crowd members' intentions to "take the dais and oust the sitting commissioners."

Smith said on Jan. 18 that county security staff confirmed the threat following her adjournment of the previous week's meeting, which commissioners quickly resumed online as the crowd proceeded to occupy the county hearing room for several minutes in protest of COVID-19 mandates and the 2020 presidential election results.

Smith clarified during Tuesday's virtual session that her decision ultimately resulted from the crowd repeatedly interfering with orderly discourse by interrupting commissioners' communications with "disrespectful" insults and other outbursts.

Pamplin Media Group was told by a county spokesperson on Friday that the meeting was adjourned due in part to multiple crowd members in violation of Oregon's indoor mask-wearing requirements, yet Smith says they were masked, if reluctantly, before in-person proceedings were cut short.

Smith said she has consistently championed allowing the public to address their local government directly in-person, yet only "as long as it's civil and not over the top," which she said was not the case on Thursday.

"As the meeting continued," Smith said, "people became more boisterous, were talking over people; I had asked several times for them to please be quiet and allow for discourse, that everybody in the room would get an opportunity to speak who wanted to."

Smith said she could feel the tension in the room "ramping up," finally drawing the line after the crowd's continued outbursts made it clear that repeating her orders would not be enough to maintain decorum.

"There were shouts, they were not respectful, and if you want to attend a meeting for the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, you will be professional and you will be respectful," Smith said.

"You do not have to know all the rules, but decorum and good manners will be followed, and they were not — to the extreme," she added.

The chair then quoted the seemingly violent threat she says relayed to her by security staff after the in-person meeting was canceled.

"I adjourned the meeting, and I'm glad I did because we had security staff in the back who were able to confirm that had I not, they may have wanted to, quote, 'Take the dais and oust the sitting commissioners,' and I will not stand for that," Smith said.

She added that effective immediately, the board will indefinitely move forthcoming public meetings online.

"Our commissioners are dedicated to continue with the smooth operation of county business," Smith said. "But, we cannot have disruptors, we cannot have rioters and we cannot have people wanting to unseat the elected officials who the voters voted to put in office."

Smith later said that she and her fellow commissioners remain committed to serving county residents regardless of their political opinions, and on Thursday she simply "stood up to the people who I believe crossed the line, and I will continue to do so."

"While I have always supported choice for people to manage their own health care and have said so many times publicly, this group of individuals blamed our local commission for all the state mandates Governor Brown has issued. They knew better," Smith wrote in an official statement emailed to Pamplin Media Group on Tuesday.

Smith added in the letter that if each of the 60 members in attendance on Thursday were deemed out of compliance with state mask requirements, Clackamas County may have been issued a maximum fine of $30,000 – $500 per person for the first offense – in taxpayer money.

"While I disagree with Governor Brown's management of the pandemic and I have told her so, I am not willing to jeopardize my county's budget to fulfill the desires of disrupters who yelled, screamed and threatened violence upon your local governing body and staff," she added.

As previously reported, Thursday's in-person proceedings lasted roughly 19 minutes before Smith made the call to move remaining discussions to a virtual format. Smith gaveled the end of the meeting as members of the crowd are heard saying the word "propaganda" as Commissioner Martha Schrader shared how COVID-19 has recently impacted several of her family members who have experienced mild symptoms after contracting the disease.

A video recording of what occurred after Smith moved the meeting online is currently available on the Instagram page for Free Oregon, a nonpartisan campaign "dedicated to restoring and protecting the civil rights" of Oregonians amid federal COVID-19 responses such as mask-wearing, per its website.

In the roughly 27-minute video, which appears to have been live streamed by a Free Oregon representative in attendance at the meeting, the packed crowd of mostly unmasked community members are seen occupying the county hearing room to hold their own meeting after commissioners and staff exited the room to continue operations virtually.

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