Metro: Tootie Smith shows 'lack of leadership' over noose incident
Clackamas County Chair Tootie Smith responded to a May 4 request to condemn racism by admonishing a Metro official and saying that the news of a noose left at the South Transfer Station came as a surprise.
Smith, who leads the county board, said that Metro's request was "putting this board in a tough spot."
Metro President Lynn Peterson released a statement critical of Smith's response, saying, "I was disappointed by the lack of empathy and leadership in confronting and condemning the racism faced by Chair Smith's constituents in Clackamas County."
Metro COO Marissa Madrigal had opened the May 4 discussion about Metro's garbage and recycling system in Clackamas County by asking the county commission for their help in condemning a series of racist actions towards employees at the Metro South Transfer Station in Oregon City. Madrigal told county commissioners that workers at the transfer station have been the target of some cruel words from members of the public and asked the if they'd be willing to join in denouncing that sort of hateful behavior. Staff at Metro South came upon the racist symbol on April 21, the day after former police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd. It was the second time a noose had been left at the transfer station in the past year.
Smith responded by asking Madrigral that if she wants a good relationship between Metro and the county. Smith said if Metro wants a good relationship, Madrigal shouldn't surprise the board with news like this.
Smith — who has often announced she "doesn't like being surprised" — said she had not heard of the incident. Smith questioned how widely it's been reported in the media, after apparently missing the coverage of the incident on KOIN 6 News, online throughout Pamplin Media Group newspapers and on the front page of the Oregon City News last week.
Showing signs of surprise herself, Madrigal clearly didn't know how to respond to Smith. Madrigal seemed shocked as to how the reporting of this news to the board offended Smith. Madrigal ended up apologizing for any perceived offense she had caused by bringing this up.
Metro's top elected official was not apologetic in response to Smith's behavior after Madrigal's report about the noose incidents and request for an official statement from the county condemning racism.
"Chair Smith interrupted, chided and cast doubt on those statements," Peterson said. "I am proud of the way Marissa, a true leader who cares about employees, has handled these incidents and how she handled notifying the county commission. These are not things that should be shared behind closed doors. They deserve the disinfectant of daylight."
After the awkward encounter with Madrigal, Smith did take the time to condemn the noose left at the transfer station and other hateful behavior, saying there's no place for that in Clackamas County. Metro's meeting with the county eventually moved on to its true purpose to discuss garbage and recycling, but the interaction over the noose set the tone. Metro officials once again endured an intense conversation and grilling from the county board, which hasn't been as Metro-friendly as it once was.
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