Clackamas County board at impasse over condemnation of Dave Hunt
Clackamas County commissioners this week hit an impasse over how to address the arrest of former Oregon House Speaker and current Clackamas Community College board member Dave Hunt for commercial sexual solicitation.
As first reported by Pamplin Media Group, the Democrat who lives between Gladstone and Milwaukie was picked up in April during an undercover sting conducted by the Portland Police Bureau. Hunt was among eight men cited in an operation where officers posted online decoy ads on known human trafficking websites, and people who according to the bureau "contacted undercover police officers to arrange payment for sexual acts" were criminally cited.
On Tuesday, May, 4, during the board's policy session, County Chair Tootie Smith, a Republican, asked Clackamas commissioners to issue a statement condemning Hunt's actions and call on him to resign his position as CCC board member. Hunt, through his attorney Michael De Munis, has denied the allegations and is refraining from making public statements until the process plays out in court. Hunt has stepped back from his duties as a college board member, but has not officially resigned.
"I would like this board to be consistent in the actions taken previously, and this is a serious criminal charge that was levied against this person," Smith said. "I find sex trafficking abhorrent. Sex trafficking is on the rise… it has not taken a break during COVID, whereas, maybe our law enforcement has taken a break."
The board briefly debated the specific charges on which Hunt has been indicted, whether he was merely charged with solictation or actual sex trafficking.
Commissioner Sonya Fischer said that she believes if Hunt is found guilty that he should definitely resign his post as a CCC board member, but short of a guilty verdict it wouldn't be proper or incumbent upon the Board of County Commissioners to condemn him before the court is able to make its judgement
"Any action from this board should look, if we decide to, into the future," Fischer said. "But right now, as our attorney said, there is due process to be done, and we just need to watch this."
Fischer's statement didn't sit well with Smith, who felt as though the board was quick to rush to judgement in the case of County Commissioner Mark Shull — whose Facebook posts exposed earlier this year contained epithets against Islam, Muslim people and other marginalized groups, including some post that seemingly called for violence against Muslims — while sitting on its hands in condeming Hunt.
"I'm going to remind this board, some members were very quick to condemn a sitting member on this BCC without factual (sic), without due process," Smith said. "These charges are heinous and serious. I'm going to continue to bring this forward on Thursday, at which time this board will take a vote on the sex trafficking and/or prostitution, either one of those charges are heinous, and I will take a stand condemning his actions and asking for his immediate resignation from the CCC Board of Directors. At which time, if he's proven innocent, then he can come back."
Commissioner Martha Schrader said Smith was proposing a "slippery slope" in condemning someone in the court of public opinion before legal due process is served.
"Part of my values is to never throw stones at people," Schrader said. "If a censure is necessary, I'll go there."
The board did not come to a consensus over whether to make a formal statement regarding Hunt's arrest, and the topic did not come back up for discussion at the board's Thursday, May 6 business meeting. They did, however, agree to putting out a statement to highlight the county's values that firmly stand against sex trafficking.
While county commissioners have failed to make a united public statement on Hunt, the public has weighed in on their discussion.
Oak Grove resident Elizabeth Berk wrote a letter to board members Paul Savas and Martha Schrader on Wednesday, May 5, calling on them to let cooler heads prevail and outlining how Smith's comments regarding Hunt could put the county on precarious legal footing.
"Chair Smith all but declared Hunt guilty from the dais of the county seat — that could have ramifications for Mr. Hunt's legal situation, since one could argue that she is using the power of local government to render judgement," Berk wrote. "Chair Smith may say whatever she likes as a private citizen, but when she is sitting in the meeting room and leading a policy session, she is representing the people of Clackamas County in what she has repeatedly pointed out is 'a non-partisan role.' Commenting on the legal standing of a private citizen is not the role of the county government."
On Thursday, a caller identified as Michael Weber of Oak Grove told the county board that Smith's comments didn't respect the American principle of presumed innocence until proven guilty.
"(Smith) seemed unreceptive to a majority of the commissioners' opinion of what to do about the matter. For example, a strongly worded letter about community values and how that related to Mr. Hunt's alleged actions, rather than a premature call for his resignation and removal from all county business before he even had his day in court," Weber said. "Chair Smith appeared to me to strike while the iron was hot before this opportunity slipped from her fingers. She appeared to want to serve as judge, jury and executioner."
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