Clackamas County Budget Committee members attempted Jan. 19 to strip embattled Commissioner Mark Shull of his compensation for being an elected official.
Through a series of parliamentary maneuvers, County Chair Tootie Smith blocked the committee's attempts to deny Shull's $8,706 monthly paychecks. Shull himself, beside mentioning his previous attempts to apologize, was largely silent during the discussion.
Former Milwaukie City Councilor Wilda Parks, a citizen member of the county's Budget Committee and other members of the committee felt denying Shull's compensation was an appropriate response to his statements that espoused racist, Islambophobic, anti-immigrant and transphobic views. Shull has since offered limited apologies, both in writing following publication of his social media posts last week and again this week in a event hosted by Muslim community leaders. But the chorus of voices — including a strong majority of elected officials in Clackamas County and the metro region — calling for him to resign grows by the day.
"The people of Clackamas County have a right to expect fair treatment and equal consideration from their commissioners. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but elected officials are held to a higher standard because they represent thousands of people," Parks said Tuesday. "Public statements denigrating our residents based simply on their religion, race, country of origin and others are simply unacceptable in an elected leader."
According to Parks, despite apologies, Shull's social media comments are so detrimental to the integrity, respect and values of the Board of County Commissioners that it's impossible to move forward with him on the board.
"I find it difficult to give any of the hard-earned money of our myriad of citizens to support Commissioner Shull. For the greater good, for all the citizens of Clackamas County and for the integrity of the Budget Committee, I ask that Commissioner Shull resign immediately," Parks said. "I would also like to offer a motion that if a resignation is not forthcoming by Jan. 21, 2021, I move that, if allowed by Oregon law, no budget be provided for the county commissioner position currently held by Mark Shull."
Smith asked Stephen Madkour, county counsel, whether such a motion was within the committee's scope.
Madkour said it is within the discretion of the Budget Committee to set the compensation of elected officials; the committee is authorized to set varying salaries.
According to the county's payroll report, the county's four non-chair positions of the board are paid a $104,474 annual salary. The chair is paid a premium of approximately 2% more.
Smith said decisions made by the Budget Committee are technically made in advisement to the Board of County Commissioners, who have final say over the budget.
"I don't recognize this motion, because I believe it to be political in nature," Smith said. "It is not the purview of the Budget Committee to enter into politics of the board of county commission. I find it unseamly; I find it not warranted. I have made statements; our five-member board has made statements. I do not recognize the motion."
Later in the meeting, Smith said she felt the motion was "disgusting" and compared it to an attempted coup by "self-seeking policy people."
Parks responded saying she at least felt it important to make her statement to get the point of the citizens she represents across.
Smith argued that Shull's attempts to repair the harm created by his words are being processed by members of "the community who feels aggrieved." Smith characterized Parks' statement as an "assault against an elected, sitting county commissioner."
Shull was given a moment to discuss his attempts to repair his relationship with the community and again vowed to do his best in rebuilding the trust of those he's affronted.
Tom Feely, Budget Committee member and Gladstone resident, said that while he understood Smith's tossing out of the motion procedurally, he agreed with everything Parks said.
"I don't necessarily view this as politics. We talk a lot about county priorities, Performance Clackamas, what's important to the county. It's more than just numbers," Feely said.
Commissioner Sonya Fischer chimed in, saying she felt the move wasn't politically motivated. Fischer asserted that if voters had known about Shull's statements they wouldn't have selected him, and given what Madkour said was within the committee's scope to set compensation, she supported Parks' motion and offered a second.
"The motion is not recognized, so therefore it cannot be seconded," Smith replied.
County Administrator Gary Schmidt stepped in to explain that the chair has the authority to overrule a motion, but the committee could overrule the chair by majority vote.
Commissioner Martha Schrader said that while the entire situation left her heartbroken, she still believes in the spirit of reconciliation and questioned whether the move was productive to healing and moving forward.
"I feel just as capable of doing bad things as everyone else, and I don't think anyone else is admitting that to themselves," Schrader said.
Schrader referenced her Catholic upbringing as the source of her ability to see her own faults and want to help others work through their own transgressions.
Smith also made reference of her Irish Catholic background, stating that she understands the plight of discrimination, because "I don't come from a more disparate group of people in the world."
"Maybe that's why I'm a farmer — I fight so hard for people's rights to keep their land, and I fight for people's rights to do what they want with their land, because I come from a very disparate group."
Smith said she remains appalled by Shull's comments and has taken them to heart.
"And that's coming from a minority status," Smith said. "Although I'm not viewed as a minority either because my skin is very white, I have green eyes and reddish-brown hair. So therefore I am not viewed in the same regard as Muslims, the black community or any other groups mentioned."
Despite Smith's comments, members of the Budget Committee felt compelled to continue with the motion and moved to overrule Smith's tossing of Parks' original motion, which was seconded by Fischer. Schrader said despite feeling the move wasn't productive, she felt she had no recourse and was compelled to support the motion to override Smith. Schrader and other Budget Committe members were never allowed to vote on the motion to override Smith, due to another Smith override.
"It makes me sad it has come to this, quite frankly, and I think one of the reasons I agreed to ask Commissioner Shull to resign is because this is going to continue to plague us throughout the entire time we're here as commissioners," Schrader said. "And it will continue to demoralize our staff. This gives me no pleasure at all."
Commissioner Paul Savas questioned whether the Budget Committee had the authority to make such decisions, stating that in past years he's come to understand that the committee's authority is only given when a full budget is presented to them by the county administrator, a process that usually takes place in late spring. He ultimately abstained from all votes on the matter in protest.
The question came back to Madkour, who was asked to advise the committee on whether or not it had the authority to override Smith throwing out the original motion. Madkour said he did believe the committee to have that authority.
"You would need a majority vote of this group to reverse the decision of the chair," he said.
At that time, Smith interjected, saying that she was denying the motion to override her decision to not recognize Parks' initial motion.
"It's denied because it operates outside the object or scope of this organization," Smith said. "This organization is not charged with stripping any official of a salary, therefore the motion is denied, because you're outside of your purview of the business done by this committee."
Fischer once again asked for clarification from Madkour.
"This is awkward," Madkour said.
"No it's not, Stephen," Smith replied. "I think you recognize the authority in the chair, as I was duly elected from the entire Clackamas County. That's what needs to be maintained here."
Madkour responded saying he believed the proper process would be to have the motion to override voted on.
"And I disagree with you," Smith said.
"I understand that. That's why I said it's awkward," Madkour replied.
"And you are not running this meeting, Stephen Madkour," Smith said.
The exchange ended as Schmidt asked the committee for a new motion on the item at hand — whether or not to increase compensation of elected officials.
The committee voted unanimously against increasing compensation due to several factors including the state of the economy following impacts of COVID-19, wildfires and other circumstances that have left Clackamas County residents hurting financially.
Following the vote, the committee continued on to other business, which included a discussion of the county's general fund five-year forecast and budget calendar for the upcoming fiscal year.
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