Opinion: Chair allows another shameful stain on Clackamas County
Last year, on Feb. 9, Chair Tootie Smith moved to limit public testimony to the Board of County Commissioners, stating, "I'm going to try to maintain our integrity with some people who have found what's going on disgusting."
What was going on? The public was calling for the resignation of Commissioner Mark Shull, after the revelation of his racist, xenophobic Facebook posts. No threats of violence, no shouting out while others spoke, no disrespect for the rules, no spouting of conspiracy theories, no taking over the chambers, just residents of this county stating their opinions. Yet Chair Smith tried to shut it all down.
Since then, Chair Smith has repeatedly turned the microphone off on speakers with whom she disagrees, including someone who simply asked that she pay attention to what the speaker was saying.
After the Aug. 12 meeting of the board, where hundreds of anti-vaccine extremists jammed into the county commission chambers, breaking fire codes and verbally assaulting anyone who disagreed with them, Chair Smith posted on Facebook, "Thank you for taking the time to voice your opinions," and Shull stated that that evening was the first time he enjoyed being a commissioner.
What then happened at the Jan. 13 meeting was shameful and a stain on our county. Another unruly crowd, many of them the same people who were here in August, again refused to follow the rules, shouted at members of the county board and speakers, and were enough of a threat that the meeting was moved to virtual. These same people proceeded to occupy the room. And Commissioner Shull was right there with them, cheering them on and praying with them, nodding along and clapping as they stated that COVID precautions were a "violent coup on our country," that it is our obligation to get rid of the government, that every county clerk in the state of Oregon is guilty of federal election law violations, that a global cabal is using COVID to bring about a global monetary system, and, over and over, that the election was stolen and Trump is still president.
We cannot normalize this behavior. To state, as Commissioner Shull did, that these were just unhappy people expressing their views is as appalling as the RNC stating that the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was "legitimate political discourse."
When I spoke to the Clackamas County board on Thursday, Feb. 10, Chair Smith again shut off my microphone after I spoke the paragraph above. She cut me off before I could complete my testimony, and I still had more than 45 seconds allotted to complete my statement. Citizens are typically allowed to present three-minute statements to county board members during the county's weekly business meetings.
Commissioners Smith and Shull are playing with fire. Silencing those with whom they disagree while allowing partisan extremists to run rampant threatens the very democracy that we cherish.
Cris Waller is a resident of Jennings Lodge in unincorporated Clackamas County.
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