Efforts to bring repercussions against a Clackamas County commissioner who posted bigoted remarks online continued in an unusual forum Tuesday: a county budget committee meeting.
Recently-elected Commissioner Mark Shull has faced widespread calls for his resignation since it surfaced that he made several social media posts in 2019 and 2020 disparaging Muslims, immigrants, the Black Lives Matter movement and people who are transgender.
When the Clackamas County budget committee met Tuesday, the issue again came to the fore after committee member and Milwaukie city councilor Wilda Parks offered a motion to defund Shull’s position, which earns an annual salary of more than $104,000.
“Public statements denigrating our residents based simply on their religion, race, country of origin and others are unacceptable in an elected leader,” Parks said. “Commissioner Shull, I appreciate that you publicly apologized, but I see no assurances that the sentiments won’t be repeated.”
Shull apologized Monday and received the backing of the Muslim Educational Trust to remain on the job, though other Muslim advocacy groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Oregon chapter are still calling for his resignation.
“The salaries to pay for our government and its support come from all the people in the county,” Parks said of her motion. “I find it difficult to consider giving any of the hard-earned money of our myriad of citizens to support Commissioner Shull.”
Parks’ motion was ultimately stopped by the head of the county commissioners, Tootie Smith, in an escalating series of procedural maneuvers.
First, Smith asked the county’s legal counsel, Stephen Madkour, whether it was even possible for Parks to raise the motion in the budget committee. When Madkour confirmed it was legal, Smith said she wouldn’t let the committee vote on the matter.
“I don’t recognize the motion because I believe it to be political in nature,” said Smith, who had previously voted to condemn Shull’s remarks. “It is unseemly for any of the citizens on this committee to come into this meeting, or any other meeting, and take an assault against an elected, sitting county commissioner.”
Budget committee members Tom Feely and county Commissioner Sonya Fischer pushed back on Smith, saying that it wasn’t “politics” to question whether Shull should face sanctions for racist and bigoted remarks.
“You know, diversity and inclusiveness works really well when we all agree with it,” Smith said. “However, when there’s a comment made that we disagree with, it is so easy for us all to point a finger and be in judgement of somebody else who we feel is lesser.”
She said the committee should consider Shull’s “circumstances,” a reference to his military service. During Shull’s apology Monday, he said his service in the military had influenced him to only think about “national defense” when talking about Muslims, and that his derogatory remarks were not intended to apply to all Muslims.
Smith said she understood the outrage over Shull’s comments because her Irish heritage helped her know what it was like to be from a “disparate” group.
“Although I am not viewed as a minority either because my skin is very white,” Smith said. “So therefore, I am not viewed in the same regard as Muslims, the Black community or any other groups mentioned.”
Smith said the attempt to remove Shull’s salary was “very dishonest.”
“I find it disgusting,” she said. “Is this a coup on the board of county commissioners from self-seeking budget people?”
Still, Fischer asked to proceed with the motion, and a review of county procedure showed the entire budget committee could vote to overrule Smith’s objections.
But when committee members tried to proceed with that vote, Smith again halted proceedings.
“The motion to override (my) motion is denied because it operates outside the object or scope of this organization,” Smith said.
Fischer again asked Madkour, the county legal counsel, to clarify if the budget committee could consider defunding Shull.
“This is awkward!” Madkour exclaimed.
“No, it’s not, Stephen,” Smith said. “I think you recognize the authority of the chair, as I was duly-elected.”
“Again, I believe the proper process here is to have the motion voted on,” Madkour said, referring to the motion that would have overrode Smith’s objections.
“And you’re not running this meeting, Stephen Madkour,” Smith said.
“I agree,” he replied before Smith moved the meeting on to other business without another effort to vote on Shull’s compensation.
When reached by phone Thursday morning, Smith said she had acted in accordance with the meetings laws for the budget committee.
“Guess what?” Smith said. “I made a motion to overrule them, and as the chair I set the agenda.”
Smith said the budget committee couldn’t have considered the motion to defund Shull because it was not on the meeting agenda ahead of time. However, the second item on that day’s filed agenda was listed as “compensation board for elected officials.” The committee did vote later in the meeting to not approve raises for the commissioners.
Smith also reiterated Thursday her view that the budget committee should not ever suggest defunding a commissioner’s position, even though any final decision would have to be made by the board of commissioners – where Smith insisted there were not enough votes of support.
“Nobody has a right to take away an elected’s salary. If you disagree with it, the voters decide,” Smith said. “Again, it’s a very dangerous precedent.”
Whether or not voters decide to attempt a recall on Shull remains to be seen. Per Oregon law, he would not be eligible for a recall until he has served at least six months of his term.
But Shull’s presence on the Clackamas County board is likely to remain a point of discussion in the meantime – a concern Commissioner Martha Schrader brought up at the budget committee.
“It makes me sad that this has come to this,” Schrader said. “This is going to continue to plague us throughout the entire time that we are here as commissioners. And it will continue to demoralize our staff.