Newport Mayor Dean Sawyer resigned Monday, three days after OPB revealed he has been posting offensive content in a private Facebook group for current and former law enforcement officers.
Sawyer notified City Manager Spencer Nebel and City Council President Jan Kaplan of his resignation in an email just before 9 a.m.
“I am sorry - in its simplest and sincerest form,” the email opens.
Sawyer said leading the city has been “one of the better periods of my life” and that he wanted to make it a better place for everyone.
“I now realize that some of my actions and my words have hurt people I love and care about,” he wrote. “This is something that I take full responsibility for.”
Since at least 2016, Sawyer has shared memes and posts denigrating women, immigrants, non-English speakers and the LGBTQ+ community in 39,000-member Facebook group.
Many of Sawyer’s most recent posts specifically targeted the transgender community.
Sawyer did not respond to emails or phone calls. His resignation was first reported by The Oregonian/OregonLive. Last week, he told OPB the private messages did not reflect his personal values.
Over the weekend, Newport Oregon Pride organized a protest that brought more than 100 people to City Hall demanding Sawyer resign. Five of Sawyer’s six colleagues on the Newport City Council attended the demonstration and appeared poised to formally ask for his resignation at a special meeting scheduled for Monday afternoon.
Kathy Redwine, who is on the board of Newport Oregon Pride, said she learned about Sawyer’s resignation from a text message.
“I feel really happy and just proud that we as a city in Newport all came together and spoke our minds, shared our feelings in a positive, amazing way,” she said. “It would have been bad if it kept going on with all that hurt and distrust.”
City Councilor CM Hall said resigning was the right decision and appreciated that Sawyer did it swiftly. She also expressed compassion.
“I can feel the pain in how he has come to realize what his actions have done, and I’m sympathetic to that,” said Hall, also an LGTBQ+ activist. “I recognize some people don’t realize the intent versus the impact and I think he’s now realized that.”
Hall said that although she thought Sawyer needed to resign, she is appreciative for everything Sawyer has done for the city as councilor and mayor. Sawyer was a Newport police officer for 30 years. He was elected mayor in 2018 and reelected twice, most recently in 2022.
Newport Police Chief Jason Malloy and Lincoln County Sheriff Curtis Landers have both condemned Sawyer’s posts.
Councilor Dietmar Goebel said he and Kaplan met with Sawyer Sunday to urge him to resign.
“We made it very clear to Dean that he needed to resign and get the heck out of government,” Goebel said. “His posting was beyond the pale, and he couldn’t continue past that.”
Goebel said Sawyer defended his record and said he has close friends in the LGBTQ+ and Latino community, but by the end of the conversation, Goebel said Sawyer thanked them for their honesty.
“We shook hands and…said, ‘Dean, please do what’s right for the town and for the people of the city,’” Goebel said. “I think that helped him solidify his thoughts.”
Kaplan said Sawyer did the right thing and he appreciated the thoughtfulness of the mayor’s resignation letter. Now, Kaplan said, they need to focus on healing instead of being angry.
“We have more work to do but hopefully what has occurred will give us the opportunity to get more public involvement,” Kaplan said.
In his resignation letter, Sawyer repeated his original comment to OPB that his private posts do not reflect his true values.
“It is clear that my online persona has become too polarizing for me to continue,” he said. “As I step down I hope to hasten the process of healing for the uproar I have caused.”
Kaplan, the council president, will serve as acting mayor until City Council appoints a permanent replacement. Nebel said that will likely be discussed at the next council meeting on July 17.