Civic leaders in Pasco, Kennewick and Yakima reacted swiftly Friday to condemn anti-Latino comments posted by Kennewick City Councilman Bob Parks.
Parks, who holds an at-large seat, reposted an image of Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders with the words, “I went to Yakima today. Now I know why Trump wants to build a wall” to his personal Facebook page.
Parks added the comment, “Wait until he sees pasco!”
The posts triggered an outpouring of condemnation, including an angry exchange on Facebook between Parks and Pasco Mayor Matt Watkins that led Watkins to “unfriend” Parks.
Watkins told Parks the post was “lame.” Parks responded, “You let it happen as the mayor, your problem, I try not to go the either city’s, at least without rocks.”
Reached by phone, Watkins said a friend flagged the post. He severed his Facebook connection with Parks after the “rocks” response — which refers to the 2015 death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, who was shot dead by three Pasco police officers when he threw rocks at them.
“I don’t have time or patience for that kind of stuff,” Watkins said.
Apparently I’ve caused quite a stir on facebook for supporting trumps border wall? You wouldn’t believe what people are calling me, and so close to Easter. I forgive them for their ignorant views.
Bob Parks’ Facebook post
The outrage ranged from vows to censure Parks to plans to unseat him. Meanwhile, many supporters defended his position with social media posts and comments on the Herald’s website.
The nuclear operator at Hanford has served on the council since 2002. His term expires in December 2017.
Friday afternoon, Parks told the Herald he’s enjoying the uproar. He defended his right to speak his mind on a personal website.
“I still have an opinion. I still have my First Amendment rights even if I’m on the City Council,” he said.
I still have an opinion. I still have my First Amendment rights even if I’m on the city council.
Bob Parks, Kennewick City Council
His comments shouldn’t be construed as anti-Latino but rather anti-illegal immigrant, he said.
He shrugged off calls for him to step down or retire when his term ends next year.
Parks, 45, planned to retire when his current term ends, but now he’s reconsidering, he said.
“I might run again to give them something to do,” he said.
The Latino Civic Alliance and the League of United Latin American Citizens said members are deeply upset and would meet to discuss the appropriate response.
“What is going on is unacceptable,” said Gabriel Portugal, spokesman for both groups. “A few members are very, very upset.”
What is going on is unacceptable. A few members are very, very upset.
Gabriel Portugal, Latino Civic Alliance and League of United Latin American Citizens
Online, Parks acknowledged the growing commentary in another Facebook post.
“Apparently I’ve caused quite a stir on facebook for supporting trumps border wall? You wouldn’t believe what people are calling me, and so close to Easter. I forgive them for their ignorant views,” he wrote.
Two Richland business leaders said they’ll lead efforts to identify a candidate who can defeat Parks if he seeks reelection next year. Adam Brault and Jeffrey Payne said Parks’ rhetoric has no place in civic discourse.
Payne called himself a conservative frustrated that racially tinged gaffes wrongly paint all conservatives as racists.
“He’s making the left’s case for them,” Payne said. “I don’t want to attack him from the left. I want to attack him from the right, where I can hurt him.”
Parks’ Facebook posts also triggered a round of soul-searching at Kennewick City Hall. Both the mayor and city manager took steps to distance themselves and the city from him.
“It is not the city position in any fashion,” said Marie Mosley, city manager. Inclusion is the city’s most deeply held value, she added.
Mayor Steve Young said he was personally disappointed that Parks wasn’t mindful his comments would reflect on the city.
“We’ve told council members when you’re an elected official, you don’t have a personal life,” Young said. “When you say something, people believe that’s reflective of policy and how people think.”
We’ve told council members when you’re an elected official, you don’t have a personal life. When you say something, people believe that’s reflective of policy and how people think.
Steve Young, mayor, city of Kennewick
Young said he personally apologized to Pasco’s mayor and relations between the two cities will not be harmed by one man’s online posts.
Kennewick will consider a new social media policy, Young said.
“We’re going to have to,” he said.
Felix Vargas, chair of Pasco-based Consejo Latino, asked the city in a letter Friday to reprimand Parks in order to repair the damage to its reputation.
“Only by repudiating his comments and taking action to ensure he does not do this again can you assure our community that the city’s vision and values do not allow for such venom,” Vargas wrote.
In a written statement, Pasco City Manager Dave Zabell said “Pasco does however consider its rich diversity to be a source of community pride and an example of the ever-changing makeup of our nation its inception.”
Parks’ comments were soundly condemned in Yakima, as well.
Yakima Councilwoman Holly Cousens, on Facebook, called the comments “racist, wrong and contemptible.”
“He needs to make amends,” she said.
People like that don’t understand how much easier it is for a white person to move through society than someone of a minority.
Yakima City Councilman Bill Lover
The Yakima City Council’s most conservative member called Parks’ posts a “sad commentary” and a classic example of “white privilege.”
“People like that don’t understand how much easier it is for a white person to move through society than someone of a minority,” Councilman Bill Lover told the Yakima Herald-Republic in a phone interview.
Councilwoman Carmen Mendez said Parks’ observations were “obviously” racist. But she told the Herald-Republic, “(H)e’s entitled to say whatever he wants or believe whatever he wants to say.”
Parks’ colleagues on the Kennewick council were more guarded in their responses. None had seen the post when they talked to the Herald.
Councilman John Trumbo endorsed Parks’ right to “speak his mind,” though he said his colleague did not speak for the council or for him.
Councilman Paul Parish said the post didn’t reflect on Kennewick or the council, but he declined to elaborate.
“What he said is what he said. Bob is Bob. Take it up with him,” he said.
Councilman Don Britain noted it’s not the first time Parks has made controversial comments regarding immigration. His opinion isn’t shared by the city council or city, he said.
“He’s going to have to be the one to answer for it,” Britain said.
Parks has attempted to bring the federal issue of immigration reform to the council without success. He has also advocated for an English-only policy for the city.