Kennewick Councilman Bob Parks issued an explanation and partial apology Tuesday for a personal Facebook post that insulted Yakima, Pasco and Latinos on Good Friday.
With many calling for his resignation and a nonbinding recall petition gathering more than 1,300 signatures in a matter of days, Parks released a written statement at the conclusion of Tuesday night’s City Council session.
The apology came as the meeting broke up, after most visitors had left.
Parks defended his post in the statement, saying he intended to comment on illegal immigration, not race.
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“I shared a meme to my personal Facebook page comparing Yakima’s illegal immigration issue to Pasco’s illegal immigration issue; I didn’t say anything about any race,” the statement said. “What I said to Pasco’s mayor might have gone a little too far, but I was joking and I apologize if I offended anyone. But even as a public figure, I have the right to exercise my constitutional right as a U.S. citizen.”
The conflict began Friday when Parks shared an image on his Facebook page of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders with the words, “I went to Yakima today. Now I know why Trump wants to build a wall.”
The meme reflected Sanders’ recent visit to Yakima, which has a large Latino population. Parks added the comment, “Wait until he sees pasco!” to the post, an apparent reference to Pasco’s large Latino population.
Pasco Mayor Matt Watkins objected in an online comment, telling Parks it was “lame.” Parks responded with a mention of rocks, a reference to the 2015 death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, who was shot dead by thee Pasco police officers after he threw rocks at them. Watkins subsequently “unfriended” Parks on Facebook.
While Parks’ comments were personal, Kennewick Mayor Steve Young and City Manager Marie Mosley were quick to distance the city from the dustup, saying his views aren’t shared by the city or council.
While many people supported Parks’ opinion online and in calls to the media, still more condemned the anti-Latino sentiment. Several organizations have called for him to step down. A website dedicated to gathering signatures on petitions gathered 1,349 signatures from around the Northwest in a petition calling for Parks to be removed from the council. Most signatures were not from Kennewick voters and the author of the petition is not readily identified online.
Tuesday’s council session attracted several dozen visitors eager to see city leaders tackle the controversy in public.
The council largely steered clear of the storm. At the start of the meeting, Young said the council traditionally does not accept public comments in workshop sessions and would not address it.
“I know that many in the community want (the) council to take some form of action or for there to be some type of accountability in response to these comments,” Young said, reading from a prepared statement. “There is not a process to address a member who has exercised their right to freedom of speech in this manner.”
Most visitors left immediately and the council proceeded to hear an update from Visit Tri-Cities and a detailed report on the city’s financial health.
Those hoping for something more were disappointed, but vowed to return April 5, when the council will hold a regular session. That gathering will include an opportunity for public comments.
Rick Rios, a Tri-City native representing Consejo Latino and Latino Rebels, said the incident has the potential to put a Tri-City face on a national conversation about Latino issues.
Rios hoped city leaders would take a more aggressive stance Tuesday and recognize that the private statements of an elected leader reflects on the city as a whole, he said.
“They represent the city,” he said.
Mary Lopez, a Yakima-based community organizer for One America With Justice For All, said the anti-immigrant sentiment coursing through the U.S. presidential campaign has become too common in the 2016 election cycle and is galvanizing Latino voters. She drove to Kennewick Tuesday in hopes of hearing an apology to local Latinos and for “helpful comments” that reflect America’s inclusive spirit.
“People in Washington state deserve better,” Lopez said.
Jill Mulhausen, a Richland resident who teaches in Kennewick’s Phoenix High School, said she simply wants city leaders to see opposition to “blatant racism.”
Leo Perales, a Kennewick resident representing the League of United Latin Citizens, said he plans to personally recruit Latino candidates to run for city council posts, including Parks’ position, which is up for reelection in 2017. He hoped Parks would apologize for the gaffe.
The council holds its next public session at 6:30 p.m. April 5, at Kennewick City Hall, 210 W. Sixth Ave.