More than 100 people packed Kennewick City Council chambers Tuesday night, many to vent their anger at Councilman Bob Parks for his recent Facebook comments disparaging Pasco, Yakima and Latinos.
Several speakers called for Parks to resign. Others said his fellow councilmen should take a stronger stand against him and force him to resign.
A boycott of Kennewick businesses was threatened. Resolutions supporting diversity were proposed.
“Who in here has never made a mistake before?” said Parks after about 25 people had addressed the council.
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The Facebook meme, which featured a picture of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders superimposed with made-up comments, was meant as a joke, he said.
“Everyone had their say. I appreciate it. You guys do what you have to do. I’m not going to resign. I have a year and a half left. Then I will ride off into the sunset,” he said.
He could have packed the meeting with friends and supporters, he said. But he wanted to listen. Threats have been made against him and his family.
“I’m sorry what I’ve shared has caused hate,” he said.
Comments ran about four to one against Parks.
Teacher Jill Mulhausen of Kennewick was one of the speakers who called on Parks to resign.
“It is difficult to be in a position of explaining how an elected official who is meant to represent my students and their families is instead spreading racist and insulting rhetoric,” she said.
“Leaders bring people together. You’re divisive. Leaders listen to their constituents. You have been dismissive. Leaders learn and grow. You’re stuck in fear and hate,” she added.
Rick Rios of Pasco, representing Latino Rebels, said Kennewick has a deep history of racism and bigotry.
Hispanic groups in the area support calling for a boycott of Kennewick businesses, and Rios said he could do that on his national radio show platform April 10.
But “you have a chance to remove the black mark that is on this city,” Rios said.
Maren Reynolds said Parks had belittled the people of the Kennewick community and others.
“This should be left with the segregated drinking fountains of yesteryear,” she said.
Cigdem Capan, who teaches physics at Washington State University Tri-Cities, invited Parks to meet her students. They are dedicated to their families and their career goals. Some work two jobs while going to school.
“These are not lazy people,” Capan said. “They are not stupid, worthless people.”
“If you have the slightest human decency, you should resign,” she added.
The city released a statement last week saying that there is not a code of conduct violation when a council member has exercised his right to speak personally. Elected officials are ultimately accountable to their constituents, it said.
“Tepid at best,” was Chuck Henager’s description of the city’s response. Henager, of Kennewick, called on the city council to pass a resolution with a positive message about the value of diversity.
Jennifer Goulet of Pasco came with a proposed resolution already written that would resolve to “promote and celebrate diversity, equality and inclusiveness for all citizens, residents and visitors in our community.” The city is proud of the richness that diversity brings, it said.
Fernando Aguilar of Kennewick said the city needs to find a way to represent its Latino residetns, who make up nearly 25 percent of the city’s population, on the council.
The district should have single-member districts that comply with national voting laws, he said.
Among those who defended Parks was Nita Berry of Kennewick. She said Parks opposes people who are not in the United States legally. She would not expect to go to Mexico and feel that she should receive special treatment, she said.
Before the meeting was opened for comments, Mayor Steve Young said that “a lot of pain and frustration” had been caused by personal social media postings that did not represent the city of Kennewick’s core values.
“We are deeply sorry,” he said.
The incident started when Parks posted the meme after Sanders had visited Yakima. On the picture was the comment “I went to Yakima today. Now I know why Trump wants to build a wall.” Parks added a personal comment, “Wait until he sees pasco!”
Pasco Mayor Matt Watkins responded by calling the post “lame,” triggering a response from Parks, who noted that he doesn’t go to either Yakima or Pasco “without rocks,” a reference to he 2015 death of Antonia Zambrano-Montes, who was shot dead by three Pasco police officers after he threw rocks at them.