Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay began the meeting by announcing he had just asked a police sergeant to give him a breathalyzer test to prove he wasn’t drunk — and that wasn’t even the weirdest part of an extraordinary emergency session Sunday night, called to address comments and behavior that shocked, dismayed and angered his fellow commissioners and a number of residents.
Holladay blew a point-zero-zero in the presence of City Manager Tony Konkol, he said, explaining that the reason for the test was because he has been dealing with some recent medical issues that can cause him to slur his words, and he didn’t want anyone to think he’d been drinking.
It was the second time in six weeks that Oregon City commissioners had called an emergency meeting to address comments and actions by Mayor Holladay they found inappropriate and out-of-bounds.
In April, a Sunday night session was convened after Holladay’s loose talk about opening the city’s businesses in violation of the governor’s stay-home order, which provoked a letter from the attorney general threatening “significant legal repercussions” if he moved forward with such a plan.
This time, commissioners had multiple complaints about the mayor’s behavior — only some of which was publicly known before Sunday.
Holladay had been under fire for several days after comments on social media that seemed to downplay incidents of police brutality against blacks, as well as the global protests sparked by the murder of Minnesotan George Floyd.
He has also been criticized for being the only one out of 26 Portland area mayors who refused to sign a joint statement decrying Floyd’s death and voicing support for citizens’ right to peacefully protest.
Later in the meeting, he was also accused of approaching local businesses to solicit funds for an unsanctioned Fourth of July fireworks show and for colluding with the city’s AV personnel to cut short the broadcast of the previous city meeting, which denied commissioners the chance to comment.
He began Sunday night by saying that his initial reaction upon hearing about the meeting was to not attend, but he felt that would be seen as an act of cowardice. As mayor, he believes the rule of law should be applied equally to every citizen, regardless of their color, beliefs or economic station, and he admits this was not the case for George Floyd.
“People are angry, and they should be,” he said. “I am angry. Let me be clear: What happened to George Floyd was wrong. What those police officers did was wrong. Indeed, they’ll get their day in court. As a public servant, I am gratified that the officers who did this will feel the full weight of justice, because George Floyd certainly did not receive it.”
He attempted to explain his social media posts, including a since-deleted comment on the community networking app Nextdoor that said there was no “epidemic” of police violence against blacks and cited numbers that, on Sunday, he attributed to The Washington Post.
He also defended his use of the word “nitpick,” calling it “a word that refers to what moms and dads of every color have had to do to their kids since time immemorial.”
“My mom had to do that for me after playing in the woods with my friends,” he said.
He said he supports Oregon City community members of all races and sexual orientations.
“Nothing I said or posted was racist — not even debatable, but here we are tonight,” he said. “I commit to treat each and every one of the citizens of Oregon City with equal respect and equal protection.”
Holladay then played a profanity-laced voicemail he received in response to his comments, which included the woman’s name and phone number.
“I have received many calls that have been like this,” he said. “This was the only person that left a message.”
He also shared a copy of an email from the same person that contained her name and contact information.
Holladay vowed to treat all Oregon City residents “with respect and equality,” and said he supports the rights to peacefully protest, but that “tearing down buildings and hurting people does not honor George Floyd.”
“I will not endorse any unlawful acts in the name of George Floyd,” he said. “He deserves better. You deserve better. We, as a community, deserve better. I will not ratify riots, and I will not bend the law to give a free pass to rioters, and I will not bend the knee in supplication to an enraged mob.”
The meeting was then opened up to public comment, some of which was delivered in person and others over the phone. The majority were deeply critical of the mayor, saying he has poorly represented his constituents and brought disgrace to the city.
“I’m a citizen and a business owner here, and I’m embarrassed by you, Mayor,” said Oregon City resident Roland Walsh. Of the mayor’s comments, he said, “This is not leadership. This is complicity in a system that directly benefits you as a white man. This is cowardice — not leadership.”
Chanda Hall, a resident of the historic McLoughlin neighborhood, said Holladay’s actions would damage the city’s reputation and its economy.
“There is a concerted effort right now statewide to stop doing business in Oregon City,” she said. “It is not a good look to be so out of step, not just with every other mayor in our area, but with our own citizens. This is so out of step as to be an embarrassment, with real economic consequences, which affects my family and my neighborhood.”
Three people spoke in support of the mayor — none of whom were residents of Oregon City. One, Victoria Taft, was a woman calling from California, whose connection to Oregon City was not clear (she said she has “ties to Portland”). One was Holladay’s brother, Rick, who phoned in from Washington state.
“We have not been close,” Mayor Holladay said by way of introduction. “He spent the last more than two decades overseas as a minister, so I have no idea what he’s going to say.”
After hearing 30 minutes of public testimony, the mayor abruptly left, citing poor health.
“Are you leaving?” asked Commissioner Denyse McGriff. “You’re not interested in what the rest of us have to say?”
“I’ll hear what the rest of you have to say on the recording,” Holladay replied.
McGriff, an African American and the first person of color to serve on the Oregon City Commission, began her comments by saying she wanted to “state the obvious.”
“I live in my skin every day, and unless you are a person of color you have no idea about what I go through on a daily basis, a yearly basis, for my entire life,” she said. “We cannot ignore the pain, the anguish and trauma experienced by people of color over the decades. We cannot ignore that pain, anguish and trauma, no matter the denial by many people, by some people, by anyone.”
She, along with the other commissioners, expressed frustration with Holladay’s actions, but said there is little they can do. The city charter does not provide a mechanism for commissioners to impeach another member. Only voters have that power, through a recall effort (which is underway).
Before he left, Holladay spoke, briefly, to his efforts to raise money for what one commissioner later described as an “illegal fireworks show.” Holladay said he had raised “quite a lot of money” and begun negotiations with a vendor — all without the knowledge or support of the commission — but had since canceled those efforts.
“I hope to put something together next year, if I’m still the mayor,” he said. His term expires at the end of 2022.
See the full June 7 emergency meeting below: