Commissioner Mark Shull vowed to stand his ground Thursday, even as his colleagues took the remarkable step of censuring their new colleague over alleged Islamophobic and racist statements he made online, and numerous residents, county officials and elected leaders continued to call for his immediate resignation.
The board voted unanimously — including Shull himself — to censure him over comments that all four of his colleagues strongly condemned. The board chose the route of censuring Shull — i.e., a formal expression of severe disapproval — because the options for removing him are limited.
Absent criminal activity or incapacity, the paths would be a voter recall campaign (which cannot begin until he has been in office at least six months) or a voluntary decision by Shull to step down. On Thursday, all four of his fellow commissioners asked him to do just that.
Commissioner Martha Schrader, of Canby, said his comments have caused “irreparable damage.”
“It really is causing deep rifts in our community and in our ability to govern,” said Schrader, who added she was asking for his resignation with “deep humility and sorrow.”
It was not the only time that the proceedings became emotional, as several commissioners spoke about their mixed-race families and the ways Shull’s comments had impacted them personally.
“We do not understand all of our different cultures and all of our different people, but I think the most dangerous thing is when we stereotype people,” said Commissioner Paul Savas, whose grandparents emigrated from the Middle East — “maybe parts of the world where some of [Shull’s] comments were directed.”
“We cannot, shall not, should not stereotype,” Savas added.
Chair Tootie Smith, who said she tries to keep her emotions “hidden” in her public duties, admitted the enormous challenges Shull’s comments have presented this week.
“It has been hugely difficult for me to navigate and maneuver,” she said. “My heart has been broken in a million pieces. I have cried. One day, my heart was so broken … I thought I was having a heart attack.”
Smith was also not alone in saying that she asked for his resignation with regret, because she had looked forward to working with him. Commissioner Sonya Fischer agreed, saying she had followed Shull’s campaign closely and had appreciated the spirit in which it had been conducted.
“I do not believe candidate Shull is the real Mark Shull, which is demonstrated through the statements on your personal Facebook page, which were hateful and full of bigotry,” she said. “I believe that, as I was deceived, the voters of Clackamas County were also deceived, and that they would not have elected you had they known of your true views.”
“This is hard,” Fisher admitted later in the meeting. “This is really hard.”
Through it all, Shull listened stoically, without reply or obvious reaction to anything his colleagues said. His comments, when Smith offered him the opportunity, were brief.
“I’ve heard and understand your concerns,” he said. “I submitted a statement earlier in the week in response to the messages that came in Monday morning. It’s my intention, at this time, to continue to carry out the work for the people of Clackamas County. Thank you.”
Residents also weighed in Thursday, among them, Cris Waller, who was the first to document Shull’s views in a recent blog post.
“It was less than a week ago that I, on a whim, looked up Mark Shull’s Facebook page,” she said. “You all know what happened next. Once I saw the inexcusable, blatant racism on display, I knew I needed to capture it and show it to whomever would look, to expose the festering hatred and bigotry behind the facade.”
But Shull was not without defenders. Retired U.S. Army Col. Rick Coufal said he has a personal relationship with Shull, himself a retired lieutenant colonel who served 25 years for the Army and U.S. Marine Corps, including a tour in Iraq.
“While in Iraq, Lt. Col. Shull served as a community coordinator,” Coufal said. “In this capacity, he worked daily with local village, community and tribal leadership to promote goodwill, trust and U.S.-Iraqi friendship. For this outstanding service, he was awarded the Bronze Star.”
Coufal speculated that the social media comments stemmed from a temporary “dark period” common to those who had recently returned from the battlefronts of the Middle East — though Shull’s Iraq service was in 2003, and he retired from the military in 2010. The posts unearthed by Waller all date to 2019 and 2020.
“We all have baggage from the Iraq War, and it takes time to think through what we did and what the results were,” said Coufal. “I am convinced, having talked with Commissioner Shull on numerous occasions after his return from Iraq, that he does not have any ill feelings toward Muslims or any other group of people, and is not racist or prejudicial.”
Not everyone was willing to accept this explanation, including Oregon City resident Deborah Otenboro, who called Shull’s views “extremist” and dangerous.
“My son-in-law bears a bullet scar and carries the pain of losing several siblings in Iraq,” she said. “What he does not carry is a heart full of hate. Your words make it clear that you cannot be trusted to represent the needs of your constituents without bias, and I call on you to resign willingly before you further stain our community. If you will not, I will do everything in my power to help escort you out through recall.”
The full text of the resolution censuring Commissioner Shull is available here.
Wikimedia Commons photo by Lorie Shaull is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.