Two Snohomish County Fire District 1 Commissioners accused of making racist statements during a break in a meeting on March 7 had an apparent change of heart Tuesday, voting in favor of a reprimand for themselves that they had voted against on Friday, March 17.
However, Commissioners David Chan and Bob Meador both said during the March 21 commissioners meeting they do not plan to resign—which several members of the public demanded.
The first such public member was Mike Cooper, a retired firefighter and former mayor of Edmonds.
“You are held to a higher standard, and the public deserves better,” he said. “Your demeaning remarks have been hurtful to all members of the department. Please do the honorable thing, resign tonight and leave the building so the healing can begin.”
Cooper said he doesn’t believe the two commissioners are racists, but that their comments have disgraced their office.
“When I heard the demeaning and insensitive remarks made by Commissioners Meador and Chan, I was deeply disappointed and troubled,” Cooper said. “When I heard the excuses, like blaming the union on television, I was embarrassed as a former firefighter and elected official.”
Josh Blake, of Edmonds, said if the commissioners were truly sorry, they would resign.
“It is careless to make racist comments, even in joke form,” Blake said. “The fact that a 15-second clip caused such outcry is proof that such attitudes are not accepted in our community.”
Ted Hikel, of Lynnwood, said it was “unethical” that the commissioners voted against a resolution brought forward Friday to reprimand themselves. He would have preferred to see them recuse themselves from the vote, or to support it.
“I think the remarks that were made were stupid, insensitive and disappointing,” Hikel said.
The comments in question happened during a conversation recorded on video during a break in the March 7 commission meeting. Chan and Meador did not know their microphones were on at the time and were discussing recruiting and hiring paramedics.
“Could we hire a Mexican paramedic?” Chan asked. “I dunno,” Meador replied, laughing. “It’s cheaper,” Chan responded, also laughing. “I don’t wanna,” Meador said. “I don’t want those immigrants. They can’t do the job.”
The fire commissioners comments also drew criticism from several officials during Tuesday night’s Edmonds City Council meeting. Council President Tom Mesaros called on both commisioners to resign, Councilmember Neil Tibbott said their actions were “inexcusable” and Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling said he found the remarks “very disappointing.”
“Whether intended to be heard by the public or not, remarks that disparage or disrespect a group or class of people are not representative of the culture we aspire to here in Edmonds,” Earling said.
Councilmember Mike Nelson, who had — along with Councilmembers Dave Teitzel and Adrienne Fraley-Monillas — been critical of the commissioners’ words in a Monday, March 20 My Edmonds News article, on Tuesday night went a step further. Nelson said he would be introducing an ordinance soon “that requires all of our city contracts to prohibit discriminatory practices. If you have a contract with our city and you engage in discrimination, we will be able to terminate our contract with you.”
The City of Edmonds currently contracts with Fire District 1 for its fire and emergency medical services.
Before public comment began at the Fire District commission meeting Tuesday, Chan and Meador were given a chance to speak. Chan thanked the audience for the opportunity because, he said, he had felt “blindsided” during Friday’s meeting. He went on to describe the comments he made, that hiring Mexican paramedics might be cheaper, as “neutral” terms.
“I should have said, ‘can we go recruit in Mexico,’” Chan said. “When I said it’s cheaper, I meant it’s cheaper than a private contract.”
He also said he knew immediately that the comments Meador made were meant to be taken as a joke.
“Meador has a dry sense of humor,” Chan said. “He does like a Colbert thing. I know he was kidding. He has five grandchildren that are Mexican.”
Chan admitted the comments were a mistake.
“I hope you come to the conclusion that this guy made a stupid mistake,” he said.
Meador kept his comments short.
“At this point, I take full responsibility for the words that have been recorded,” he said. “If there’s a reprimand in the wind, I will take it.”
He kept his word later in the evening, when a resolution to reprimand the two commissioners unanimously passed. Commissioner Jim Kenny was absent from Tuesday’s meeting, but voted in favor of a resolution on Friday, March 17.