ERIN TIERNEY/FILE PHOTO Mayor Richard Zettervall left office three months early due to community reaction to an equity-and-inclusion discussion.
CRESWELL – Only three months before his term was to expire, Creswell Mayor Richard Zettervall resigned Sept. 30, citing adversarial responses to an equity resolution he and city councilors were discussing the past few months.
“I now feel unable to represent the city council and the Creswell citizens due to all the negativity that the equity and inclusion conversation has created,” Zettervall said in his resignation email to city staff.
The equity topic was first discussed with optimism at a July council meeting, prompted by community member Shelly Clark, now a city council candidate. In a letter, she asked city leaders to consider clarifying their views on race, white supremacy and social justice.
“This is only going to be the beginning,” Zettervall said at that July meeting. “This will be an ongoing public topic until we decide what direction we want to go.” He said he hoped to have a policy adopted by the end of the year.
Sixty days later, after several public meetings regarding equity and inclusion in the city, Zettervall’s tone changed.
“I am very sad that the equity and inclusion topic has turned out to be so controversial,” he wrote in his resignation letter.
After the July discussion, the City first introduced a draft of a resolution that would reassert Creswell as an inclusive city that denounces racism, and proposed forming an equity committee.
The news stories circulated online, and hundreds of comments flooded the social media discussion threads, causing administrators of the Creswell Community Page to turn off their comment functions.
“It should not be partisan or controversial in any way and should be something that every citizen of our country should aspire to every day,” Zettervall said.
Council candidates JoeRell Medina and Jeri Hutchinson made their voices known in opposition of the resolution, writing online that the resolution was being “shoved down the community’s throat’’ and that the city was “pushing its own agenda on the citizens.” Other online comments suggested that the mayor and council were trying to emulate bigger cities like Eugene or Portland, and that Creswell does not need an equity document because it does not have a racism issue.
The harsh reaction from segments of the community shocked Zettervall and most council members, they said.
“I’ve seen the online comments and am deeply troubled by disparaging remarks against our mayor and council president,” councilor Kevin Prociw said, who is running for mayor in November.
As a result of the negative community reaction, in September the council tabled the conversation on equity, agreeing that it was too divisive of a subject to move forward at this time.
Council met again later that month and discussed the possibility of still hosting town halls and removing the discussion on equity from the table to discuss again in the future. However, it could not reach a consensus. Because of state law and council procedures, not removing the discussion from the table means that it now cannot discuss equity, even in the broadest of terms.
Zettervall resigned two days later.
“People have no idea how hard a mayor works on their behalf. No idea how many truly long and dull meetings are required, how many complaints and unhappy opinions must be sifted and responded to. And mayors do this as a volunteer,” city manager Michelle Amberg said. “Rarely have I seen these volunteers valued like they deserve. It is a big responsibility. There are many rules and laws that must be followed. There is no way to prepare to be an elected official. When good people are unable to do the right thing it can be crushing. I wish more people would take that into consideration before they say hateful and hurtful things.”
“Richard is a man of convictions … I am convinced that is why he resigned suddenly as something he sees as very obvious was not seen that way by all the community,” said Bill Spencer, owner of Creswell 76.
Zettervall would not comment further on his departure. “I’m going to take a great deal of time to take care of myself,” he told The Chronicle. “For now, I’m not willing to make any comments further than my resignation letter states. I’m not sure when or if I will ever be.”
Spencer said that while he thinks Zettervall was a “good fit” for mayor, he is disappointed in his resignation, “as it may make outsiders perceive the community to be in a state of conflict when I do not hear that from the general public. The overriding question seems to be, ‘what is the correct role for city government?’ Is it to provide city services or to determine citizen correctness? Is a small group of elected citizens supposed to lecture through an equity draft? There is very real disagreement in America whether meaningful social change comes through city council resolutions.”
The mayor’s seat remains open and the next steps will be discussed at the Oct. 12 city council meeting. Zettervall previously announced he was not seeking re-election, and councilor Prociw and council president Knudsen are vying for the seat in November.
At next week’s meeting, the council could choose to keep the mayor position vacant through the remainder of the year with Knudsen performing the duties of mayor, or they can decide to fill it, Amberg said.
“Each of us has our own takeaways from the situation and it’ll take some time to process,” Prociw said.