County Council discusses request from area organizations for listening session on systemic racism


County Chair Eileen Quiring and Councilor Gary Medvigy request that tone and structure of the session be addressed first

Several area organizations have requested a listening session with the Clark County Council to address County Chair Eileen Quiring’s statement that systemic racism does not exist in Clark County. 

Members of the County Council are shown in this file photo. The councilors are attempting to deal with requests by area organizations for a listening session with the County Council to discuss system racism in Clark County. Photo by Mike Schultz
Members of the County Council are shown in this file photo. The councilors are attempting to deal with requests by area organizations for a listening session with the County Council to discuss system racism in Clark County. Photo by Mike Schultz

The request was made in a letter that was released late Tuesday night. It was drafted by Vanessa Yarie, director of Services and Mission Impact for YWCA Clark County, and addressed to the members of the County Council. 

The letter states that YWCA Clark County joins with partners NAACP Clark County and the Southwest Washington League of United Latin American Citizens and is also joined by the Clark County Lawyers program to collectively request the County Council hold a listening session with representatives from each organization to hear about the systemic racism that exists in Clark County and how it affects everyone in the community. 

“Standing in solidarity with our partners, NAACP Vancouver and SW WA LULAC, YWCA Clark County would like to take this opportunity to address County Chair Eileen Quiring’s statement of not believing systemic racism exists in Clark County,’’ the letter states. “We implore Chair Quiring to learn about systemic racism in our country and in the county she oversees. We strongly recommend Clark County Council make a plan for how all elected officials will contribute to addressing systemic racism throughout its leadership, services, programs, and staffing. 

County Chair Eileen Quiring
County Chair Eileen Quiring

“We support our partners, NAACP Vancouver and SW WA LULAC, as they call attention to Quiring’s offensive and wholly inaccurate assertion,’’ the letter continued. “Our organizations, joined by Clark County Volunteer Lawyers Program, are collectively requesting that Clark County Council hold a Listening Session with representatives from each organization to hear about the systemic racism that exists in Clark County and how it affects everyone in our community.’’

The full letter can be read here:

Members of the Clark County Council discussed Wednesday a request by area organizations to hold a listening session to discuss systemic racism in Clark County.

Members of the County Council discussed the letter during a 20-minute Council Time discussion held in a virtual format Wednesday morning. Councilor Julie Olson wasn’t present for the meeting. The other four councilors expressed interest in holding a listening session with the YWCA and other organizations on the issue of systemic racism but both Quiring and Medvigy each offered concerns about the tone used in recent communications by the organizations to the councilors, and specifically toward Quiring. 

“First and foremost, we need to stop the insults,’’ Medvigy said. “We need to stop the mob kind of mentality here. You know, there’s a lot of good people out in the unincorporated area and throughout the county that are insulted by the accusation that they’re somehow responsible or participating in systemic racism. There’s a lot of different definitions of what systemic racism is. (We) shouldn’t deny that it’s out there in any aspect, whether it’s in the courts, sentencing, prosecution, schools, housing, you name it, we need to have this conversation. But, I think we need to have it with an open heart and without the divisiveness.’’

Councilor Temple Lentz disagreed with Medvigy’s assertion that the letter had an insulting tone toward Quiring.

Councilor Temple Lentz
Councilor Temple Lentz

“Looking at this letter, I don’t believe there are any insults in here,’’ Lentz said. “There are statements of fact. And I’d like to draw our attention to the resolution that this council unanimously passed on the 16th, which, among other things, said that we acknowledge systemic racism exists in Clark County. And we are going to work to better understand where inequities exist, and adopt policies to eliminate them. Having listening sessions to better understand where inequities exist, would be a good first step. I don’t see insults, or division being fomented in this letter. I see it being a response to insults and division and I believe that the folks who took great offense to what was said last week have a right to feel that way. I think we would do well to respond to this and to accept the offer.’’

Medvigy also referred to a Facebook video that Lentz posted on social media in the past week with her continued criticism of Quiring. Medvigy accused Lentz of leading the divisiveness against the county chair.

Councilor Gary Medvigy
Councilor Gary Medvigy

“There’s definitely divisiveness out there and it’s almost as if there’s full attack mode on the greater community,’’ Medvigy said. “And, with all due respect, Councilor Lentz, I saw your own video on that. You’re pushing this divisiveness to a certain extent against the chair. I’m in favor of a listening session. We just need to tone it down and turn this into a positive experience.’’

Quiring said the council discussion has focused on the criticism of her in the past week but that the considerable support she has received from the community isn’t being discussed.

“I know that a lot of you are receiving copies of emails from people in the community that are calling for my resignation,’’ Quiring said. “What you’re not seeing are copies from people who are supporting me. And I would say that I have just about as many people supporting me as the emails that are flooding into our email boxes to ask me to resign, to leave because I had a different opinion.’’

Quiring also said, “I would welcome a listening session if that’s what it really was. And, if there were people who are over 40 years old, who have experienced a little bit more of history and maybe not experienced some of the rewriting of history that’s taken place in some of our education system.

“That being said, I still think that at this point in time, you know, nationally, we see a lot of hyperbolic things,’’ Quiring said. “We see statues coming down and while we don’t have that in Clark County, I feel like something’s being tried to be taken down. And that’s

a duly elected official. And frankly, I think that things should calm down a little bit.

“And council, you may not see this letter as someone stating some insulting things, believe me, I’ve been getting insults, right and left,’’ Quiring said. “And frankly, I would like things to be a little less heated before we actually sit down and talk about anything, anything to do with systemic racism in our community. And, you know, once I see a little bit of calm down, I’m very interested. Unless and until that happens, I’m not interested in going to a listening session where I get beat up and told that I’m ignorant, and that I need more education. And, just so you know, I did go through Black Studies in college myself, that I took and was very interested in.

“I find it kind of offensive that my colleagues are looking at this letter and don’t see that it is totally directed at the council chair Eileen Quiring,’’ she said.

Medvigy again offered his support and understanding to Quiring on that matter.

“I agree with you about the tone of this letter,’’ Medvigy said. “I read it the same way you do. They’re singling you out. And that needs to stop. That is not the positive climate I’m referring to. So I concur with my previous statement, we need to do this. But we need to have calmness and openness and coming together, not the singular attacks we’re seeing here.’’

Councilor John Blom agreed with the idea of a listening session for the councilors.

Councilor John Blom
Councilor John Blom

“We did pass a resolution stating that we were going to look at ways to address systemic racism,’’ Blom said. “And the small singular concern I had with that resolution would be that we would do that, and then think that we were done and move on. And that resolution was not the start of that revolution was the beginning of trying to look at this issue and address it. And in the emails we received, we’ve heard a lot of very specific and fact-based examples of systemic racism. And so, I think having the opportunity to engage with not just through email, but through this session is an important next step.’’

The councilors continued to exchange thoughts about how a listening session could be structured, but didn’t come to a consensus, other than each, including Quiring, was willing to have one in the future.

Lentz clearly wanted to extend the invitation to the YWCA and other organizations without further discussion about a structure.

“I think that we should be cautious about saying, we’re willing to listen to you, but only if you bring us these certain people under these circumstances and in this way so that it’s a palatable method for us,’’ Lentz said. “I don’t think that’s the right approach. What I’d like to suggest is that we put on the agenda for next week at council time to ask those who sent us this letter, or representatives from each of the YWCA, NAACP and LULAC, to join us as panelists to talk about the letter, not to talk about anything else. But to talk about what they envision for the listening session, what they’d like to see and what they, and if they could speak to the merits of it and the conversation they’d like to see moving forward.’’

The meeting was adjourned by Quiring without a decision on a future listening session.

“So, we are not having the YWCA come to council time,’’ Quiring said at one point near the end of the discussion.

Other news

The Washington Education Association Riverside Uniserv Council, which represents nearly 5,000 Clark County educators, issued a letter Wednesday calling for Quiring’s resignation. A copy of that letter is available here:

Members of the Clark County Council discussed Wednesday a request by area organizations to hold a listening session to discuss systemic racism in Clark County.
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About The Author

Ken Vance got his start in the newspaper industry in 1987 as a reporter at The Columbian Newspaper in Vancouver. Vance graduated from Stevenson High School in Stevenson, WA, and attended Clark College in Vancouver. He worked for The Columbian from 1987-2001. He was most recently a staff member of The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground, where he served as editor since 2010 and reporter since 2007. Vance’s work in the newspaper industry has won him multiple awards, including a first place award from the Society of Professional Journalists for in-depth reporting.

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