Jimmy Matta (left) addresses Commissioners David Chan (center left) and Bob Meador during a meeting at Fire District 1 in Everett on Tuesday. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Commissioners reprimanded for racially insensitive remarks

EVERETT — Jokes about race, even those made in private, serve to normalize discrimination, former Snohomish County Executive and Sheriff John Lovick said Tuesday.

Lovick, now a state lawmaker, sent a statement to Fire District 1 before a public meeting that focused on racially charged comments made earlier this month by two commissioners.

The commissioners, Bob Meador and David Chan, repeatedly were urged to resign Tuesday by firefighters and representatives of the Latino community who filled the district’s meeting room south of Everett. Several of those who commented noted they were worried the commissioners’ comments would hurt the district’s relationship with the people they serve, particularly Latinos. Tables were removed to make room for dozens of attendees, some of whom said they had heard a call to action on Spanish-language radio.

Meador and Chan have apologized but maintain that they will not resign. The board has five commissioners. Three believe swift sanctions were necessary. The other two, Meador and Chan, say they were denied due process and made allusions to being politically hanged.

Despite discussion over whether Meador and Chan should recuse themselves, a motion to issue them written reprimands passed 4-0 Tuesday, with one commissioner absent. Meador and Chan voted to accept their reprimands.

The controversy stems from a March 7 board meeting. The microphones were rolling during a break and broadcast a private conversation between Meador, who is white, and Chan, who is of Chinese heritage.

On the video, Chan suggested it might be cheaper to hire Mexican immigrants to work for the fire district, which has been short on paramedics. Meador said, “I don’t want those immigrants. They can’t do the job.”

Both have denied any racist intent behind their remarks. Meador says he has Mexican-American grandchildren and a long record of public service. He said he takes responsibility for the words captured on video and that he is ready to “move on.”

Chan says he had been seeking information about whether the district could recruit in other countries, following the steps of software companies. He says his life has been “ruined” by being labeled as a racist. He claims the pressure on him to resign is motivated by a union desire to unseat him in November.

Chan also claims that Meador’s part of the conversation was supposed to be Stephen Colbert-style parody.

“It was my fault that I created this controversy,” Chan said. “What I hope people would come to a conclusion that I just made a stupid mistake and unintentionally made racist remarks, but I am not a racist.”

Tuesday night was the second public meeting that focused on the comments. On Friday, the board split 2-2 on a proposal to issue written reprimands to Meador and Chan. The reprimand suggested they write formal apologies and attend diversity training. Meador and Chan did not recuse themselves from the vote Friday.

Chairman Jim McGaughey and Commissioner Jim Kenny had supported the Friday reprimand, while Commissioner Richard Schrock was absent. On Tuesday, Kenny was absent. His absence has been expected since Feb. 15, according to the district. Schrock notified the board he would miss Friday’s meeting shortly after it was scheduled. He told The Daily Herald he had a “long-standing commitment on a personal family matter.”

The situation at the fire district, whose usual meetings are sparsely attended, is drawing attention around the state. Representatives from the Latino Civic Alliance, a nonprofit based in Olympia, distributed a press release Tuesday, calling for resignations.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers also issued a statement, saying he was saddened and disturbed by the comments, “particularly from elected leaders.”

Fire District 1 is based in south Everett and serves unincorporated southwest county. Under contracts, the district also provides emergency service in Brier, Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace.

Diversity in hiring remains a priority, including recruiting people of color and women, Schrock said.

“If anyone is listening to this, there are jobs available at the fire district,” he said.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @rikkiking.

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