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Aug. 7, 2020

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Clark County Council Chair Quiring wants to wait to hold listening session on systemic racism

She cites ‘insults,’ says she wants to see things ‘get a little less heated,' that it feels like people are trying to take down a duly elected official

By , Columbian county government and small cities reporter
Published:

Clark County Council Chair Eileen Quiring said Wednesday that she would like to wait to hold a listening session on systemic racism, citing what she called “insults” against her as calls for her resignation persist.

Quiring drew fire for saying last week that she does “not agree that we have systemic racism in our county. Period.” Protests have included petitions calling on her to resign and requests for listening sessions several community groups.

She said she has received a nearly equal amount of feedback supporting her.

“We’re not going to learn anything except what those people think, and believe me, I already know what those people think. I’ve heard plenty of it,” Quiring said during a council time meeting Wednesday. “What I believe you haven’t heard, because I don’t see the copies going to the entire council, is what I’m hearing from people at the same rate as those who are writing to ask me to step down.”

Session sought

On Tuesday, YWCA Clark County, NAACP Vancouver, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Clark County Volunteer Lawyers Program sent a letter to the council requesting the listening session. The letter proposed that members of each organization speak with the council.

It also called Quiring’s statement about systemic racism “offensive and wholly inaccurate.”

“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,” the letter reads. “It is incumbent for Chair Quiring to recognize and acknowledge systemic racism is real.”

‘Taken aback’

Councilor Temple Lentz brought up the letter during the council time meeting Wednesday.

Quiring said she was “taken aback” by the letter.

“I certainly want to sit down and talk and reason together. I’m not sure this is about reasoning together. This is more insults to the chair and my viewpoint,” Quiring said.

Lentz disagreed.

“Looking at this letter, I don’t believe there are any insults in here. They are statements of fact,” Lentz said. “I don’t see insults or division being fomented in this letter. I see it being a response to insults and division.”

Quiring later added that she is “not interested in a listening session where I get beat up and told I’m ignorant and that I need more education.”

“Frankly, I would like to see things get a little less heated before we actually sit down and talk about anything, anything to do with systemic racism in our community,” Quiring said. “Once I see a little bit of the calm down, I’d be very interested in it.”

Statue removal ‘hyperbolic’

Quiring also said that, in college, she was engaged and “very interested in” Black studies. The chair characterized statues being taken down in other areas of the country as “hyperbolic.”

“While we don’t have that in Clark County, I feel like something’s being, trying to be, taken down, and that’s a duly elected official,” Quiring said.

The council’s next scheduled public meeting is another council time session July 8.

Councilors debated whether there was precedent for testimony at a council time meeting in order to facilitate a listening session, and Quiring said she would like to include 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.”

Councilor Gary Medvigy said that he would welcome the listening session and that racism should be discussed rather than denied. He also said that some have been singling out Quiring and that the council should know who the speakers are before holding a listening session.

“We need to stop the insults. We need to stop the mob, kind of, mentality here,” Medvigy said. “I’m in favor of a listening session. We just need to tone it down and turn this into a positive experience if we can.”

By the end of the meeting, councilors — minus Quiring — agreed to hold some form of a listening session next week, though other specifics were not finalized.

More calls for resignation

Also on Wednesday, the WEA-Riverside Uniserv Council, a labor union representing nearly 5,000 educators and support staff in the county, joined other local organizations in calling on Quiring to resign.

In an open letter to the county council, the labor union mentioned disproportionate discipline for students of color, a lack of diversity in school staffing and an unwillingness by school districts to commit to cultural responsiveness and diversity training.

“The chair of the Clark County Council is the highest office of local government. Its influence impacts every city, school district, business and law enforcement agency. With the rise of hate crimes and organizing white supremacy groups, the community does not have the luxury of time to educate and catch up Councilor Quiring to unpack her own implicit biases and wait on her to act against racism,” the letter reads. “Eileen Quiring must resign as chair of the Clark County Council and be replaced with an individual who is committed to dismantling institutional racism in Clark County.”

The NAACP Vancouver and LULAC called for the council chair’s resignation on Saturday. An online petition calling for Quiring’s resignation began circulating Saturday and had gathered roughly 5,000 signatures by Wednesday afternoon.

Quiring has resisted calls for her resignation, rebuking them as “a knee-jerk reaction to a different point of view.”

Resolution questioned

A week before Quiring’s comments, she joined a unanimous vote by the council approving a resolution “relating to eliminating systemic racism and injustice in Clark County.”

The educators’ union said Wednesday that it was holding Quiring responsible for the vote.

“By undermining her own consent to the resolution, Councilor Quiring proves systemic racism exists by reversing the Chair’s support and causing harm to the community,” the labor union said.

The WEA-Riverside letter, considering that Quiring has “so far refused to resign,” also invited her to meet with educators to learn about racism in the county.

“We call on every city, school district, union, business and community leaders to publicly acknowledge that systemic racism is real and educate the community how it exists within their own institutions,” the letter reads.

Councilor John Blom said that he has received “specific, fact-based examples of systemic racism” in the past week.

“That resolution was the beginning of trying to look at this issue and address it,” Councilor John Blom said. “These conversations will be uncomfortable.”

Quiring did not respond before deadline Wednesday to a request for comment on the resolution.

Columbian county government and small cities reporter
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