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Calls for city council member’s resignation increase following diversity comments

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POCATELLO — Pocatello first responders have called for the resignation of a city council member following “racially insensitive comments.”

The Pocatello Firefighters Union IAFF Local 187 is condemning comments made by City Councilman Roger Bray at two recent city council meetings. In the statement provided to EastIdahoNews.com by union president Jordan VanEvery, the union says it joins the Pocatello Police Union, Fraternal Order of Police Valley Lodge 13, in calling for Bray’s “immediate resignation.”

“The racially insensitive comments, witnessed by numerous individuals, made by Pocatello City Councilman Roger Bray on July 7 and July 21 are inexcusable,” the statement reads. “The members of the Pocatello Firefighters Local 187 pride ourselves in serving every citizen in our community with respect and compassion. We are deeply saddened by such an abhorrent viewpoint being held by a city leader. The Pocatello Firefighters Local 187 feels strongly that Councilman Roger Bray has clearly demonstrated he is no longer fit to be a steward of The city of Pocatello.”

During a July 7 city budget meeting, Pocatello Police Chief Roger Schei discussed the city’s need for additional officers. Schei pointed to the city’s number of police officers compared to it number of residents. The current proposed budget would add two new police officer positions.

The city’s current ratio of 1.6 officers per 1,000 residents, Schei said, is below the national average of 2 officers per 1,000 residents.

Bray stated that the city did not need additional officers due to its lack of diversity.

“We have had a very efficient department. We’ve been able to take care of that ratio because we are not as diverse a community as some,” Bray said.

Two weeks later, when the council continued its budget discussions, two National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Pocatello Branch members spoke about the comment.

Branch President Ken Monroe explained that he took Bray’s comment as an issue of racial and ethnic diversity. He also addressed the city council’s “stamp of approval on a resolution confirming the city’s status as a welcoming and inclusive city.”

In that resolution, Monroe continued, the city claimed to be welcoming to all people and holding high values of inclusion and respect.

“It’s nice to talk the talk,” he concluded, “but once in a while, we need to walk the walk.”

Dr. James Yizar, a board member with the Pocatello NAACP, addressed the statement and the lack of a reaction from the other council members.

“When a leader in a powerful position communicates a statement like that, it reduces the motivation and energy others are putting into inclusion and acceptance philosophies encouraging others to be connected and appreciative of differences,” he said. “When a leader expresses a statement that nothing should be done or something taken away because our community is not diverse, individuals that I represent by the color of my skin believe that they are not welcome.”

He continued, saying the lack of a response from the other “powerful members” in the council further confirmed a silent attack on certain community members. He said he was “in a state of shock and disappointed” with all the council members and Mayor Brian Blad.

Blad responded to Yizar.

“Let me publicly apologize for not stopping that and not catching that when that was said,” Blad said. “Thank you for bringing that to our attention. I think it’s most important for us as a community to recognize the diversity that we have, embrace it, celebrate it and make sure that we make everybody feel welcome.”

After the meeting, Bray spoke with Monroe and Yizar. During the discussion, Bray “reiterated the position he expressed” at the previous meeting, according to a statement from the police union. Two separate Pocatello police sergeants and Schei were present for the exchange.

“Portneuf Valley FOP Lodge 13 does not condone, and vehemently disagrees with, these comments by Roger Bray in his capacity as a leader within the city as a City Council Member,” the union’s statement reads. “We as a body feel that Councilman Bray does not represent our personal and professional values of excellence, integrity, loyalty, courage and respect for each member of our community. We believe that Councilman Bray’s statements adversely affect our community, our city and our police department by creating a hostile environment that reduces our department’s ability to retain current employees, recruit new employees and represent the diversity in the community we live in and serve. We feel that Councilman Bray’s comments reveal his bias. This completely eliminates his effectiveness as a leader in our community.”

Since, the Firefighters Union has joined the police union in calling for Bray’s resignation. Furthermore, the police union took a vote of “no confidence” in Bray as a council member.

“On July 22, 2022, our union passed a vote of no confidence in Roger Bray as a City of Pocatello Council Member,” the police union statement says. “We hereby request that Roger Bray immediately resign as a member of the Pocatello City Council.”

EastIdahoNews.com requested comment from council president Rick Cheatum, the Pocatello branch of the NAACP and Bray. As of Wednesday, Bray and Cheatum have not responded.

Bray did write a column in the Idaho State Journal and said his reference to a lack of diversity was “a much more layered, complex concept” than that of race.

“Based on comments during the citizen input portion of the regular council meeting, I realized some people hear the phrase ‘as diverse as some others’ as referencing only — or primarily — race or skin color,” the column reads. “I had no idea it would be so narrowly interpreted.

“I apologize for not anticipating how others might hear the word ‘diversity.’ … This current situation needs to be a learning moment for all of us. I will listen to how I am perceived in our community. I hope others will strive for understanding and dialog rather than summary judgment and conflict. … If this situation serves as the catalyst to initiate the authentic, in-depth conversations about race, discrimination and othering this community needs to have, so be it. I am at peace.”

The next city council meeting is scheduled for Aug. 4, when the council will host a public forum to discuss the 2022-23 city budget.

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