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Council votes to censure member over ‘racial slurs,’ reaffirms Pocatello as ‘welcoming community’

East Idaho Governs

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POCATELLO — With the councilman not in attendance, having just tested positive for COVID, the Pocatello City Council voted to censure Roger Bray during its meeting Thursday.

Issues arose at a July 7 budget meeting when Bray made a comment about the city not needing additional police officers due to its limited diversity. That comment incurred condemnation from two members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at the July 21 meeting.

After the meeting, Bray spoke with the NAACP members and, according to multiple sources, stuck by his statement, creating further issues.

In the days following, the Pocatello police and fire unions called for Bray’s resignation. The city council responded by putting the censure, which is an official reprimand and not any sort of formal punishment, on Thursday’s agenda.

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

The censuring was part of a two-part agenda item. The agenda called for the city to reiterate its 2020 resolution “affirming the city of Pocatello as a welcoming and inclusive city” and for Bray’s censure.

Councilwoman Chris Stevens motioned for the items to be separated prior to the vote. Councilwoman Claudia Ortega seconded that motion. But the motion failed, 3-2, with council president Rick Cheatum and council members Linda Leeuwrik and Josh Mansfield voting against it.

Despite the motion’s failure, Ortega and Stevens both refused to vote for or against the agenda item as a whole — saying they were in favor of the resolution, but opposed to the censuring.

Before voting in favor of the resolution, Stevens called it a “perfect example of white culture rewriting history to make itself look good.”

“Until we, as a community, have the courage to be honest with ourselves, worthwhile, important discussions will continue to be impossible and the delusional status quo will continue,” she said.

In the same vein, Ortega called into question comments made by other members of the city council as well as a statement made by Pocatello Police Chief Roger Schei.

Schei, Ortega said, wrote in a 2020 grant application that construction workers needed for the Northgate expansions drew additional crime to the city.

“The influx of a transient population of construction personnel involved with the buildup has and will continue to place an ever-increasing drain on our current resources,” Ortega read.

Ortega and Stevens each ignored requests from city attorney Jared Johnson to refrain from directing accusations at city employees. Rather than backing off Schei, Ortega demanded his immediate resignation, due to his comment in the grant application.

“That’s racism,” she said.

Before voting in support of the resolution and censure, Leeuwrik, Mansfield and Cheatum each provided statements condemning Bray’s comments. Those comments, according to Mansfield, included, “We all know that Hispanics don’t get along well with certain groups.”

RELATED | Petition filed demanding recall of three Pocatello City Council members

Mayor Brian Blad commented in response to the statement, saying it was “riddled with racial slurs and racial innuendos.”

Blad called attempts to deflect the comments “sickening,” “disgusting” and “unfortunate.”

“I, as the mayor, will not stand for this kind of behavior anymore,” he said. “I am tired of it. We are a welcoming community, we have been a welcoming community, we will continue to be a welcoming community.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that a statement from councilman Bray and read by councilwoman Stevens defended his stance on diversity leading to crime. That was incorrect. A statement made by Bray previous to Thursday’s meeting did say that diversity leads to a rise in tensions.

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