SELAH — Selah City Administrator Don Wayman is keeping his job, but the city will be preparing a code of conduct in the wake of Wayman’s remarks about the Black Lives Matter movement.
City Council members discussed Wayman’s comments and the public backlash against them during a special council meeting Wednesday night that was mostly conducted in closed session.
While no action was taken against Wayman, the council agreed to complete work on a code of conduct for both council members and city staff, including Wayman.
“I am personally disappointed in his words as he works as the city administrator,” Councilman Russ Carlson said Thursday. “He stated that they are his words and his opinions only, but when he sits in a position like that, he is a public official.”
While Councilman Kevin WIckenhagen apologized for a letter he wrote defending Wayman’s characterization of Black Lives Matter as a “neo-Marxist organization,” Wayman reiterated his remarks in a prepared statement that used comments from a conservative commentator without attribution.
“Perhaps some of you believe you are representing a universally outraged community. This is simply not true,” Wayman said. “The vast majority of our residents still value a city administrator who’s willing to stand up to a group devoid of intellect and reason.”
Wayman’s remarks did not satisfy his critics, who believed he should have been disciplined for his actions.
“That he didn’t get a reprimand is insane,” said Courtney Hernandez, one of the organizers of the Black Lives Matter protest in Selah.
The controversy began June 6, when Black Lives Matter protesters staged a demonstration in front of the Selah Civic Center. Yakima Councilwoman Holly Cousens said Wayman pulled up next to her and her stepfather in a city vehicle and, after introductions, Wayman told Cousens that the protesters were engaging in “communist indoctrination” with their chants, Cousens recounted in a post on her Facebook page.
Cousens also said Wayman patted the side of his jacket and said Selah didn’t have the problems Yakima did because most residents carried concealed weapons.
In an interview in the Yakima Herald-Republic, Wayman denied implying to Cousens that he was armed, but stood by his remarks about communist indoctrination and added that Black Lives Matter was a “neo-Marxist organization.”
After a meeting in which council members met behind closed door for more than 90 minutes, the council unanimously voted to have a code of conduct ready for the July 14 council meeting.
Mayor Sherry Raymond said at the meeting that a code was started sometime in the past, but never completed. She also said that training can be provided for council members and staff about how to conduct themselves when dealing with the public.
Wickenhagen, who earlier defended Wayman’s labeling of Black Lives Matter as neo-Marxist by citing a definition of the philosophy from a crowd-sourced dictionary, apologized for the division his comments caused in the community, which he said was his worst nightmare.
“I did not stop to realize that most of the Selah citizens who marched or supported the march probably did not know about the politics, political affiliations or the policies of the organization known as Black Lives Matter,” Wickenahgen said. “In the emails I have received, I learned they were marching because another Black person died at the hands of a police officer. They were marching because racism harms communities and needs to stop. They were marching because they were doing what Selah does best by pulling together in difficult times.”
Wickenhagen also promised to do a better job listening.
Hernandez and Bill Callahan, a city resident and critic of Wayman, both commended Wickehagen for his humility and willingness to learn.
“It was the perfect example of somebody who says he now knows better, compared to Mr. Wayman’s ‘might makes right’ approach and anybody who disagrees with him is a neo-Marxist,” Callahan said.
At the end of the meeting, Wayman gave what he described as his own opinion on the controversy. But his remarks quoted large portions of an article by conservative commentator Ben Shapiro accusing left-leaning people of promoting mob rule and crushing dissenting opinions, without citing Shaprio as the source.
“Once the group has been purified, change will only require the snap of a finger. No more gridlock, no more conversation,” Wayman said, using a line from Shapiro’s work.
Hernadez said there was irony in Wayman questioning the protesters’ intellect while plagiarizing Shapiro.
Wayman, in an interview Thursday, acknowledged that he had drawn on the words and ideas in Shapiro’s article, but said he was not plagiarizing.
“I don’t believe I was suggesting I was the author,” Wayman said. “I would give credit to some of the words and inspiration from him.”
Wayman, in his statement, said he was experiencing the wrath of a mob because his opinion challenged Black Lives Matter’s views, and the group was now “conducting a coordinated campaign to destroy my reputation and eliminate me as your city administrator.”
He also vowed to continue to provide leadership for city staff, be fair in all deliberations, support the police and to uphold the oath to defend the U.S. Constitution he swore as a Marine.
“I will never quit or take a knee, even in the face of personal slander, lies and death threats,” Wayman said.
Councilwoman Suzanne Vargas took issue with Wayman’s characterization of Black Lives Matter as a “left-wing mob.”
“They are citizens of Selah and speaking out on something important to them,” Vargas said.
Wayman said Thursday he would take Vargas’ comment “for what it’s worth and give it the consideration that it is due.” He said his words about Black Lives Matter speak for themselves.