Unmasked crowd occupies Clackamas County meeting room

Clackamas County

Chair Tootie Smith moves to virtual format after group refuses to comply with state administrative rules

White protective sterile face masks on vintage wooden board. (Getty)

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PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Clackamas County commissioners’ Jan. 13 meeting was abruptly halted and moved online after a large crowd refused to follow state and county COVID-19 safety requirements, proceeding to occupy the county hearing room for several minutes after commissioners and staff evacuated.

Roughly 19 minutes into the 6 p.m. meeting, Chair Tootie Smith made the call to move remaining discussions to a virtual format. Smith gaveled the end of the meeting as members of the crowd are heard saying the word “propaganda” as Commissioner Martha Schrader shared how COVID-19 has recently impacted several of her family members who have experienced mild symptoms after contracting the disease.

“We’ve been really lucky that it isn’t severe, but we just never know how it’s going to hit people,” Schrader said. “We never know how sick you’re going to get with it. So, it’s really important to be careful.”

Schrader’s comments were cut short as Smith banged her gavel to end the meeting.

A video recording of what occurred after Smith moved the meeting online is currently available on the Instagram page for Free Oregon, a nonpartisan campaign “dedicated to restoring and protecting the civil rights” of Oregonians amid federal COVID-19 responses such as mask-wearing, per its website.

In the roughly 27-minute video, which appears to have been filmed by a Free Oregon representative in attendance at the meeting, the packed crowd of mostly unmasked community members are seen occupying the county hearing room to hold their own meeting after commissioners and staff exited the room to continue operations virtually.

Among topics of discussion by the remaining occupiers were the urging of “mass noncompliance” towards COVID-19 safety mandates, disputing Center for Disease Control and Prevention data and recommendations, and calling the 2020 presidential election “fraudulent,” despite ample evidence to the contrary.

Smith opened the meeting by declaring to the packed crowd of community members that “everybody in this room will wear a mask,” adding that she would cancel the meeting if one person refused to comply.

“…This is the rules. If you don’t like it, you will be escorted out, and/or I will cancel this meeting and we will not have it in person,” Smith said. “Now, if one person is going to be in defiance of the mask rule and cancel it for everybody, then so be it. We will go virtually, and all testimony and all of our business will be diverted.”

A county spokesperson confirmed to Pamplin Media Group that several members of the crowd were in violation of Oregon’s statewide requirement to wear masks indoors.

“During last night’s proceedings, several attending members of the public were in violation of Oregon Administrative Rule 333-019-1025 (requiring masks in indoor spaces) and also county policies,” according to Dylan Blaylock, the county’s community relations specialist, by email Friday morning.

“As the video shows, attendees were provided notice by Chair Smith that she would close the meeting to the public if all attendees did not comply with the mask requirements,” Blaylock continued.

Blaylock said, “several attendees became disruptive during the proceedings and failed to follow state and county requirements,” adding that the board reconvened virtually after a short recess and the meeting resumed via Zoom.

He added that the county has yet to confirm any further information regarding the incident.

This is a developing story and will be updated online.

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