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Racist Emails Sent to City Officials Highlight Need for Change in Auburn

As the City of Auburn continues to debate the racial equity and social justice training and policy development program Councilmembers have shared anecdotes of public commentary they have received.  During Monday’s Council Study Session, Councilmember Yolanda Trout-Manuel shared an email she had received, condemning not only Resolution No. 5427, but her as a person.

racist email, racism auburn wa, yolanda trout-manuel, councilmember trout-manuelEmail obtained via public records request

The email with the subject of June 3 email reads:

I am offended by your comments. I do not agree with you coming here to change the beliefs of Americans to meet your personal agenda.  What gives you the right. I don’t want ANY foreigner changing the AMERICAN WAY. You need to adapt to OUR ways. This text was not edited.

Trout-Manuel responded to the email during the study session, stating, “This is not my personal agenda.  I feel we all need this education.” After clarifying that she was not a foreigner, Trout-Manuel continued, “When I read that [I need to adapt], that even made me encouraged that we need to do something like this because we still have that bias and that racial discrimination out there.  It saddens me that I’m fifth-generation American born and for somebody to call me a foreigner is kind of appalling.  We still have a long ways, we’ve come a long ways,(sic) but we need to go a little further so that all can be one.”

Racism in Your Inbox

Trout-Manuel was not the only one to receive an email of this nature.  Mayor Nancy Backus also received an email from this same individual.

mayor backus, nancy backus, racism, auburn wa racist, racist email, Email obtained via public records request

The email, also with the subject of ‘June 3 meeting’, reads:

“I am against spending the money on the classes. You are falling into the new social standards. I am offended that you want to force citizens to change who they are what they think. And you never comment on public complaints. It looks as though you don’t care because they are WHITE. And to bring Mexicans or others onto the board you are showing as bias against whites who have been here for many generations. I thought members were to be of the PEOPLES choice. I am offended by Yolanda being on the board since she wants to push het agenda. I am against to foreigners who want to change AMERICA. I think I am going to file a lawsuit against the board, Yolanda personally and the city. You had made a statement in a different meeting concerning Auburns growth that is “coming”, and, that you are considering raising property taxes to pay for the coming growth. Which I believe is illegals. Why do I have to pay for Auburn being a sanctuary city, which I am against.” This text was not edited.

Upon reading the email, Backus admitted to being “angry, offended, and sad.  I had to read it several times to make sure I wasn’t misunderstanding it. It makes me sad that there is that level of misunderstanding still out there.”

Picking apart the email, Backus confirmed that Auburn is not a sanctuary city.  She also reiterated that “this is not Yolanda’s agenda. We’ve spoken about the training, and she is happy about it – but this is not her agenda.”

Referring to the success of retiring Mayor Dennis Law’s racial equity programs in Renton, Backus shared that this is the goal of the proposed programs for Auburn. “We are not trying to force anybody to change who they are or what they think.  The goal of the program is not a checkbox activity. It is to allow more activity in the city, to help clear misconceptions people may have,” Backus explained. “People are fearful of the unknown.  We need to be able to have open and honest conversations. To not be afraid to ask questions.  To start to understand we are better together, not that my way is better.”

Continued Discussion at Monday’s Study Session

“The term Racial Equity to me means that all people have equal access to resources and opportunities,” stated Trout-Manuel during Monday’s study session. “plus legal, political and social power regardless of race, sex identity,(sic) age and disability.  When everyone has what they need to thrive, no matter where they live, we can advance racial equity through community conversations and continue that dialogue.”

Until Monday’s study session Councilmember Bob Baggett’s stance on Resolution No. 5427 was uncertain.  His statement cleared any speculation, outright declaring he will be voting for the resolution when it comes to vote at the next meeting.

Baggett’s statement was also a testimony to a personal experience that taught him he too had room to learn about racial equity and social justice. “Simply singing a birthday song that I learned as a child created a painful lesson for me, and I am deeply ashamed personally, and saddened that it was taken out of context by others,” shared Baggett in his statement.  “Perhaps it is time I learned a new song, and perhaps the new training will reveal some sensitive areas that I can overcome.”

City Council Candidates Weigh In

If elected, the current candidates for city council will be open to public scrutiny and interpretation just like Trout-Manuel.  We reached out to the current candidates for their input, asking them the following questions without sharing that these emails were received. Read the full answers from each candidate to these questions here.

Auburn Examiner: Reflecting on the City of Auburn’s population, do you feel the current city council represents the city’s demographics?

Ryan Burnett: “The median age in Auburn is 35-years-old, if this is the demographic that we are using to answer this question, then I would have to say no, it does not. I would also say that the current council does not have much diversity. I do believe in a diverse approach to managing in my restaurants and strive to achieve that when possible. I work with many different people from many different cultural, racial backgrounds, and core belief systems. I believe that this strengthens the teams I build, adding perspective and shedding light to areas missed by more traditional approaches to leadership and should be practiced in today’s politics.”

According to the Washington Department of Commerce, Auburn’s current demographics are as follows:

Auburn wa, auburn wa demographics
City of Auburn demographics, 2019
AE: Do you feel a councilmember’s demographics make them any more or less qualified to represent the best interests of the City of Auburn?

James Jeyaraj: “To effectively represent Auburn, the city council should reflect the diverse life experiences of those that live here. It’s the first step toward equality and equity.

That being said, a councilmember’s race, gender, or sexual orientation isn’t their main qualification. A councilmember must be willing to share their opinion and listen to others with an open mind. They should celebrate the multiculturalism of our community and strive to see that we are more alike than we are different. This is the diversity that helps make us better neighbors, strengthens our community, and attracts residents and businesses to Auburn.”

AE: Recently WA State Senator Mona Das made remarks stating that, while not overt her fellow legislators were sexist, racist and misogynistic.  How do you believe you would handle a fellow Auburn representative (be it a fellow councilmember or other representatives) behaving in this manner – overtly or not?

Robert (Bob) Baggett: “Given the specific situation, I would mention to that person the inappropriateness of their behavior and, if it persisted, would recommend that our Human Resources and City Attorney be advised of the repeated offense and to take appropriate disciplinary action.”

During Monday’s Study Session, Trout-Manuel referred to Das’ remarks and shared the two had spoken.  Trout-Manuel shared with the study session that Das told her to, “contact me, you folks come to me and talk to me and we’ll see about getting you the funding for this.  Because I believe. I believe in this program to come into Auburn.”

AE: If a constituent was (overtly or not) openly racist, sexist, misogynistic, etc. toward yourself, your fellow city councilmembers or city staff members, how do you believe you would respond?
mlk, racism, diversity, racial equity
Photo by Allie Smith

Vera Orlandic-Hodak: “Make no mistake these are good people on our council who have devoted themselves to the community. But there’s a great difference between saying you understand and living it. For that reason, we must have more diversity. It is a new century, and there are new needs and issues that have never been addressed before in our history, and that requires more diversity.

We do need to work together as a Council to determine real diversity training. That includes allowing all of the people to have input and then put a well-formed request out for bid for long term diversity training.”

When speaking to Backus, she confirmed that several companies were explored before ‘Racing to Equity’ was selected. “We wanted the best, and I feel we’re going to have the best,” said Backus.

AE: Two years ago, the city council was approached to make Auburn a sanctuary city. Had you been on the council at that time, how would you have addressed the concerns of the residents who came to the city council?

Robyn Mulenga:  I believe families should stay together.

AE: Do you feel Auburn should be a sanctuary city?

Ken Pearson: The sanctuary city/state is a horrible idea! It makes no sense to import poverty and the criminal element that accompanies it. We have 10’s of thousands of homeless people, homeless vets in the city of Seattle alone. Seattle can’t absorb them all. So, they are overflowing into the surrounding communities, and into our streets along with all the social ills that follow. How does this fix anything? We need to take care of our own first!

Tax dollars are limited, and our taxpayers deserve to have their concerns addressed before their money is spent on foreign nationals.  I don’t begrudge anyone trying to improve their position in life, but, if you’re coming here, respect our country, respect our laws.

AE: As a candidate running unopposed, do you feel you remove the choice from voters as to who they are electing to their council?

Chris Stearns: “No.  Deciding whether or not to run for office is a highly personal and important decision, and that is up to each individual to decide for herself or himself. I have great respect for those who have thrown or will throw, their hat in the ring. Ultimately, we are a government of the people, and it’s up to the people themselves to decide whether or not they will want to run for office.  That is the beauty of our democratic form of government – its foundation is based on individual choice and freedom.”

In the 2017 election, both Trout-Manuel and Councilmember Claude DaCorsi ran unopposed.  However, both uncontested council races had about 4,000 undervotes.

AE: With an increase in reported hate crimes across the nation, what do you feel the city council can do to help residents and business owners feel heard when they have concerns?

Anthony Ase: “Follow up. Often when concerns are brought up, it seems like people in positions of power just pay lip service. I want to follow up with the people. Give them a time frame of when they can hear back from me, and I will let them know what actions have transpired since our initial meeting. It’s a simple thing to do, and it really ensures that people don’t just feel heard, but they’ll know that their council is doing something. Follow up also give citizens a chance to provide updated feedback and options, so they feel more connected to local solutions.”

One of the comments made in the email sent to Backus was the lack of response to those going before the city council.  Backus explained that the public comment period in the City Council Meeting agenda is not a public dialog period.  Everyone who wishes to speak is allotted three minutes.

“There are times a question or matter can easily be answered or handled by a director, so I will ask them to respond,” said Backus. “If it needs a little more help, they may meet with the individual out in the hall.”

Backus confirmed that the city follows up when possible as they (usually) have individual’s contact information from the meeting sign-in sheet.

Speaking Out For Equality

Local small business owner Jen Reeves has recently been vocal about her stance on equality. Reeves’ choice saw a direct impact from her decision to vocalize her support for the online fiber arts community website Ravelry during a tumultuous time for the site.  Even for those unaware of what initially prompted it, Reeves made it known that her yarn shop was a place for all walks of life.

a little knitty, jen reeves, auburn wa y
Looking out onto Auburn Ave and E Main St from inside A Little Knitty’s new location | Courtesy A Little Knitty

“I am vocal about equal rights because I feel it’s important to amplify those voices in our society that feel marginalized. I have worked very hard to be where I am, but I am still very privileged because of the color of my skin. I don’t mean this to say I have it easy or things were handed to me, but things weren’t made harder because of the color of my skin, my accent or where I was born,” said Reeves.

“It’s easy not to see a problem because it’s not a problem for you,” Reeves continued. “But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Voices across our nation are stating that racism is still an issue in all areas, including crafting, while others proclaim louder that they don’t encounter that – so it must not be true. We are unable to fully live the experience of another person, so we should not be telling others how they should or should not feel, act, etc. Everyone is speaking, and no one is listening.”

The above emails are the most recent emails we are aware of from this individual.  A third email of this nature was also returned in our PRR, sent in May to Deputy Mayor Bill Peloza.

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