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'Outraged' community members meet after mayor's controversial posts

Written by Gordon Rago/York Daily Record | Oct 2, 2016 1:45 PM
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Leroy Atwater Jr., pastor of Chayil Embassy Worship Center, greets Black Ministers Association president Bill Kerney after speaking during a community forum hosted by the West York borough council Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016 in the borough hall. Atwater urged borough council members and residents not to fight hate with hate, and warned against divisiveness. The forum, attended by about 50 residents, firefighters and police officers, was announced after the borough council unanimously denounced Facebook posts with racist and misogynist themes shared by Mayor Charles Wasko. Wasko has refused to remove the posts, leading to calls for his resignation as well as national media attention.(Photo: Chris Dunn, York Daily Record)

(West York) -- Calls for the resignation of West York Borough Mayor Charles Wasko -- whose controversial Facebook posts have drawn anger and disappointment from some members of the community he serves -- continued this weekend during a forum organized by council members and the police department.

About 50 people turned out to the borough hall amid Saturday's rain for what was billed as a forum to address race relations and local government.

"As a fellow mayor, I am offended, very offended," said York Mayor Kim Bracey. "As a county resident, deeply hurt and disgusted. As an African-American female woman, outraged."

Pastor Bill Kerney, president of the Black Ministers' Association of York County, spoke on Saturday, and shared strong words directed at Mayor Wasko, who was not in attendance and who has not returned phone calls seeking comment.

Word of Wasko's posts came to the public eye earlier this week, and subsequently made national and international headlines. His posts have included an image of a wheelbarrow full of orangutans with text that says moving day at the White House "has finally arrived."

Other posts have been directed toward women and the disenfranchised, speakers at the forum said.

"The actions of the mayor of this borough challenges and promotes opposition to harmony and well being to this community," Kerney said. "It's even more disappointing that an individual holding the position of mayor who represents people of all backgrounds would say things that would be so divisive in 2016. It is disheartening to hear such ignorance and hatred from leadership."

Several residents got up to share their opinions, some proudly stating how long they've lived in the small borough; others like business owner Dani Rodkey, a mother of six, expressed pride for the diversity of those in the room.

Rhonda Phillips was among those who addressed the room. A longtime West York resident, Phillips said her family was one of the first bi-racial families in the borough -- her mother is white and her father is black.

She recalls being called names and harassed. Problems with racism, she said, have long been a part of the borough, and she said the discussion with Wasko has brought the issue to the forefront.

"I'm so glad this finally came out in West York Borough," she said. "I'm tired of it being sugar coated."

Discussion on local government

Shawn Mauck, borough council president, encouraged residents to start contacting state legislatures. While the council wants Wasko out as mayor, it is limited in its ability to do so, Mauck said.

"This shouldn't be this hard," he said.

Sandra Thompson, president of the York County NAACP chapter and a local attorney, responded to Mauck by saying there is an impeachment capability.

According to the Pennsylvania General Assembly, impeachment is one way an elected official can be removed. The second is by the governor for "reasonable cause after notice and full hearing on the advice of two-thirds of the Senate."

Because the issue would come down to the right to free speech and whether the mayor's posts fell under any impeachable offenses like incompetency, malfeasance or mismanagement, there would probably have to be a legal determination, Thompson said.

That effort could also require residents to petition to a member of the House, she said, adding that she and the borough were still reviewing this option.

At least one resident was concerned about these calls to action, saying limiting the mayor's freedom of speech went against the First Amendment.

"You can't punish a guy for what he says," Dalton Greenlee said, after reading to the crowd the words of the First Amendment from a pocket Constitution book.

Greenlee said he doesn't agree with all of what Wasko posted, but said he admired him for not backing down.

This story is part of a partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.

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