The Roseburg City Council on Monday is scheduled to discuss possible sanctions against Council President Bob Cotterell for comments he made about gender identity that have been called inappropriate and transphobic, and led to calls for his resignation.
The comments by Cotterell caused an uproar in the community and caused two city councilors and the mayor to publicly apologize. On Monday the council will decide what penalty, if any, Cotterell should face for his comments.
According to city code, a city councilor who does not “follow proper conduct or Council rules and procedures” may face several sanctions. Those include not being recognized to speak at meetings, being reprimanded or formally censured by the council, losing commission assignments and having official travel restricted.
Cotterell did not return an email or phone call seeking comment for this story.
City Councilor Brian Prawitz said the purpose of Monday’s discussion is to give members of the council an opportunity to talk about whether Cotterell should face some sort of sanction or other “official repercussions” from his comments.
Prawitz also said he didn’t want to telegraph his thoughts too much prior to the discussion.
“Just about all I am willing to say at this time is: I would like to see Bob recognize that his comments hurt some of the people he represents and apologize to them,” Prawitz said. “I would also like to hear him agree that he has some things to learn about the LGBT+ community. Honestly, it can be as simple as him saying, ‘I realize what I said was not appropriate.’ And asking ‘How can I make this better?’”
The controversy dates back to June 28, when Cotterell and other city officials were preparing for the bi-weekly City Council meeting, which was to be held via Zoom. One of the councilors had misspelled their name on a roster and another quipped that they had considered using a woman’s first name in jest.
“Well that’s fine, you’re in Oregon,” Cotterell said, according to others who heard it. “You can be a boy today and a girl tomorrow.”
Later, people began to take issue with Cotterell’s joke and criticized the rest of the City Council for not calling him on it.
Cotterell then doubled down, dismissing the criticism as an example of political correctness gone too far. He said his stance on gender identity is rooted in science and dismissed the notion that individuals should be allowed to self-identify their gender.
The criticism of Cotterell’s comments was swift and often emotional.
“The man needs to be removed because he does not represent the people of this town. If he thinks he does, he’s just delusional,” said Mark Lenihan, president of PFLAG Roseburg. “This is not appropriate for anybody, let alone for someone in a role of civic leadership.”
At the July 26 City Council meeting, Mayor Larry Rich apologized for the remarks.
“On behalf of this City Council and as your mayor, I am deeply sorry for what has happened, for the pain that it has caused, and apologize to our community,” Rich read.
Following Rich’s statement, seven people from the audience spoke out against Cotterell and his comments, including one who said he should “step down and resign.”
Cotterell has been on the council since January 2011.
The last City Councilor to be sanctioned was Ashley Hicks, back in February 2020.
Hicks was sanctioned for comments said she made on social media in support of a homeless camp near the airport, which prompted protests from a nearby senior mobile home park.
The council determined that Hicks should be reprimanded for expressing her personal opinions about the potential shelter without first indicating the majority position of the council and clarifying her statements did not represent that of the council; suggesting people illegally trespass or camp on city-owned property; and creating an atmosphere of “tension and fear” by knowingly communicating false information.
The council took away her travel privileges on behalf of the city, most notably to the Oregon League of Cities convention, which Hicks regularly attended. The council also stripped Hicks of her newly appointed chairmanship of the Historic Resource Review Commission.
At the time, Cotterell was vocal and direct in his criticism of Hicks.
“Until she can learn to play nice with others she shouldn’t be leading one of our commissions,” he said.
Cotterell also questioned Hicks’ mental capacity.
“She is a vile, disgusting, rude person,” he said. “She’s not right. I’m 25 years a cop, and she’s not right.”
This time it’s Cotterell that finds himself on the hot seat, and Hicks voicing the criticism of his actions.
“It’s disgusting to see his blatant lack of respect for others,” Hicks said. “I’m not queer or non-binary or of ethnic diversity, but I am a woman who wants to ask questions, work towards solutions and be a helper in our community — I’ve felt the sting of being excluded.
“I believe the city council should punish Cotterell,” she said.
Hicks also said that a few years back she attended a conference on inclusion, equity and diversity, and suggested that Cotterell and other city officials get similar training.
“The mayor, city manager and entire City Council would benefit greatly from continuing education, and a strong grasp of reality,” she said. “We’re all one community.”