The mayor of Newport, Oregon has resigned following the discovery of offensive memes and social media posts that he shared on Facebook over a span of several years. Local activists and lawmakers called for Mayor Dean Sawyer to step down after a local media outlet uncovered derogatory content in an online group for current and former police officers. Sawyer issued an apology and announced his resignation on Monday, acknowledging that his conduct was not a matter of freedom of speech but rather “stupid speech.”
Before being elected mayor in 2018, Sawyer had served as a career officer with the Newport Police Department. In his statement, he referred to his Facebook posts as “vile and dark” and expressed remorse for hurting people he cared about. The offensive content included memes and posts denigrating women, immigrants, non-English speakers, and the LGBTQ+ community. The posts were shared in a closed Facebook group called “LEO Only,” which had over 39,000 members and required law enforcement ID verification for membership.
One of the posts shared by Sawyer depicted scantily clad women with text mocking their appearance, while another targeted a trans woman athlete with vulgar and derogatory language. The mayor also shared an image with a caption suggesting violence towards women. Oregon Public Broadcasting (OBP) first brought this offensive content to light in a report, leading to widespread condemnation and protests at Newport’s city hall.
LGBTQ+ activists and five members of the local city council demanded Sawyer’s resignation during the protests. Both the city’s police chief, Jason Malloy, and the Lincoln County Sheriff Curtis Landers criticized the mayor’s social media posts. City councilor Dietmar Goebel emphasized the severity of the situation, stating that Sawyer’s posts were beyond the pale and that he couldn’t continue in his position.
In his resignation letter, Sawyer claimed that the posts did not reflect his values but recognized that his online persona had become too polarizing for him to continue as mayor. He expressed hope that his decision to step down would contribute to healing the uproar he had caused. City Council President Jan Kaplan will now serve as the acting mayor of Newport until a replacement is appointed.
The issue of Sawyer’s resignation is set to be discussed in the next city council meeting later this month. The incident serves as a reminder of the importance of responsible social media use, particularly for public officials who hold positions of power and influence. The fallout from Sawyer’s offensive posts highlights the need for accountability and sensitivity in all forms of communication, whether online or offline.