Echo issues apology for councilor’s Facebook comments

After Echo city councilor Lou Nakapalau told a gay man on Facebook that he would spit on his grave when he died of AIDS, the city council voted to issue a public apology and work on a social media policy.
By Jade McDowell

Staff Writer

Published on October 24, 2017 4:48PM

A sign on the door of the Buttercreek Coffeehouse and Mercantile in Echo states people of all sexual orientations are welcome.

Staff photo by Jade McDowell

A sign on the door of the Buttercreek Coffeehouse and Mercantile in Echo states people of all sexual orientations are welcome.

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Staff photo by E.J. Harris
Louis Nakapalau talks about his experiences in joining the army at the age of fifteen and serving in Vietnam during a Veterans' Day ceremony Tuesday at Stanfield Secondary School.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris Louis Nakapalau talks about his experiences in joining the army at the age of fifteen and serving in Vietnam during a Veterans' Day ceremony Tuesday at Stanfield Secondary School.

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The city of Echo issued an apology Friday for statements made by city councilor Lou Nakapalau on Facebook calling a gay man an anti-gay slur and telling him that when he dies of AIDS he will spit on his grave.

“The Echo City Council would like to extend its sincerest apology to those who were offended by comments made by a council member in a Facebook dialog reported by the East Oregonian,” the statement reads. “Comments of individual council members on their personal social media accounts do not have any endorsement or approval of the council as a whole nor do they represent city policy.”

The statement goes on to say that the city does not endorse any statement that disparages someone because of their identity and has never taken an action or adopted a policy that was “in any sense prejudicial or biased toward a class or group of people.”

The comments in question happened on Oct. 7 on the Facebook page for “Kumu Hina,” a documentary about a transgender Hawaiian woman. Nakapalau argued with filmmaker Joe Wilson about transgender rights, culminating in his comment about spitting on Wilson’s grave. The comment has since been deleted and Facebook shows Nakapalau edited another part of the conversation to remove profanity.

City councilor Robert Harris proposed issuing the apology during Thursday’s council meeting — the first since Nakapalau made the comments on Oct. 7.

“I think that’s the absolute least we can do,” Harris said.

His motion was met with several seconds of silence from the rest of the council, prompting an outcry from audience members as it looked like the motion might die from a lack of a second, but it was seconded by councilor Janie Enright and the entire council — including Nakapalau — voted to approve the motion. Nakapalau did not offer any comment during the council meeting and has not returned requests for comment.

Two people — Vickie Read of Pendleton and Jenny Sullivan of Hermiston — commented during the meeting that Thursday’s meeting asking for the city to take some action.

“I’m absolutely disgusted and think any self-respecting council would throw him off,” Sullivan said.

On Friday Echo business owner Pam Reese said some businesses have posted signs on their doors stating that people of all races, religions, countries of origin, sexual orientations and genders are welcome. She called Nakapalau’s comments “hate speech” and said she was mystified watching “a group of elected officials struggle to understand how to do the right thing.”

Harris also proposed that the council put together some sort of ethics and social media policy for council members, and city administrator Diane Berry said she had some examples from other cities that she could bring forward for discussion at a future council meeting.

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Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.



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