Newport Mayor Resigns Following Controversial and Offensive Social Media Memes

The mayor of Newport, Oregon, stepped down from his position on July 11 following the surfacing of memes posted on social media that were deemed controversial and offensive. According to KATU, Mayor Dean Sawyer’s resignation came in response to the public backlash surrounding the memes.

OPB, a news outlet, published a collection of memes that Mayor Dean Sawyer had allegedly posted on a Facebook group called “LEO Only” since 2016. These memes reportedly contained controversial jokes targeting Mexicans and transgender individuals, while also mocking public figures Lia Thomas and Dylan Mulvaney, as reported by OPB.

The revelation of these memes triggered widespread condemnation, leading to activist-led protests over the weekend demanding Sawyer’s resignation, as documented by KATU. The activists voiced their concerns regarding the offensive content and called for greater accountability from public officials.

“These comments were totally separate,” Sawyer explained. “They don’t reflect who I am and what I do on a daily basis. They were stupid. They were juvenile.”

“I am sorry to everyone in this community and anyone hurt by my actions, directly and indirectly,” Sawyer added.

City Manager Spencer Nebel recalled how Newport embraced diversity, equity and inclusion values in January 2021, KATU reported.

“This statement specifically provides that: In the strongest terms, the City of Newport condemns racism, discrimination, and other types of bias,” Nebel stated. “The City recognizes that a community is enhanced by its diversity, and City facilities and services exist to serve all members of the community. Racism and bigotry are never to be supported or tolerated, and instead are to be identified and condemned.”

Sawyer served on the City Council in 2011 and was mayor in 2018, according to KATU. The city attested that, as mayor, Sawyer was “an effective lobbyist at the state and federal level for securing significant funding for the Big Creek Dam and other city projects.”

Former City Council President Jan Kaplan is temporarily mayor and thanked Sawyer for his work but reprimanded him for the offensive posts, per the outlet.

“For so many people, I lost count at some point, it was over 70 — the messages that were sent to me and the City Council. People are hurt. Some people, they feel unsafe,” Kaplan said.

Other Councilors have been meeting at City Hall to discuss a future course of action, expecting to elect a new mayor in the upcoming weeks.

Mayor Sawyer defended himself by stating that the Facebook account in question belonged to a private group and that the posts were never intended for public consumption, according to OPB. He emphasized that his actions within the group were distinct from his role in serving the community of Newport, assuring that he prioritized the well-being of the town’s residents.

The incident raises important questions about the boundary between personal and public conduct, particularly for elected officials. While Mayor Sawyer asserted that his private and public lives should be treated separately, the controversy surrounding his social media activity ultimately led to his resignation, highlighting the significant impact of online behavior on public perception and accountability in today’s interconnected world.

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