The letter begins with a warning to Campbell County Commissioner Rusty Bell that he likely will not be thrilled with what she’s about to say.
She’s writing, Rachel Pherson said, is in regard to social media behavior of yet another elected official.
In question, specifically, she said, is a recent Facebook meme commented on by County Commissioner Del Shelstad depicting African America NASCAR racer Bubba Wallace that says “When you suck as a driver and you gotta-fake racism so people know your name.”
The meme is in reference to a recent incident in which Wallace claimed to be a victim of a hate crime after someone allegedly left a tied noose in his garage at the Talladega Speedway race. As a result of the incident, his mostly white fellow drivers rallied around Wallace in a show of solidarity and stand against racism. Following an investigation, however, the FBI later declared that there was in fact no hate crime and that the noose was actually a rope used to pull the garage door down.
The post that Shelstad commented on was a parody on the “Minuteman Militia” Facebook page that also features phrases like “Liberalism is a Mental Disorder” and “#Bubba Smollett.”
Shelstad’s comment, which has recently come under fire and that Pherson found particularly offensive, said “Noosecar.”
In response to receiving Pherson’s letter last Thursday, and which County 17 received Monday evening, Bell said the board has not taken punitive action against Shelstad nor have they held an official discussion to address the incident.
“The board is comprised of inviduals,” he said, noting that they are not responsible for the opinions and actions of fellow members. Instead, he questions the public’s fascination with discrediting public officials but wishes people would focus on the positive things that come out of the community.
“It’s upsetting to me that we focus so much on the negative things that our public officials do,” he said. “This kind of thing can really make the entire community look bad.”
Pherson, meanwhile, called Shelstad’s comment irresponsible and dangerous, noting that public officials represent the entire community they serve.
“It is naïve and ignorant for anyone in a public role to lack the appropriate understanding of social responsibility when utilizing any and all social media platforms,” she said.
In the letter, Pherson asked that “at the least” the board consider the incident. However, she never requested any definitive action, since she thought that the City of Gillette made a rushed decision to request the resignation of former City Councilman Shay Lundvall, after discovering he had “liked” Facebook posts that his fellow councilman and Mayor Louise Carter-King had found “objectionable” following written complaints from two out-of-town females.
“I don’t have all of the answers for the County,” she said. “But I think, as a member of the community, it’s my responsibility to bring this to someone’s attention.”
During an interview with County 17 Tuesday, Pherson explained that the letter was not meant to ignite a political change, but rather, a social one. She said that when discussing sensitive issues, it is important that public officials act as role models for the community, specifically for the youth.
“When you’re in a position of power, a lot of people, especially kids, admire you,” she said. “You never know who could see those posts and how it might change their view of what we think is okay in Campbell County.”
In a one-on-one interview Tuesday afternoon, Shelstad said that as a public servant, he does not hold himself to a higher standard than any other community member.
“There’s this notion that public officials are above this type of behavior, and I take exception to that because I’m a person,” Shelstad said. “And I need to be able to interact with people like I’m one of them, because I am.”
Shelstad also said that he considered possible effects the incident might have on his commissioner role, and on the rest of the board as a whole.
“I don’t think they (the county) are going to do anything,” he said. “This isn’t the county’s business. It’s my personal business.”
Shelstad voiced his remorse for having offended members of the community but said he was grateful this incident occurred.
“I’ll be really honest with you,” he said. “I’m okay with this. I’m not okay with the fact that it’s going to have a story written about this and it’s causing an issue in our community…but I’m okay with discussing it. I would really like to sit down with people and say ‘look, this is my version.'”