PENDLETON — In the middle of a second term as councilwoman, Jessica Smith submitted her resignation Monday, effective immediately, from the Pendleton Town Council.
Smith’s resignation letter cited her inability to work with a body that does not share her values and beliefs.
“I find it unconscionable the police chief was reinstated after publicly mocking the Black Lives Matter movement, women, the LGBT community, and religious minorities,” it said. “It is unacceptable that good employees were fired while insubordinate employees were rehired. Furthermore, it is unbelievable that current council members find it acceptable to use their position for their own personal gain. In short, I no longer wish to remain connected to a council whose priorities are so firmly in the grip of the good ole boys club.”
Pendleton Town Council President Chet Babb did not return calls for comment.
Pendleton Police Chief Marc Farrer generated controversy and was demoted to patrolman in early 2019 when a meme considered by some to be disparaging of Muslims that he posted in 2018 resurfaced. However, in a surprise move led by council member Shane Davis at a meeting in August 2019, Farrer was reinstated as chief in a 3-2 vote opposed by Smith and former council member Jessica Bastin.
Any such posts are made on Farrer’s personal Facebook page rather than the police department’s page and are not visible to the general public.
Smith, who was one of the younger council members, was the first woman to serve as president in the town’s history.
“I am incredibly thankful to the people that placed their trust in me and supported me during my tenure,” the letter said. “I voted my conscience and made the choices I thought were for the best of the town. Every decision I made, every vote I cast, I believed was the best decision for the town’s future.”
In an interview with The Herald Bulletin, Smith said the COVID-19 pandemic helped her decide it would be better to step down than to continue fighting so she can spend more time with her family and friends and on her career.
“It was a personal decision,” the lifelong Pendleton resident said. “With everything that’s gone in 2020, that has helped me prioritize and focus on what’s really important to me. The town just has to take a back burner.”
Though her service as a politician was comparatively short, Smith said she believes she leaves behind a solid legacy. That includes obtaining Main Street façade grants to improve the downtown business district, the placement of a bridge over Interstate 69 to connect the east and west ends of town and the building of a community wellness center.
Bastin, who lost reelection last year to Steve Denny but often voted in concert with Smith, said she was sorry to see her go.
“She’s done a lot for the town. She’s one of the most dedicated people in this town,” she said.
But not everyone feels the same. On the Pendleton Chatter and Pendleton Chatter Without Undue Censorship Facebook pages, the news was met largely with jubilation, although some residents left comments in support of Smith.
Bethany Dawn Rhodes, an organizer of protests in support of racial and gender-related causes through It’s Up There and MadCo Pride Collective, said she was disappointed to hear that Smith was throwing in the towel.
“If you’re there to fight, fight,” the Frankton resident said. “I don’t understand everyone praising her for giving up on her constituents. That doesn’t make sense to me.”
Rhodes said though she doesn’t understand Smith’s precise experience, she believes now is the time for white allies to step forward.
“I think if Shirley Chisholm can do it as the only Black woman in Congress, why can’t you do it in Pendleton as a white woman with privilege — especially if the main complaint was racism?” she said. “We can’t give up a position of power, when we’re the only ones in the room who are speaking the truth.”