Furor over Atwater city councilman not going away

Calls continue for Frago to resign

September 15, 2009 

ATWATER -- Much of the furor over a series of racist e-mails forwarded by Atwater City Councilman Gary Frago to city staff and a county official may have died down, but those calling for his resignation are staying vigilant.

At Monday night's City Council meeting -- and the previous meeting -- calls for Frago's resignation continued despite his apologies, resignation as mayor pro tem and participation in racial sensitivity classes.

Napoleon Washington, the president of Merced's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in no uncertain terms repeated his group's call for Frago to step down.

But his speech was not only aimed at Frago. He also lambasted the City Council -- with the exception of Councilman Nelson Crabb -- for its weak response, he said.

"This issue will not go away and it will not go away until Mr. Frago resigns from office," said Washington to the council. "The council needs to take an appropriate stand."

No council member has publicly called for Frago's resignation. Frago did not return calls from the Sun-Star.

While no council member responded to Washington's remarks on Monday night, City Attorney Dennis Myers told Washington the council had done all if could legally. The council has no power to remove Frago from office, he said.

Myers told Washington the only option to remove Frago from office is a recall or the ballot box when his term runs out.

"You can come up and give the speech every time, that's your right," said Myers.

Aside from the continued public pressure at council meetings, the NAACP has asked the city for its policy on discrimination, and an ethnic breakdown of city staff, said City Manager Greg Wellman.

In a letter sent to the city on Sept. 3, the group also laid out a seven-point program it would like the city to take to prevent discrimination in hiring, firing and promotions.

On Sept. 3, the group also met with city officials to discuss the progress of citywide racial sensitivity training.

Councilman Joe Rivero said the city's sensitivity training will be a tool giving people an obvious path to take in the future. But he did say in the end it is up to each individual whether or not they act in a certain way or not.

Crabb, who says he will not take any sensitivity classes since he did nothing wrong, said at this age you know what is OK to say and what isn't, and no class will change that.

As for Frago's sensitivity classes in Oakland, the NAACP has its reservations.

Washington said in the end it is impossible to know if Frago will change or not. And unless it becomes clear that Frago has actually changed, the NAACP plans to keep protesting until he is out of office, said Washington.

A Sun-Star story on July 17 revealed that Frago sent at least seven racist e-mails to city and county officials from October 2008 to February 2009. The e-mails denigrated President Obama, the first lady and black people in general.

Subsequently, the City Council released even more of Frago's derogatory e-mails and convened two large public meetings on the issue where Frago apologized and the city formally reprimanded him in a letter.

Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or jlamb@mercedsun-star.com.