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28 February 2021

Cancel Culture: It Happened to Me

Yes -- I was "canceled" . . . .

By Brad Smith

Ever since I wrote and published the article about Talent Elementary special education teaching assistant Cassie Dutra posting transphobic remarks on social media, there have been accusations of "cancel culture."

Cassie Dutra isn't being canceled. She posted something highly inappropriate on social media and is now facing the consequences of those actions. It's possible she's in serious trouble at the school -- and, well, she should be.

If some wish to push the claims of Dutra being canceled . . . . Well, it happened to me.

Very recently too.

Starting in 2011, I was a freelancer or stringer for The Rogue River Press. I was never an employee. I never had an issue over an article I'd written but some locals took issue with my social media posts. It all came to a head last summer.

In late July 2020, I received a brief text message from the publisher, Teresa Pearson. She said advertisers and subscribers were threatening to drop the paper because I was, as they said, "racist."

Let me be clear: WHITE men and women said I was racist because I was very vocal in my support of the Black Lives Matter movement, Antifa and their resistance against alt-right extremists, because I was vocal about transparency, accountability and civilian oversight of law enforcement . . . because I supported Colin Kaepernick and his protests and denounced Trump's crackdown on left-wing groups as well as police brutality.

For all of that, the people of Rogue River and the surrounding area called me a "racist."

And, via a text message from someone I once considered a friend, I was told my services as a contractor were no longer required.

I was . . . canceled.

What did I do?

Within a few days, I got new press credentials and I started The Rogue Free Press. It's a modest website with, so far, 59,000-plus views (way more than the RV Saltshakers, I think) and a fairly small but I'd have to say loyal following. They say I broke the story about the Trophy Club's racist electronic sign; I exposed the racist views abounding in the Rogue River area; I helped exposed some shady dealings in Talent and a transphobic baker in Medford; now, I'm covering some apparent issues with former Talent city staffers in the wake of the Almeda Fire.

And, well, I've pissed off a lot of people. They tell me there's a Facebook group dedicated to hating me.

For being "canceled" . . . . I think I'm doing okay.

Not bad for someone who's been canceled.

I guess.

So. Yes. I've been canceled, canceled by a bunch of white people calling a white journalist a "racist" just because he supported BLM and other sociopolitical views.

There you have it. 

Be seeing you.

-30-


26 February 2021

UPDATED 1 March 2021: Talent Elementary not commenting on Dutra's transphobic social media post


This screenshot is of Cassie Dutra's transphobic remarks that appeared on social media last Friday. The school district has not announced what their reaction will be.

By Brad Smith 

TALENT, Ore. -- In response to a Talent Elementary special education teaching assistant who made made a transphobic remark on social media, school officials issued this statement today: 

Phoenix-Talent Schools is aware of concerns raised about the personal opinions of an employee of the district. Although we cannot comment on internal personnel matters, our focus, as always, is on providing a supportive structure for students to ensure their opportunities to be successful. 

Our school district has a formal Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policy which all staff are expected to follow in the course of their professional responsibilities.


Take care,
Javier del Rio

Assistant Superintendent

Last Friday, Cassie Dutra, a special ed teaching assistant, posted transphobic remarks in a KOBI NBC 5 post about the recent LGBTQ Equality Amendment that's being addressed by the Senate. In the photo above, Dutra compared the situation to cats and dogs. A Talent Elementary employee, over the phone, confirmed Dutra worked there -- they also looked at the initial KOBI story and saw the remarks.

They also said the matter would be "looked into."

Dutra's Facebook page also has fake news stories linking President Obama and others to a conspiracy theory that SEAL Team 6 members were assassinated after killing Osama bin Laden. Other posts show that Dutra is a Covid-19 denier and opposes Gov. Kate Brown's pandemic response protocols.

According to her profile, Dutra is head instructor at Chip Wright's Champion Karate. Riley Hackett, another instructor, said that the school was "very inclusive" and provided a safe environment for all students.

"We've always had students from various cultures or held different beliefs," he said. "We teach karate and focus on the values of honesty, compassion, respect and good sportsmanship. We don't judge. We value and respect everyone. And, yes, our students -- especially our kids -- learn all of this in safe environment."

On social media, a number of parents who had their kids enrolled at the karate dojo expressed dismay over Dutra's views but said that the school certainly didn't reflect her beliefs about transgender people.

"I am a karate student at Chip Wright's," one person said in The Rogue Free Press comments. "It is a fantastic school despite the views of this instructor. I'm just putting this out there because I don't want it to hurt the school through association."

The Rogue Free Press looked at the school district's policy and found this from Section 3 and all of Section 4:

" . . . . We therefore commit to recruiting, hiring, and retaining a workforce that reflects the diversity and demographics of our student body.
4. Professional development should be designed to help staff grow professionally as well as personally. We therefore commit to providing professional development that is culturally competent, culturally responsive, and curriculum that is culturally relevant in order to affirm the identity of both students and staff."

It would seem that Dutra's transphobic views might conflict with school policy. The Rogue Free Press asked del Rio if students -- especially any transgender children -- were in a safe learning environment.

At press time, there was no response.

On social media, a number of concerned parents and even former and current special education teachers said that they contacted state officials about Dutra's remarks and sent screenshots of her posts.

Meantime, a number of area religious extremists and transphobes voiced their support of Dutra, one claimed that her comments were "benign" and another echoed transphobic remarks uttered by GOP senator Rand Paul when he attacked Rachel Levine, a transgender woman and Cabinet nominee for assistant health secretary.

However, many in the Talent community voiced their displeasure and concerns over Dutra's views and wanted her removed from her position.


24 February 2021

Talent city staffers dropped ball after Almeda Fire

City manager Spelliscy, city planner Moody failed to contact FEMA



By Brad Smith

TALENT, Ore. -- Emails from FEMA indicate that in the weeks and months following the Almeda Fire, former city manager Sandra Spelliscy and city planner Zac Moody never contacted the agency.

In articles and news segments about the current controversy about FEMA looking at locations throughout the community suitable for temporary housing -- including Chuck Roberts Park, which has upset little league parents -- interim city manager Jamie McLeod-Skinner has said, "This has been my priority from day one from my getting here. There is a lot of groundwork that needs to be done."

When asked about the situation, McLeod-Skinner said she wasn't "aware of what did or did not happen" prior to her taking over as interim city manager in January this year.

"If there were communications with other agencies, I'm not aware of it. I never had any contact with my predecessor before I took over," she said. "However, when I did reach out to some mobile park owners and regional agencies -- based on their feedback -- it was apparent that they hadn't heard from the city until I called."

According to an anonymous source -- someone who has worked as an interim city manager throughout Oregon and California over the years -- they were surprised by the apparent lack of action.

"I knew people who worked at Paradise (Calif.) and they reacted rapidly," they said. "Personally and professionally, I find it disturbing that no one took action. If they had, those FEMA trailers would be in place and displaced families living in them. A mayor can't do it all. That's why you have city staff to take the initiative and rake up the slack. That's what they're paid to do. As far as I'm concerned, someone screwed up. Badly. As it is, the city is fortunate to have (Mcleod-Skinner)."

Community development manager Moody resigned on Dec. 31 2020 and Spelliscy left in early January. When Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood was asked about events that led to Spelliscy's departure, she stated that she was "unable to comment on the reasons for separation."

As for why Spelliscy and Moody never contacted FEMA -- it might never be known. Meantime, FEMA is continuing its overview of viable locations for the temporary housing.

The Rogue Free Press has attempted to contact Moody. There has been no response.

It should be noted that Moody has been on the Phoenix-Talent Little League board and is one of the parents opposing the possible housing of displaced families at Chuck Roberts Park.

As new information comes forward, this article will be updated.


22 February 2021

Little League parents meltdown

To some parents, ballgames are more important than families


By Brad Smith

TALENT, Ore. -- Ryan James declared that he would fight for the Phoenix-Talent Little League.

"If it means that I have to get a picket sign and block (FEMA) equipment from going into the field, I'll do it," he said.

A number of people cheered and applauded afterwards.

That was the scene at a recent emergency meeting of the PTLL board meeting, held in response to an emergency Talent city council session held last Friday. Talent's interim city manager Jamie McLeod-Skinner signed off executive orders, having the city working alongside FEMA to create temporary housing for residents displaced by the Almeda Fire. FEMA would study a number of possible locations to see if they are viable for temporary housing.

One location is the south side of Chuck Roberts Park and two of its baseball fields.

"We have to move fast," McLeod-Skinner said during the Zoom meeting. "We have a window of 18 months to get this done and we're nearly six months into having our families displaced. We had to fast track this."

Should FEMA feel that the park is suitable, the agency would place power, sewer and other infrastructure in the park then move in approximately 29 trailers for the displaced families. Once the trailers aren't needed, FEMA will rebuild or replace everything removed and the park reverts back to the city.

Enter the PTLL parents.

During the Friday night Zoom meeting, some parents and "concerned" individuals -- some of whom not living in Talent -- voiced opposition to the proposal. While most claimed they were concerned about the displaced families, they were upset that kids wouldn't be able to play their games.

During the meeting and on social media, there were insinuations that Talent was doing this for money and that it wanted to get rid of the PTLL. When one media outlet released a badly written article on the situation, Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood went on social media with this post:

The purpose of the meeting (the first of several) was to begin the discussion, let everyone know that of the several contingency/back up sites, one of them could be the back parking lot/2 of 4 diamonds at CR Park. The council wasn’t “prepared to vote on this” because we can’t vote on this. There is only a discussion on the table of all the sites we need to look at and a council decision isn’t on the table, which was made clear both in the agenda as well as verbally at the meeting. FEMA hasn’t even evaluated any of the CONTINGENCY sites, of which this is only one possibility... possibility to become a backup site, one of a few back up sites. It was said at the meeting that FEMA has looked at over 300 sites. Erin Parent was there, spoke and asked questions. It was said that we would have several discussion about this among the other sites. It was said that the two mobile home parks are likely going to be used but that FEMA needs several back up sites. It was said at the meeting that are more discussion to have with neighbors and Little League. Working together seems like a better approach than taking a stand. That seems premature or someone is stoking misinformation.. It was said at the meeting that FEMA restores what they demolish. I can understand with only 4 years left on the lease, they have concerns but wouldn’t that be a more positive place to start the lease renegotiations around brand new diamonds? I feel like that is not likely because my money is on FEMA never needing them, but if they do, a petition war, which side has the biggest petition seems unproductive.

And in an email to media outlets:

I hope to add clarity when I say that The City of Talent hasn’t chosen any site with FEMA yet. We are viewing several sites with FEMA, one of which is just two of the four diamonds at Chuck Robert’s park. We will also be showing FEMA another site at Chuck Robert’s park, while we continue to look for more site, all of which will serve as possible contingency sites. Contingency in case any of the two mobile home parks, which actually are chosen, don’t fill the need or fall through. I appreciate the concerns but we are pretty far from “chosen” at this point.

Please accept this email as an introduction to Jamie McLeod-Skinner who is Talent’s Interim City Manager. She is working her heart out to provide FEMA with as many “back up” sites as possible so if something falls through, we can still bring our families home without losing more time. I particularly appreciate that she is sharing her work with the community, so we can prepare every contingency for our people to be safe and sheltered in their hometown.

However, some of the PTLL weren't having it.

It should be noted that a number of parents did say that of it came down to a choice between kids playing ball or families coming home -- they would choose the families.

James and others weren't so gracious.

"They can go somewhere else," he said. "I played ball on these fields. So will my kids. I'm going to fight for that!"

As a number of others spoke out against the FEMA proposal, one person noted: "It's like a parade of middle-aged men who have lived mediocre lives and Springsteen's 'Glory Days' is their personal anthem. It's sad."

However, a representative from the Medford Little League was on hand. She said that it could be possible the PTLL could use their fields. It was something the two organizations could talk about at a later time.

Some parents said that if they had assurances that the park would still be accessible to the PTLL, they were fine with the proposed plan.

Meantime, scores of Talent residents are scattered throughout the Rogue Valley. Some are in motels and temporary housing. Others are living in cars or have been camping in tents the last few months. Some are struggling with red tape as they deal with insurance companies and government bureaucracy. It's shocking that as the six month anniversary of the Almeda Fire nears, there are elements in Talent determined to keep families from returning.

Months ago, people were declaring "Talent Strong."

Now, it's "Talent NIMBY."


10 February 2021

Dirty tricks afoot in Talent UPDATED: AFC's Emile Amarotico responds



Nancy Buono. She's a supporter of Mallory's and has been highly critical of the Talent city government. And, allegedly, Buono was the individual who allegedly placed the AFC advert, according to vetted anonymous sources.


This is the fake ad that was placed in the Talent News and Review. The Ashland Food Co-Op has denied placing. It's now known that Nancy Buono did it.


By Brad Smith

TALENT, Ore. -- Dirty tricks are still afoot in Talent.

They stem from a deceptive advert placed in local publication. Thanks to vetted anonymous sources, The Rogue Free Press has the identity of the individual who allegedly placed the suspect ad.

"We did not take out that ad," said Ashland Food Co-Op's general manager Emile Amarotico. "While it does not clearly indicate that AFC posted the ad, it certainly didn't mention anyone else associated with it."

Since last September's Almeda Fire, Talent's Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood and the TURA Board have been working on a plan to bring home those displaced by the devastating fire. To do so, the Talent Urban Renewal Agency Board and the Phoenix-Talent School District have developed a plan for transitional housing at the publicly owned Gateway site at the corner of 99 and West Valley View for more than 50 households who lost their homes and aren't eligible for FEMA assistance. Eventually, the location will be home to those seeking permanent housing.

However, some have been resistant to the idea, namely Mallory and Nancy Buono -- it should be noted that neither of them lost their homes during the Almeda Fire. During a Feb. 3 virtual town hall meeting, Mallory had been scheduled to speak during public comments but opted out for some reason. Buono, however, did. For the last few years, Both Mallory and Buono have been vocal if not openly hostile opponents to anything put forth by Ayers-Flood and any of Talent's more progressive councilors. During Buono's spiel, she used her few minutes of comments to insinuate underhanded dealings made by both the mayor and councilors.

Some balked at the notion.

"Nancy's comments were at times ridiculous, extremely callous and, at times, overtly racist," David Hampton said in a response to a Facebook post. "This idea of some underground Talent conspiracy led by the Mayor is so laughable, it's just sad."

Also during the virtual town hall, the Ashland Food Co-Op's Julie O'Dwyer spoke. The Co-Op is planning an eventual expansion in the Talent/Phoenix area and she mentioned it in comments. "The Co-Op is fully in support of the communities of Talent and Phoenix in developing transitional housing as quickly as possible for all of the community members who have been displaced by the Almeda fire," she said. "The Gateway Project is by no means mutually exclusive to the intention of the Co-Op to establish a store in Phoenix or Talent. Our timeline (for expansion) is in no way in conflict with this project.”

Then, the dirty tricks started.

A few days after the virtual town hall, the Talent News and Review ran an unsigned advert that appeared to be from the AFC. The advert stated that there were plans to place a store on the Gateway land -- there was also a link to sign up for updates and take part in online surveys that required a person's address, email and phone number.

Then, a day or so after the advert appeared, O'Dwyer sent out this email to concerned individuals:

“We were just as surprised as you to see the ad and the related survey link. This ad and survey are NOT associated with the Ashland Food Co-Op. It is disturbing that our name and organization are being co-opted. No pun intended. Thank you for your concern and please assure anyone you speak with that this is not associated with the Co-Op.”

According to vetted anonymous sources, Buono was the one who placed the fake Ashland Food Co-Op ad in the TNR. At presstime, it's not known what the datamined information would have been used for. The Rogue Free Press attempted to contact Buono but she hasn't responded.

"We have been in touch with the TNR," Amarotico said. "We don't believe the TNR is at fault.  They merely posted a paid ad. At this time we are not planning any public response in the TNR, but likely will do so on our website for those looking for more information."

Amarotico said the AFC has let "the ad purchaser know of our displeasure at having the Co-Ops name and goodwill used in this misleading way."

As for legal actions, he replied:

"I do not believe we would have much to pursue. Had an AFC logo, or other explicit indication that it was the Co-op taking out the ad been used, then I believe we'd have no choice but to pursue."

Meantime, Hampton took a look at the fake ad and its link. "I traced the link to its source and it didn't take me long to learn a number of things." He posted his trace on the Talent News and Events Facebook group he created.

In less than two or three minutes he claimed, Hampton traced the source to servers operated by Prismatic Media Group. From their website: "Founded in 2018, Prismatic Media Group represents  the culmination of  23 years of dedicated experience in the field of web-design and digital marketing plus 8 years of experience engaging in local civic issues here in Lane County."

"Through the use of strategic partnerships, Prismatic is able to offer the wide array of professional services of a traditional large corporate advertising agency without the traditional price.

"No matter the size of your project, Prismatic is dedicated to providing top-level service and support to our clients."


Prismatic is owned Michael Weber and Kevin Prociw. Since 2018, both men also oversee the Oregon Crime News website, which provides mugshots for various groups. Prociw started as an IT worker for Symantec Corp and since then has worked for a number of city governments as a system analyst. 


In an email, Prociw explained that the link shortening URL was "a free public service" provided by their  media company.


Weber issued this statement:"We have nothing to do with the politics involved with anyone who uses our link shortening website."

Since the link redirected data to another location, Weber said it wasn't in their servers.

He added that use of their site does not in anyway mean (Prismatic) align with the users' political believes or agendas.

"In no way are we involved in any political messes down there," he said.

A few IT experts looked at Hampton's trace and Prismatic's setup. they told The Rogue Free Press that it was "highly plausible" that Prismatic's owners were "on the level."

However, one still questioned the quality of Prismatic's work.

"Call me crazy but it's my opinion that if I offered a free link shortening URL, I'd be watchful on where it's going," they said. "I feel that you can't be too cavalier about this sort of thing, especially with phishing and data mining."

As of presstime, Buono still hasn't responded to questions. The Talent News and Review hasn't responded either.

As to why the fake ad was placed, a number of sources have agreed on this possibility: The purpose was to collect people's contact info in order to flood them with misleading and false information meant to derail TURA's project.

"Listen to what (Buono) said during the meeting," one source said. "Just listen to what she said. She made comments about illegal immigrants and that they wouldn't feel safe being so close to Highway 99 -- since it'd be easy for ICE and other law enforcement agencies to swoop in. What kind of person says that? It's clear to me that someone doesn't want certain displaced families back in the community and I feel that's reprehensible."

The article was updated with the AFC response as well as Prociw and Weber's comments and claims they had nothing to do with the fake ad and alleged phishing. This is a developing story and updated as new information is discovered.

09 February 2021

Medford bakery owner thinks transphobia 'is very funny'



Top is the Facebook post made by Erica Bryan on Jan. 26. Below is the response received on Feb. 9. Bryan hung up after The Rogue Free Press attempted to call her. An Ashland business owner posted the same meme. Below is her response.


By Brad Smith 

MEDFORD, Ore. -- By late Monday afternoon, a transphobic Facebook post from local business owners was making the rounds on social media -- in a negative manner.

Erica Bryan, owner of Sweet Stuff Bakery, and Steve Barnard, A Street Print and Parcel, posted the same transphobic meme on Jan. 26. Below is Barnard's post.

The Rogue Free Press called the bakery and Bryan refused to comment. However, she later posted on social media:


Bryan admits to making the post and that it's "very funny." However, transphobia is very harmful.

From the National Center for Biotechnology Information, there was a 2011 study of depression among male-to-female transgender women with a history of sex work (THSW). During this study, a total of 573 THSW who worked or resided in San Francisco or Oakland, Calif., were recruited through street outreach and referrals and completed individual interviews using a structured questionnaire.

The results were compelling. More than half of Latina and White participants were depressed on the basis of Center For Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale scores. About three quarters of White participants reported ever having suicidal ideation, of whom 64 percent reported suicide attempts. Half of the participants reported being physically assaulted and 38 percent reported being raped or sexually assaulted before age 18 years. White and African American participants reported transphobia experiences more frequently than did others. Social support, transphobia, suicidal ideation, and levels of income and education were significantly and independently correlated with depression.

The Human Rights Campaign has been tracking violence against transgender people and 2020 saw more than 44 transgender individuals killed. That information can be found here: https://www.hrc.org/resources/violence-against-the-trans-and-gender-non-conforming-community-in-2020

Unfortunately, suicide rates among transgender teens have also been increasing: https://www.aappublications.org/news/2019/10/14/suicide101419

In short, this sort of behavior is not funny.

One hopes that Bryan and others like her will, eventually, understand that their words and actions can and do cause harm to others.


02 February 2021

Trophy Club article has been updated!

 The Trophy Club article has been updated with new information.

The racist slur has been removed. The bar owners issued a lame attempt at an apology. And, the main reason they took down the message was due to alleged "death threats" received via telephone.

At press time, it's uncertain if the bar owners filed a report with local law enforcement.


Cancel Culture: It Happened to Me

Yes -- I was "canceled" . . . . By Brad Smith Ever since I wrote and published the article about Talent Elementary special educati...