Marion County Board Member Removed After Facebook Post

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An appointee to Marion County’s Industrial Development Authority (IDA) has been removed from his position after posting offensive remarks on Facebook.

In a meeting on May 19, the Marion County Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted to effectively remove Marcel “Butch” Verrando as an appointee to its advisory board, according to an email from Marion County’s public information manager Barbra Hernández.

Verrando was first appointed to the IDA in June 2011.

The comment, which was part of a thread on a Facebook page called the “Marion County Political Forum,” was posted on May 18.

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Verrando’s most recent controversial comment, which cost him his position. Screencap courtesy of Marion County’s public information manager Barbra Hernández

As a result of the post, Commission Chairman Stan McClain issued a statement that read:

“On behalf of the Marion County Board of County Commissioners, I extend my sincerest apologies to all members of our community for the racially and culturally insensitive comments made on social media by an appointee to one of our local advisory boards. Those comments do not represent this board’s nor our dedicated county staff’s views and will not be tolerated. This Commission is committed to treating all citizens equally. All individuals appointed by the Commission to serve on an advisory board are expected to exhibit the highest standards of professionalism in their public conduct, and Mr. Verrando failed to uphold his oath.”

Verrando’s remarks were considered racially insensitive and did not reflect the opinions of the rest of the board, according to McClain.

This also isn’t the first time this Verrando has made controversial remarks.

In August 2014, Verrando issued comments regarding post traumatic stress disorder and veterans on the same forum, according to an email from Hernández. He resigned from his appointment to the Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Advisory Board shortly after posting these comments.

Although the board hasn’t issued guidelines specifying what can and can’t be posted on social media sites, McClain said the board expects a certain standard of behavior from Marion County officials and appointees.

McClain added that while he thinks it is within everyone’s personal right to say what they believe, the board wants to make sure residents know the commissioners and their staff do not condone these kinds of comments.

“It was despicable in my opinion, and very disturbing to us,” he said. “We treat everybody equal.”

McClain clarified that Verrando, who served on the board as an advisory member, wasn’t employed by the commission. The IDA, the board Verrando was formerly a part of, is responsible for vetting businesses that want to borrow money in order to expand.

“Given the climate of concerns of things that have been happening around the country and individuals believing that they have a right to say insensitive things without any fear of whatever consequences, I’m not surprised,” said Rev. Reginald Willis Sr., the president of the NAACP chapter in Marion County.

“However, I would like to say I’m appreciative that the county commission moved swiftly to remove (the) individual who knowingly has made insensitive comments as it relates to race and inequity within the county,” he added.

Erin Hart, the managing director of Spitfire Strategies, a public interest communication firm, weighed in on the actions she feels should be taken to “repair” the damage the post may have caused.

She said it is essential to train staff to be more empathetic, and while a single statement is traditional, it isn’t sufficient.

“This is a very human issue that deserves more than that,” Hart said.

“They should be having conversations internally with their staff about why that point of view is unacceptable and helping them to understand different points of view,” she said.

“Externally, they should be engaging with community organizations and individuals who are interested in the conversation to say, ‘This isn’t our stance and this is the kind of conversation we want to have.’”

About Kristina Orrego

Kristina is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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