Schechter asked to resign

Jackson Town Councilor Jonathan Schechter listens to public comment during a joint meeting with Teton County commissioners in June 2019.

Put the rumors to rest: Jackson Town Councilor Jonathan Schechter has no intention of resigning his seat — with the idea being that he could be replaced by a younger woman of color — and says he will remain on the council for the second half of his four-year term.

Schechter said he worries that rumors of his possible resignation, which have dogged him for the last couple of months, will cause people to view him as “insensitive ... and/or oblivious to the world’s realities” and could cause people to lose faith in him as a public servant which “will also further erode faith in our system.” That erosion of faith in the system, Schechter wrote in an email to Town Council candidate Jessica Sell Chambers and the Rev. Mary Erickson, will make it “even harder to address our many systemic issues,” racism and sexism included among them.

The rumor mill began churning after Schechter took a meeting with Chambers and Erickson on July 10 at Persephone Bakery, where the women proposed — Schechter recalls that Chambers did most of the talking, with Erickson in a support role — that he resign his seat, ideally to be replaced by a younger woman of color who would be appointed by the rest of the council.

“They thought that I would be the most open to listening to what they had to say,” Schechter told the News&Guide in an interview. “They pointed out that ... out of the 10 County Commission and Town Council members, eight were white males — and that was not a representative cross section of the community, either ethnically or age-wise or gender-wise. And they thought that was a problem.”

Schechter said Chambers offered up some statistics regarding female representation on the Teton County Board of County Commissioners and Jackson Town Council, some of which he questioned the accuracy of, and relayed the fundraising difficulties and other challenges she encountered in her two experiences with unsuccessful campaigns for Town Council.

Schechter said Chambers, in essence, told him that “without some sort of assist, it was simply too hard for women to get elected to office in Teton County.”

“It was her belief that the only way to [change the makeup of the council and commission] was for one of the white males to step down so that a young female of color could get appointed in that person’s place,” Schechter recounted.

“At that point, you could have knocked me over with a feather, because I sure didn’t see that one coming.”

Both Schechter and Chambers know, and knew at the time of their meeting, that someone resigning a seat doesn’t get to name his or her replacement and there was no guarantee the council would vote to appoint a young woman of color as a replacement if he had stepped down. But Schechter said Chambers felt that if he “gave a dramatic speech upon my resignation, that it would really send a shock wave through the community and it would really have significance beyond just replacing one person.”

Schechter said he didn’t make an immediate decision that day, in part because he “was dumbfounded” by the request, which he said had never crossed his mind before Chambers mentioned it as a possibility. He told Chambers and Erickson that he would get back to them after some deliberation.

The following Tuesday, July 14, four days after the three had met at Persephone, Schechter emailed Chambers and Erickson to tell them that a woman who he does work with had called him and said she heard he was going to resign his council seat. Schechter said the woman knew of his meeting with Chambers in fairly accurate detail, and he expressed his frustration to Chambers and Erickson that in the few days that had passed since their meeting, rumors of his impending resignation were already “in fairly widespread circulation,” as he wrote in the email.

“Somehow between 10 o’clock on that Friday and 10 o’clock on Tuesday, people had started talking about — somehow the word had gotten out that I was considering resigning. And I know where it didn’t come from, which was me, and that’s what led me to write that note about being very upset that [Chambers and/or Erickson] would go around and talk about this,” Schechter said in his News&Guide interview. “Because it certainly, in my way of thinking, it violated the tone of our discussion, because I said I wanted to deliberate. Practically, it wasn’t a very good plan, from my perspective.”

Schechter said he was “incredibly crestfallen” that word had gotten out about the proposal for him to resign his seat so a young woman of color could be appointed “because it not only handicaps me and my effectiveness as an elected official ... but it also serves to really undermine confidence in government. And, at a time when faith in all of our institutions is waning, to take a step like this, that — whether inadvertently or advertently — has the potential to diminish faith in our institution; to what end? How does the town of Jackson benefit from rumormongering like this? ... It does contribute to slowly eroding confidence in government, and none of us benefit from that. And that’s what really makes my heart heavy.”

Chambers, meanwhile, stands by her idea, pointing to the difficulty women and people of color in Jackson Hole and Teton County have in getting elected. Chambers also wrote in her email response to Schechter on July 14 that she had not spoken with anyone about their meeting.

“In order to give access right now, people have to relinquish some of their power,” Chambers said in an interview. “Otherwise, it’s a really strong, hard road for women, and especially people of color in this community, because we just don’t have the access to fundraising, time, support, etc., etc.”

Chambers said the idea for a white, male elected official to step down and be replaced by a young woman of color arose out of the unrest following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota at the end of May.

“People were protesting and gathering on the square, and people were making calls for better representation,” she said. “I believe it was Sophia Schwartz and a couple people from Act Now JH had sat down with different commissioners ... looking at these systemic issues that we have in the community, and she posed the question: ‘Who would be willing to step down to make room for the appointment of a person, ideally someone of color?’”

She said Schechter was chosen as the man to approach because he had been thoughtful and open-minded throughout conversations they had regarding Black Lives Matter and police brown bag sessions he held.

“He seemed very earnest about wanting to do better, wanting to know more, and he also seemed very exasperated and tired with the workload he had on the council, in addition to his various jobs,” Chambers said.

Ultimately, Schechter wrote in a July 19 email to Chambers and Erickson that he intends to serve his constituents through the remainder of his term. He added that “because the issues you raise are systemic, I feel a systemic approach is the best way to address them,” referring to the underrepresentation of women and minorities on local elected boards and councils.

And he hopes the rumors are put to bed, writing in that same email: “Regarding the rumor mill, the fact I am now fielding questions about resigning has put me in a very difficult spot. I don’t know how these rumors got started, but I do know I am now enmeshed in a process I haven’t initiated, contributed to, nor consented to.”

Meanwhile, Jen Simon, the News&Guide’s Equity State columnist who founded the Wyoming Women’s Action Network, said that however it has to happen, it’s important that Jackson and Teton County have more female representation.

Simon was not comfortable specifically addressing the situation with Schechter and Chambers, as she was not previously aware of it, but she did say: “We need to look at the fact that just a few years ago we had greater representation by women among the five town councilors and the five county commissioners. Right now, two of the 10 are women, and it’s really important that we make sure we have women represented on our elected bodies, especially when we are still in the midst of a pandemic, which has laid bare our real structural challenges; a whole series of types of inequality, a whole series of policies that don’t include [things like] child care, support for families, and support for working women, in particular. Those are best addressed by having more women’s voices in elected office.”

Contact Tim Woods at 732-5911 or town@jhnewsandguide.com.

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(17) comments

Tim Rieser

It’s a strange story: that he was asked to step down is odd and that he didn’t say no at the time nor did he get back to them. What’s with that? It’s all odd.

Melanie Harrice

Tim,

Yes it was odd that these people approached him at all. Super weird and sheds a negative light on them. He did respond to them. But the rumors persist.

Jessica Sell Chambers

Tim, thank you for your observation. As I commented elsewhere: Once again, I want to correct the record *** we NEVER EVER spoke for people of color. We never once said women or people of color cannot win elections on their own merit or without an "assist" and Schechter claimed. (*this is my third time running, clearly, I am not looking for handouts or do not want to do the work.) We spoke about systemic racism and sexism and patriarchy and how all of us can address power differentials and privilege. In some cases, white men relinquishing power or stepping back to support and make room for more diverse voices is a solution. Not everyone in Jackson will agree with this concept or action.

We spoke about barriers and obstacles that underrepresented people have such as for women - how an enabling device to promote more equal representation in leadership for women is making sure we have robust childcare and early education system. In response to creating room for underrepresented people in elected office, Jonathan Schechter asked who would be an ideal appointee. We reflected that the council is missing a younger demographic; a female demographic; a Latina or person of color - thereby Jonathan took that and said we wanted him to step down so a younger woman of color is appointed. This was neither said by us nor was it intended, nor is it possible to guarantee by the process of appointment.

As for representing the sentiment of women or people of color, there are women and/or Black/Brown, Indigenous People of Color who believe a perfectly acceptable solution is for white men to relinquish their power - it is a direct mode to transfer power. Expecting that a few people of color speak for all people of color is an error of thinking for white people. One person of color does not speak for all people of color, which is a fallacy we as white people need to examine and stop assuming or requiring. At the same time, a general movement does not represent the opinions or feelings of an individual woman or person of color. Neither are monoliths, something I am well aware of as a woman - I do not share the same opinions of all women.

Mary Erickson and I are two constituents and we sat down with our elected to discuss an issue. That conversation has been misrepresented or misunderstood by many. In response to our conversation, Schechter, a week later said he had "deeply considered" our conversation. It was a conversation like Erickson said, that was about power, systems, and possible solutions. At the time we also discussed systemic solutions for systemic problems, something Schecter ultimately agreed upon as his path forward. *Sorry guys - we didn't think any of the other male electeds would even entertain the conversation, which we thought was a very positive attribute about Schechter - he is pensive and open to discussions of this nature. We were correct in our assessment of him.

Additionally, one could also argue that some voters elected a man who is expected to lead and represent, therefore any decision he makes is supported by his electors by proxy. In this situation, I was the person who initiated the conversation with the paper; it was not a discovery or scandal. We never once said we spoke on behalf of anyone. We are only two women, part of a larger group who are also underrepresented. I hope at some point, Schechter jumps in here to correct some misinformation about the conversation. As an older white male, as usual, his voice would be heard and respected.

*To address the claims that we have had great representation as women, for the last 15 years, local female representation on the council and commission has been 23%.

TERRENCE MILAN

So you are opposed to free and open elections where people are chosen by all who choose to exercise their right to vote? There should be set of qualifications required to be able to run and vote? Are you related to Jim Crow?

Robert Mack

I find it hard to believe that a woman is unable to campaign any more or less effectively than a man in our town and in our times. There have been many wonderful women who have run smart and effective campaigns who have been elected to public office during my 22 years here and whom I helped elect by voting for them. Neither I nor many of my friends and colleagues have voted for Ms. Chambers in the past, not because of her gender, but simply because her message hasn't resonated with us. This latest shameful incident insures I will never consider her for public office in the future.

Melanie Harrice

Robert,

I wholeheartedly agree. And I too am turned off by this kind of disrespectful behavior to a public official who was elected to serve. The right thing to do is for Jonathan to continue to serve. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise. Thank you Jonathan for continuing to be willing to give your time and energy and input to this elected position. It’s incredibly nice of you to even meet with Jessica and Mary.

Now they have their answer and must behave ethically—cease and desist. And for god’s sake run for office!!!

Jessica, it’s too bad you didn’t win a seat in the past but you should keep trying like the rest of the world. I am a woman, an activist and fully support change. But you’re going about this the wrong way.

Get out and make a difference by getting on as many board seats as you can. And apologize to Jonathan, please.

Tim Rieser

Why don’t you try reading her response again.

The issue isn’t that women can’t campaign and get elected effectively as you incorrectly point out. The issue - here and everywhere - is how to get more women and people of color to - to seek office.

This comment has been shortened - Ed. 

(Edited by staff.)

Carol A Parker

Oh! Please!!! There is only one solution to this ridiculousness...Jonathan, please run for Mayor.

Melanie Harrice

Yes!!!

Go Carol!

[beam]

Tim Rieser

Recruit him and vote him in. For myself, I’d like greater diversity and a better skill set in my candidates.

Roger Hayden

If voters want you to represent them, they'll voter for you, right? It's amazing that anyone would ask an elected representative to resign so they could take their seat. If you run, and voters elect you because of your color or gender, fine. Neither have ever influenced my vote, and I've voted for human beings of all variety through the years. I've also been a strong civil rights advocate all my life. But as an old white guy, I'm sure I'm out of touch.

Melanie Harrice

Right on Roger!

Well said.

Raz Reinecke

Oh, for heaven’s sakes! It’s at least once a week that I thank our stars that Jonathan Schechter is part of our government and that he is willing to put his amazing skills, sharp mind, and good heart to work for us. Take your agenda that has been overlooked to him and the rest of the council for addressing and resolution. We don’t want to lose one of our smartest and best council members so that we can get equal gender representation in the council. As you know, there are plenty of women in politics which many of us wish were not. Jonathan Schechter is a gem and under no circumstance it would be a good idea to have him step down.

Melanie Harrice

Thank you Jonathan. We’re so fortunate to have you. Pls run for Mayor as Carol said!

Judd Grossman

The diversity, equity, and inclusion movement is stunningly anti-democratic. It promotes racism and misandry. Our electoral system is not systemically racist. It is open to all who wish to participate. It’s the DEI movement that is trying to re-impose bigoted quotas on our system. These local attempts to install people into government based on age, sex, and skin color using anti-democratic maneuvers is incredibly regressive. Someone’s gender, age, or the color of their skin, has no bearing on whether they have the integrity, intelligence, work ethic, and good ideas necessary to be valuable on the Town Council.

Alex Ayling

The fact that Chambers is attempting to circumvent the results of an honest, free, and fair election with back door manipulation to practically self determine who sits on our council disturbs me greatly. Schechter was elected by the people and therefore is the people's choice. I don't think Chambers even realizes that asking someone to step down because of the color of his skin is the very definition of racism. I'm sure the people of Jackson (including me) would welcome a woman of color on the council but she would need to run for council just like everyone else.

Melanie Harrice

[thumbup]

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