A perceived shooting threat on social media rattled Gearhart, leading to an emotional plea from Mayor Matt Brown.
Brown began a City Council meeting on Wednesday with a report of a potential threat of violence against a city employee.
“I guess will have to shoot him then,” a woman wrote in a Facebook thread referring to City Administrator Chad Sweet. “I think there’s a problem with that solution but the older I get the less of a problem it becomes.”
The post, which appeared in the closed Pacific Way Group, received a “like” and another group member added the comment, “Your idea has merit, lol.”
“It was brought to my attention a post appeared on a local Facebook group suggesting shooting one of our public employees,” Brown said, his voice trembling. “The post was engaged in by some of the group’s administrators and founding members, and was ‘liked’ by one of its administrators.”
In a city where social media takes center stage at the grassroots level, the words on the Facebook page hit home.
“We take potential threats of violence against our city employees very seriously,” Brown said.
A report was filed with the Gearhart Police Department and information was forwarded to the Clatsop County District Attorney’s Office.
Suggesting potential violence in any form in the community “is unacceptable and should not be tolerated,” Brown added.
A politically oriented spinoff of the Million Friends of Gearhart Facebook page, the Pacific Way Group has 140 members and describes itself as “a forum for the people of Gearhart to discuss civic matters concerning the community.”
Jack Zimmerman, who is involved with the Facebook group, said the group takes the incident seriously and the words were not intended as a threat of violence.
The woman is “a very elderly retired female school teacher who is a past but not current Gearhart resident,” Zimmerman said. “There is a long record of her postings and replies that show she is in fact by her own admission elderly and prone to making confusing statements.”
By Wednesday evening, the post had been deleted, he said. On Thursday, the person making the post had been removed from the closed group for inappropriate language.
Zimmerman said the Pacific Way Group has “never nor will it ever condone any implied or direct threat made directly, indirectly or by innuendo towards any individual or group of individuals. The threatening statement made by this elderly lady was very misguided and unfortunate.”
But Zimmerman added in a post forwarded by Pacific Way Group administrator Kathleen Piner Zimmerman that city leaders and their supporters “made an orchestrated decision to seize the event as an opportunity to build a great theater of emotion and defense against a real and clear expression of violence by a confused old lady. The theater was planned to shock and discredit.”
Zimmerman, who unsuccessfully ran for City Council last year, took the city to task for “clear suppression of cognitive diversity and the shutting out of opposing views in city government.”
This has led Gearhart “to a new low point which ultimately hurts and corrupts us all.”
Zimmerman said “there is more to this story which unfortunately cannot be revealed at this time. Today I am deeply sad for an elderly woman who made a grievous error; I am sad for the discrediting of the active exchange of opinions on Pac Way and finally I am sad for Gearhart, its people and its history, all of which deserves better than this.”
Denele Sweet, the wife of the city administrator and owner of Encore Dance Studio, showed support for her husband and concern for his safety after the message from “what could be thought of as a hate group in Gearhart.”
“It’s a group in a very small little town,” she said at Wednesday’s meeting. “You should feel safe here. I should feel safe here. My children should feel safe here. All the children of that studio should feel safe here. It was a little concerning to see that.”