Officials: West York mayor should resign after racist posts

Sean Philip Cotter

Several West York borough council members have called on Mayor Charles Wasko to step down in light of racist posts he has made on Facebook.

West York Mayor Charles Wasko.

Wasko, who was elected mayor in 2013, has posted several pictures on Facebook this year that council members took issue with: Two compared President Barack Obama and his family to monkeys, and one suggested Obama should be hanged with a noose. Another post featured a fictional black person saying that socialism is "when the white folks work every day so we can get all our governmental entitlement stuff for free."

The four council members reachable by phone on Wednesday — two Democrats and two Republicans —  out of the seven members of the council, said they want Wasko out as mayor.

Wasko didn't respond to multiple messages seeking comment on Wednesday.

Council president Shawn Mauck said this was the first he'd heard about issues regarding the mayor's posts. He was shocked when he pulled up the mayor's publicly visible profile and read them.

"I almost don't know what to say," said Mauck, who called the posts "disgusting."

"I kind of want to throw up."

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One of Wasko's posts from June features a picture of a wheelbarrow full of apes with the words "Aww ... moving day at the Whitehouse has finally arrived" and "Kenya or bust." Another, from February, is a photo of a monkey gritting its teeth, to which Wasko added the comment, "Most think it is Obama's picture......sorry its Moochelles baby photo," presumably referring to Michelle Obama.

West York Mayor Charles Wasko posted several images his fellow elected officials have called racist.

Also in February, he posted a picture of Clint Eastwood with a noose, featuring the words "Barry, This rope is for you. You wanna bring that empty chair over here?"

Police: Mauck and councilman Brian Wilson  raised a particular issue: the fact that Wasko has some oversight of the day-to-day operations of the West York Borough Police Department.

"With those types of thoughts in your mind, how can you oversee the police department?" said Wilson, who also called on the mayor to resign. "We can't have anybody being racist or bigoted ... especially an elected official."

Matthew Millsaps, the acting chief of the department, said Wasko does, by law, have some role in the department's operations, though Wasko's interactions with Millsaps have been limited, the chief said. The council appointed Millsaps acting chief after Justin Seibel, who had been chief, was suspended earlier this month.

"I've viewed these images and am disturbed," Millsaps said in a statement he read over the phone Wednesday night.

He said two of the borough's eight officers are minorities — a Hispanic man and a black woman — so the percentage of people of color in the department is about the same as for the borough as a whole.

West York Mayor Charles Wasko posted several images his fellow elected officials have called racist.

"This in no way reflects the ideology or beliefs of this department," he said,

"Of particular concern are any images with undertones of violence — lynching or that are threatening in nature," he said.

When asked if the picture of Eastwood and the noose was one such image, he said: "I could understand how it could be taken that way."

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Response: Local attorney Sandra Thompson, who is  in charge of the York NAACP, said in an email Wednesday night that some of the posts on Wasko's page were "obviously ignorance and racism."

She said the local NAACP will move to take action — she noted that Mauck and Wilson have already reached out to her to help the borough make improvements.

"We call upon them, other council members and the West York community to take a stand against the mayor's actions that are based on racial bias and stereotypes and that exceed any protections of political speech," she wrote. "Now that York NAACP has been made aware, we will be seeking to take action, because his obvious bias against black people has an effect on all his constituents, which he seems to forget includes black people."

Mauck said a quarter of the borough's population of just less than 5,000 is people of color.

"It would break my heart if they knew their mayor felt that way," he said.

As mayor, Wasko's behavior is particularly unacceptable, Mauck said.

"Of course, it’s his personal Facebook, but he’s the mayor of West York," Mauck said. "He's held to a different standard."

Mauck said the borough council has no power to make the mayor do anything, especially quit, though he'd like to see Wasko gone from the office. He said he was planning to draft a resolution to censure the mayor, formally condemning his behavior. He plans for that motion to be voted on during the next council meeting, which is at 6 p.m. Monday at the borough administration building, 1381 W. Poplar St. in the borough.

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As mayor, Wasko does not get paid by the borough, Mauck said, and can only cast a vote in council business in the case of a tie; his role is mostly to serve as an advocate for the people of West York.

West York's borough council.  From left, council members Mary Wagner and Brian Wilson, vice president Richie Stahle Jr., president Shawn Mauck, borough manager Melissa Wirls and council member Annette "Chickie" Christine.

Councilwoman Shelley Metzler also  called the posts "disgusting." As are all the West York borough officials, Mauck, a Democrat, and Metzler, a Republican, are white. Metzler said she felt personally offended in large part because she has friends and family members of color.

"This is just so offensive and so upsetting," she said.

She, like Mauck, said Wasko doesn't speak for the borough of West York with these posts. She called on Wasko to resign, as did councilwoman Mary Wagner.

"What he's done is unprofessional," said Wagner, a Republican.

Wasko also has made headlines for physical confrontations with council members.

Former council member Tim Berkheimer said that in November 2013, Wasko grabbed his arm and tried to choke him. Wasko claimed the two men came together when they tried to walk up the stairs to the borough building at the same time, but said he indeed pushed the former councilman.

More recently, this past April, Seibel, the now-suspended West York Police chief, had to physically separate Wasko from Nick Laughman, who then was vice president of the council.

— Contact  Sean Cotter or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.