COEUR d'ALENE - Kootenai County human rights leaders stopped short of calling for Brent Regan's resignation, asking instead for a broader apology from the Coeur d'Alene school board member, and urging the public to support the school district's upcoming maintenance and operations levy.
Tony Stewart and Norm Gissel, founding members of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, and task force board president Christie Wood met with members of the media Tuesday at the Human Rights Education Institute and issued a statement denouncing a comment made by Regan last weekend when he participated in a public forum in Post Falls.
"We cannot remain silent when a public official uses language to degrade and ridicule, whether it be made from ignorance or insensitivity, the ancestry of any person including the president," Stewart said, in a prepared statement on behalf of the task force's executive committee.
Stewart cautioned community members against withholding support for the school district's upcoming maintenance and operations levy slated to go before voters in March. If approved, the local property tax measure will replace an expiring two-year levy approved by voters in 2011 and keep $12.9 million of the district's current general fund budget intact for each of the next two years. The measure also includes an additional $1.4 million to cover the cost of school safety enhancements to all district buildings.
"We must never punish children for what a public official might say," Stewart said.
Regan's remark, cast by critics as 'racist,' was made during a discussion on gun rights and possible federal gun control measures, at a forum attended by eight state legislators and more than 100 citizens. In the course of the discussion, Regan shared part of a conversation he'd had with his wife: "I said, 'They can't figure out what an assault weapon is - it's just black and it looks scary.' And she looks at me and says, 'Well, so is Obama.'"
Stewart said the task force did not organize the press conference to call for Regan to step down from his position as school trustee.
Task force members "noticed that he did start to issue an apology and that he had a heart-wrenching conversation with a parent," Stewart said, adding they would like Regan to expand that.
"We really urge him to apologize to the most important group of all, the students and their parents, because it's the students that hear those kinds of comments, and it affects them in the future," Stewart said.
Regan told The Press Monday that he would apologize to the school board and district administration, and he was sorry his comment hurt some people in the community. He said he didn't understand the full effect of his remark, until he spoke on the phone Monday to a woman personally affected by racism.
Stewart, during the press conference, said public officials have an obligation to "promote, advocate, encourage and celebrate" all individuals they serve.
"It becomes impossible to fulfill that responsibility when hurtful words are used to demean any person," Stewart said. "The damage cannot be corrected by simply stating that one is speaking as an individual."
Norm Gissel took the podium and said, in a prepared statement, that he previously served on the boards of North Idaho College and Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy.
"Serving a public education institution as a trustee is serious business heretofore reserved for serious people," Gissel said.
Gissel called for the remaining members of the five-member school board - Tom Hamilton, Terri Seymour, Jim Hightower and Ann Seddon - to "publicly express their own views" on Regan's comment.
The Press reached out to the trustees following the press conference.
"I think it's unfortunate. I feel really bad about it. Brent has humbly and publicly apologized and I trust that he's truly sorry about it," Seymour said. "I would hope that if I said anything that offended anyone, that I could apologize and people would forgive and understand and we could get past it."
Coeur d'Alene school board chair Tom Hamilton said he would like to see everyone take some time to reflect on what has transpired since last weekend before discussing the matter further.
"I'm aware that Mr. Regan has taken ownership of his words and publicly apologized, and I understand the position of the task force," Hamilton said. "It would be my desire that everyone give both sides the due consideration they deserve."
The school board has not yet had an opportunity to discuss Regan's comments. It will likely come up during the board's regular meeting that starts at 5 p.m. Monday at the Midtown Center. The agenda for that meeting has not yet been posted.
Jim Hightower could not be reached for comment.
Ann Seddon told The Press Tuesday that she had just returned home earlier in the day from an international trip and did not yet know enough about the situation to feel comfortable speaking about it.