ELY – Several Ely-area residents came down hard on City Council member Dan Forsman this week over a social media posting in which he appeared to encourage suicide among members of a private pro-Hillary Clinton Facebook group. Many members of the group are calling for Forsman’s immediate removal from office.
Forsman, 28, did not comment on the situation during Tuesday’s council meeting, but he has not denied making the post on the Facebook page called “Pantsuit Nation” sometime last week. The post included a photograph of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the infamous suicide doctor with the words, “Do you suffer from Trump Acceptance Rejection Disorder (TARD) Ask your doctor if suicide is right for you.”
The posting (which has been removed from the site) immediately created a firestorm of criticism in the social media community. Critics of Forsman’s action say they are most concerned because the Facebook group that Forsman apparently targeted is private, open to invited members only. That’s increasingly common on many social media sites in order to reduce “trolling” by those who use the Internet to make abusive or insensitive comments to those with whom they disagree. Members of the Facebook group contend that Forsman apparently sought out their group to target them with a comment that some have equated to “hate speech.”
More than a dozen Ely area residents attended a special city council meeting Tuesday night, that was called for the approval of an employment separation agreement, and as many as eight of those people spoke about Forsman during the open forum portion of the agenda. Council rules prohibit council members from commenting on statements made during open forum.
Prior to the meeting, Mayor Chuck Novak said he has received dozens of emails and telephone calls since Thanksgiving Day from residents upset and angry over the issue. He held a thick stack of paper and said he received as many as 50 emails. “Just today, I spent half the day just responding to each one of them,” he said. “There is not much I can do. I wasn’t the one who said anything. It is unfortunate that it happened.”
Novak said “everyone wants an apology” from Forsman, who has remained silent on the issue. “I will talk to Dan and encourage him to apologize,” Novak said. “It is up to him. I can’t take responsibility for him.”
In his written response to the emails, Novak wrote, “Dan Forsman is willing to issue a formal apology but does not know where to send it so that all offended parties will have access to it.”
Novak said any council action over the issue must come in the form of a motion from a council member, and supported by another member, to be discussed and approved. When asked about the possibility of a censure (a rebuke or admonishment) from the council, Novak said that action is typically presented in writing. “That is normally done when there has been an illegal wrongdoing,” he said. “There is a big difference between a censure and a slap on the hand.”
Novak said some people are asking for him to resign or to be forced off the council. “The only way he can be removed from the council is if he loses an election or commits a felony, or he passes away. That’s the legal boundary,” he said.
No other council member would comment on the issue.
Fall Lake township resident Peta Barrett and owner of Women’s Wilderness Discovery in Ely, was the first of several people to address the council at the end of the council meeting Tuesday night. She requested to appear before the council at the next regular business meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 6 to continue the discussion of the issue.
“I was personally outraged by the comment that was made public by Mr. Dan Forsman,” Barrett said. “My woman-operated business brings women to this community, and considering the climate, post-election, that has emboldened people to speak up in very derogatory ways, my fellow women here tonight are very concerned about this. We want to be on the agenda and have a discussion about respect and tolerance for all persons in this community, whether that is race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. Any apology cannot rescind the damage that has been done, and there is an ugly underbelly that has been exposed.”
Barrett said that everyone of her gender who turned out for the meeting demanded time to be heard. “This is a fresh wound that has been opened up,” she said. “I don’t have a vote here but the decision you (on the council) make affects my business in this town. I don’t want that appearance of intolerance (in Ely) to trickle out, but what has been said can’t be taken back.”
Portions of statements from other Ely-area residents appear below.
Becky Rom: “Dan felt free to make one of the most offensive statements possible. I think we deserve, as people who live in this community, something more than an apology from Dan. This is an opportunity to talk about being kind and respectful.”
Nancy Powers: “I am incredibly offended by what happened and would like to hear from Dan what prompted him to post that and how he felt empowered to do that.”
Sarah Hansen: “I am so completely offended. I would really, really love to see you resign from the council.”
Nan Snyder: “I would appreciate if you would consider resigning.”
Carol Orban: “If this was hate speech, it is really serious and dreadful. It creates more of an atmosphere of opposition and division in our town.”
Betty Firth: “I was appalled, Dan, that you or anyone in this community would make hateful statements like you did. As I understand, the word is out and people are saying don’t go to Ely. We have a very dangerous situation in this country right now with the election and some of the people who feel emboldened to mimic some of the stuff that Donald Trump did during the election against women.”
Shaun Chosa: “First of all (Dan), do not give up your seat. You’re a young person. I hope you can learn from your mistake. I hope you can pick up and move forward. A lot of people in this community are hurting after the election. What you have here is one side chastising the other. I did not see a gender thing. I saw one side poking fun at the other side. As a leader who represents Ely, you have to think about that. There are lessons to be learned here.”